Creative Meditations for Lent, Word Prompt: Alignment
I thought the illustration for today’s Creative Meditations for Lent word would be easy. Alignment. Of course, I want to be aligned with God’s purposes. I want to hear his heart and direct my energies to serving him by doing the works he created me to do. How can I illustrate that? I could draw a picture of two people running together toward a goal, or take a photo of machine parts in alignment working together, or maybe I could find an older photo of railroad tracks going in the same direction.
I began to think about what it means to align with God’s intent and purposes. (My husband says God is a good listener, but he doesn’t take advice well. We could save ourselves a lot of bother if we just knew what he was up to.) But I kept getting interrupted, first by grumbling and trying to use a straight iron to fix a haircut that is much shorter than I wanted, then by a meeting, then by an appointment with the dentist and a little shopping while I was in that part of town, then by some rabbit trail research, then by a nap, then by a chat, then another meeting, then a little browsing through YouTube and Twitter (dangerous diversion, that), then writing and deleting a long reactionary post on a topic which I finally admitted I knew too little about to venture an informed opinion, then by cooking supper and tidying up, then by doing a last minute favour for someone that only took an hour or so, then stopping to pick up something at the store that I forgot to get earlier before coming home and talking to my husband about his day, then fixing myself a bed-time snack. Now the day is nearly done and the thing I set out to do this morning is not nearly done.
I realized how easy it is to fritter away time, and the older I get, the more whatever time I have left increases in value. I felt the Lord ask, “If your desire is really to get in line with my purposes, why are you letting all these other things distract you?”
I wonder if the devil can’t convince us to take part in outright rebellion if he just gets us to fail in our purpose by throwing interesting and often pleasant distractions in the way. I really should be working on my book. Oh look! A shiny!
What’s my point? I want to say “yes” to God, to be in alignment with him. But saying yes to him means saying no to other things. Even voluntary creative meditations require focus. My pencils are all lined up and ready to go, but they won’t produce anything useful without my intent to align with God’s intent. Alignment is not so easy.
At various times in my life, I have hired people to clean for me. The problem is, they could never organize for me. I would need a staff for that, and even then it’s hard for them to read my mind.
I never noticed until it was time to pack up to move, that I am a collector of cleaning products – especially the ones that promise less scrubbing and heaven by way of the shower door. Somehow, I thought that by buying all these spray bottles and magic cloths I was creating the potential for spotless bliss.
The problem with that plan was this: Stuff must be moved, cleaning products must be applied and removed, and stuff needs to be dusted/washed/polished before being put back in a better place. All of this requires my participation. It was easier to give everything a quick flick of a damp rag, throw stuff I didn’t know what to do with in the storage room, turn off the light, shut the door, and get on with life.
I realize now that the storage room could be a symbol of every out-of-order thing in my life that I never got around to dealing with, until it threatened to avalanche into the living areas. When it was time to move, I felt overwhelmed. No one could do it for me and yet I couldn’t do it all myself. I had to ask for help.
My life has tended to have pockets of denial where broken, dirty, and embarrassing things collect. It’s easy to try to keep denying their existence until someone wants to look in all the dark corners – someone like Jesus.
Here’s the thing. God forgives because of Jesus, but when sin clutter spills out and blocks the way between us, communication is hindered. It’s hard to be perfectly, nakedly, candidly honest before the Lord when you are struggling to keep sin hidden. John the Beloved wrote about it this way:
Here, then, is the message which we heard from him, and now proclaim to you: GOD IS LIGHT and no shadow of darkness can exist in him. Consequently, if we were to say that we enjoyed fellowship with him and still went on living in darkness, we should be both telling and living a lie. But if we really are living in the same light in which he eternally exists, then we have true fellowship with each other, and the blood which his Son shed for us keeps us clean from all sin. If we refuse to admit that we are sinners, then we live in a world of illusion and truth becomes a stranger to us. But if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. For if we take up the attitude “we have not sinned”, we flatly deny God’s diagnosis of our condition and cut ourselves off from what he has to say to us. (1 John 1:5-9 Phillips)
Confession means admitting we have a sin problem. God forgives and cleanses us, but we need to be bravely honest and ask him to take away all the junk hidden in our hearts. I love a clean house, but a clean heart even more.
