The previous post reminds me of a conversation with a friend a few days ago. An avid equestrian, she'd been reading recently about training horses. One of the author's points was that a horse's bearing is in direct correlation to their self confidence. She told me that her horse often balks when crossing a stream, and she'd always heard that the best way to deal with this sort of thing was to push the horse through without giving him time to think about his fear. But, after being exposed to this trainer's insights, she decided to change her approach. When she got to the stream, she allowed her horse to stand there, acknowledging with him that he was uncomfortable. (Horses are very sensitive and can pick up their rider's feelings). She did not force him through, but neither did she allow him to turn away from his fears. Instead, she gently pulled him back to the stream. "You can do this", she said. And eventually they made it across together.
Isaiah 43:2 says "When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;the flames will not set you ablaze."
There are times in our lives that we come to obstacles that seem insurmountable. Perhaps there is legitimate danger in front of us, perhaps we are facing irrational fears. Maybe we've been shamed in the past or traumatized. Maybe we are just timid. In any case, the Lord is committed to getting us across and He does this with kindness. He has created us and called us by name. She knows who She has made us to be. It is true that we are on a journey, but one of the goals of the quest is our own maturity. God wants us to be secure in our ability to go through any situation with the power that comes from His Spirit. "You can do this," God firmly says, "I am with you. I can see the path ahead. You do not have to be afraid."
"It's the kindness of God that leads to repentance", Paul says, in his letter to the Romans. This wonderful phrase has swirled through my mind over the years. Repentance comes from the Greek metanoia which means "change of mind". Paul is telling his listeners (and us) that when God acts kindly toward us -when He doesn't hit us with a lightning bolt in the midst of our sinfulness, or ask us to pay up when we don't have the means to do so, when She continues to extend grace when we don't deserve it, and lovingly bears our burdens- that this kindness should make a profound impact on our way of thinking. It should lead us to a change of mind - an embracing of the way that God sees the world and a desire to be a part of God's Kingdom.
My youngest daughter, Dorea, is an actor. This summer she was posed with a difficult decision. A director offered her a part in a fall production, but the show dates fell over the wedding of a friend. She weighed the options: say 'yes' to the show (her friend, also in the theater business, would understand and it's important to take advantage of opportunities in this area); say 'no' to the show (a friend only gets married once and other parts will come along). None of us ever imagined a third solution- the director could change the dates of the show so that there wouldn't be a conflict. But that's what happened. The director, hearing of her dilemma, offered to ask the cast if they would flex on the dates and the conflict was resolved.
The kindness of this act had a profound effect on me. I was truly amazed. You mean it might be possible to have it all?, I asked myself. That there are people willing to come up with creative solutions and flex so that you don't have to say 'no' to two worthwhile things? Perhaps I could hope for and even work toward a way of life that sometimes seems too good to be true.
This change of mind is what God desires for us. To be able to imagine with Him the world that He has created functioning in the way it was created to be. To not only see it as a possibility, but to live like it's true. And in as many ways as we are able, to make it true for ourselves and those around us.
Goodness - a fruit that reminds me of fruit. Think of biting into the perfect peach, not too firm, but not too soft either, whose juices drip wildly down your chin. Or chomping your way through the first ear of farm fresh corn, full and sweet and tender (of course, there's more dripping if you're a butter slatherer!) Then there's the succulent tomato that crowns the summer BLT and the fresh strawberry pie, topped off with freshly whipped, slightly sweet cream. Anyone hungry?
At the height of maturity, without spot or blemish, garden goodness brings great delight. But think of the disappointment that comes from the peach that looks and even smells ripe, but is mealy or rotten inside. Or the piece of corn that tastes like so much straw.
When Paul talks about the fruit of goodness, it's easy for me to imagine that this fruit comes as the Spirit brings us into maturity. In Paul's 1st letter to the Thessalonians, he ends with this prayer: "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole body, soul and spirit be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus."
