Friday, October 23, 2015

It IS a Beautiful Day

     I woke up extremely early one morning for work feeling dissatisfied with every major area of my life. I stood in front of the mirror getting ready, complaining to my mom who stood nearby. When I get into this sort of mindset, my mood quickly darkens. I already knew in some ways that that sort of thinking doesn’t lead anywhere good, but it’s hard not to feel entitled to it when I deeply wanted things to be different from what they are. Being dissatisfied seems to be a way that I try to show that I don’t want to settle with how I am in my present state and how the things and persons outside of me are in their present state. I have a way I’d like things to be and this isn't it. But God unexpectedly seemed to remind me that that wasn’t the way I should be. 
     To back up, the night before, while I mainly pray in my own room, I went outside in my backyard at night under the stars to pray. Sounds a little dramatic, but I felt like it was a way to be closer to God. I know he’s everywhere, but the privacy of night combined with the feeling that he’s looking down from the stars helps, and I was deeply craving an encounter with God. That night, I was feeling the fear, as I temporarily do sometimes, that I was wrong about everything. I’ll feel the fear that he’s not there the way I thought he was. Everything I want to do and some major decisions I’ve made have been based on my faith, so when I feel shaky, if only for a few hours, I’ll feel like the ground I walk on day to day is falling out from beneath me. In faith, I cry out to God in those times, because ultimately I believe he’s there and that Christianity is true, and since he already knows what’s on my mind, I bring those doubts and fears before him in hope that he’ll help me get through them. I wanted him to find me somehow, to feel more real to me to allay my fears. I think I also sincerely wanted closeness with God. 
     Let’s back up some more before the praying, before the complaining in the early morning, earlier that night. I promise it will all connect at the end. I was reading the blog of this pastor and writer named Jonathan Martin whose writings I had found through another blog. I had been binge reading the whole thing since I had found it, and that night I was reading one of the ones I had skipped. The honesty he had about the turmoil in his own life and the ideas presented in that blog were fascinating to me. In more than one blog he had mentioned the importance of U2’s song “Beautiful Day” to him, how he had even felt God speak to him through that song. He wrote about his experience at U2’s concert at Madison Square Garden. He wrote about the lines, “What you don’t have you don’t need it now/ what you don’t know you can feel it somehow.” I was generally aware of the song, mainly for it’s use in commercials, but I’m not a U2 fan, so I specifically googled the song lyrics so I could have a better idea of what he was writing about. The main line of the song is “it’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away.” 
     Then came the praying, then came the complaining, then came me in the car driving down my street to work in the dark because it was a little after 5 in the morning. I turned on the radio to this station that I had recently found, and what came on? Beautiful Day! It was right at the part I had read about the night before in Jonathan Martin’s blog. I was shocked. I would have normally turned it off right away but now I was listening. It’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away. I felt like the thing was to not begrudge the day that I have for what it is not. What you don’t have you don’t need it now. For me, it didn’t mean that all of those longings were not valid or that I stop wanting what I want, but that I should trust God in the station that I’m at in life. Whatever I don’t have, whether through my own shortcomings, or circumstances that I can’t control, I didn’t need them the way that I was acting like I did getting ready that morning. I didn’t need them to enjoy that day. I can appreciate the goodness in front of me even as I want good things in the future. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Open-ended Waiting

     I was feeling antsy. I was questioning things in my life, wondering if I have become complacent. I thought of making changes. I started making plans. I thought, if A doesn’t happen, then B. And then if I go with B, then C and D has to happen too. I started to get way more open minded about my future and what I was going to do with it. That isn’t altogether a bad thing, but for different reasons, some very practical, some spiritual, I know that this isn’t the time for big changes. This is a time to stay put. This is a time to wait. 
     But plans make us feel safe don’t they? Plans give us a sense of control. I know of my natural tendency to try to predict and control the future. If I think through all possibilities, I will be safe. And yet I am making plans and decisions before their time.
     Scripture has some interesting things to say about making plans for the future. For one, there’s this from Proverbs: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day will bring” (Prov 27:1 NIV). Then there’s this in James 4:13-16:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil (NIV).
While, “all such boasting is evil” sounds pretty rough, I think I better understand what these mean. It’s not really about making plans per se. It’s about the attitude behind the plans. I find it interesting how the greek and hebrew is translated to the word “boast.” And then there’s the phrase, “arrogant schemes.” There is an arrogance to presuming about the future. There’s an arrogance to thinking that we can control the future in our plans. And more than that, it means that instead of leaning on God, and trusting in him, we lean on ourselves. 
     We lean on our own understanding when we are instead supposed to trust in the Lord. This is one of my biggest weaknesses. I like to plan. I like to predict. I like to try to guess at things I don’t know and can’t know. I freak out and forget to stop and ask God to be involved, or I put too much pressure on myself to figure something out when God is more than willing to be there and let me lean on him. I know from experience that it is exhausting to lean on your own understanding with your plans, when you encounter problems that make you go step by step through situations that scare you, and even in interpreting scripture. I want to control things because it makes me feel safe. Ultimately, when I do that, I am saying that I am more reliable than God. That’s probably why “all such boasting is evil.” There is a idolatry that happens when we trust in anything more than God. 
     We make a decision to trust someone based on two things: is that person capable of what I trust them to do, and is that person of good character. Who is more powerful or good than God? But that is what is said when we choose to trust in something else. The money is more powerful. This person won’t let me down, but God might. I don’t know what God is up to, but I know what I am up to. I can fulfill my hopes and wishes better than God can because I don’t want to submit them to him, and what if he decides to take some of them away? We hold tighter to our control when we think like this. We become suspicious of God. And with that, we are deprived of the kind of intimacy that he wishes to have with us and the peace that comes with allowing him to work in our lives. 
     In my case, I feel that this is a time to let go of trying to control things and wait on God. An excerpt from one of Henri Nouwen’s books has been a major source of comfort as I learn how to do this. One of many wonderful parts of this piece of writing is this in which he talks about open-ended waiting (the italics are mine) : 
To wait open-mindedly is an enormously radical attitude towards life. So is to trust that something that will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction.That indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control. 
     Even when we wait for something specific, we wrongly try to know how God will fulfill it. And whether we wait for something specific or not, relegating the future to our own plans and imagination puts limits on our lives. What might God be able to do if we would unclench our fists and truly surrender to him?