Not everyone is there yet, but many health officials around the world are starting to talk about life post-pandemic. I don’t think we are prepared for this any more than we were prepared for the unlabelled corona virus when it first spread across our continent. It may take a while to let go of the sense of being on high alert that has ruled our decisions for the past how many? … too many months.
I’m choosing to write about what I think we may see shortly because I feel qualified. I’m a triple vaxxed, law-abiding, “extremely vulnerable” senior who is ready to move on. I’m in the category of people all these measures were supposedly taken to save and I say thank you and I say enough now. It’s time to start thinking about approaching this differently. In my life I’ve seen financial reversals, tornados, floods, wildfires, near-death experiences, and the post-crisis crises with PTSD symptoms that inevitably played out later.
We have been focussed on survival because we needed to be. We are now accustomed to seeing signs on doors and walls reminding us to mask, distance, and isolate. We’ve heard public service announcements on every speaker reminding us that danger lurks everywhere. As images of hundreds dying in the hallways of hospitals popped up on our screens, we needed to be aware of how our choices affect other people – and how other people’s choices affect us.
Some people were better than others at adapting and not letting the fear get to them, but we all face another big adjustment soon. Even countries that enforced extremely controlling regulations are beginning to admit that the current highly contagious, but less lethal variant means the virus cannot be by eliminated like smallpox was. The health minister in my province, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has said, “We have to change our way of thinking.”
The reality is we are now dealing with a virus that is still very serious to some but merely disrupting and unpleasant for most. The time is approaching to come out of our caves and learn to live with it in our midst like we live with the flu and the common cold.
When the day is finally here I expect there will be a time of celebration for those of us who survived. But there will also be shock and mourning as we start seeing the devastation both the disease and measures taken to stop it have caused around us.
Every day we have seen statistics on case numbers and deaths. What we haven’t seen are daily statistics on businesses lost, case numbers on anxiety and depression, suicides and accidental overdose, bankruptcies and homelessness, and numbers on massive increases in personal and national debt.
We have not yet reckoned with the number of people in mourning for those who died, marriages that have crumbled under the stress, school-aged children who have missed quality education or opportunities for training in extracurricular sports and arts programs, and university students who failed to make important social connections on campus as they instead watched zoom lectures alone in the basement.
For many struggling people, savings for retirement or higher education or down payments on first homes have slipped away and left only a vague memory. Trust in institutions and authorities has similarly faded as questions arise about whose best interest motivated decisions. Some of the mess we will see when our eyes adjust to sunlight ain’t gonna be pretty.
Recently, I have become aware of so many people who have mourned the loss of loved ones during lockdowns without hospital visits to say goodbye, funerals to honour, or the person-to-person comfort we once knew how to give. Some have told me they still need closure. As well as a time of celebration I think we are going to need a time of mourning for those lost not only to the pandemic, but those lost to the consequences of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and quarantines.
We haven’t begun to count the cost of delayed medical diagnosis and treatment. My own scans and appointments with my oncologist and other specialists were delayed by up to nine months –and this was at a time when our local hospital had few, if any, covid cases. I’m good enough for now, thanks for asking, but I know whereof I speak. The wait wasn’t easy. Others have suffered much more than I have. My daughter grieves for a friend who died of cancer that was diagnosed far too late due to postponements.
I believe that our whole country, as well as most others, will soon face a time of mourning if they haven’t already. Not everyone will experience the stages of shock, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance at the same time, nor to the same degree, but we might see a lot of people experiencing feelings of anger or depression at the same time. Tread gently.
