Posts Tagged ‘despair

18
Sep
20

Pro and Con

“Well, it sure beats the alternative!”

I honestly can’t count the number of times I have uttered this phrase whenever someone complains to me about the tribulations of aging.

Here of late though, I’ve had cause to wonder: Is it though? Is getting older REALLY better than NOT getting older?

I have been absent from these blog pages for many more days than I like to be. Some of the reason has to do with some out-of-state travel. Mostly though it has to do with sudden bouts of mortality. 

Earlier this week I aggravated a lower abdominal strain (think lowest abdominal area possible) while trimming our nine-foot-tall hedge. That led to an unplanned trip to the ER. That injury led to a wrenching spasm of my lower back which led to a second ER engagement in less than 12 hours. 

Today I am hopped up on pain killers and muscle-relaxers, trying to bring the pain under some kind of control as I pen this blog post. (And just so you know… I am going to blame all errors in grammar and syntax on my current, pain and drug be-fogged state).

I found my recent string of unfortunate body meltdowns leading to this question: “So what is so great about getting older, anyway?”

And being the list-maker that I am, I started ticking off the PROS and CONS of aging. On the PRO side you have to begin with life experience. To brazenly steal the current State Farm Insurance tagline, “We old folks know a thing or two because we have SEEN a thing or two.” 

There is also the PERSPECTIVE that comes with age. We can look back on something like a broken heart… something that seems like the end of the world to a 22-year-old… and know with confidence that “this too, shall pass.” 

Something else I have noticed is that while we of a certain age are old enough to remember a world before cell phones and the internet, we are still young enough to embrace and use them. 

So there I was… humming blissfully along, making my lists of the costs and benefits of aging… when my brain brought me to a screeching halt. “What in the world…” Brain asked me, “… is the purpose of these lists you’re making? I mean, what are you going to DO with them once you finish?” 

When I pressed Brainy to explain himself a little, he replied, “I mean, if you come up with more CONS than PROS, what are you going to do? Will you try to reverse time and grow YOUNGER? And then what if it comes out the other way – with more PROS than CONS? Are you planning to look down with disdain on everyone younger than you?”

I had to admit it; Brain had a point. 

His question reminded me that any time we start down the road of comparing ourselves with others, our lives immediately begin going off-track. For starters, we cut ourselves off from the opportunity to be grateful for the life we are living RIGHT NOW. We start to look at other people as superior, and therefore start to resent them. Or else we see them as inferior and start to reject them. 

In any case, we fall right into the trap God warned Adam and Eve about in the third chapter of Genesis… right there in Paradise, where it all began.

You remember the story. God said, “I’ve set up this beautiful garden for you. Come, take care of it. Have dominion over all of the animals living there. Be my special friends. There is just ONE RULE… don’t eat the fruit of that tree over there. You know… the one there in the middle of the garden.” 

Do you remember the name of that tree? It was not called Apple Tree. It was called, The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Genesis 3:5, NRSV). 

In other words, you and I were never intended to have the power to label things “Good” or “Evil.” God always knew that kind of labeling power was too awesome for humans to wield. That ability has always been above our pay grade. Like Thor’s hammer, it is only intended to rest in the hand of the Divine One. 

God’s preferred choice for Adam and Eve was to submit and enjoy. Instead, they chose to rebel and, as a result, suffer. 

Today, I am tempted to look at my aging and decaying body and call it a mistake… to call it wrong… to consider myself cheated. But then I remember the advice Paul gave to the Thessalonians in his first letter to that fledgling church: “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV). 

I think when he said ALL circumstances he meant ALL. The good, the bad, the pro, the con, the sickness, or the health. 

Even that “getting older” thing.

Abundant blessings;

20
Apr
20

Take Hope

Sprouting green plant“But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” Romans 8:24, NRSV.

Hope is a precious commodity these days.

On some days, it can be harder to find than that ever-elusive toilet paper.

We squint and look at the road ahead and yet see nothing but mist and blur. No one knows with any certainty (even if they say they do) when we can once again be care-free about who we hang out with and in what quantities.

Today we hope for the best while we prepare for the worst.

So let me ask: in those moments when you allow yourself a rose-colored glance into the future, what do you find yourself hoping for? My first thoughts about hope are colored in a very self-absorbed hue; I hope for the safety of my friends and family. I pine for the return of restaurants, concerts, air travel, and baseball. I long to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other congregants in church on Sunday. I hope the stock market stabilizes and stops imitating some kind of psychotic carnival ride.

This kind of hope, I soon realize, is rooted in nostalgia. It is a hope for a return to life, “as it once was.” In that sense, it is a very backward-looking hope.

