Spirituality

Where It Leads

On the mini earlier today, we began to tie the clouds of our lives together. It’s like that scene in The Karate Kid. After Daniel-san has been painting fences & houses, sanding the floor, and waxing on and off for who knows how long (it’s about 15 or 20 minutes of the movie), he begins to pout. Well, he doesn’t just begin to pout here, he begins to pout about this here. He pouts often in the movie. Probably, Daniel Larusso is the most unlikeable hero we’ve ever seen. Anyway. Mr Miyagi miracles the soreness out of his shoulders and unleashes a barrage of punches and kicks that Daniel-san expertly blocks with his surprising new ability. Given connection, context and application, the isolated moves have become skill and talent and will eventually win him the All Valley Karate Tournament and Elizabeth Shue.

We’ve been talking about weight, values, showing up, effort, energy, time, choice, quality, quantity, intention – and when Jen spoke this weekend, saying “Garbage In Garbage Out,” (she was talking about input to our hearts, but later the words themselves met me in a space where I was receiving so much stimulation from all directions) everything coalesced into a nice fiery ball of awareness for me.

What we give (the quantity and, even more so, the quality) can directly inform what we get and how we experience our surroundings and circumstances. If I pour in the very best of me to my relationship with God, my marriage, community, children, career, fitness, friendships, on and on (wherever I choose to spend my time & energy) the chances go up exponentially that whatever it is will be positive and fulfilling. If I don’t, it won’t.

(Now of course, it’s not 100%. If we’ve learned anything at all, it’s that we are not the ones who are in control, right? This is not our story.)

I have a very good friend with whom I used to spend an awful lot of time, we were tight and deeply connected. Then we stopped attending the same church community, didn’t see each other as much, the tight, deep connection loosened and now, though we still care for each other, the friendship is largely superficial. You get what you put in.

If I stay up late Friday night, eat a bunch of junk food, and wake up late Saturday morning, when I log in to the retreat I am tired and uncomfortable, and where I usually find the retreats very meaningful, this time it happens and leaves me unaffected. Garbage in garbage out.

Now, the million dollar question is, how do I know where to choose to give my time & energy? How do I decide what to give?

This is where the hard work we’ve been doing on weight comes back to reward us. We’ve been praying, relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discover our values. We explore what we think is important to us and examine if it actually is. This revelation of our hearts is painstaking but vital, and now we know why. We give our time & energy to what weighs more, we give the best of us to the most valuable.

If we don’t know where to focus, we’ll just give more and more pieces of us to everything. We respond to all of the personal emails, forwards, ads, and spam in our inboxes, unable to tell the difference. We’ll feel drained and used and confused as to why our relationships suffer, why our work suffers, why we don’t feel inspired, why we’re tired all the time, distracted, bored.

If we do, and don’t act on it, we can become angry and/or resentful because we aren’t doing the things that give us life, that we are made to do, that mean something to us. We’ll feel drained and used, our relationships will suffer, our work will suffer, we’ll feel tired, uninspired, distracted, bored, but this time, we know why and that makes us disappointed in ourselves.

The idea is that we listen and follow the Spirit into the depths of our souls, start to find out who we are and for what we’ve been created and called, then step (however lightly at first) onto that path, show up and give everything we have, and see where it leads. I bet it leads somewhere awesome, miles from where we thought we would be.

Funeral

There was a funeral last Friday for a lovely woman.

I’ll sometimes force my sons to attend funerals or memorial services with me, to which they usually respond, “I don’t want to,” because they’re teenagers and human. I usually ask, “why?” because I am their dad and horrible, to which they say, “I don’t like them.” Here, I lie and say, “nobody likes them.”

I tell them that lie because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like and it’s mostly better if everyone else is doing things they don’t like, too. Like eating vegetables or running.

The truth is that I love them. I know how that sounds, but it’s not to be confused with loving death, dying or anything weird like that. I’m not a psycho. They’re thin spaces, and I find thin spaces – where, according to Eric Weiner in The NY Times, the “distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine” – absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

When you stare out of the car window, flowers, grass, guardrails, and other cars blur into one undefined smudge. Nothing is clear. You can’t even tell where the flowers start and the Honda ends. This is like my life. I have a full schedule, see a lot of people, go a lot of places, drop off and pick up from practices, grocery stores, and on and on. Too often, I hurry, don’t stop to listen, don’t pay attention.