My own anger was triggered the other day by the sight of dirty discarded masks in a parking lot. It took me a while to realize it wasn’t about the stupid masks. It was about what they represented – all the inconvenience, fear, feeling unheard, and feeling pushed into choosing sides when I could see more than one side. It was about living in unnatural isolation and loneliness without seeing my sons and daughters-in-law or some of my grandchildren for over two years. It was about not being able to say goodbye to friends. It was about the pain of trying to communicate in a cyberworld with people who could be nastier than I ever realized. It was about too much and too little.
It was about grief. I cried and eventually found peace again. Who knew the sight of a muddy mask in the gutter could evoke so much emotion?
Some people are experiencing the first exciting glimpses of hope that this war may soon be over. Many others are already experiencing the anger stage of grief and are standing up and shouting “Enough!” I am one.
Someone told me that anger is a secondary emotion. It’s like a fix engine light on the dashboard of vehicle. It doesn’t tell us what exactly is wrong, just that something is wrong. Something is not working. Ignoring anger, stifling it, or legislating it away will not work. We are going to have to work through this emotion stuff or we risk even greater division, distrust, and more demonstrations of deep pain than we have thus seen.
Historically, the years after pandemics have involved great upheaval. Anger after tragic loss seeks someone to blame. People will start looking for those responsible for “poisoning the well” like they did after previous plagues. Those who could be in the line of fire may try to redirect blame or even become persecutors of scapegoats themselves. It could turn nasty.
OR people can make one more big voluntary sacrifice of personal rights. After the reckoning and counting the cost, we can choose to extend forgiveness. We can move toward reconciliation. Reconciliation goes beyond forgiveness. Reconciliation requires transparent honesty and the willingness to seriously listen to folks from on all sides, but I believe it is possible.
So, what am I saying? Love.
Love is what I am saying. Love is the way out of this mess.
We have got to get our love on. Without love we aren’t going to make it through this next phase intact.
Whether you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, a prophet, or just a good teacher, his teaching of love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of revenge, kindness instead of greed, and hopefulness instead of hopelessness is the only thing that will revive our souls and allow us to live in the light again.
When I was in Jr. High I sang a duet with a classmate for the opening of Confederation Park in Calgary. (He later became a “Crazy Canuck” skier and won the World Cup Ski Championship – how Canadian!) Some of the songs we sang came back to me today, especially the concluding line of the Canada Centennial song by Bobby Gimby. My prayer is that soon we will grieve the loss, heal the rifts, and sing,
Merrily we roll along, together all the way! Ensemble!
The situation we find ourselves is not new. I learned recently that my ancestors came from the small town in Europe where the first peasant uprising in the 16th century led to riots, death, and destruction. Systemic injustice builds until something breaks. History teaches us the dangers of looking the other way.
God doesn’t look the other way. In plain and blunt words, he told the people, through the prophet Isaiah, their show of religion that made no difference in their treatment of each other disgusted him.
We would do well to pay attention. From the Voice translation, an extract from Isaiah 58:
Eternal One: They pretend to want to learn what I teach,
As if they are indeed a nation good and true,
as if they hadn’t really turned their backs on My directives.
They even ask Me, as though they care,
about what I want them to be and do, as if they really want Me in their lives.
People: Why didn’t You notice how diligently we fasted before You?
We humbled ourselves with pious practices and You paid no attention. Eternal One: I have to tell you, on those fasting days,
all you were really seeking was your own pleasure;
Besides you were busy defrauding people and abusing your workers.
Your kind of fasting is pointless, for it only leads to bitter quarrels,
contentious backbiting, and vicious fighting.
You are not fasting today because you want Me to hear your voice.
What kind of a fast do I choose? Is a true fast simply
some religious exercise for making a person feel miserable and woeful?
Is it about how you bow your head (like a bent reed), how you dress (in sackcloth), and where you sit (in a bed of ashes)?
Is this what you call a fast, a day the Eternal One finds good and proper?
No, what I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.
A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family.
Then, oh then, your light will break out like the warm, golden rays of a rising sun;
in an instant, you will be healed.
