Archive for December, 2012

Refusing Gifts from God

There is a Seven Eleven near the office that I go to quite frequently.  A couple of mornings ago there was a homeless man in a wheelchair sitting outside of the store.  It is not unusual to see homeless people about, so I was not surprised.  He did not look at me, nor did he ask for any money.

He was there again a second day, and I decided that if he was there next time, I would ask if I could buy him a cup of coffee.  So, when I saw him again, I went up and said “Good Morning” and asked if he would like a hot drink.  He looked at me and said he was cold and so hungry he was shaking.  That I could plainly see.  He didn’t want the coffee.  I was a bit taken aback, but managed to switch gears fast enough and decided that I would offer him some money, since food was clearly the priority.  I had $5 in my wallet, so I offered that to him and said he could probably get something from the little restaurant next to the Seven Eleven.  He looked at the window where their special meals were listed and said that what I gave him wouldn’t be enough, and started to hand the money back to me.

Now I was more than taken aback.  I told him that I was sure he could find something and walked into the store.

As I paid the cashier, my mind was churning over the whole exchange.  I don’t claim to be the epitome of generosity.  And I did approach him, so maybe he didn’t want to be bothered.  Maybe I unintentionally offended him.  Maybe there was a mental dynamic I did not know about.  But all of that aside, what struck me the most was the lack of resourcefulness.  It was true that the $5 wasn’t enough to buy one of the special meals.  But what about a single item?  Or what about something from the Seven Eleven?  Or perhaps there was somewhere else he could go that he knew about?  Five bucks could still have gotten some food in his stomach.  All he could see was barriers and no opportunities.

It grieved and sobered me.  There seemed to be no capacity or willingness to think of how resources could be combined differently, or broken up to achieve the same goal.  The situation appeared so void of opportunity to him that he was going to give the money back to me.  I wonder how much he could change his situation if he had a different perspective in this regard.

But what really hit me hard was when God shifted my perspective to think about our relationships with Him.  How often do we do the exact same thing?  He is, of course, infinitely more generous than I could ever be, and He knows what we need.  But when we are presented with a gift from Him, how often do we refuse it because we all we can see are the barriers?  How capable are we of seeing the opportunities, even if they are not what we originally wanted?  How often does He turn away in frustration because we can’t see how we could use what He just gave us?

God knows far more about our lives and what we need than we ever could, and He has infinite resources at His disposal.  But we don’t always understand why He didn’t give us exactly what we expected, or we may even think He is not giving us enough.  Many times God gives us gifts of raw resources, and it is a son who can see the opportunities they bring.

The picture of a homeless, shivering, hungry old man trying to give me back my gift will long be a reminder of how we may sometimes appear to God.  May He shine His light and show us how to grow!

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Living with Tension

#4 in the Mysterious God Series

How do you deal with tension in your life?  What is your reaction when some part of your world goes off the track?  Does it pull the rest of the train off with it?

For many years of my life I could tolerate little to no tension, especially in relationships.  If something started to go haywire, my whole life skidded to a halt until I could get the recalcitrant piece back in place again.  Considerable amounts of my time and emotional energy were expended to keep my fragile house of cards from collapsing.  When things in my life were bright, I could make forward progress.  But as soon as the sun darkened in any portion of it, I became nearly obsessed with restoring the light again.

God, in His mercy, began to show me that I could not go on living this way.  He had given me a desire to grow, and the sheer messiness of growth was at direct odds with my need to keep everything in a good place all the time.  So, He set me out on a healing journey.

Slowly, over a course of years I began to develop the capacity to stay on track when things were not going well.  I could be hurting in one area of my life and still push forward in another.  I could be completely blocked in an important relationship and still find joy and fulfillment in the rest of my life.  This was huge progress, but I didn’t realize at first just how significant it was.

God took me next to the issue of love.  As a young Christian, my love was sincere but very naive, as was my perspective of the Love that is God.  It was simple, sweet, and revolved around good feelings and good deeds.  In the process of my healing journey I came across some pockets of pain that I had long hidden.  I had to deal with anger at God, anger at people, and all kinds of emotions related to those events.  Then I had a very close relationship blow apart with grisly results and I was left feeling pretty raw.  Suddenly God wasn’t so one-dimensional and neither was life.

What was this about love?  God loves me while He allows my heart to be ripped open?  God loved me all those years ago when bad things were happening?  What happened to the good feelings?  What was this razor edge?

