The cold hard facts are these: many people find the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s extremely depressing. All the expectations we put on this season of gratitude and giving and dare I say it? Receiving… are more than these few festive weeks can bear.
For some of us, we have decided to abandon traditions and group think and have chosen to go our own way. We’ve seen through the festive lights and holiday greenery slapped on structures in need of a thorough cleaning and a new paint job. We know that not everything that glitters is gold. Some have decided it is better to abandon all hope than to have eager expectancy dashed with the cold water of disappointment. Again. Does this position make us better than those who have followed the maddening holiday crowd, those who have chosen excess as a coping strategy?
Hold on. There may be a third way to think about the holidays. But first, let’s debunk the glamour of being a person who ONLY walks to the beat of his or her personal drum.
There was this guy in the bible by the name of Amos. He was a prophet, but a reluctant one at best. No one who has ever taken on a legitimate prophetic role would ever sincerely want the job and Amos was no exception. A prophet’s work is difficult, usually telling entire cultures things they don’t want to hear. Amos was charged with prophesying using earthquake and solar eclipses as imagery for the impending judgment of Israel. With that background in mind, hear a word of self-talk from Amos, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet, but I am a herdsman, plucking wild figs.” (Amos 7:14) Even Amos didn’t want to be the guy who stood apart from his community with a perspective of one person against the worldview of his time. But what if Amos DID want to be that guy? Maybe today’s Amos would be Mr. Scrooge or The Grinch. They certainly are bucking the tradition of peace on earth, good will to all!
Here’s my rather obscure point: we don’t want to take to the holiday season like a bunch of sheep without a shepherd following each other all willy nilly to all the sales and holiday gimmicks, but maybe being a Grinch isn’t a great alternative either.
What am I suggesting we do for today? It seems like our first responsibility is to make our faith part of our life in the way we live, not just in the way we think. This means we need to wrestle with what we believe and then step up and figure out how to apply it to our lives. Here’s one small example. Suppose we want to raise our children in an environment of respect and dignity, but we come from a family of rabble rousers who like to get all liquored up over the holidays, have big brawls and end up with the patty wagon hauling off the last man standing. Does it make sense that we would subject our children to that scene? Suppose our other value is having our children know our extended family. Perhaps that desire for connection is in conflict with just simply steering clear of all family gatherings. What if there is a third way? What if we make plans instead to come over for breakfast? Or what if we choose to leave after the appetizers and before the alcohol fuels a frenzy?
It may take a village with a prophetic voice to help us come up with solutions for these family dilemmas, but let’s try!
When we start taking responsibility for our own lives, we must be prepared for the anxiety that will come rushing in. This does not mean that we are doing something wrong or that we are bad people. What it means is that we are doing something different.
Here’s a different spin on anxiety from Thomas Merton (hang with the quote, it starts out sounding bad, but wait for the good news): “Now anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity. It is the fruit of unanswered questions. But questions cannot go unanswered unless they first be asked. And there is a far worse anxiety, a far worse insecurity, which comes from being afraid to ask the right questions – because they might turn out to have no answer. One of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a question we are afraid to ask.”
Please pause with me for a moment while I sit with envy over that last beautifully constructed sentence.
Ok, so here’s the deal. We are currently the richest, fattest, most depressed and addicted country in the land. We eat so many opiates on a daily basis that there are now commercials on television touting the benefits of a new drug to help opiate users poop. I am sorry to be graphic, but it is what it is.
We. Must. Start. Doing. Something. Different.
We cannot keep on keeping on lazily flowing with the tide of our typical solutions to life. These are the ones that are common place and all our friends understand: self-medicating, putting on our happy faces and pretending life is fantastic when it is not, making up Facebook lives when what we’re really living is more like reality television.
It’s time to take responsibility for the life we are living and maybe along the way we will provide an alternative viewpoint for others to consider. If we learn to accept a more authentic definition of the abundant life without having to take meds to do what the body will naturally do if we live as people who learn how to live with anxiety, purpose and meaning.
The greatest of disadvantages is that we are too prone to welcome everybody else’s wrong solution to the problem of life. Thomas Merton
Last Christmas I was given the opportunity to see how much I had learned in the last 38 years. Our youngest son, Michael, had to work and could not come home for Christmas. Oh boy was I sad. It didn’t matter so much to me that he was being a responsible adult, honoring his commitments to his employers and taking responsibility for his own life. I wanted him home for Christmas!
Eventually, I rose up out of my stew pot and decided to take responsibility for my life. I looked around and considered who would be here for the holidays. I thought about how those of us that were here might enjoy our time together. I decided to practice what I preach.
I don’t know – I hope it helped Michael in some small way to have a mother who wasn’t weeping and wailing and gnashing her teeth into his ear for weeks on in. I trusted that if I took responsibility for my life, it would be a decent model for all my children to do the same.
But no matter what my family did or did not take away from my experience, I had a fabulous Christmas. I missed my boy AND I enjoyed the friends and family I was with. Yes, those old song lyrics “Love the one you’re with,” can mean more than what I THOUGHT it meant when I was 19!
There is no greater gift we can give to ourselves (and perhaps others) than to learn how to take responsibility for our own lives.