Last March when the world stopped turning, I dreamed of a new normal where we would find that we quite liked the slower pace. Instead, almost a year later, the new normal is just the old normal with more Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries. It’s still a blurry smudge if we’re not careful.

Funerals operate like isolated March 2020’s. They stop us where we are, open our eyes, heaven and earth collapse, and we are invited to see these divine glimpses. Now, maybe we don’t accept the invitation. Maybe we stuff our emotions and check the boxes on what “has to be done,” work like crazy until we can finally get back to work (because who knows if the company will actually be standing if we’re not there to hold it together.) Maybe we numb and check out. Maybe we pretend we’re SuperSpiritual and read from the list of cliches while we convince ourselves that it’s somehow selfish to acknowledge the honesty of the loss and stifle anything that looks like tears and feels like grief.

But, baby, if we do accept the invitation… The clean lines of the Honda, blades of grass and bright colors of the flowers come into focus and we can actually see the beauty all around us that we’re too busy to notice any other time. We cry our eyes out when we need to and often find those tears surprisingly becoming laughter and smiles at the wonder of our tremendous gratitude.

[There is a pink elephant in this room. What if the tears are of sadness but also anger or rage or bitterness or resentment? Then, there is no laughter and gratitude is in short supply. This sort of situation is even more important that we accept the invitation into presence. There’s a character in the movie Magnolia who says, “we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” The longer we run from the fact that there are chains around our necks, the longer those chains stay around our necks, strangling us slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, just taking our lives a breath at a time. I know it’s horrible, but we face what comes, dump it on the ground, look at it, and then we maybe pick it up and do it all again next week, but at some point, we leave a little on the ground, we pick up a little less, until the tears feel less like acid and more like peace. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but we have to believe it’s possible. If the tomb was empty once, nothing is impossible ever again.]

So, all of this mourning, grief, celebration, gratitude, looking at an empty place at the table or in the chair… well, it hurts like crazy when our hearts break. But we are awake. Our eyes are wide open to the blessings of today, and open to the blessings of yesterday, when they were here (It was awesome when they were here) and what a gift it was that, of all the people in the world, they were here with us and it was great.

A Bad Back & 2 Bad Shoulders

My back is feeling much better. Several weeks ago, I forgot who I was and what I was about and worked out my ego instead of my body and ended up with a small injury that is slowly meandering it’s way back to health. Who knew that I wouldn’t recover immediately, like Wolverine, now that I’m not 18?

I guess everyone. Anyway. Sometimes our body gives us subtle warnings to get our attention and sometimes it gives red alert total shutdowns. This might not be a red alert shutdown, but it might as well be, because I have received the message clearly. I mentioned months ago on a Facebook mini that both of my shoulders were acting up and now I couldn’t sleep in the position in which I’ve slept for as long as I can remember. An old friend who is becoming a better friend than ever posted a comment, reminding me that she is in fact a physical therapist and could help. Her advice was to stop the traditional moves, start some injury-specific exercises and stretching. Also, she gently scolded me: “you aren’t earning a living walking on your hands or carrying things overhead so there is no need to destroy your shoulder over these exercises.” Of course, I listened (for the most part;) and my shoulders are better every day.

Why do I tell you this? Because our spiritual walk is very much like our physical walk.

At any time, we are doing any number of exercises that work out our egos and “destroy our shoulders.” Usually, these exercises are kept hidden, our pain remains secret and we pretend that we are sleeping fine and that putting a coat on isn’t excruciating. The uncomfortability is the first nudge; low grade anxiety, nagging stress, butterflies, interrupted sleep. This moves to pain; higher grades of everything, guilt, shame, sleep is only possible with pharmaceutical help. Then, there are lots of ways this would go from here. Either our pain will increase into the unbearable, driving us closer and closer to breakdown or we will harden, numb, check out, build thick walls and survive keeping warm under a thick blanket of independence, anger and selfishness.

All of these symptoms can be teachers and all of these steps can be gifts.

Now. Ideally, we don’t hide and we can listen openly to the “physical therapists” in our lives before we get hurt. This is why honesty is so vital. We aren’t alone, aren’t under the weight of secrets and pretense, are able to see some light through the hands and hearts of those who would show us the light exists, however dim it appears to us.

