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Monday, May 21, 2012

Lessons from Ikea

Yesterday was a long day.

We spent a nice morning visiting a church and then headed down the I5 to Ikea. This store has relatively cheap and tasty food, so we thought it would be fun to have lunch and then hang around a bit for some shopping. In my "guy" brain, I hadn't really thought much past the food.  I figured we would maybe spend an hour or so shopping.

Some of you have already begun laughing. You know the time warp that is Ikea. Now try and image this behemoth of a store with 4 small children, who all need to either eat, pee, or whine constantly. About four hours in, I had lost my sense of direction and my patience. I just wanted out. In that emotional place, I found myself noticing how I was treating others. My wife's desire to "just look some more" was aggravating. My kid's insistence on trying out every bed and chair was irritating. Other shopper's plans to simply walk by us was annoying. I was rude, impatient, arrogant and aloof. At least that's how I felt on the inside. I'm not sure how much of it actually spilled out, but likely more than I care to admit.

I wrote this line in my journal today: "I will not be tomorrow anything I am unwilling to be today." In other words, I won't magically become someone in the future without putting work and effort into that desire today. If you were to ask me who I would like to be 5 or 10 years down the road, I would tell you that I want to be more patient, more humble, more engaged with my wife and kids, and kinder to people around me. I desire these things. But am I living them today? Perhaps not perfectly, but am I moving this way? Yesterday felt like I took a step back.

So today I will try again. With the constant questions or neediness of my children, I will work on being patient. With my wife's interests and ideas, I will remind myself to stay engaged. With strangers around me and neighbors beside me, I will seek to be loving and kind as Christ would be. I will attempt to think not only of my own interests, but in humility to consider others as more important than myself. If I have any hope of being that person tomorrow, then I must begin today.

You will not be anything tomorrow that you are unwilling to be today. It is easy to have grand ideas about the kind of person we will be in the great blue yonder. Somehow, we think we'll just wake up one day and be the person we have always wanted to be- kinder to our spouse, healthier in our habits, more disciplined in our day, more deeply dedicated to God- but the truth is we will be an amplified version then of what we are now.

Who are you being today?

May you behave today like the kind of person you would be happy to be tomorrow.

And know this: God's grace is with you on that journey today. And tomorrow.

Just rambling-

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Christ is in the Coffee

Perhaps you are like me, and you find that at times it is all too easy to separate your spirituality from practicality. This is the constant temptation we face to be religious- to believe and know all of the right things without much thought put towards whether or not these things are actually being lived. In a sense, I find spending time with God and His word to be easy; I sit, I read, I drink coffee, I enjoy His presence. But to take all that I learn in these moments into the rest of the world- ah, well, that can be another matter entirely.

I have been encouraged this week by a couple of readings I ran across, and so I would like to share them with you. These thoughts are for all of you that hunger for a faith that touches on every aspect of your real life:

In our community the other day, there wasn't much coffee. Coffee does me good down here in the desert. I was worried about not having any, about spending a few hours feeling dull and weak, and so- without perceiving the evil I was doing- I went into the kitchen before the others and drank up all that was left.
It seems a tiny thing, yet in that cup of coffee, taken and not shared with my brothers, is the root of all the evil which disturbs us, the poison of all the arrogance which selfishness, riches, and power create.
The difference between me and Jesus is right here, in an affair that seems simple, but isn't at all; after a whole life time it is still there to make you think. Jesus would have left the coffee for his brothers; I excluded my brothers.
 Carlo Carretto- The God Who Comes

Everyday things, relationships with other people, daily work, love of our family- all these may breed saints. Jesus at Nazareth taught us to live every hour of the day as saints. Every hour of the day is useful and may lead to divine inspiration, the will of the Father, the prayer of contemplation- holiness. Every hour of the day is holy. What matters is to live it as Jesus taught us.
And for this one does not have to shut oneself in a monastery or fix strange and inhumane regimes for one's life. It is enough to accept the realities of life. Work is one of these realities; motherhood, the rearing of children, family life with all its obligations are others.
Carretto- Letters from the Desert 

Spirituality that does not touch on these topics- life, parenting, even coffee- is not spirituality at all. If our faith in God does not lead to greater love for our friend, our neighbor, our spouse, it is not faith at all. In a season here where I am more prone to contemplation, thinking, and writing, I am striving to keep these words in mind. The way I speak to my kids during the break I take for lunch is just as important as the way I speak to Jesus in prayer. The manner in which I treat the cashier in the check out line is as significant as the manner in which I write my book. The two- inner devotion and external action- must walk together at all times. This is the heart of what Jesus taught.

Today, may you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and may you love your neighbor as yourself. And may you share the coffee.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Should This Poem Go in the Book?

Hey all-

I have a favor to ask today. As many of you know, over 2+ years ago, I reached a real crisis point in my struggle with pornography. It was undermining everything I valued and destroying my marriage. On February 16, 2010, God met me in a unique way and began a process of healing in my life that continues to this day. At that time, I wrote a poem for my wife that expressed the emotions I was feeling, and communicated a vision of what needed to happen.

