October 21st, 2016 § Leave a Comment
Then I was reading Ecclesiastes. It is one of the best things ever written. If you haven’t recently, go give it a read. I had before this last time read Ecclesiastes at least a dozen times. And in all those times, never had I seen what struck me this time around. The central theme of Ecclesiastes is happiness. No joke. It really is.
The refrain that gets our attention is Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and chasing after the wind. Reading it, we think, “Okay, this book is a downer.” But we’re missing it if we do not couple it with the other recurring mantra in the book “… under the sun.” Everything isn’t meaningless. What is meaningless is everything under the sun or better way to say it might be: Everything in this world, in and of itself is without meaning. And responding to the impulse to run after them will have one feeling as hopeless as chasing after the wind.
If I can accept this as true, then the real point of Preacher’s message kicks in.
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.
Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love,
all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days.
For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might … Ecclesiastes 9:7-10
It is in the letting go of a life of transcendent glory in the mundane world that I can enjoy the beauty of living under the sun. When I reject that the things in this world can, if worked just so and so, be glorious, then the glory that exists somewhere other than under the sun can be infused into the human, the earthly. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
God is not here. But he is real. And if you would believe him, he will fill a meaningless world with meaning, the dreariness with glory. So, go eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart … Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun – all your meaningless days for this is your (wonderful) lot in life.
September 23rd, 2016 § Leave a Comment
So, believing that God was going to do this impossible thing, believing that he would get me to love him, I started to pray each day for a pure heart. A pure heart … meaning a heart not divided into multiple loves. A heart with one master, undivided, whole. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Each morning as I prayed, I sat in that particularly overwhelming brand of doubt. It’s that doubt that comes over me when praying for someone’s healing. I dislike the feeling so much that eventually, I slip into that mindless, rambling prayer. It’s as if a self-preservation instinct kicks in. The subjecting my mind to talking rationally about the impossible eventually becomes too much. If I must, I’ll get in the room with it, but don’t make me wrestle with that beast. I’ll throw stuff at the impossible, averting my eyes, but don’t make me look at that thing.
What do you know of love anyway? A pure heart? A pure heart? Do you even know where your heart is?
Weeks of praying with no signs of movement, so I thought, “If I can’t get more of him in my heart, I can try to get other things out.” What were my idols? For what was I really living? For what do I grieve? Worry? What makes me happy?
My family. My kids. Success. Opinion of others. But if I’m honest, those things, less in and of themselves, but more as they relate to me. It’s me. The conclusion was that the small idols were pieces of a the great big idol — my life. What do I really want? I just want my life to work out. Lame, but it is that for which I’ve worked all along? My life.
Took the fight to two fronts, and was really getting my ass kicked on both.
September 8th, 2016 § Leave a Comment
That’s the thing I learned. Idolatry is a matter of the heart.
As I was coming to this realization, I thought about that wonderful parable about the Kingdom of God found in Matthew 13. “The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and in his JOY went and sold all he had and bought that field.” For what will I joyfully sell everything I have?
It made me think how different this man in Jesus’ parable was to the young man who approached Jesus seeking eternal life. When he confidently tells of his strict adherence to the Law of Moses, it says that Jesus loves him. He mercifully tells him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” To this, it says the young man went away full of sorrow because he had great possessions.
I wondered, “What in the world did the guy find in the field?”
Then I realized that maybe what he found was what Jesus offers the rich young man, “… come, and follow me.” Maybe the treasure is Jesus.
When it was put to me that way, oh man, I knew the truth. “Lord, I don’t really want you.”
In the past, when reading the story of the rich, young ruler, I thought the key statement was, “How difficult it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God … Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” I know now that there are two weightier statements. The first is that Jesus loved him. The second is Jesus’ response to the astonishment of his disciples, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Mark 10:23-27
I cannot joyfully give up my idols for him. And yet, he loves me. That’s crazy. And because he loves me, what is impossible with me is possible with God. I was convinced that God would stuff that camel through the eye of a needle. I believed that I would treasure him in my heart. Love him above all else.
Right around this time, I began to sense that all this was about joy.
August 16th, 2016 § Leave a Comment
So when I set out to observe the Sabbath, I discovered that the hardest thing to do was cease from all work. I thought, “Wait a minute. What’s going on? I’ve always enjoyed an excuse to take the afternoon off. This isn’t like me.” I’ve never been an overachiever, a teacher’s pet. In fact, if there was a shortcut to be found, I was your man. The apparent incongruity had my attention.
One day, someone said these words, “I work to save myself.” Ding. Ding. Ding. Bingo. That’s it. Everything from the feverish work on the basketball court to running myself into the ground during those uncertain years of my fledgling career, I have always worked to save myself. The connection to the next part of our conversation was a good deal more immediate.