But this isn’t an ideal and instead, we often hide behind an image of capable independence, superhero-esque and bulletproof. Like the kids on my sons’ basketball teams that are arrogant and mean to cover up their towering inadequacies and insecurities, these images are sadly, obviously, charades. Children playing dress up. We exercise our egos instead of our bodies & souls. And we end up injured.

This week, I am struggling through a passage of Scripture that painfully illuminated a blind spot I have. It felt like a sledgehammer and knocked me down. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see where I missed or ignored the first and second nudges; a text, conversation, movie dialogue, and other experiences pointing me to this ramp that would lead me back to the narrow path. Whether I innocently missed them or willfully turned away from them is pretty unimportant now – mostly unimportant because I don’t know the answer – but what is important is that my vision is improving. I see how far I have wandered. And I see how to come back. I have no idea which is the bigger gift, but what’s clear is that the 2nd can’t happen without the 1st. Coming back is awesome but it’s impossible without the revelation that we’re lost. There can be no healing without the injury.

So, here I am today, kind of thankful for the pain.

A Sock I Used To Have

Our holidays looked a little different in Pennsylvania as the Governor tightened up restrictions, which kept most of us at home. There is much to be said about this, and I’ll say none of it. Not that I think politics should be left out of spirituality or the local church (I don’t), but I want to make a different point here, today.

My gym closed down for a month. Now, this didn’t mean that working out was canceled, but there were some things for which I simply didn’t have equipment. I could do body-weight squats and pushups but not shrugs or deadlifts. Everything looked different, felt different, was different. When it opened back up on the 4th, I was inside doing masked deadlifts as if nothing had changed. Who has time for a step back, even if it is wise?

Maybe there are people who can take 1 month off and not miss a beat, like college kids, but I am not a college kid. I cannot take 1 month off and put the same weight on a bar. However, I don’t have the sense of the gravel in a fish tank, so I did just that, and now if I drop a sock on the floor, it’s lost. It is now a sock I used to have and go to the drawer and get another.

Of course, the thing to do was reintroduce slowly and work back up. Of course. The problem with that is that I am human being and we don’t reintroduce slowly and work back up for anything at all. Patience isn’t a strength. Ours is a culture where “immediate gratification” is the chief virtue. I skip breakfast, eat salad for lunch and dinner, and if my weight isn’t significantly lower in the morning, then it’s a failed experiment. I start a 2021 devotional, read 14 today to catch up for the year, fully expecting a fully transformed life by bedtime. If it’s not fast and easy, we call it not meant to be, and forget it and move on.

There certainly isn’t anything new about this, there are plenty of examples in the Bible. Saul couldn’t wait for Samuel and offered the sacrifices himself. Aaron couldn’t wait for Moses so he made a fancy metal cow. Abraham couldn’t wait for God and Sarah so he took Hagar instead.

In Abraham’s case, he waited 10 years, and it wasn’t quite long enough. Maybe he shouldn’t be judged by me, I haven’t waited 10 years for anything. Zechariah was an old man who had waited his whole life for a word from God and a son and got them both on the same day. I pray for a day or 2, maybe a week every other day, and then move on. Who can wait? On t he other hand, we can’t get stuck, right?

Is it stuck, though? Maybe. Or is it patience? Faithfulness? Again, maybe. I think we might not be able to tell the difference anymore. The lovely Veruca Salt once said, “I want it now,” and we seem to have taken that as a prescription for living a meaningful life. I can’t wait a few weeks to regain the weight on a deadlift, I want it now! I can’t wait for Samuel to arrive or Moses to come back, now now now.

My stubborn impatience has resulted in physical pain, but many other times it has left me in emotional or psychological pain, in spiritual agony. How many times have I left relationships, jobs, situations simply because it didn’t happen (whatever ‘it’ was) in the time I wanted it to be? When something didn’t immediately deliver? When my lack of control was too much to bear and I ran?

I wonder when I will learn to be present and patient. When I will no longer confuse patience with passivity.

My backache will subside, I’ll be deadlifting in no time (with much less on the bar;), but I’m left wondering when the lesson will stick. Hopefully today.

