Archive for January, 2013

26
Jan
13

Exit here…

I missed my exit on the freeway yesterday. It was near the new section where I-69 and 435 intersect. You know the one. I’ve been on almost all of the new exit ramps at least once since they were opened so it was not as if it was brand new territory for me. I thought I had been on that stretch enough times that I could easily drift into the desired lane at the right time and make my connection.  

But somehow I was just not alert enough to notice when I should have been steering into the right lane, so I missed the turn and went WAY out of my way to get back on track. In fact, as I thought a little more about my wrong turn I came to realize that if this had been my first time traveling on that stretch of road I probably would have been paying a little bit more attention.

            And then – as I found myself with a lot of extra driving time on my hands – I began to wonder if there might be some parallels between my encounter on the highway and life in the world of the spirit. Surprisingly, I decided that yes… there are some parallels. In the very early stages of the journey we are eager, alert, eyes wide open, making note of every dip and turn in the “road.” We are hyper-alert to our surroundings and not likely to miss our “exit.”

            On the other end of the continuum – the very experienced end – we enjoy a similar level of clarity. We have been down this road many times. We are intimately familiar with the contours and rise and fall of the land, the light places and the dark corners. We thrill to traverse the holy ground and allow it to unveil its secrets to us.

            In both the world of car travel as well as the world of the spiritual journey, it may well be that the most treacherous times are those “middle” stages of experience. You know how it goes… we have been over this terrain. It is familiar. We feel comfortable with the landscape and so relax our vigilance.

            And that is when it happens… that is when we are most likely to take a wrong turn and get lost.

            There are many times when I feel like I am in those middle stages of my spiritual journey: a long, long way from being the “deeply committed Christian” I seek to be and yet not a total novice either. My goal is to continue maturing, developing, and growing.

But I have to admit… sometimes I get lazy. Sometimes I get busy and skip one devotion time… and then another. In my haste I neglect to pray the Wesley Covenant Prayer and encounter its tender reminder that, “I am no longer my own but Thine.” In that state I begin to worry more about whether I am receiving enough… enough pay, enough credit, enough attention, enough love, enough whatever… instead of whether I am giving enough.  

Feeling familiar and satisfied in the life of the spirit is one of our surest “exit ramps” from our travel along God’s path. And the sad part of it is, we might not even know we left the road.

Diana Butler Bass, in her recent book Christianity After Religion, reminds us that… “’Who am I in God?’ is a starting point of Christian spirituality. Why do Christians pray? Christians do not pray to have wishes granted; rather, Christians pray to find themselves in God and that they might be more aware of their motives and actions.” (Bass, Christianity After Religion, p. 187).

We each need a little wake up call now and then to remind us of the preciousness of every moment and the power of that moment to reveal God’s presence and power. Today, even though it is my “day off,” I begin by asking God to help me stay awake and alert and not miss the turns He wants me to make.

Will you join me in that same prayer?

18
Jan
13

Question #4

Who am I? What do I want? What am I willing to give to get what I want?

            I don’t know how many of us stop and ask ourselves these fundamental life questions with any regularity. I have a friend who suggests that these questions are the essential building blocks of life and should be engaged on a regular basis by every person. And to a point I agree with him. But I think there is one absolutely critical question missing from this list. So let me ask: if you were amending this list of questions, what would you add?

            This week we have seen – very clearly in one case and much less clearly in the other – the heart- and life-breaking results of leaving out the next question in the series. Like many of you I was absolutely dumbfounded to watch parts of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey as he confessed to multiple and repeated uses of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during his professional cycling career. Every single one of his Tour de France victories, he said, were drug-enhanced. Not a clean one in the group.

            And what was even more chilling to me was his admission that when he did it, he had no sense at all that he was doing anything wrong. Drugging – he said – was so widespread in the world of professional cycling that his drugging only succeeded in putting him on a level playing field.

            It was a shocking interview. I was one of the millions of people who believed his repeated and fierce denials of drug use. Heck, Lance even SUED PEOPLE who accused him of taking PEDs. “You don’t take people to court and sue them,” I said to myself, “… if you really are taking drugs. You might get tested and lose the case!”

            Lance’s answer to Question #1 (Who Am I?) would probably have been: A professional cyclist. Question #2 (What do you want?) I want to win the Tour de France. Many, many times. Question #3: (What are you willing to give to get it?) ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING, including my health, my reputation, my friendships, my money… everything.

            And so it is easy to see that if we stop with those three questions, we can end up with one of the most devastating chronicles of cheating in modern sports history and (though he probably doesn’t see it yet) a thoroughly ruined life.

            What if we added one more question to the list? What if each of us also made a regular practice of asking ourselves, in decisions large and small, “What does God require of me?” Of course the answer we get from the book of Micah is rock-solid: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

But what would it mean for each of us to try to regularly work on crafting an answer to that question that was shaped by the circumstances and decisions facing us at this exact moment? What if we asked, “What does God require of me as I consider how to correct my son’s defiant behavior?” “What does God require of me as I create next week’s lesson plan for my class?” “What does God require of me as I contemplate this critical business decision?” Except for the very most mundane subjects, I cannot imagine a single part of life that would not be helped by asking this simple, critical “extra” question.

How might that one additional question have altered Lance Armstrong’s future? Well, he probably would not have won seven Tour de Frances. He might not have become the world’s most revered athlete. He might not have raised millions of dollars for cancer research through his Livestrong Foundation either. But then again, who knows?

One thing is certain: had Lance ever stopped and asked the question, “What does God require of me?” he would also likely not be trying today to figure out how to put the pieces of a shattered life back together either.

Each one of us can – and should – ask ourselves Question #4 every day.




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