Your rightness will precede and protect you;
the glory of the Eternal will follow and defend you.
Then when you do call out, “My God, Where are You?”
The Eternal One will answer, “I am here, I am here.”
If you remove the yoke of oppression from the downtrodden among you,
stop accusing others, and do away with mean and inflammatory speech,
If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need,
then your light will shine in the darkness,
And even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day.
The Eternal One will never leave you;
He will lead you in the way that you should go.
When you feel dried up and worthless,
God will nourish you and give you strength.
And you will grow like a garden lovingly tended;
you will be like a spring whose water never runs out.
You will discover there are people among your own
who can rebuild this broken-down city out of the ancient ruins;
You will firm up its ancient foundations.
And all around, others will call you
“Repairer of Broken Down Walls” and “Rebuilder of Livable Streets.”
I grew up with someone who lied – a lot. She lied when it was not in her best interest. She lied when it was in no one’s best interest. She lied when her story could easily be disproven. She lied when the mood was light and when the mood was serious.
She also told the truth – a lot. She sometimes told the truth when most people would have exercised more discretion, but she could be incisive. She also had many valuable skills and taught me practical, useful knowledge I am grateful for to this day.
People she upset labeled her a compulsive liar and broke off relationships. Folks inclined to be more gracious added, “Sally’s* version” with a wink to the end of any information they passed on from her.
When I asked about family history she related, my uncle said, “Well now, you know how she had trouble getting her story straight,” he said, adjusting his dusty cowboy hat. “But you know she meant well.”
We all learned she couldn’t get a story straight — eventually. The problem was that sometimes she told the truth. Important truth. Truth that required response.
I couldn’t trust what she said, but I couldn’t afford to dismiss her either. The major complicating factor was that I loved her dearly and knew that she loved me and did her best to care for me. I knew she had a good heart and would never intentionally hurt anyone, but the lying did hurt a lot of people, myself included. Kind, responsible family members cleaned up more than a few messes she left in her cheerful wake. They shrugged and privately gave me a more accurate version later.
It wasn’t until after she died that I read an article explaining the complicated, frustrating behaviour of the person that was part of my childhood environment. A disorder resulting from head trauma, or brain damage before birth, or as a result of advanced age, can cause a person to “confabulate.” Often, as in my caretaker’s case, parts of one story mix with the details of another story without the speaker being the least bit aware of blatant inaccuracies. Sometimes their brain will fill in forgotten memories with memories from another time, or a work of fiction, or even from another person’s story. In all innocence they trust their mind to give them accurate information and are hurt when you accuse them of making it up.
Sally sincerely believed she was telling the truth. Since she showed some other traits of learning disabilities, such as being almost illiterate, I began to understand. She was not intentionally lying after all. She would stick to her story even as people stared at her, slack-jawed at the audacity of her whoppers. She cried when they rejected her.
She could say, for example, “School is closed today because some bad kids stole a backhoe and burned it down when they hit a gas main.” The actual story was that school was closed because workers accidently hit a water pipe when they were working on the building extension. The part I needed to know was that my school was closed that day. The school that burned down was her school, half a century earlier. Sometimes it was like she saw a version of events through a distance-distorting rearview mirror and temporal space anomaly at the same time – but the essence was still there.
More than once I was embarrassed when I passed on a confabulated story. More than once I struggled with anger for believing all of it. In the years when I developed, like most teens, a radar for hypocrisy, I was not very respectful. I didn’t want to be seen with her. As an adult I honoured her and even enjoyed her, but kept a skeptical distance. She died more than thirty years ago and as I write this, tears fall because I know she loved me more than anyone before or since. I would love to hear her ridiculous synopsis of the six o’clock news about now, because as off-base as it could be, there was always an essential truth I needed to know in there somewhere.