At other times, I catch myself hoping that this present time of crisis will perform a work of transformation… on me and on the world around me. Once the “all clear” has been sounded, I hope I continue to value solitude and times of quiet contemplation as I do now. I hope I will still eagerly look forward to evening walks with Joan and the dogs, sharing thoughts, jokes, and news of the day.

[Just to clarify, I mean Joan and I sharing those things… not the dogs and me.]

I hope – is this too wildly ambitious to put out there? – that we all might continue to call the people stocking grocery shelves and picking up our trash “essential.” I hope that we would continue understanding and applauding the heroic nature of those who care for our health (and the utter insanity of tying healthcare to employment status). I hope we will walk away from this pandemic with a renewed awareness of just how tightly interdependent we are and how much MY well-being is directly tied to YOURS.

I hope people will stop dying from COVID-19 and that our eyes will be permanently opened to the life-and-death consequences of institutional racism and economic discrimination.

I know that some of these hopes of mine will not come to fruition and others will. But even if two out of three of my hopes fall to the ground with a sickening THUD, I will continue to hope. Like an excellent major league hitter, I am going to be thrilled with a success rate of one out of three.

Over the course of the next few days, my goal is to share stories of hope in this space. I aim to share stories that illustrate the power of hope in the midst of bleak and apparently hopeless circumstances.

If you have one such story, I would love to hear it. Otherwise I will be harvesting them from friends, family, and the World Wide Web.

For today I will just wrap up by reminding us all that sometimes – just as the verse at the top reminds us – hope is not terribly rational. Hope is often that seed dropped onto a hard concrete sidewalk that – by God – is determined to germinate and grow.

It is also a good time to remind us all that hope which is rooted and grounded in faith, is one of the most powerful forces in all of nature. As Paul reminded the wayward worshipers in Corinth, I will also remind us: “[Christ] has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” 2 Corinthians 1:10, NRSV.

Abundant blessings;

02
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 2

One man counseling another(In yesterday’s installment, I recounted one of my most abysmal performances as a pastoral counselor. Troy, a congregant, had come to see me with an incredible mountain of problems including job loss, cancer, his wife’s infidelity, and parenting challenges, all raining down on him at once.

When we left our story, the pastor was wringing his hands in despair, searching and praying for the right word for Troy’s situation…)

Not wanting too many more silent seconds to pass between us, I gave Troy my most sincere, pastoral look, reached out and confidently placed my hand on his left shoulder and said – with an air of authority that was manufactured out of thin air – “Troy… the thing to remember at times like this is just what it says in the Bible: ‘This too shall pass.’”

And then, to add an extra measure of sincerity to the drivel I had just dispensed, I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded.

The reaction I fully expected to receive (and probably should have received) from Troy was something like, “What? Are you seriously kidding me? ‘This too shall pass??’ I could have pulled a random fortune cookie out of a jar and gotten something better than that drivel!”

But, to his everlasting credit, Troy just nodded, thanked me for my time, and stood up to leave.

After that it took me several minutes to compose myself. I was stunned at the level of absolute ineptitude I had displayed in my conversation with Troy. I honestly pondered the possibility of searching for a new line of work… on the spot. Clearly that “call to ministry” I thought I had heard was a wrong number.

Fast-forward six months. I have not heard from Troy or heard about him. I had maybe seen him at church one time in passing since our meeting. And I may or may not have pretended to drop something on the floor when he passed… just to avoid making eye contact.

And then one night it happened… there was an event at church for parents and their children. I was on duty to greet folks as they came in and help them find their way around. And here came Troy… with his two children in tow.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Nothing to do but to step up, look him in the eye and face the music. It might even be that he has wiped any memory of my face and name from his mind… if I’m lucky.”

So, I bucked up… walked up to Troy… stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there, Troy. It’s been a while since we talked. How are things with you anyway?” I tried not to telegraph the fact that I was positioning myself to deflect a punch from his right hand I was reaching out to shake it.

“Pastor Brown!” he said… in a loud, overly enthusiastic voice. (Drat! He recognized me!) And then he went on, “Hey, do you remember that time last fall when we met in your office? You know, when I was in such a messed-up situation and I came to see you?”

“Yeah… sure,” I said… playing along. “I’ve been wondering how things are going for you now. That sure was a bad time for you, wasn’t it?”

He said, “Boy, it sure was. Hey… do you remember the advice you gave me? When you told me ‘this too shall pass’?”

I was getting ready to defend myself, explaining I had been engaged in a spiritual fast the day we met and was clearly delirious from hunger when he interrupted me, grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously saying,“Man, I can’t thank you enough. That was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at that moment. It helped me take a step back from the funk I was in and just take a breath.