My husband, Dan, and I were talking this morning about sanctification - that process by which the Spirit makes us wholly holy, or completely good. We were wondering if it gets much air time these days, and if there are models to imitate, people who truly have become good, who inspire us to be good - without fault, blameless and pure (Phil 4). I'd like to think there are, I'd like to be one myself. I'm guessing it requires patience, and a willingness to be cultivated and pruned.
In a remote cabin surrounded by deep snow are stranded three friends. They have food, water and wood for a fire, so they should be able to make it until help arrives. But the days begin to stack up. The rescuers they've been waiting for are slow to come and the initial optimism begins to fade.
One of the friends starts retreating to a corner, his head bowed, muttering to himself and staring blankly at the wall. In a few weeks he will have shrunk into a shell, refusing to eat or drink and slowly wither away. The second spends most of the time pacing up and down the cabin floor, glancing out the window, opening the door and taking a step or two into the snow before returning to the cabin. One morning the anxiety grows too great. Grabbing his backpack and stuffing it full of all the food he can fit in, he'll make a bolt through the door, out into the frozen landscape. The third...
How do we stay hopeful and healthy while we're waiting? My middle daughter said to me yesterday-you can only hold your breath for so long. After that, you need to make the choice to live the fullest life you can where you are.
When the Israelites are exiled to Babylon, Jeremiah sends them a letter. In it, they are told to settle down, to build houses, to plant gardens, to marry and prosper. This directive sets up a verse that may be familiar: "I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to bless you and not to curse you, plans to give you a hope and a future". (Jeremiah 29:11)
Creativity, the act of making or doing, is a necessary part of patience that comes from the Spirit. Just as faith without works is dead, patience without action will lead to lethargy and despair. There is always something to do while you wait - the work is to find what nurtures your soul, or what disciplines God may want to instill in you. In this season of in-between, I have a choice of holding my breath or breathing a new rhythm. To become listless or grow a new muscle. I choose to prosper, to settle, to plant myself in the moment and feed myself from the fruit that grows in this soil. To live now. Well.
Oprah is no longer the Queen of Daytime TV, so states a "news" story this morning. I'm intrigued and click the link to discover that Oprah has been nudged out by Judge Judy. I vaguely remember the show from channel surfing and read on. The reporter describes the show's premise and then lists her reasons for why she, at least, finds Judge Judy compelling. Among them are: She's smart as a whip, she doesn't suffer fools gladly, she's an antidote to bull, AND she's charismatic. Just reading these phrases is enough to perk up my soul. I like people who tell it like it is. There's something refreshing about the truth, served straight up.
As a logical person, at times I've been accused of not being sensitive to others' feelings and so I've needed to work on becoming kind. Kindness doesn't mean that I won't speak the truth, but that I will speak it in a way that causes the least amount of damage to the person who hears it. If love gives the motivation for my actions toward those around me, kindness gives me the modus operandus. If surgery is necessary, minimize the cut and use a sharp knife.
After the earthquake in Haiti, I was part of an online community that grew in support of those who lost loved ones in the Hotel Montana. This Facebook page not only posted information, but it also provided connection. Every day I would visit to see if friends and family had been found, and later, to see if their bodies had been recovered. As the days turned into weeks, a sense of solidarity grew among the members of the site, a commitment to stay until the last body had been brought home. Finally, the wait was down to one, and post after post repeated this phrase - come home, captain, come home. We're not leaving until everyone comes home.
The writer of Hebrews talks about faith in a passage that is well-known to many - the "Hall of Faith" in chapter 11. After listing many 'greats' of the Jewish faith, he ends with this statement: These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
As I've been pondering the many faces of patience, I've been reflecting on the role of patience in community. A patience that will not move on until others are ready and able. Frederick Buechner in his book "The Sacred Journey" tells the story of receiving his first book contract. Full of this good news, he was heading down the stairs, when he ran into an old acquaintance whom he knew was out of work and down on his luck. He was profoundly moved, and questioned himself if he had a right to be happy when this man was so obviously unhappy.