Growing up in that environment taught me an important lesson. I cannot assume a report is entirely true. I cannot assume it is entirely false. The balance of accurate facts and misplaced facts cannot always be determined by the teller’s motives. We are all broken people in some way and our stories are filtered through experience, lack of experience, biases, selfish motives, altruistic motives — and even brain damage. I may not agree with Dr. House in the re-runs I’ve been watching that “everyone lies,” but I don’t believe everyone tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth either. God only knows what the whole truth looks like, but I want to hear what people have to say anyway.
Whether it’s the government, or social media sites, or heresy hunters who want to clamp down on sources of “fake news” or “bad teaching” or “uncertified medical opinions” and thereby determine truth for me, I want to shout no!
When someone tries to keep me from seeing the work of a writer, or a speaker, or photographer, or film maker because their narrative doesn’t fit the desired grid, I feel insulted. To eliminate sources “experts” consider fake is to imply there are some they consider to always be perfectly accurate. I have to question their motives.
If I let another source do the critical thinking for me, I’m relinquishing a hard-earned skill and the opportunity to ask questions, spit out the bones, and humbly accept correction when I have swallowed something without exercising proper discernment. Worse than that, it means giving up access to important information that could be in there somewhere that I need to pay attention to. Creativity begins with thinking outside the box.
I believe we can ask God for wisdom and discernment. I believe we can pray for His light to shine in dark places and expose intentional lies and evil motives. I believe information should be as accurate as possible and age-appropriate when presented to children. I believe positions of trust require scrutiny and accountability. Justice must be seen to be done when trust is intentionally broken. These things are important. But I also believe God gave us brains for a reason. Without exercise, they will atrophy.
I’m not a child anymore. Give me the freedom to think and discern for myself, please. I know how. Sally taught me.
Yesterday I wrote about my struggle to choose to do what is right and place my trust in the One who has always cared for me. Only yesterday. (Here.)
Less than an hour after I got home I took a phone message for my husband from a shop in town where we take our car for servicing. When he came home he returned the call.
“We won something,” he said. “Bluetooth earphones.”
“Wow! I don’t remember entering a contest. Did you?” I asked.
“No. Apparently we were entered automatically the last time we took the car in.”
When I was finished with my meeting he presented me with two sets of Bose earphones – one for each of us. A couple of years ago I tried out a similar pair. I loved them, but there was no way I could buy such an extravagant thing for myself.
Eagerly I hooked them up to my phone (My kind husband gave me a new one when his crashed. He took my old one since I’m the one who fills up the memory space with music and photos.) I recently I compiled a list of songs of praise. They were in no particular order. When the ear phones came alive I heard Selah singing “Standing on the Promises.”
Standing on the promises, I cannot fail when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail.
This was followed by Lauren Daigle singing “Everything.”
Even the sparrow has a place to lay its heads so why would I let worries steal my breath?
When “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood starting playing I cried happy tears.
Lord, I lift up my eyes unto the hills knowing my help is coming from you.
In less than an hour after I chose to obey and go pay what I felt was an unfair bill, I received not just one unexpected gift, but two! If God can provide something that I desired but thought was out of reach, he will surely meet all our needs.
Yes, Lord, I can hear you. I lift my hands in total praise to You!
This morning my husband is catching up on emails surrounded by a symphony playing Beethoven (at a volume perfect for him.) He told me he felt like the Lord was saying, “I’m giving you back the gift of music, which you have forgotten.”
Family members met yesterday to sort and distribute the last of my husband’s mother’s things. This is the third time I’ve shared this responsibility. It doesn’t get easier.
It’s a strange task, this going through other people’s spaces, looking at photos of people you never knew, discovering souvenirs from vacations you never took, and reading notes you were never meant to read. We had boxes and boxes of items to take to charities organizations. So many things a person saves hold little meaning for children and grandchildren who value tidiness, personal taste, and room to move in their own homes over sentimentality. “This was Mom’s favourite spatula” is not a good enough reason to add the collection already jamming a kitchen drawer.