Yesterday

Yesterday was a bad day. My very good friend with the biggest softest most beautiful heart you’ve ever seen wrote to me: “I’m sad about yesterday and how ugly we are to each other.” And all there is to say is, me too. I’m not surprised, though, and so far I can’t tell what is more depressing, that it happened or that none of us are surprised.

But there is this other side of things that came out of me to her and cleared things up for me. Have you ever felt like you honestly don’t know how you feel? Like there are so many emotions, some polar opposites, and they aren’t creating any sort of cohesive environment. Like it’s snowing and you’re warm and sweaty. Or like you’re listening to Britney Spears and enjoying it. It doesn’t make sense, you don’t make sense.

Yesterday was this no good horrible very bad day and as I watched the news and refreshed my browser every 30 or 40 seconds to see new reports of tear gas and evacuation and then broken glass, my heart was indeed breaking but I was strangely hopeful amid the wreckage. Now I know why.

Because she also ended her message with “How are you?” That’s why.

You see, sometimes something really terrible happens and it leads to change that couldn’t happen otherwise. We spend a lot of time pretending that we are just fine, but then we get fired or she leaves or we have a breakdown and there’s no more point in pretending. We run and run until we simply can’t run anymore. Sometimes, the darkness has to be complete before we realize how dark it is and look for a light.

The system has been broken for years, and now there’s no use in pretending it’s not so bad anymore. And only now that we can’t ignore it can we begin to look at how to repair it.

I drove the same car for 16 years and, when asked when I would get a new one, always responded, “Why? It’s perfect.” It wasn’t perfect, had many warning signs it was on it’s last legs, no heat, no air, I couldn’t use lights and wipers at the same time, but they were minor enough that I could look the other way. Then it turned itself off while I was driving. Now I have a new car.

So, I’m sad and hopeful. The car not only turned itself off but burst into flames and exploded. And now maybe we’ll get a new car.

It’s a huge mountain to climb. Where do we start? How do we start? Do the actions of you and me amount to anything? Who knows, but what I’ll do in the meantime reminds me of a joke (more like a story) that goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” What I’ll do in the meantime is take bites. I will Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” AND I’ll love you like crazy. Agape love. Kindness. Gentleness. Peace. Patience. I believe love is way more contagious than any virus, so soon we’ll all be Philippians 4:8-ing and loving each other as if we were made to do it, which of course, we were.

The other way hasn’t worked, we’ve tried it for sooo long, and it is now obvious to everyone. My friend in her heartache reached out to/for me to see how I was, “How are you?” She has a son and that son who is growing up with her, watching her, will see this empathy, this compassion, this care. He will see a new design for life, which isn’t new at all, it goes all the way back to Genesis 1 & 2. But this “new” design will be the one he uses to craft his life and his life will “storm the rotunda” of every building we’re lucky enough for him to enter. It’s this design that can change history.

Maybe it won’t, maybe there will be no reversing our downward spiral. But what empty tombs and Sundays prove to me is that it can. And that is more than enough to eat another bite.

See You Next Year!

This will be my last post of the year. I love to do things on the 31st of December because I can say I won’t do them again until next year…and then I laugh like no one has ever said that before. I say “See you next year!!!” Like everybody’s dad ever…and then I laugh like I’m the first. It’s cheesy and silly and so am I.

This was my post on January 3rd of this year, before the world stopped: “Happy New Year, it’s 2 thousand twenty. It hardly seems possible, right. I was born in 1975, so that means I’ve now seen 6 decades. I suppose this is my favorite, if I had to choose – you see, all things considered, life gets better every single day. I imagine my 7th decade (if I get that far) will be even better yet.

Though if I were totally honest, this year has so far been a little bit of a bummer. I was a little sick at the end of last year for Christmas, and then I was seemingly better, then yesterday woke up with a cough! Nursing this tiny cold hasn’t been too much of a nuisance, with the giant exception of the 2 twin babies I’m dying to spend tons of time and smooches on that I can’t yet. I’m not one of those psychos that visit regardless of symptoms and hack all over their sweet soft round faces. The hugs and kisses are coming the second I am tip top, that I promise you.”

A bit of a bummer???? Ha! An enormous bummer. And I haven’t given any hugs and smooches to those twins since the first Sunday in March. Nor their parents. Nor their parents. Nor many of my closest friends. For a person as ‘physical touch’ as I am, this year has been a desert.