“And you know what? Things are really getting better. I got a new job, so we changed schools and got my daughter away from those bullies… my wife married her boyfriend and I am getting good treatments for my melanoma.”

“But I just really wanted to thank you for helping me get through that. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

And so, we shook hands, I thanked Troy for his kind words, and we went our separate ways.

At the time I offered it, “This too shall pass,” was a trite, unthinking response that was thoroughly unresponsive to the depth of Troy’s dilemma. I have since checked and found it is also advice that can be found nowhere in the Bible.

What I saw though in that six-month reunion was the power of the Holy Spirit to take the very worst of my efforts and transform it into something powerful and healing.

Right now, “This too shall pass” feels like a trite, almost cruel platitude in the midst of the current pandemic. Sure, it will pass, but who knows when it will pass? Who knows how many lives will be lost in the process? Who knows the long-lasting damage that will be done to our economy by this extended shut-down?

“This too shall pass” is not particularly biblical or earth-shaking as advice goes. But it is true. There WILL be a day in the future when sports resume, when there are stories on the news besides the daily COVID-19 death toll, when kids are back in school, when concerts happen again, and when folks – maybe more than before the pandemic – gather again in church.

No, “This too shall pass” may not be particularly profound.

But somehow my anxious heart – like Troy’s – finds great peace and comfort in knowing it is true.

 

Praise God!

01
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 1

One man counseling anotherOver the course of my 20 years in professional ministry, I like to think I have offered some measure of comfort to people who have come to me seeking counsel in the midst of deep, personal crises.

But I know for an undeniable fact that my performance as a counselor has sometimes stunk up the joint, too.

I am thinking specifically of the time Troy came to see me.

As his story poured out, I tried to remember if I had met Troy (not his real name) before. But since I was one of a multitude of associate pastors at a megachurch in the Midwest, I really couldn’t place him beyond a passing familiarity.

On the surface – where most of us prefer to dwell most of the time – Troy fit in quite well with the general congregational profile: he was white… upper-middle class… well educated… successful… family oriented.

He was not the kind of guy you would expect to be sitting across from, watching as a cascading wave of life crises threatened to pound him into little pieces and wash him away.

For starters, Troy had been laid off from his job. It was a good, high-paying job with an engineering company where he had worked for 15 years. A change in ownership led to a change in senior staff and a thorough re-shuffling of personnel. Troy was one of the unfortunate casualties.

Shortly after receiving his walking papers, Troy’s wife decided to leave him. In reality, she decided to finally stop trying to hide the affair she had been having with another man for a couple of years now and move in with him.

She was, Troy told me through his tears, the love of his life.

Then, just this past week his youngest daughter came home from school in absolute agony, vowing never to return to that horrible place ever again. It seems she had been singled out by a group of mean girls at her junior high for an epic ration of bullying and ostracism.

And to top it all off (“What?? You’re kidding me! There’s MORE? Troy… my brother… I am not sure I can even keep track of, let alone respond pastorally and effectively, to everything that’s going down in your life right now. I’m about to hit overload on the CARE-O-METER!”), Troy had just received word back from his dermatologist that the mole on his back that they biopsied last week was – in fact – melanoma. Steps needed to be taken right away to begin treating it to prevent its spread.

Troy was still covered by his company’s health insurance under the COBRA law (thank God!), but this new twist was going to throw a serious wrench into his job-hunting campaign for a while.

As he concluded his litany of lament, Troy just lowered his head, shook it slowly back and forth and said, “Pastor, I just don’t know what to do or where to turn. I can’t sleep at night and I just feel like I am at the end of my rope. That’s why I came to see you.”

Most of the time, when counseling with a congregant, I begin the session with prayer. In the prayer I ask God to guide both of us by the Holy Spirit and to help us see possibilities that might not be apparent to either of us. Troy had walked through the door 20 minutes ago and immediately began spilling his guts… unaware of my pastoral prayer protocol.

We may not have begun the session with prayer, but man alive, I was sure praying now!

I was shell-shocked. I was numb. And quite honestly, I had no earthly idea how to respond to Troy. At that point I had not been at this pastoring thing too terribly long and had never heard this kind of outpouring of woe from any single person. This was like a week’s worth of crises all wrapped in one nasty ball. Fortunately, I fought back the urge to stop him and say, “Hold on, Troy… one issue per customer per visit, please.”

But life had not afforded Troy that kind of orderliness. It was all hitting him at once.

And so, as he looked up from his folded and shaking hands, it was clear Troy expected something from me. He was a smart enough guy not to expect that I would pull out a magic wand, wave it and say, “Shazzam! All better now!”

But still… something was needed. A thread. A glimmer of light. A narrow ledge his aching fingers might cling to.