Our parents saw harder times than we have known. My mother-in-law knew what it was like to lose everything to invaders in Rangoon during WWII. My parents knew what it was like to go hungry during the catastrophic climate-change known as The Dirty Thirties on the prairies. I understand why the shortages they experienced led to the habit of saving everything, but they set aside so many things for us that we don’t need. Their hard work actually did build a better life for us.
The problem of not knowing what to do with all the stuff left when an older family member passes away is relatively new in this land. Most of us are the descendants of immigrants and refugees who arrived with little. We don’t recognize the problem as a sign of how wealthy we’ve actually become. Our most treasured inheritance is their trust in God, faithfulness to family, and demonstrations of valiant endurance, not china tea cups or balls of string.
As we cope with boxes and bins of former treasures, I think about all the things we ourselves worked hard to accumulate. I wonder if my children and grandchildren will also send most of our stuff to the thrift shop or recycling center for who knows whom. (I’m working on down-sizing, kids, really I am.)
My mother-in-law lived into her nineties, but I know she still felt her time was too short. I was thinking about how quickly life passes, and how many of the things she once treasured are sitting in boxes by the back door, when I came across Psalm 39 in my scheduled reading today.
What a brief time you’ve given me to live! Compared to you my lifetime is nothing at all! Nothing more than a puff of air, I’m gone so swiftly. So too are the grandest of men; they are nothing but a fleeting shadow!” Pause in his presence
We live our lives like those living in shadows. All our activities and energies are spent for things that pass away. We gather, we hoard, we cling to our things, only to leave them all behind for who knows who.
And now, God, I’m left with one conclusion: my only hope is to hope in you alone!
Psalm 39:5-7 TPT
I don’t want my remaining time to be spent accumulating things that pass away. The treasure I most wish to leave to my progeny is the story of God’s faithfulness, his empowering grace and hope – joyful expectation – that Christ alone is all the provision they need.
It was a mess. A world of division, compromise, corruption, and religiously followed traditions and rituals detached from roots of love and relationship. A hodge-podge of imperfect plans by imperfect people.
Tyrants, sycophants, miscreants, occupants,
masters, slaves, overlords, conscripts,
builders, destroyers, collaborators, rebels,
haves, have-nots, hopeful, hopeless.
This was the society Jesus was born into, because the time was right.
As they had many times before, the people not in control cried out for a saviour. They wanted freedom from the will of Roman conquerors. God sent them a saviour, but not to free them from man-made power ploys gone astray. He sent them Someone who could save them from something much more enslaving – their own sin.
As he had done before, he sent his answer in a form few recognized. He sent his son who set aside his godhood to live as a human. He sent a baby.
I often wonder why he chooses the weak of the world to confound the wise. Why does God frequently skip the well-bred, the educated, the credentialed, and those endowed with position and privilege when he wants to turn the tides of history? More than once people have said, “This can’t possibly be from God!” More than once they have been wrong.
“I see your plight,” he said. “This is my response.”
Then he sent a wanderer and his half-sister wife,
a wheeler dealer opportunist,
an insensitive spoiled brat turned slave turned foreign government official,
a stammering old man with a stick,
a stern mother,
a slave bride with a hammer and tent peg,
a scared unimportant farmer from a long line of scared unimportant farmers,
a lewd, crude, rule-breaking strongman,
a boy raised in a temple with a weak mentor and drunken, corrupt priests as companions,
a shepherd with a slingshot,
a runner given to depression,
a reckless prince with a bad driving record,
a left-handed messenger with a knife up his skirt,
a bizarre performance artist,
a beauty pageant queen who slept her way to influence,
a child king with clueless teachers,
a eunuch in service to a despot,
a choir director,
For the greatest mission of all time he introduced the bearer of his heart as a helpless baby. A baby. A baby who so terrified the principalities and powers who knew their time would soon be up, that Herod killed every child close to fitting the toddler’s description.