…in the last analysis the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for “finding himself.” If he persists in shifting this responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence. You cannot tell me who I am, and I cannot tell you who you are. If you do not know your own identity, who is going to identify you? Others can give you a name or a number, but they can never tell you who you really are. That is something you yourself can only discover from within. Thomas Merton
You are no doubt making arrangements for your holiday plans. Discussions are underway about who will celebrate with whom and where all this connecting will take place. It is extremely important to recognize that you are “responsible for living” your own life. These choices are all yours to make.
I remember the first holiday I had a choice. I was 22 years old, married for four months and graduated from college for six. We got married so young, neither of us had ever thought about NOT celebrating the ways we always had. Now Pete and I had two families to consider. Pete and I had settled in Richmond, Virginia because this is where most of our family lived. We didn’t really want to come back to Richmond. Both of us would have preferred to live in Charlottesville, where he had a job offer and let’s face it – with a newly minted psychology degree in hand, I was going to work any place that would hire me. We fancied a life in Charlottesville as ideal – able to participate in all the sporting events of our alma mater UVA without having to go to class or pay tuition. And I do love those rolling hills!
My parents decided while we were on our honeymoon to move to Connecticut. Bummer. And to make matters more interesting, it never occurred to my folks that their move would in any way effect holiday schedules – it was assumed we would show up wherever they lay their heads (at least that is what I assumed).
Our first Thanksgiving provided us the opportunity to choose one of three paths: seek revenge by withdrawing from my family (who hurt my feelings by moving away when I “sacrificed” to live in Richmond), figure out which side of the family we were most afraid of and comply with their wishes, or take responsibility for living our own lives.
I cannot remember what we chose, but I know it was NOT option THREE.
Maybe, like me, it feels like a radical new concept to consider this: you are totally responsible for the life you live. You. Are. Responsible.
How are you doing with that?
“No matter how ruined man and his world may seem to be, and no matter how terrible man’s despair may become, as long as he continues to be a man his very humanity continues to tell him that life has a meaning. That, indeed, is one reason why man tends to rebel against himself. If he could without effort see what the meaning of life is, and if he could fulfill his ultimate purpose without trouble, he would never question the fact that life is well worth living. Or if he saw at once that life had no purpose and no meaning, the question would never arise. In either case, man would not be capable of finding himself so much of a problem.” Thomas Merton
We’re moving into that American season of festivities. Lots of it is amazing. I get excited just thinking about getting out my turkey platter and putting all the extensions in the dining room table. Of course, there’s the dark side of holidays too. What if your family is far away and you have to pull double shifts at your job because you need the money and OTHER people have more options for celebrating than you?
On my days of devotional writing, I’m going to use the time to get us thinking about how to approach this mad dash of holiday madness with both our recovery and spirituality intact.
For today, consider this: many of our struggles are the direct result of knowing in our heart of hearts that we were created for a life of purpose and meaning. When we trivialize our lives – stuffing them with too many calories or its counterpart, harsh dietary restrictions, designer gift wrap and unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others….that’s not going to sit well with a life of purpose and meaning. We are going to find ourselves in rebellion.
35 Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?” 36 He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus. 39 Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.” 40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. John 9:35-41, CEB
In verse 40, this group of Pharisees show us that they think they’ve got the world figured out. Surely we are not blind? In other words, we get it. We’ve got the God stuff down, and we know how to guard it and protect it. Jesus hints here that perhaps it’s better to be a clean slate than to have some false beliefs in your history. That kind of theological baggage can blind us to “the good” God is doing.
Jesus’ response is interesting. Essentially he tells them that if they were blind, in other words, if they recognized their own incompleteness and need for God, then they’d be pretty much where they need to be. But, because they don’t recognize their need for God, they’re on shaky ground.
The proper posture to take before God is not one of confidence, assurances, or authority, but one of brokenness and humility. When we recognize our need for God in the context of our brokenness, then we’re receptive to God’s work (as was the blind man). Receptivity on our part creates a space where God can start to go to work.
In some ways, that’s not very hard, is it? There’s not a lot being asked there. On the other hand, we all know how hard it is to live in a place of humility. To continue to recognize our need for God when we’re not in crisis. To live in a place of complete openness to the kind of work God deems necessary.
Now that I think about it, it’s just not that easy.
24 Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.” 25 The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.” 26 They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?” 27 He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” 28 They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.” 30 The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. 32 No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.” 34 They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him. John 9:23-34, CEB
Why are the Pharisees so stirred up by Jesus that they completely ignore his work? It’s not “the sabbath”, right? What’s the reason behind the reason?
Here’s an option: Jesus challenges what they think they know. Jesus shows that God is deeply concerned and, in fact, deeply moved by, those in the world who recognize that they’re incomplete and in need of God’s help. Sound familiar? God is moved by people who recognize that their lives are unmanageable and who need God to restore them to sanity. That should sound familiar.
The Pharisees, perhaps, don’t recognize their own brokenness. They don’t recognize that, apart from the one true God, we’re all incomplete and in need of God to go to work in us. And, the God of their understanding is not really the same as the God of the Bible.
This is a story of God bringing fullness to someone who 1. recognizes that he is incomplete on his own and 2. is receptive to the work that God wants to do.
This means we have a few challenges to overcome. We have to be willing to look for God’s goodness in unexpected places. We have to be able to recognize that we’re incomplete apart from God’s work. We have to be willing to take a step back and to receive God’s goodness even when that process of receiving makes no sense to us.
In other words, we’re going to have to wake up.