But I can tell you this, this decade is still my favorite.

I learned a lot about us this year. We were forced into the uncomfortable space where our delusions of control were ripped from our white knuckles. We were asked over and over by the universe, “Now what?” And as you may or may not know, that’s my favorite question, full of hope and imagination.

We’ve had a year, now what?

We’ve seen where we are, now what?

We’ve seen who we are, now what?

I’m insufferably optimistic about how we’ll answer those questions.

I ended last year’s post like this: “Genesis 1 says we’re made in the image of God, and it has been my experience that when we just strip away all of the fears, expectations, should’s, should not’s, and negative postures (I called it the Art of Subtraction in a message 2 years ago), we’ll find us – who we really are, in our deepest Genesis 1 Truths – and when we do, we’ll really like what we see.” I’ll end it like that, again.

See you next year!!!!!

For This

I’ve been reading these novels by Fredrik Backman that are incredibly moving, heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time in the same measure. You know the things that are so beautiful you know you could never in a bazillion years create something so lovely AND make you want to try? These novels are like that.

Anyway, in the one I started today (Britt-Marie Was Here), the title character says, “I want someone to know I’m here.” Those words and that emotion dismantle me because I know how many Britt-Marie’s there are in my town, on my street, alone and invisible. Alone, in crowded rooms and offices as well as empty houses. Invisible, moving in total anonymity, never knowing or being known. I know that sometimes I’m Britt-Marie. That we’re all Britt-Marie, sometimes.

We all need to be seen, known. We all need to be accepted, to belong. We all need to be loved. And how many of us go to bed with that need unmet?

This season is usually among the most depressed, presumably because the cold gray short days spent alone against the backdrop of other families gathered around a warm fire. What if I don’t have a family? What if the family I do have is broken? What if there’s 1 less around that fire? What if I don’t have a home, much less a fire? It’s no wonder the depression we barely keep at bay all year gets amplified in November & December.

We’re a culture that largely walks with our heads down, on our way to the next thing, saying “How are you?” as a greeting, but not at all interested in the answer. Even without a global pandemic and quarantine, we had been increasingly disconnected for years. This leaves us like those copper pans where nothing sticks. And we call it survival, but it’s not. Instead, it’s killing us. We’re invisible and we were never meant to be invisible.

We are meant to be together, sharing the moments of our lives. We are meant to ask how you are and to wait for the honest answer. We are meant to cry together, to celebrate together, to care for each other, to be our brother’s keeper.

There are too many Britt-Marie’s, and this is a fact that is simply unacceptable. My dream is that we are all seen, accepted. That we all belong. That we are all loved. That the reality of Christmas, of the love of Jesus, become a reality in practice, that it’s not just a story of fairy-tale hope we tell in churches on Christmas Eve.

I want someone to know the Britt-Marie’s are here. And I want us to be the ones that know.

At my old church, the pastor, Barb, used to implore us to action by calling us “Church” as if it were our name. It is our name, and it’s long past time for us to act. The Child came and His name is “God With Us.” He calls us to put hands and feet and hearts to His love, to put flesh to His ‘With.’

Christmas is desperately needed this year, on the 25th and every day thereafter. Christmas can be a way of life, “with” can be our purpose. We are here, all of us. Jesus came and “moved into the neighborhood” (The Message translation) so that we would know, without a doubt, exactly how much we matter. This Child, this Savior, changed our lives, transformed us with His boundless love. And for what? For this, Church; to be the ones who know.

Less The Rock and More Lobot

Last week, I posted “So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday,” on both of my blog sites. I write on the Bridge page and I write on a page called Love With A Capital L. Both are about spirituality because everything is. What’s different is that on the Love page, I don’t always mention God by name, like the book of Esther, but it’s always about Him. This ‘Yesterday’ post ended up in both spaces, and it received an extraordinary response on both.

I am a man who thinks (or probably more accurately, over-thinks) and I wondered, why? Why do some things strike chords and others swing and miss? Why this one? Why not that one?

Who knows? Maybe I don’t care, maybe I shouldn’t. If too much time is given to thinking about response, we’ll subconsciously (or not) begin to bend and shape ourselves into whatever position we think they’ll like best.

This can happen easily in any creative expression.