If I work to save myself, that for which I work is then my savior. My god. As I looked back to the desperate person that I’ve been throughout most of my life, I saw a path strewn with idols. I have always been an idolator.
Around this time, it struck me that the Ten Commandments does not begin with a command. Exodus 20 begins, “God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’ …” Then to command one: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Idolatry is so bad not only because I am trusting in a false god, which is itself plenty bad, but because there is a true God — a God who loves me. Lived for me and died to save me. Idolatry is not only the turning to that which is false, but turning away from him who is true. There’s betrayal at the heart of idolatry. It’s not just the sleeping around, it’s the leaving of a faithful, loving wife to go slide into bed with a lover.
August 1st, 2016 § Leave a Comment
I work to save myself.
So, what I found interesting was this: When told I wasn’t to do anything, the thing I most wanted to do was work. “Wanted” isn’t the right word. I felt most uneasy about not being able to work. It was the itch that begged to be scratched.
Once I had sufficiently experienced this oddity, the next piece was shown me.
In a conversation with a person who was at the time assigned to me as a professional mentor, this guy said something that made my compulsion with work less of an oddity than I’d initially surmised. Speaking of himself, he said, “I work to save myself.”
Instantly, the statement took me back to the basketball court in my backyard. As a thirteen year old, I spent hours upon hours on that court. Working. Working. Working to get better at something that I wasn’t good enough at. To be better. Better.
I remember coming in through the sliding glass door one night, drenched in sweat. My Dad was at the door. He asked, “What were you doing back there?” Not that he couldn’t see what I was doing. It was the right question. Indeed, what was I doing back there? To his keen eye, he saw me cross over from good hard work to something else. It must have looked strange to him to see me frantically playing against someone who wasn’t there. Chasing something, neither one of us could see.
I wonder what he would’ve said if I had told me, “I was out there trying to save myself Dad.” I get the feeling he would’ve known what I was talking about.
“… In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it …” Isaiah 30:15
July 18th, 2016 § 1 Comment
I’ve had a five year conversation with God. I realize how that sounds. It is however about as plain and as accurate as I can state it. It’s the truth or at least what I believe to be the truth. A few weeks ago, we arrived at what I think was the conclusion. While it was going on, I thought, “I need to write some of this down.” So, in a few posts, I am going to try to capture the highlights of this conversation. I’m writing this more for me than anyone else, but the point of the conversation might be of interest to you. It was about joy.
For most of my adult life, I’ve taken a day a week to spend some extended time with God, which is my way of saying I spent anywhere from five to eight hours reading the Bible and praying. When I transitioned to a new position at work, I let this part of my life slide a bit. My wife notices when I neglect these times, so at her behest, I renewed my commitment. About the same time, I decided to depart from my usual pattern of skipping about the Bible in my readings to read the Bible in a linear fashion from Genesis to Revelations. In those first couple months, as I read through the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch or the Torah, my attention was drawn to the repetitive phrase, “You shall do no work …” In particular, I was struck by the stern, prohibitive language.
And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement,
to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. Leviticus 23:28
I came home and told my wife, “I think God is telling me not to work.”
“If he’s telling you not to work, you had better listen.”
For the next year, one day a week, I decided to do no work. Not to touch it. Almost immediately, I expanded the definition of work to include any life giving activity. One day a week, I did zero work. No computer. No calendar. No people. Nothing. The only thing I did was spend time with God and come home to serve my family. I fasted on those days. No food. No exercise. No entertainment. No TV. No hobbies.
The surprising discovery was this: Of all the things from which I abstained, work was the hardest thing to drop. Not doing work was by far the most difficult discipline. Harder than not eating. Harder than not playing. The discovery was particularly noteworthy because I have always been by nature someone who enjoys play a good deal more than work. One of my highest values is leisure. Why was it than that when told I mustn’t work, I squirmed and fidgeted. How’d I become that guy who at every opportunity was all about frenetic activity?
March 22nd, 2016 § 2 Comments
It didn’t go as I had hoped. It rarely has since he’s become a teenager. A discussion turned into a fight, and then anger and disbelief. Before it was over, I was chasing him up the stairs, yelling the stupid question, “Who do you think you’re talking to?”
The next day, I was with a trusted friend. THANK GOD for trusted friends. This friend happens to be a licensed marriage and family therapist. THANK GOD for marriage and family therapist. He hears me out and then says, “Sounds to me a lot like a thinker vs feeler thing.” Now, I have a cursory knowledge of Myers-Briggs psychological type indicator, but not much beyond what the letters represent.
Okay, what do you mean?
As my friend began to explain it to me, it was like someone calmly lighting a candle in a room darkened by hopelessness.
