Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Peace That Passes Understanding (I need it)

I reached the tipping point of temporary insanity on Thursday. I was so miserable and so completely at the mercy of my own intense self-dislike. And I spread the misery around. I couldn't contain myself.

In general my emotions rule me, even my petty ones. I am not a bottler, not a successful one, because when I try to restrain my emotions, they usually end up popping the cork and fizzing out everywhere - over others. And it's true I have always held it was better to be open than to be reserved. It was always best to debate and converse with conviction - to share your opinions - than to talk little, be the really quiet sort who seems to have no opinion at all.

In short, being passionate was always preferable to showing restraint.

Having read a few stories of various saints, however, it seems to be a common theme with these peace-seeking folks that they try very hard to restrain their emotions, to avoid stating their case when they feel they are wronged or misunderstood. They aim to be placid, unflappable. They understand that God knows and sees everything, and they have confidence in His mercy. Being at the sway of their passions is contrary to their hope.

I meditated recently on the crowning with thorns. When the Roman soldiers shoved that crown of on Jesus' head, hailed him irreverently as King of the Jews, and then mocked him, spitting on him, Jesus said nothing. He took it all.

It suddenly hit me as I reflected on this, how extreme Jesus' humility was. He said nothing, not a You're going to get yours! or a simple, authoritarian Do you know to whom you are speaking?

Some could argue that he would have been in too much pain to care. No. He pronounced, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," while hanging on the cross. He was able to speak those words of love and mercy during the climax of his torture. He chose not to curse his tormentors even then.

So we are back at humility, and humility takes a strange - alien to many of us - kind of confidence, as my blogger acquaintance Jennie points out in this post on injustice.

Jesus Himself, the Word of God, spoke of himself like this:

"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-burdened. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

I need that lighter burden in a very specific way. Emotional fortification is what I need. I am sick of trying to labor on my own against my own petty, overly-zealous feelings and selfishness. I am tired of always "needing to get my feelings out" in fruitless complaints, even when I know it will cause others distress, especially those dearest to me. Often I am just a big baby, but I can't seem to conquer this on my own.

In the words of gospel singer Keith Green: I want to, I need to be more like Jesus.

That begins with asking for his help.



Friday, September 5, 2014

Thanksgiving

This week I have been reflecting on the cleansing of the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-18. Of the 10 who were healed, only one returned to thank Jesus. You might say the others had a sense of entitlement.

How like us! Soaking up our good fortune, we forget to be thankful for it. But I think there can be no real joy in having love, health, security, and nourishment if we do not have gratitude. When that one leper returned to Christ, he did so "glorifying God in a loud voice." Then he fell at Jesus' feet and thanked Him.

Lately, I have tried to start my day with a very simple morning offering prayer that I learned from a booklet given to me in a hospital. During it I thank God for keeping my family safe through the night. I thank him for my husband and four children, for our health and safety, for the house we live in, and for the abundance of food we have. I offer up my day to Him in union with His Son.

My friend shared with me recently some advice she had received from her dad. She confided in him as a teenager that she felt all she did in prayer was ask, ask, ask God for help with this, that and the other. He told her compassionately that she needed also to regularly offer up thanksgiving to God for all those things with which He had blessed her.

That made an impression on my friend, and now it has stayed with me.

It is a far better way to approach the day to reflect on blessings bestowed than to fret over desires not met.

And what if we spread that joy and thanksgiving around? A close friend and a recent acquaintance of mine both sent me handwritten notes of thanks lately. I didn't do much to deserve them, but I was impressed by their dedication, in this age of technological shortcuts, to sit down and print a note in their own handwriting telling me of their gratitude. Of course, it also made me feel guilty. Why don't I do that more often? I should. It shows so much more care and appreciation, I think, than to send off a hasty missive via text or email.

It reminded me of a news story I saw some time ago about a man who decided he would fight his discouragement by sending thank you notes to people - friends, bosses, relatives, and almost strangers - for even the smallest acts of generosity. He spread love around him nearly every day, far and wide, with those expressions of appreciation; he spread a wonderful example of gratitude. Funny thing is, he said the joy he felt in regularly thanking others for the blessings they brought into his life was the greatest gift. He was joyful, because he acknowledged what he had been given.

And now I come back to our Heavenly Father and offering him our love, joy, and thanksgiving. There have been many times when out in a public place with friends that I tried to give grace for a meal surreptitiously - not wanting to embarrass anyone or halt the conversation, not wanting to particularly draw attention to myself. I told my husband and his brother of this recently at dinner, of my self-conscious head bowing, and they pointed out that it's not as if I were blowing a trumpet in front of me to say, Hey, look you all! I'm about to pray, so be quiet! And that I should bravely bow my head anyway, anywhere in grace. They both shared stories of coworkers hushing respectfully and some even inquiring about their faith or professing their own in Christ.

That is an example of unabashed gratitude, and one I intend to imitate.

It is similar, perhaps, to athletes crossing themselves on the field or pointing their finger to the sky after a winning play. I used to think that was very silly. Does God care who wins in an arena? What has He to do with sports? Now I see that I was the silly one, for these athletes are simply acknowledging in some humility where their gifts come from. We should all do that.

We should all fall at Jesus' feet in thanksgiving every chance we get.

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