The bigger tragedy is how easily this can happen in our greatest creative expressions; our lives.

We look for approval, for the most “likes,” resembling actors on a stage. It’s interesting, the things that mean the most to me are those that are the most authentic, but when the artist attempts to mean the most to me, the very thing that was so appealing is compromised, disappears, and immediately stops meaning the most to me. It’s like the theory that observation affects behavior, so any study of “natural” behavior is impossible (unless it’s secret and invisible and probably unethical).

You know I’m going into the idea that we have an “audience of One,” right? That’s not terrible because that One is the only One who knows who we actually are, so moving towards that vision of us is, essentially, moving towards the version of us that is the most pure and true, the most authentic.

The filters I use that make me look like a cat or like I’m always supercool, pensive and mysterious aren’t me. I have rough skin and deep creases around my eyes from years and years of smiling. The sweater I wore on Sunday makes me look much better than I actually do. I get angry and am awfully mean to me from time to time, thankfully much less than I used to. I shave my head because it’s thin and moving backwards, less the Rock and more Lobot from Star Wars. I like to think my jokes are all pretty terrific and could edit a short YouTube video that makes me compare favorably to Dave Chappelle, but in real life, well… you know, probably he’s not even that funny all the time. (On second thought, he probably is.)

The idea here is not to point out all the ways we’re messy, or to advertise my faults. It’s not even to stop using filters. It is to love, and be loved, anyway. It is to see those rough edges. It is to dance with who and where we are right now, even as we acknowledge that we are, as my friend says, “perfectly in process,” moving (sometimes slowly) towards who we’ve been created to be. One of the coolest aspects I learned about the Scriptures were their absolute commitment to honesty. Not everyone is shiny, nobody is perfect. (Well, One is.) They yell and scream and shake their fists at God. They often make terrible decisions and aren’t always the heroes of the story. But it’s real. And Beautiful. Just like us.

So, Let Me Tell You About Yesterday

So, let me tell you about yesterday.

The Angel & I took the boys to school and left immediately, driving north to Scranton (home of Dunder Mifflin Paper) for the funeral service of a friend’s father. He (James Chickson) was a terrific dad, husband, and man – exactly like my friend. At the Bridge, we would call men like him bull elephants, and the world doesn’t have enough of those, so we gathered to mourn. It was a catholic service and as a general rule, I find catholic services a little sterile and impersonal (just me, just my opinion, but I am very messy, overly sensitive, mushy and untraditional, so I would), which this one was…UNTIL my friend stood to give the eulogy. He was beautiful. He was all of the things we love about him, and probably all of the things we loved about his dad. It was awesome and exhausting, just what a funeral service should be.

Then we came home, picked my boys up from school and had some ice cream because ice cream is perfect for a broken heart.

Then at the dinner table (dinner after dessert is also perfect for broken hearts…well, any hearts, really), we discovered that there were new PA COVID restrictions that would, among other things, “pause” school sports. It was then that my boys expressed their emotions in what is sometimes the only appropriate way, with tears of sadness and rage.

Now, I know school sports are comparatively minor in relation to the widespread wreckage COVID has wrought, but it is absolutely real to them. And to me. Because we all have those comparatively minor’s, right?

Once the tears stopped and we were able to re-focus and gain a smidgen of perspective, then I began the phone calls to the core group of the Bridge to discuss what we would do, if anything, to address the new restrictions. Again, a small church in Annville is comparatively minor in the grand scheme, but it is my family and it is definitely doesn’t feel comparatively minor.

We are losing loved ones, businesses, homes. We have been disconnected and isolated, and that leaves us raw and exposed, sensitive to very fine points. I remember months after the flood took our house, I had an appointment where I would need dress socks. I rarely wear dress socks and now that I needed them, I realized, I didn’t have dress socks. The pair I had was lost in the flood. I was working, driving on a major highway towards State College, when I realized this insignificant detail (big deal, stop anywhere and pick up a new pair) and had to pull my truck off the road when my sobbing made driving impossible. Everything was overflowing, all of the months of “What are we going to do????” and utter powerlessness to answer had crested, and dress socks pierced the thin shell that barely kept it all on the inside.

