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Your Will Be Done

 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10

This passage comes from the Lord’s Prayer. Many of us repeat it, often mindlessly, on Sundays in church. The sentiment for God’s will to be done is found throughout the Bible. One memorable usage occurs when Jesus, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, asks God to spare him the agony of the crucifixion. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The traditional understanding of this thought is that circumstances can go either our way or God’s way. In this sense, when we say “Your will be done,” we affirm that we want God to turn events as God would have them, not necessarily the way we prefer.

There is another way to interpret these words, however, which is to treat them as an acknowledgement that God’s will will be done, instead of as our willing submission to God’s wisdom. In other words, it does not matter what we desire, what we plead for, God’s will will be done, regardless. If God’s will is what is, then God’s will is playing out all of the time. If God’s will is always being done, then what we experience, moment by moment, is the unfolding of that will, although not necessarily the completion of that will. I do not believe it is God’s will that we suffer, whether from cancer, depression, or a broken heart. Rather, hurting is a natural part of our human condition, as is joy, and we cannot have one without the other. Likewise, death is a natural part of life in an earthly body. Everything on earth is born, lives, and dies, and its earth-bound elements are remade into something new. Death must happen to allow new life because the earth is a closed system. Whatever and whomever we have or love that is of the earth will deteriorate and die. Only the spirit that animates life is immortal.

Accepting that pain is a natural part of life, particularly in the context of God’s will relentlessly being done, it is helpful to distinguish between pain and suffering. Pain happens to all of us at various times throughout our lives. Physical and emotional wounds are part of our being. Suffering is different, however. How much we suffer from our pain is, at least in part, a choice we make. We often exacerbate our pain by mentally and emotionally focusing on a perceived loss of control because of the pain. We feel someone else is pulling the strings of our lives; we get frustrated, we feel life is not fair, and we suffer. Indeed, someone else is pulling the strings. Rather than a fatalistic fact, however, the good news is that God invites us to co-create the direction and experience of our lives, but we must first submit to co-creating in a way consistent with the will that we are resisting. Our resistance causes us to suffer.

Discerning God’s will in our lives is a challenge for anyone seeking to align their desires to God’s. We can discern the unfolding of God’s will by what we see happening around us. We cannot, however, so easily discern the direction of the unfolding, nor the specifics of how the course of events will develop. That is where we can step in as co-participants – in the specifics of the unfolding of God’s will. A daily prayer practice is vital in aligning our will with God’s. A significant portion of that practice may be spent in silence – not petitioning God for what we want, but opening ourselves to God, surrendering to God’s purposes, and listening for God’s subtle guidance. We may not be in ultimate control, but we can become intimate participants in what is becoming, as opposed to being a helpless victim.

It is inconceivable that a loving God would will us to be miserable – we do that to ourselves. When we can place our painful moments in a larger context, trusting that this too is God’s will unfolding into something new and beautiful, we can reduce our suffering. As Paul writes in Romans 8:28, “…all things work together for good for those who love God.” As we learn to surrender to and recognize God’s will working all things together for good, we honor and acknowledge the place where God resides within us. We reveal who we truly are in Christ.

God’s will will be done, with or without our conscious participation.

This is the 30th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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Love is not Rude

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. 1 Corinthians 13:4a,b,c

After he lists two of the characteristics of love – patience and kindness – the apostle Paul begins his list of traits uncharacteristic of love. Envy, boastfulness, and arrogance begin the unloving list, followed by the declaration that love is not rude. One who is rude to another is not only unkind, but is deliberately unkind. It is one thing to hurt a person unintentionally; it is quite another to hurt someone on purpose. Many times I have said or written something that someone else received in a negative way that I did not intend. That is not rude. It may be careless or thoughtless, but it is not rude.

What motivates us to do something intentionally that we know will offend another? A common reason stems from our own insecurity. We feel a person has more than they deserve and so we seek to cheapen their good fortune by surmising that they probably inherited their money, or they moved up in an organization in unethical ways, or they were born with superior genes. A less obvious manifestation of rudeness occurs in gossip – speaking poorly about a person who is not present. Gossip is intentionally cruel because we say things about another in their absence that we would not say in their presence.

The theme of this series of Life Notes is love. Love manifests in relationship with others. It is a verb, meaning action is required. Even though love demands that we act in ways that are not harmful to another, I find myself most likely to be rude to those I profess to love the most. Love and rudeness are uneasy partners, although much rudeness stems from our inability to love as we should.