I've pondered that moment for a while. I'm a firm believer in pursuing joy for myself; I believe that with all that is in my power, I should seek to make a meaningful life, to fulfill my vocation and to enjoy the many good gifts that surround me. But the seeking of joy for myself will not bring about the life that is truly good. The truly good life participates in the life of God, and His life encompasses all of creation. This will require patience on my part, and perseverance. Patience in not rushing ahead, and perseverance in doing my best to make sure others can join me in this life.
Patience is not absence of action, just as peace is not absence of conflict. Patience is about appropriate waiting and the state of one's heart while waiting. It steers clear of one deadly sin, sloth, and cuts off the plethora of gunk that follows hastiness. Impatience breaks down community and destroys peace whereas patience requires a continual recommitment to faith, and a reminder of what love is all about. Additionally, it is fueled by hope that the outcome desired will indeed come. No wonder patience is a virtue!
In the middle of this blog entry, the phone rang. My daughter on the other end called asking for an address. Our conversation kept going in and out - can you hear me, can you hear me now? And I felt the too-familiar frustration of impatience rise in me. Good reminder that I still have a ways to go with this fruit.
Recently I finished the first three books of the Eragon cycle, fantasy books written by Christopher Paolini. I love fantasy/science fiction because the well-done books are chock full of philosophy and it shows up on the lips of dragons or wizards or other mythical sorts of creatures. The unfamiliar landscape makes the words pop, and I put down the pages having found a new treasure of my own. Paolini writes well and has one of those creative, philosophical minds. One of the races who inhabit his imaginary world are elves. The elves are able to use magic to such an extent that they can create anything at will. At one point, Eragon, the main character, asks his master, Oromis, why the elves would bother to make anything themselves. The answer is that they choose to make the things that they love, things for which they enjoy the process.
I think patience is all about the process. When I first thought of the fruit of the Spirit being core attributes of God, I was momentarily stuck with the the fruit of patience. But then I remembered some musings I had had about old earth vs new earth theories a few years back. I couldn't get my head around why God would take billions of years to make a universe for mankind - weren't we the most important creation to God? Shouldn't we show up sooner? But then I thought, wow, maybe it took billions of years to set up the place we were to call home, and perhaps that's an indication of His love. Like my friend who spent painstaking hours carving a Christmas present for his girlfriend. Or when I take a day to prepare a feast for my family, rather than putting something in the microwave. The very time spent is a sign of care, and the joy in the preparation is part of the delight.
Patience is often difficult because we have an artificial timeline - we place on ourselves a restriction that may not be true. We think we have limits, when we don't...
There's more to say here, but not the time (!) to say it now, so I'll pause and take up part two next blog.
This morning's Psalm was #16. My husband, Dan, paused over these phrases: You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
I've been thinking a lot about desires lately, how desires not only guide us, but also fuel us. Doing what we love energizes us while it brings us pleasure. Previously in this psalm, David mentions several things which bring him delight: others who follow after God, boundary lines that have fallen in pleasant places, the constant presence of the Lord to guard and counsel. I believe we are hard-wired for pleasure. In the author bio to the right are a list of things that I love. Knowing and choosing what brings me joy is part of being responsible for my own happiness. The pursuit of happiness fails only when the pleasures I seek are not deep enough to sustain me. They, like idols of old, are insubstantial and man made.
But what I started pondering this morning was this: do we have the ability to expand our capacity for joy? It seems from this psalm that we are presented with pleasures from now to eternity. It is true that in the new earth (watch for later posting on E2) the joy will be ratcheted up to an amazing degree, given the drag of sin and its affects will be gone. But even now, we are constantly given opportunities to be joyful. It comes part and parcel with the full life that Jesus brings us through His Spirit. "Open wide your mouths", says Jehovah in Psalm 81, "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it".
What if the ability to be joyful is like a muscle? The more we use it, the stronger it grows. I struggle with physical exercise, although I know it will give me the capacity to be more productive both physically and mentally. But this exercise - the practice of choosing joy - is one that I truly love.