As my calm-appearing gaze met his, the wheels of my brain were whirling feverishly. The cylinders tumbled, the locks clicked, the chute opened… but nothing came out.

“Help me, Jesus,” I desperately prayed, “Because honestly… I got nuttin’!”

 

… TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW!

06
Nov
18

The Real Problem

Dreamer image“Your situation…” a wise person once said to me, “… is never the problem.”

Pregnant pause.

“The problem… “ they continued, “… is your RELATIONSHIP to your situation.”

And for the most part, I agreed with and appreciated this pearl of wisdom when I first heard it.

I mean, how often are we prone to believe that if we can just change something about our situation… by getting a new job, a new spouse, a new haircut, a new hometown, a new car, a new political leader, a new wardrobe, or a new pet… that life will finally be whole, complete and perfect?

I confess I have fallen for that faulty line of reasoning more than once.

And yet, this wise saying – like many wise sayings – has its flaws.

If your situation, for example, involves you being in poverty, being abused, being otherwise exploited, being denied justice, or being trapped in a cycle of addiction, then yes… your situation IS the problem.

You need advocates and empowerment to change that situation.

But for the most part, I am firmly on board with the “change your attitude instead of your situation” wisdom.

True… I may just be trying to steel myself against a potentially MASSIVE disappointment as I watch today’s election results trickle in. I may be preparing to (somehow) take a hopeful, positive relationship to a thoroughly sucky future political situation.

But still… I thought it might be a good time to remind all of us of the amazing power we each hold. Even when things don’t turn out the way we would prefer we each have the power to shape our own outlook on the world.

As it turns out, today is a good day to read and re-read this election day wisdom from that famous first-century political pundit, the Apostle Paul where he reminds us where to keep our focus: “…  because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”(2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV, emphasis mine).

Happy voting!

Abundant blessings;

28
Sep
18

Growing Hope

This soilSeed in soil

This seed

Buried

This crazy idea

That the story goes any further

Than this.

This waiting

This seeing… NOTHING

 

 

This knowing

This peace

This HOPE

This tree.

04
Jul
17

Be Free!

freedom picToday is the Fourth of July. It is the day to celebrate freedom.

For the most part when we talk about freedom, we mean political freedom:

  • We mean the ability to freely and democratically elect our leaders without pressure or fear of reprisal.
  • We mean the ability to freely speak our minds about the state of our country and her leaders… even if that speech is critical.
  • We mean the ability to travel from one place to another without restriction.
  • We mean the ability to worship – or not worship – in the style we choose.

These freedoms are precious and fragile and TOTAL. Citizens of the United States are blessed to enjoy 100% of each of these freedoms. They have been obtained by the willing sacrifice of women and men throughout our country’s history. We should never come to take them as entitlements or guarantees, but rather be grateful for them on each of the other 364 days of the year.

And yet, as I use this time off to reflect on the topic of freedom, I realize there are freedoms in my life besides political freedoms. True, these are not the freedoms we typically celebrate on the Fourth of July, but they are certainly worth pondering.

There is our mental/emotional freedom. Or another way to describe it is freedom from fear, anxiety, resentment, and anger.

There is freedom from compulsion. Can any of us truly say we are completely liberated from those nagging little (or sometimes not so little) habits that show up over and over again?

There is economic freedom… or more accurately the freedom from worry about how we will eat, clothe, shelter, or support ourselves.

Finally there is spiritual freedom… also known as “… the peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7, NRSV). The freedom from the forces of darkness and despair.

I count this freedom as the greatest – and also the most accessible – freedom of all. This is the freedom that prompted Christian mystic Julian of Norwich to say, “All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well,” and Horatio Spafford to pen the words to the hymn, It Is Well with My Soul in 1873.

A long time ago we decided that it was fitting and proper to set aside a day of national celebration in honor of our political freedoms. It is good that we routinely remind ourselves of their preciousness and importance… and of the sacrifices made by countless men and women to obtain them.

Somehow I have not figured out the connection between overeating, amateur incendiary devices and political freedom, but who am I to argue?

But today I wonder… how and when will I celebrate those other freedoms? How will I – or any of us – choose to express an appropriate level of gratitude for the spiritual freedom Christ died to give us? How will we choose to make a point of setting aside time and space to say, “Thank you, Jesus!” for breaking the chains of sin and death?

Paul reminded us in Galatians 5:1 that FREEDOM was at the very heart of Jesus’ mission when he said, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, NRSV).

So yes… get out and gather with friends and family today. Shoot off some firecrackers… grill some hot dogs, crank some homemade ice cream and splash around in the pool (weather permitting).

But don’t forget to spend part of the day on your knees giving thanks for ALL of the freedoms you enjoy.

Abundant blessings…




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