High school seniors have lost proms and graduations, weddings have been moved, suspended, our lives have been radically upended, and we know that a missed dinner & dance for upperclassmen is nothing in relation to 200,000+ dead in this country alone, countless more worldwide. But that doesn’t make a canceled school dance hurt less. There isn’t a finite amount of love and care in our souls, we can deeply feel all the things in this human experience. There isn’t a cause/effect relationship where ignoring our pain leads to an increase in empathy. I would suggest if there is a relationship, it’s an inverse connection, where turning the blind eye to suffering (in any and all forms, even our own) leads to a practiced desensitization to suffering (in any and all forms).

I bring all of this up because what I notice is that we often say the words, “but other people have it much worse than me/us,” as a way of minimizing or trivializing our own pain & suffering. At funerals, we say the person is in a much better place or that God has a plan (which are both true) and pretend that we are fine, that are hearts aren’t shattered. In the Scriptures, God asks us for 1 thing above all. He asks us to bring who we are, everything we are, honestly and without pretense, to Him. He says that He doesn’t want our sacrifices, He wants our hearts. He weeps over the death of a man He intends to resurrect to validate the suffering of his community.

The Bible says, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death… and it’s that through that makes all the difference. We can’t walk around, or avoid, or fake that it’s not the shadow of death. We can’t get through anything without going through. My beautiful buddy’s eulogy had very evident pain and loss, and it also had a lived-in gratitude that his dad was his dad, and I’m pretty sure the 2nd doesn’t come without the first.

So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Sometimes you need ice cream to ease the ache of a broken heart, or screaming rage for a 3-week break from basketball, or an offering of bitter tears over dress socks. There are no comparatively minor’s with God. There is only us, and that’s enough.

119

Psalm 119 (which is a really really loooong Psalm) says:

Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through Your Word (v. 37)

I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow Your statutes (v. 59)

Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path (v. 106)

As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in Your commands (v. 143)

Those who love Your law have great peace (v. 165)

We’ve been talking an awful lot about commands on Sunday mornings, which can easily be understood as a gospel of works. This sort of gospel is not “good news” at all because it’s based on us getting it right, on us doing all the things, checking all the boxes, earning and climbing higher and higher. How high? Who knows? Just higher. 1 John 5 continues in this vein, so what do we do with that? It sounds like a “have-to” situation.

It’s not a “have-to.” John refers to it as a “proof” of faith, an outward representation of an inner reality. If we get a nice new coat on Christmas morning, we’ll wear it. The wearing is the proof that we have it. I can say all day that I have the best new coat ever, worth more than all the money in the world, but how will you know if I never wear it? Why wouldn’t I wear it? That would be odd.

I bought a new sweater 2 weeks ago and it’s thick and soft, what my mom would call cozy warm. I haven’t worn it yet because it hasn’t been cold enough in those 2 weeks, but I can’t wait to put it on and show it to you. It seems strange to have this awesome sweater and ask, “Do I have to wear it? How often? Around who? What if I don’t?” I am looking for any excuse to wear my new sweater. I’ve been checking the weather every night.

This coat or sweater is our gift, it’s free, and whether we wear it or not, it’s ours. BUT it gets cold. John and Psalm 119 (maybe, probably written by Ezra, the priest) make it sound like following these commands is pretty integral to the kind of cozy warm life we’d like to have. I like peace. I sometimes feel pressure and stress bearing down on me. We all do, it’s 2020. It would be cool to have joy in 2020 instead of upset stomachs and headaches.

This Psalm stood out me because I’ve been pondering my life quite a bit lately. This isn’t very unusual, I am a ponderer, and when I do, I look for practices that line up with the values that carry more weight with me. For instance, I go to the gym most days. If not carefully monitored, ‘most days’ easily turns into ‘every day’ and my body and spirit suffer. One of my core values is to be a healthy man (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually), and no rest days compromises that. So I turn and add some structure to help me pursue that particular value.

These commands are our coats and sweaters, our rest days. They are the tangible bricks that build the walls of our lives. We put on Love. We put on honesty and Sabbath and not wanting our neighbors donkeys (which is another way of saying, we are grateful for what we have). These things aren’t the point, Jesus is, but 2020 has been very cold and we’ve been so distracted by that cold, we’ve been missing that BIG point. Maybe remembering our coats and our rest days, maybe some Psalm 119-ing, would be just the thing we need to focus again.