Posts Tagged ‘purpose

18
Oct
21

The Voice Speaks!

“Are you edgy?”

There I was… out in my back yard the other day, tidying up some ragged borders with my battery-powered string trimmer. 

That’s when I heard The Voice… 

… And The Voice seemed to be asking me a weird question.

“Are you edgy?”

I paused in my work and looked around. Who had spoken? And what did they mean by that?

For the life of me I could not locate where The Voice had come from. But I knew I had definitely heard it, loud and clear. And to deepen the mystery a little and add some intrigue, I recognized that it was a woman’s voice. 

As an avid student of the Bible, I have read numerous accounts of heroes and heroines of the faith who heard the disembodied Voice of God… usually inviting them to undertake a Great Quest. Noah and the ark, comes immediately to mind. There is also Moses and the Burning Bush… or Paul on the Damascus Road, just to name a few. 

And every time I read one of those stories – or others – I ask myself the same question: “When will it be my turn to hear the clear, distinct voice of God steering me on to The Path I need to be following?”

So, score one… I finally heard The Voice. But also, bummer… the words I heard made absolutely no sense to me at all. Why couldn’t I have heard something like, “Set my people free!” (Exodus 3:10), or “Go preach the Word all over the Fertile Crescent area and start, like, a zillion churches,” (Acts 9ish). 

All I got was this stupid question: “Are you edgy?”

But let’s stop and think about that for a moment instead of complaining. Maybe this is EXACTLY the message I need to hear from God right now. Maybe God has watched me as I have sort of oozed into retirement, goofed around with a hodge-podge of volunteer activities, taken naps in the middle of the day, and been thoroughly unimpressed. 

Maybe my own, personal, Russell Brown-specific Burning Bush moment is meant to be a CHALLENGE! Maybe it is meant to wake me up somehow! Maybe God is saying, “Hey! Lawn Jockey! I didn’t call you to collect your pension and pretty up your yard all day while gaping at the beautiful mountains and the aspen trees! I called you to get out there ON THE EDGE! As long as you’ve got breath and health, I expect you to actively USE the gifts and graces I gave you to help build my KINGDOM! 

“So get out there, bub! Go make a difference! 

“Um, excuse me?”

I heard the voice again. Only this time I was facing in the right direction. It seems the source of the voice was my neighbor across the back fence. She had been momentarily obscured by the nine-foot-tall hedge between our yards, but now I could see her standing there, quizzical look and all.

Suddenly I understood. 

She looked at me and said, “I heard the noise from your yard and was curious what it was.”

OK. I get it now. My neighbor heard the noise from my weed-whacker and called out to me to ask if I had been EDGING

“Oh! Yes. Yes, I am edging. Sorry… did the sound bother you?” I asked.

“Oh no, you’re fine. Sorry to interrupt,” she replied, and then turned and went back into her house.

So… not the Voice of God after all. Just a neighbor wondering what all the commotion was. Not to worry. 

And with that, I returned to my chores, confident that God had definitely NOT used the voice of my neighbor to spur my soul and ask me challenging questions about the direction and purpose of my life. 

As if that would ever happen…

Abundant blessings;

14
Sep
21

My Own NGH List

Ninjas ASSEMBLE!

Last night the newly-crowned, 15-year-old champion of the show, American Ninja Warrior gazed earnestly into the camera and assured me, “Hey! If you can dream it and work hard, you can do ANYTHING!”

REALLY?” I replied, reaching to my left for another handful of popcorn, noticing the twinge in my shoulder as I did so. “You honestly think so?”

But hey… you have to love the kid’s heart. He started out with nothing but a dream. 

And then, with a lot of dedication and special training equipment (like his own custom-built Salmon Ladder, Jumping Spider, and Warped Wall), he took his nimble, 15-year-old body and trained it into championship shape. 

But as I sat and snacked and listened to earnest young Kaden speak, my NGH list expanded by one.

“NGH” is shorthand for “Never Gonna Happen.” [Or if you want to be a little more grammatically formal, call it the NGTH List; “Never Going To Happen.”] 

This is the list I keep of the things that are CLEARLY never going to happen in my lifetime. Despite Kaden’s heartfelt pep talk, I knew that becoming the next American Ninja Warrior is light years beyond my personal radar screen. 

It’s NGH… Never Gonna Happen.

Just like my dream of playing in the NBA. NGH. Or climbing Mount Everest. Also NGH. To this list I should probably also add my childhood fantasies of becoming a firefighter, or a policeman, or game show host.

NONE of those are Ever Gonna Happen.

On one hand, I find that moving things onto my NGH List is a very liberating exercise. I mean, if I keep on believing that the day will come when I finally learn to fly a plane, or become a ventriloquist, or sculpt Joan’s lovely image in marble, I invite nothing but frustration and disappointment the longer those goals remain unachieved. 

Moving that kind of stuff onto my NGH List frees me up to discover more reasonable, age-and-ability-appropriate sources of fulfillment.  