The gist of it went like this: A thinker – that would be me – processes the world through the mind. Things have to be explainable, reason must govern decisions. Conversely, a feeler processes reality primarily through their feelings. How one feels is a prominent, reliable source of motivation. To a thinker, a feeler sounds … frankly, a feeler sounds dumb. To a feeler, a thinker sounds narrow and overbearing. And here’s the kicker, they both believe they are right.
No, wait, here’s the real kicker: In many cases, they both have reasonable cause to believe that they are right … because, because there may not be a right. Crazy, right?
So, this friend tells me, “To a feeler, a thinker comes off like a bully — a reason bully. Your kid could feel cornered by your reasoning. He may feel dismissed. Try this: Try listening, drawing him out. Resist the temptation to offer your understanding.” Later, my friend’s wife added, “No matter how dumb it sounds to you — you have to remember, it may only sound dumb because you lack the ability to process things the way he does — try to find things in what he is saying that you can affirm.” They agreed that once he feels heard, you may find him much more open to your input.”
Seriously, it’s been like magic.
October 7th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
Most of my ideas about parenting come from the Bible. The latest one is from the life of Eli. Eli was one of the last of the Judges – an executive office of the nation of Israel, which was then a theocracy. Sort of a Priest ruler. And sometimes even the military leader. All this is beside the point. Eli had two sons, who also served as priests. These sons were corrupt. From their position of authority, they stole from and took advantage of the people they were assigned to serve.
It seems for many years, Eli did nothing about his sons. The section of the story which speaks of Eli addressing the issue with his sons begins, “Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing …” Very old? Why didn’t Eli say or do anything before he was very old?
Years later, after Israel had become a monarchy, David sat on the throne of Israel as its second king. One of David’s sons, Amnon, rapes his half-sister, Tamar, and casts her aside. She publicly mourns this hideous crime committed against her, and enters the house of her brother, Absalom. “So, Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.”
What was King David’s response? “When King David heard about all these things, he was very angry.” That’s it. That all it says. If one reads on, the text reveals that Amnon was left to live his life freely in the kingdom … well, until his brother, Absalom, kills him. Would Absalom have killed Amnon if David had done something? Would David have always had Absalom’s heart if Absalom had seen his father act? Instead, Absalom murders his brother and eventually carries out a coup against his father.
As I father teenage kids, there is great temptation to be scared of my own kids. As they begin to separate, I fear rejection. What if something I say leads to their rebellion? They seem so annoyed – maybe I shouldn’t bother them. What if I lose them.
Of course, we must be careful. We need to be patient, long suffering. One of the most important skills to master is parenting teenagers is biting your tongue. Yes, all this and more. But I must try to never be scared of my kids.
The lesson of Eli is this: Do not fail to act upon something you know to be right because you fear the loss of your child. There are more than one way to lose a child.
August 9th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
A great quote on self-awareness.
“I learned early in my medical career that the doctor you should worry about isn’t the one who doesn’t know anything. It’s the one who doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does.
Not having the answers isn’t fatal if you at least have the self-awareness to know what you don’t know. ‘Often wrong, never in doubt’ is no way to go through life.”
Rany Jazayerli from “Teardown Artist” Grantland.com, July 15, 2015
August 8th, 2015 § 2 Comments
It was all going according to plan … and yet, driving away, all I could hear were the sobbing cries of my wife and daughter.
Last Friday, we handed our foster child over to his family. After months of steps, moving forward and back with his parents, out of nowhere, his grandparents were suddenly approved for a temporary placement. A month ago, all we knew was a looming court date. Then one morning, my wife gets a call from the social worker about the possibility. Two weeks later, we were dropping him off. Just like that. After ten months of holding, kissing, changing, walking, playing, feeding … it took all of thirty minutes to say, “Good bye.”
I know it sounds embittered. I can only tell you that we are not. Was it too abrupt? Yes. Would a different timetable have helped? Probably not. Did we want to keep him. Yes and no. You see, there in lies the complexity. We all – but especially my wife – loved this boy like our own. Unreservedly. Almost immediately, my wife dropped her guard and opened her heart. He was hers. It’s exactly what he needed. A real mom … well, while separated from his real mom that is. It’s what made him chunky and smiley. Can any real mom want to give that up?
All the while, we spent eight hours a week with his real parents, doing everything we knew to help them get their son back. Praying. Encouraging. Hoping. Coaching. When together, we longed with them that one day their son would be returned to them. We exhorted them, even pleaded with them to do all that was mandated.
Paradoxically, the only way to do this was to work ourselves into wanting to keep him while remaining unwavering in our commitment to return him. My wife did this. She did it well – just like we’d planned. And by so doing, she guaranteed for herself a broken heart. And in a way, this broken heart is her last generous gesture … a parting gift given to a boy who will not be forgotten.