Not even the ancient prophets who each told bits and pieces of the truth they held could see the entirety of God’s plan. Jesus gradually explained it, to those who could listen, over three years. Many heard and believed. Many did not. Before his death and resurrection the book of John tells us the Messiah spoke plainly to the credentialed experts whose education put limits on their understanding.
I tell you the truth; I AM before Abraham was born. (John 8:58 The Voice)
We are subject to change. He is not.
Trust him. He created the plan. Keep your eyes on Abba. Expect the unexpected.
When the right time arrived, God sent His Son into this world (born of a woman, subject to the law) to free those who, just like Him, were subject to the law. Ultimately He wanted us all to be adopted as sons and daughters. Because you are now part of God’s family, He sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts; and the Spirit calls out, “Abba, Father.” You no longer have to live as a slave because you are a child of God. And since you are His child, God guarantees an inheritance is waiting for you.
Someone sent a note. I love notes. She noticed I haven’t written much lately and was concerned for my health.
Thank you for asking. I have some health challenges, but not enough to keep me away from the keyboard. I haven’t posted as regularly as usual because, well, I needed to stop talking, hit delete, and go listen to people I care about – to good friends, to not-so-good friends, to strangers, and even to my own heart. I especially needed to take time to listen to the Holy Spirit. I still do.
It’s been a noisy time. I hear fear. So much fear. I hear anger. This kind of anger is not aimed just at the people in authority in government. This kind of anger has roots tangled with other roots of offense that go deep. These roots, extending for miles, connect with many disappointments in people and institutions we trusted. They extend so far back into the faded past, many are not sure where it all started.
I found myself swept along by the mob, demanding justice and payback for the sins of people who were themselves demanding retribution for the dishonour dumped on them – for years. I was also not-so-secretly cheering at the public revelation of moral failures on their side.
I was about to enjoy tossing off a good rant, when one of my own older blog posts popped up and arrested my attention. It was about the importance of waiting on God for wisdom and discernment and asking better questions. (You can find it here.)
In a dream, an exasperated voice asked me if I even read the stuff I write. Oh dear. It seemed like a good time to go back and read some sermons to self. I realized that wisdom and discernment are getting lost under a stack of my personal opinions and offended reactions. Note to self: Pay attention. Prioritize.
I also listened to a friend who suggested looking at a well-known story about Jesus differently. A group of men dragged a woman, caught in the act of adultery, before Jesus. It wasn’t about the woman. They didn’t care about her. They wanted to trap Jesus into doing or saying something politically inexpedient. It was a set-up to catch him making a self-contradicting statement. Not an unfamiliar scenario these days.
The mob raged. Jesus said nothing. Instead, he stooped and wrote something in the dirt.
Many people have speculated about what he wrote. If it was important, I’m sure it would have been included in the narrative, but that hasn’t stopped me from speculating too.
“What if,” my friend asked, pausing in a way that gave weight to what he was about to say next, “What if Jesus was just doodling?”
“Doodling. You know, drawing sheep with silly grins or maybe writing a Latin lesson. “Amo, amas, I loved a lass…”
“I doubt that. Your point?”
“What if the point of writing in the dirt was to break the momentum of the mob? Have you noticed that mob mentality provokes you to throw decorum aside and say or do things that, given the opportunity to think about it, you realize would probably embarrass you later?”
“Are you saying that when people stopped shouting and leaned in to see what he was doing, he gave them time to think independently?”
“Well, when he gave the ones who had never sinned the opportunity to cast the first stone, he hinted that maybe they should examine their own hearts for impulsive, rebellious, evil, or just plain stupid decisions they have also made.”
“I think I see,” I said. “And when the momentum was broken, when they stopped running with the mob, they could think about their actions.”
“He told the woman not to sin again,” my friend said, “so he wasn’t affirming her choice. But she wasn’t the one who asked the question. She wasn’t making demands on him with a disingenuous motive.”
Note to self: Don’t let the mob think for you.
It’s election season in my country. ‘Tis the season for striving for positions of power and, by virtue signalling or opponent bashing, divide the population into cheerleading teams for a winner-takes-all verbal battle.
