Thursday, October 31, 2013

obstacle or opportunity

To be able to look backward and say, "This, this has been the finest year of my life"--that is glorious!  But anticipation!  To be able to look ahead and say, "The present year can and shall be better!"--that is more glorious!
                                                                                ~Frank Laubach


Do you typically look forward with a sense of excitement or a sense of dread?  My guess is that the answer to this question has a lot to do with the what that you are actually facing in the days, weeks, or months ahead.  I have found recently that I seem to look forward to most things, but that there are always a few things looming out there that fill me with a sense of dread and drain the life and joy out of--or at the very least overshadow--those things that I am excited about and looking forward to.  It is strange the power I give these things I dread, that I would allow them to rob me, and determine both my mood and my mindset for weeks, if not months, in advance.  I think it has a lot to do with how I see things. 

When Frank Laubach wrote the quote above, it was after one of the hardest, loneliest years of his life.  But somehow, even in the midst of such a difficult place and time, he was able to see the beauty of it all, and what God was at work doing both in and through him.  And not only was he able to see the beauty of the past, but he was able to look forward to the year to come with equal optimism and enthusiasm.  This optimism is not just a blind, unfounded, baseless sense that "things will all be okay," but a deep trust in and recognition of the fact that, as Romans 8 reminds us, "In all things God works...."  Therefore, those things, either in our distant past or our foreseeable future, can be seen in one of two ways.  They can either be viewed as obstacles, or as opportunities.

Now, I will have to admit, that more often than not when I look to those things on the horizon that cause me a significant amount of angst, or anxiety, or fear, I typically look at them as obstacles that must be overcome--or at the very least tolerated and survived--rather than as opportunities for God to show up and work in amazing and transforming ways.  And how I look at these things has everything to do with the attitude, or outlook on life, I carry with me until those things have come to pass or been laid to rest.  I have found that when I view things--and sometimes even people to be honest--as obstacles, I tend to live life with a constant sense of frustration and irritation.  And when I look under the surface of those negative feelings, it just gets uglier.  Because I have found that for myself, underneath this obstacle-oriented viewpoint, lies a spirit of entitlement, demandingness, ingratitude and self-centeredness.  You talk about ugly.  That is really ugly.

In stark contrast, when I am able to make the transition to seeing these things more as opportunities--both for God to work and for me to love--I live from a much more beautiful place; that place exhibited in the life of Frank Laubach.  It allows me to live life with a sense of joy and anticipation and excitement, which breeds a spirit of gratitude, and humility, and peace.  All of life becomes a gift and the pursuit of life becomes a joyful adventure in being loved by God and loving him in return.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

seen

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)


I have a group of friends I visit regularly.  Well, when I say regularly, I mean every day.  And although I love this group of friends dearly, and make a point to be with them every single day, oftentimes, probably because of regularity and familiarity, I can drop by for a visit and wonder if any of them really know, or care, that I am there.  In fact, there are days when I feel invisible.  Now, I know the benefits of invisible (see this post) and am mindful enough most days about those benefits to actually have the grace and the wisdom to lean into its invitation when it occurs. 

But there is something else I've begun to notice recently.  There is another side to this whole story.  There is also a longing deep within it.  And a longing that I think was designed to draw us towards God.  It is the longing to be seen.  Deep within each one of us, I believe there is a yearning to be seen; to be noticed, to be acknowledged, to be recognized, and ultimately to be known.  When we are seen, it lets us know that we have value, that we are important, that we are somebody, even though our deepest fears would tell us quite the opposite.  So when we are seen, it touches something deeply within us that was actually created to be touched.  It brings something to life within our souls.  Now obviously we can (and do) attempt to satisfy this longing in all kinds of illegitimate ways--that is ways that were never intended to fully satisfy that longing--but at the core of it all, it touches something within us that was put there by God.

That's why I love that when the lost son (of Luke 15) is on his way home from a land and a life where he was just a part of the dingy, dirty terrain, the first thing that happens in his return is that he is seen.  The Father sees him.  That means the Father was actually looking for him, thinking of him, yearning for his presence, and his company, and his return.  And what do you imagine was in the Father's eyes?  When He finally saw his son out there, way down the road, still a long way off, what happened in His heart had to have come out through His eyes.  And when the son saw His face; saw that he was seen, he knew immediately what was in the Father's heart--delight. 

How do you imagine God sees you?  What is in His eyes for you?  The answer to that question will tell you a lot about what you really believe to be true about God.  Are His eyes filled with disappointment, and disdain, and frustration?  Or are His eyes filled, as they were here, with love and joy and delight?  I think that's why Jesus tells this story to begin with.  Because the people had begun to believe something that was simply not true about the Father.  So he gives them/us a rich visual of how our God really sees us.  And in our heart of hearts what we most deeply long for is to be seen in just that way.  Thanks be to God! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

accepted

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and "sinners?" (Mark 2:16)


Thank you, Dear Jesus, that you eat with "sinners."  It gives me hope; not just for my friends, but for myself.  The Greek word for sinner used here is hamartolos which comes from the verb hamartano which means to miss the mark.  It is the word for those of us who fall short, don't measure up, can't hit the target.  That's me!  Thank you, Dear Jesus, that you accept me.  Thank you, Dear Jesus, that you accept the unacceptable.  It gives me hope that I don't somehow need to make myself acceptable before you will accept me.  Because I cannot. 

It also makes me ask myself some hard questions, like: Do I really believe I am totally and completely accepted by you?  Even though you accept me, are there still certain levels on which I feel unacceptable?  Are there certain ways I even resist being accepted by you?  And why in the world would I do that?  Even when you accept me, though I am woefully unacceptable, do I still demand that others be acceptable before I will accept them?  Are there certain people that I still refuse to allow to be accepted?  Thank you, Dear Jesus, that you eat with "sinners."