I will go out on a limb and proclaim that the number one reason many people act in rude ways is that they feel unloved and unworthy of receiving love. Somewhere in their past their inherent need to be loved was shunned, perhaps repeatedly, and they learned that being cynical is less risky than trying to reach out or respond in love. Such a person becomes like the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They gain a measure of pleasure in seeing others suffer. When pain has been the primary outcome of our key relationships, pain is all we know how to give. Seen in this light, rudeness is a desperate cry for help. We are not offended when a baby cries out in the middle of the night. We recognize the need in another that they cannot yet express in a more loving manner. It should be no different with the adults in our lives – more difficult, certainly, but no different. Everyone needs and deserves love. Sometimes, we are called to love through the pain of another, even when they are rude.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Been There, Done That

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  John 17:1b-3

Today is Holy Thursday, the day the church remembers the Last Supper and the betrayal by Judas. Jesus and his disciples gather in a room for the Passover meal. Jesus washes their feet and gives them a new commandment – to love one another. Finally, he establishes a new covenant, one indemnified by his body and blood. Christians know the rest of the gruesome story – the sham trials, beatings, flogging, crown of thorns, carrying his cross, and the crucifixion. There are many lessons of importance here, including these two: (1) Jesus came so we could know God through him; and (2) Jesus suffered so we would know that God understands our pain.

A common illustration of the generation gap occurs when a parent tells a suffering child, “I know what you are going through.” Children do not believe it. They believe the world has changed dramatically since their parents were kids, so parents cannot possibly understand contemporary challenges. Our children do not grasp that although time may put new clothes on life’s challenges, the essence of the experience does not change. Similarly, some may assume God cannot understand our pain because Jesus’ trials were 2000 years ago. Suffering is suffering, however, regardless of age, socio-economic status, geographic location, or any other variable. Pain is an equal opportunity experience. Jesus suffered horribly near the end, both physically and emotionally. No matter what we go through, we have assurance that God has experienced it, because God was there in Jesus. And God is with us today. In order to finish his “work” on earth, God-in-Jesus experienced the worst. Jesus went through death’s door and came back to show that death is not the end. Our suffering will end, but our existence continues. Hope springs eternal.

Jesus drew all people to himself – the outcasts, the poor, the sick, the foreigners, and the unpopular. He knew what we only pretend to know, that higher levels of life and truth must contain and embrace all lower levels. We cannot overcome evil by ostracizing it, nor can we overcome suffering by ignoring its existence. We overcome less-than-desirable parts of our lives by loving them, by living a better way, and by accepting all into our circle of awareness and blessing. Jesus invites us to bring our earthly trials and lay them at the foot of his cross, where he will bear them with us. We are not alone. He has been there and done that. At the Last Supper, Jesus told us to remember – remember he has been there; remember this life is not all there is; remember we are loved beyond imagination. There is light on the other side of the cross.

Come home to church this Sunday. Be there and do that.

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Not Enough Rocks

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12

In a touching scene from the movie Forrest Gump, Jenny returns to live with Forrest for a time as she strives to stabilize her wretched life. After years of drug abuse and wandering in search of something to build a life upon, she returns to her hometown and to the one person who had loved her in a healthy way since childhood – Forrest Gump. Jenny and Forrest walk leisurely together and end up in front of the run-down, deserted house where she grew up with her abusive father. Jenny’s countenance immediately changes to one of intense anger. She begins picking up rocks and throwing them at the house, eventually breaking a window. She falls to the ground in an exhausted and emotional heap, weeping. Forrest sits down beside her and says, “Sometimes, I guess, there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Jenny made many poor decisions in her life. The house of her childhood stood as a reminder of the years of anguish from which she had long tried to escape. She threw the rocks in a fruitless attempt to find peace by harming this physical remnant of her nightmare childhood – perhaps in hopes that it would suffer a portion of the pain she experienced within its walls. Although the house was not the cause of her childhood abuse, it was inseparable from the painful memories.

Similar recollections occur with us today. For example, I cannot drive by my old high school without remembering the violent racial tension that existed during my years there. Decades later, the memory makes me uncomfortable. The building, while having nothing to do with the unrest, stands as a reminder and a transport vehicle back to that difficult time in history. It is natural for us to develop aversions to people and places that are associated with pain from our past. We must remember, however, that the physical objects are separate from our suffering. Our on-going pain from hurts of the past is a spiritual issue that requires spiritual healing. The writer of the 51st Psalm cries for God to create a “clean heart” within, complete with a “new and right spirit.” If we truly desire restoration from pain to joy, we need a loving God, not a whipping boy.

Granted, there are times when we feel the need to strike out in retaliation against our pain, even when the objects were only innocent witnesses. That sort of striking back may actually help in some cases, if only temporarily. Some people feel a need to hold onto their suffering, and God gives us free will to do so. To actually heal our pain, however, requires the intervention of a Savior. Because sometimes, there just aren’t enough rocks.

Come home to church this Sunday. Throw the one true Rock at your pain…

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