Integrity seems to have vanished in the dust-up.
The questions behind the question of whose team to root for are probably more important than we realize. Why are we afraid? Where did the anger come from? What happened to hope, to trust, to goodness, to love? Why do we put our trust in mere mortal, obviously fallible “kings” to save us?
No. I’m sorry. Not we… I.
I have to stop the ranting and examine my own heart. Why am I afraid? Why am I angry? When did I lose trust? Who am I expecting to be my saviour?
My country needs good, faithful competent administrators who will put the needs of its people ahead of their own. Integrity matters. Character matters. Trust matters. I have a responsibility to pray for discernment and vote wisely. But I don’t need a father or mother figure, or a pope or a guru, or an indulgent Santa Claus or any other idol. I already have a God. My hope is in him.
I’m going to stop talking now and go for a walk. It’s time to seek the Lord.
I’ve learned that God is not nearly as restrictive as the culture I grew up in. He doesn’t place fences around fences around fences out of fear of one of us accidently going too far – at least for those who desire to grow in relationship with him.
The more we look to the Holy Spirit to guide us with his love and empower us with his grace, the more rule-making and rule-keeping becomes superfluous. In fact, rule-keeping can keep us from a closer walk with God, for we tend to focus on definitions of right-and-wrong behaviour rather than a love-based relationship that shows in our choices. When we rely on study alone and forget that the scriptures tells us we can, indeed, hear the Shepherd, we don’t bother to listen. (for Weeding Out the Noise click here.)
My own sheep will hear my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me. (John 10:27)
But sometimes I forget to ask him. Sometimes I start to walk in self-confidence instead of Holy Spirit-confidence. It looks good to me so away I go. Sometimes I barge ahead when I need to stay close to God and pay attention to the wisdom from above. Not all is as it first appears. Not every well-intended action is wise. Not everyone has the same assignment. Not all my own unexamined motives are pure.
More than once I have gone along with projects that looked good and ignored warning signs. The road may be right for them and suited to their personal equipping, but it’s not for me, at least not now. Often, I have found myself bogged down in burdensome tasks because I was led by my own desire to alleviate suffering (or my own privilege-guilt) without paying attention and asking for discernment in this particular situation. I wanted to do something – anything. So I did.
It didn’t turn out so well.
I once joined a group of people who seemed to be forging the way for greater things to be done in this city. I was happy to learn from them, even though they seemed to concentrate more on looking for historic strongholds of evil and what the devil was doing than looking at what Jesus was doing. Then I had a dream.
In the dream I was travelling down a local country lane which is called Hidden Valley Road. I came to a red light where there is no red light in real life. When the light didn’t change, I assumed it wasn’t working and kept going. Then a barbed wire fence appeared across the road. Now my curiosity kicked in. What was it I was not supposed to see?
In the dream I crawled under the fence to peak at what was around the bend. Suddenly a rockslide tumbled down the hillside in front of me. Boulders covered the road missing my toes by millimeters.
“What was that about?” I prayed after I woke up.
Over the next few days, I came to realize that when I asked the Lord to guide my path he would. He was saying no. Exploring the hidden valleys of darkness was not for me. My assignment is to talk about his goodness and his mercy. I longed for a group of friends in which I felt I could belong and be understood so much that it was difficult to drop out, but I did.
It wasn’t until months later the wisdom of stepping away was confirmed.
Most of the time I hear the Lord say that he gives us much more freedom to grow than we have this far taken advantage of. But greater freedom comes with greater responsibility to stay close to him. When he says no we need to stop immediately, even when we don’t understand the reason or fear offending someone.
I am learning to hear his voice. Sometimes I am wrong, and I need to admit when I have missed it, but God is good and there is grace for the maturing process. The faith walk in real time means taking risks, taking responsibility, and learning how to respond more quickly the next time.
But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters. And they have been adequately trained by what they’ve experienced to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.