“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.
Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming
Remember the points from Dale Ryan’s session at SIRS? Nouwen is talking about the application of that theological framework.
If God hovers,
Then how ELSE can we respond but to notice, watch for, and participate in his desire for relationship?
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
It has really been trying to watch the snarky dialogues on facebook regarding the elections and other hot button issues. It grieves my heart when it is done so under the banner of standing up for Christianity. My problem is that I cannot stop myself from staring at these dialogical trainwrecks.
Example. I have a friend who is pro life. He posted some things about his position on facebook. No matter one’s position on the subject, I can say this because I took a very formal poll😉, readers thought his words were very mean spirited. In rapt fascination I watched as a friend of his replied to his post with great kindness, saying something like…”Hey, I love you man, I agree with your position totally, but could you say these things without being so….harsh? I don’t mean to criticize, but I am suggesting that you could make the same point without calling others names. It seems so disrespectful, and I really respect you and want your voice to be counted in the conversation.”
I cringed. And sure enough, within seconds he was BLASTING this gal. And she wrote back, “I love you man.” And she did this for 20 times, in responds to increasingly abusive language. And on time 21 she snapped and said, “Hey, I am laying down my sword. I will never talk about this with you again; I am sorry I said anything; I was wrong. Please forgive me.” And he BLASTED her again.
And then, on the 22nd time, she wrote back, “I do not understand.” And what did he do? Went on a tirade about how he was blocking her from facebook. (Which I can only assume enabled her to breathe a sigh of relief.)
Jesus did not come to solve all the world’s problems. But he consistently presented a TONE for how to deal with one another in the midst of our problems. He taught us to love one another, build each other up, help the helpless, love the unlovely. I am confused by our capacity to ignore this TONE in the face of his teachings. I am very confused.
“Our society is so fragmented, our family lives so sundered by physical and emotional distance, our friendships so sporadic, our intimacies so ‘in-between’ things and often so utilitarian, that there are few places where we can feel truly safe.”
It is impossible to guarantee safety in any space.
But here’s is an idea.
What if we gathered for a few more meals together? What if we go bowling once in a while with a group of friends? What if, instead of turning on the boob tube after dinner, we take a walk – preferably with another human or maybe a pet? What if we reach out a bit more, and wait for others to reach out to us a bit less? Just a few thoughts….but I urge us to move from thinking to DOING!
“First of all, you have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting belief.”
Take note – we may live in a world that is manipulative, controlling, etc., but you are the chosen child of God. Precious in God’s eyes. Called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting belief.
Folks, this HAS to make a difference in how we relate to one another.
I do not believe that the world is this inherently evil place – it was created by God after all! And I get nervous when we talk the “world” in negative tones – because, we are the world.
But it is true that if you look around with only a small portion of attentiveness, it is still pretty obvious that there is a lot of destructive practices taking up the headline space. This is sad.
But headlines are not the whole truth – thankfully.
Today, try to think about everyone you come in contact with – especially yourself as beloved, chosen, precious. See how that might change the way you interact with the world around you.
“We have probably wondered in our many lonesome moments if there is one corner in this competitive, demanding world where it is safe to be relaxed, to expose ourselves to someone else, and to give unconditionally. It might be very small and hidden, but if this corner exists, it calls for a search through the complexities of our human relationships in order to find it.”
I have been called naive. It isn’t the worst name I’ve been called, but perhaps it is the one I love the most. Folks tell me sometimes about how hard it is to be a decent human being in the world. They say it is eat or be eaten. Someone once quoted this to me, “God helps those who help themselves.” It was a good conversation, and no offense was intended. But it shows a way of thinking that permeates our society.
The bible does NOT say that God helps those who help themselves. In fact, the bible says just the opposite. The bible says things like the meek shall inherit the earth, when we are weak then he is strong, that God cares for the widows and orphans.
Our American CULTURE tells us that we must help ourselves – and that works fine for many. But for others who cannot help themselves, I think we need to listen to the scriptures. If you have friendships based on quid pro quo, I would invite you to consider either getting different friends, or becoming a different kind of friend yourself.
Because this dog-eat-dog world is not working for us. It isn’t creating safety. It isn’t building others up (another biblical concept). Join me in my naivete and let’s see if we can offer folks a safer place to be known and to know us.
“Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life…all of our life.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World
I love this. I suspect if we could remember this sentiment, the world would be a much more hospitable place and less conducive to addictive processes. I have a friend who feels sorry for himself on occasion. He’s pretty healthy and knows what to do with his blues. He’ll grab lunch with a friend and share his woeful state.
At one time, this became a habit. But his friend was such a GREAT friend, that he not only continued to listen well, but eventually he spoke up. Let me say this is risky business. People don’t much like it when we push back on their self-pity. But both these guys are rock solid manly men, and so good stuff happened in the conversation. My friend the sad one told me what a great lunch it was, even though he initially felt like he had been fussed at.
“Gosh! What did he say that made you feel that way?” I asked.
“I took offense when he began to tell me that part of my problem was that I was so busy focusing on perceived losses, that I wasn’t paying attention to what I really had to gain.” My friend continued, “Then he challenged me to get off my duff and start doing for others what I seemed to think others weren’t doing for me.”
“Wow.” My standard reply for all things heavy and that I am unsure of where they’re headed….
Then my friend whipped out a crumpled piece of paper and began to list several things he thought he was perfectly capable of doing for others. It was an impressive list. He had two copies, and asked me to file one away. Our strategy included monthly check-ins where he would show me his list, and I would update my copy. Within six months he had completed his list of “can do’s”….twice. And he’s a lot less grumpy too! We have things we can offer others – let’s get started!
“Addiction” might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates society. Our addiction make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in “a distant country.” It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming
For a number of years I taught tenth grade Sunday School – and I loved it. Inevitably during the year, this kid or that one would approach me and talk to me about leaving church. My standard response was, “Tell me more.” I soon became aware that the response was going to be very predictable. “Mrs. McBean, I just feel out of place and alone here. EVERYONE has friends here but me.” I bet you assume that these are the marginalized kids, right? Wrong. EVERY KID. EVERY KID that ever spoke to me privately felt like this. There was no distinction between the outgoing, popular ones and the ones with blue hair, tattoos and saggy pants. I heard this from the brilliant children who hung out with the techy nerds and the artists. Every stinking kid felt this way.
Now that I pastor a recovery community, I sometimes hear the same lament from folks in our community. Someone might tell me that they think there are cool and not cool groups in our community. I restrain myself. I’m not sure how many of us ever qualified for “cool”. But what I understand from these repetitive conversations, now that I’m old, is that no amount of jollying can ever create a community that is universally experienced as warm and hospitable. So much of our experience is more a reflection of how we judge ourselves than the reality of what others think about us. I don’t know how to change this, but I believe we should keep trying. One thing we could do is gain some perspective. If we are feeling lonely, maybe we could try to be more….friendly towards others. Maybe when we think we’re on the outside looking in, what if we considered the fact that a bunch of other people feel the exact same way? What could we do differently with that change of mindset?