I still believed and knew to be true the things we naturally and joyfully experience with love.  But now, here, I was faced with an entirely different view of it.  It was love that caused God to send His Son to die a horrible death, it is love that causes every parent to punish their child.  Love can be the most painful thing we experience.

I pondered and wrestled a long time with God about love.  Was I willing to accept all of it, knowing that in the name of love God could cause me great difficulty and pain?  I knew I would have to accept something I couldn’t possibly fully understand.

In the midst of my pondering, I realized that I never could have even thought these things in the years before.  My worldview would not have allowed it.  I needed things to be neat and clean, understandable, predictable.  Because I could not tolerate peace and turmoil existing side by side in my life, I also could not tolerate a concept such as a Love that was both beautiful and terrible.

Our willingness to accept the reality of tension will play a crucial role in our capacity to embrace a mysterious God.  Human nature is simply not big enough to see everything at once, so there will always be things we don’t understand.  Do we have to explain away why God is blessing our socks off in one area while seeming to ignore the agony in another?  Do we ignore half of the picture because we can’t deal with the fact that both halves really are in the same frame?  So many times we make God’s nature smaller and smaller because of our need to feel settled about the way the universe is run.

I think we are inclined to prefer an “either/or”.  Either the world is evil or the world is good.  Either you become bitter or you go into denial.  Few people are willing to embrace the process it takes to come through the pain into a bigger view.  I believe that instead of “either/or” we might do better to ask God to take us on a pilgrimage to discover the “and”.  There is good and evil the world.  So, how does He do it?

Did I mention that God is mysterious?

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Trying NOT to Be

If it killed me I was determined not to be a messy Mercy.

I was NOT going to be someone who needed a GPS, a map, and a “call a friend” lifeline to get from their home to the grocery store.  I was not going to be an emotional geyser every five minutes.  I was not going to be disorganized and useless.  Yes, that is really how I felt.  What was the point of having this built-in fiber optic connection to heaven if I couldn’t convert any of the beauty into a transformational reality?  I had seen too much of the Mercy tendency to believe in the existence of a reality before it became one.  It was far too easy to live in the world of anticipation and never get to the work of making it real.  I had seen too much of my own behavior.  I was hard on myself and my entire tribe.

I set about the task with typical Mercy stubbornness and started lobbing mortar shells at anything that moved.  I carried on this way for a few years, blasting away at all the weaknessess I saw.  There was improvement, to be sure.  I had identified some real weaknessness.

Eventually, I had to stop and take stock of things.  I let the dust settle a bit so I could see what was left.  The question of “who am I” was always there in the background, but now it pushed itself forcefully to the front.  Who Was I?  Or what was left of me?  At that moment I resembled a piece of Swiss cheese more than anything.

This is when God showed up.  He had not been particularly responsive to all my frustrated questions of “WHY?!!?  WHY did you make an impossible combination?  How am I supposed to be ME?”  In fact, He usually flat-out ignored me.  So, I would go back to my mortar shells and blast away again.

But now He came, quietly, and simply turned my perspective, like the tiny shift of a kaleidoscope that causes a new cascade of colors to appear.  I realized He had not responded to me because my entire focus was trained on what I was NOT going to be.  This left Him very little room to answer the question of who I was.

You can pursue excellence out of an aversion to the alternative.  Or you can pursue excellence because it is part of the original design.  What drives you makes all the difference in the world.

Because my main focus was on what I didn’t want to be, I consistently lobbed mortar shells when a sniper’s shot was the better choice.  I would shut down, board up and suppress all my emotions, or all of my intuition so that none of it would endanger my Anti Messy Mercy policy.  Here is where I made tragic mistakes that I am still undoing.  I killed a lot of good along with the bad – and this because my focus was on eradicating the bad, not on preserving the good.

I am convinced that this matters immensely.  When you have a sense of the good, of the original design, of God’s fingerprint, you can cut away at the weaknesses while still preserving and developing the core that God made.  Your picture doesn’t even have to be complete.  Perhaps you only know a small portion of your design, but you focus on what you are building, not what needs to be destroyed.  It begins with God.

His way is to begin with what He made.

I wonder how many of you are functioning under a similar perspective as I had.  You might take a look at the things you are pursuing in life, the goals you have set for yourself and see what is the driving force behind them.  Is it a “NOT to be” or is it a “TO be”?  Your goals in themselves may be perfectly fine.  But if you discover that you have a lot of “NOT to be” floating around, I would strongly encourage you to seek God about what is the good you are trying to achieve by overcoming the weaknesses.  What is the end result?  What is the picture He has imprinted in your spirit?

You are not defined by what you are not.  You are defined by what you are.

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