Here is that poem. What I would like to know is: should the poem go in the book? Is it "publishable"?
Please vote in the comments below! Thanks-

My Beauty and My Beast

One day my beauty and I went out
               And spread a blanket beneath the trees
Our minds were set upon one task
To spend the day in love’s blissful ease

My beauty laid her head upon my arm
               And rested in peaceful security there.
I gazed deeply into her loving eyes
               As I gently stroked her golden hair.

But our idyllic scene was broken by
               The sudden shaking of a bush so near
Bursting out from behind this leaf
               Came a beast to inspire great fear

My beauty cowered in my shadow
               Fearing the worst to come
But in bravado I comforted her,
               “Don’t worry, I know this one.”

For indeed, this lustful animal was mine,
               Who tracked with me day and night
“I can handle him, so be at peace
               There’s no reason for such fright.”

So over I went to reason
               With our uninvited guest
I conjured and cajoled with him
               Till he went away to rest.

I returned to my beauty’s side
               There in our peaceful glade
Unaware that on her chest
               A deep cut my beast had made

For time on end, this scene
               Predictably played over and over
Each time inflicting a deeper wound
               Near the heart of my true lover

But blind I was to the pain it caused
               Until at last she began to weep
“I’m perishing” she cried,
               “At the cruel hands of your beast.”

And there she wilted in my arms
               Alas her strength was spent
I cried out in anguish to the Heavens
               My own heart was finally rent.

And then the gracious One
               Who is wise beyond all measure
Came unseen and laid a sword
               Silently there upon the heather

I grasped it firm and strode
               To where my beast must again appear
And when he did I boldly cried,
               “Beast your end is near!”

How cunningly he softly sang
               That it didn’t have to be this way
Just let him be, he begged of me,
               And promised to stay at bay

But with one more glance at the wounds of my beauty
               I knew that I could delay no more
I plunged the sword deep into the heart of my beast
               And pierced him to the core.

In agony and screams of death,
               My beast crumpled at my feet
As at that moment a voice began to sing
               Gently, softly, perfectly and sweet

It was freedom’s song finally loosed
               From chains within my heart
I lifted up my voice in chorus,
               Singing, My God, how great thou art.

And back I turned to my beauty there,
               Still lying at death’s door
I held her tight and looked to Heaven
               Pleading for mercy once more.

Then in astonishment I watched the wounds
               Which had covered her gracious form
Begin to fade and disappear
               And her skin began to warm

Her eyes she opened in new found love
               Gazing up at me
“Is he gone?” she asked
               “Can we finally be free?”

“Forever, my beauty” I said to her
               “The battle at last is won.
You and I shall ever be
               Joyful dancers beneath a clear sun.”

One day my beauty and I went out
               And spread a blanket beneath the trees
And at last we knew that we were free
To spend the day in love’s blissful ease
 (NJS, February 18, 2010)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Can I Be Honest?

I have never been a big fan of "doing devotions." Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of God. I'm a big fan of learning to trust Jesus, to follow where He leads, and wrap my life in His ways. I'm a big fan of that journey, but I know that it is complex and challenging. Therefore, I "do my devotions" as one discipline of growth- a practice of learning to stop my busyness in order to listen and learn from Him.

But for someone who is prone to activity and doing, stopping all of that to sit, read, and listen feels, well, like a waste of time. I did ask if I could be honest, right? I mean, it seems like there are so many valuable ways to spend my time that contemplation and silence feel so unproductive and out of step.

I ran across something recently, though, that has really helped me shift my thoughts about "quiet time". This is from author H. A. Williams:
So also in the prayer of contemplation, when the mind and the feelings are quietened and we become passively receptive in the presence of God, our passivity is a deep and costly form of activity. It is action of the highest human order which always consists of letting go and letting God take on. And when at prayer we are thus receptively passively active so that we let go and let God take on, then it inevitably colors and gives wings to all we are and do.

Receptively passively active. Those words don't go together in my vocabulary, but I like the sound of them. This idea that listening to God and being with Him is a sort of activity of the highest caliber creates a shift in my thinking. I like that. I like the idea that when I am "letting go and letting God take on", I am doing more in that moment than I ever could in all of my working, striving and trying. If God takes on those things that I have been taking on, then He brings his infinite power and wisdom to issues that I have been stabbing at feebly in my humanity. God can, and does, change in a moment things that I cannot change in a lifetime.

So today, I am trying to walk and live with this idea of receptive passive activity, not as the end of my doing, but as the very highest expression of it. My work giving way to His work. My doing becoming His doing.

This is for all of you activists, producers, and doers out there- you know who you are! May you also know the grace and joy this week of being receptively passively active, and may you find that more is happening in these moments of "doing nothing" than you and I ever imagined.

To Him who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more...