On the other hand, I have to ask myself; “Is a rapidly expanding NGH List a sign that I’ve thrown in the towel? Given up? “Settled?” Ceased dreaming?”

I think I was 19 years old when I first uttered the phrase, “Someday, I’m going to write a book.” Today, at nearly 70 years, that dream remains unfulfilled. 

Please understand: I’ve started several books. One even grew to a little more than 11,000 words. 

Each time, however, I have abandoned the effort as I became overwhelmed, discouraged, lost, or disappointed with the sub-standard quality of my effort. But then I pick up someone else’s printed, published work, and become simultaneously inspired and intimidated

And yet, despite the internal turmoil this causes me, I am still not willing to move “Write a book” onto my NGH List.

Ultimately, I (and probably all of us) must look soberly at our goals and ask the question, “Is this quest ‘of God’? Or is it just me and my idle fantasizing?” Another way of asking the same question might be: “Is this THING part of my divinely-appointed PURPOSE in life? Or not?” 

If the answer to that question is YES, nothing should stop you from carrying it out. If it is NOT, you should waste no time adding it to your own personal NGH List

I take a measure of comfort from the Bible’s story of the Israelites. Their divinely appointed purpose (recorded in Genesis 12:3) was to be a set-apart people through whom God would bless all of Creation.

But to get there, they had to endure 400 years of enslavement in Egypt, 40 years of wandering aimlessly in the Sinai wilderness, and then untold months of vicious, mortal combat before they finally “arrived.” I am sure most of them wanted to put “Be God’s Chosen People” on their NGH List at around year six of their time in Egypt.

And yet, despite all the delays, all the setbacks, all the disappointments, and all the dead-ends, God’s purpose for the Israelites was ultimately fulfilled. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NRSV).

Today, no matter what new things are being added to YOUR NGH List, take heart. Wait on God. Renew your confidence that God has a purpose and a path for you.

Abundant blessings;

09
Aug
21

A Question of Purpose

Say hello to Rosie and Patrick.

I am quite jealous of them.

And no, not just because their days consist entirely of eating, sleeping, walking, and pooping… although that does seem like a pretty sweet gig.

No, I am jealous of them because they have no questions at all about their purpose(s) in life. 

They both know that beyond the four activities listed above, they are here on earth for one shining, central reason…

… their purpose is to be the loyal, unconditionally loving companions of the people who put kibble into their bowls twice a day.

They pursue that purpose diligently, single-mindedly, and steadfastly every day. That purpose helps them sort through the conflicting demands on their time and zero in – laser-like – on the things that best serve their Purpose.

Lucky dogs.

Since retiring two years ago, I have struggled with the notion of purpose. For most of 2020, of course, my purpose was very straight-forward: STAY ALIVE and UNINFECTED!

Naturally that is still #1 on my list. But I will confess to a degree of befuddlement about what else should be there. 

‘Way back when in my working life, I had occasion to counsel men – usually men in their mid-to-late 50s – on this very topic. In most instances, these were men who were facing sudden unemployment and were now adrift and bereft, uncertain of either the meaning or the purpose of their existence.

In every case, I counseled them not to confuse their WORK with their PURPOSE in life. The two are NOT, I told them, the same thing. [I only reference men here because I never encountered a single woman who needed this reminder. Every woman I’ve ever met somehow knows the difference between WORK and PURPOSE.]

And now, here I sit… needing to hear that same counsel myself. 

For lots of newly retired people, the question of their life purpose is pretty simple and straight-forward: relax, kick back, and take it easy. Work on the yard when it needs it. Play as much golf as humanly possible. Walk to the mailbox once a day. Take up a new hobby. Alphabetize the vitamin supplement bottles.

Except that those are ACTIVITIES. And activities are not PURPOSES. 

A goal of mine in retirement is to write a book. “Well and good,” you might say. “Go ahead, get off your butt, stop talking about it and DO IT!” 

But again: GOALS are also not the same thing as PURPOSES.

I recently listened to a podcast on the topic of PURPOSE. The interviewee made a helpful distinction between the concepts of MEANING and PURPOSE… concepts I have often conflated in my mind. He pointed out that MEANING has to do with looking backward at the events in your life. 

PURPOSE, however, is about looking FORWARD. 

Don’t fret about me too much; I wouldn’t call myself utterly lost and clueless on the subject. I am certain, for example, that SERVING GOD and LOVING PEOPLE still sit right there at the center of my life’s purpose. The fact that they will no longer be done in a professional capacity doesn’t change that at all. 

I am just a little stumped at the moment about just HOW that needs to happen.

Oh well… when in doubt, sit down, take a few deep breaths, quiet your mind, and pray the Wesley Covenant Prayer:

Dear God;

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, 
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.


And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven.  Amen.

Abundant blessings;

28
Jul
20

“The Beast Tamer”

Hedge trimmer“OK. That’s it,” I said to myself. “Today is the day!”

My exasperation with the state of the hedge along our back fence finally hit the breaking point last Friday. I headed to the garage in search of the hundred-foot-long extension cord, step ladder, and electric clippers… preparing to tame the unruly green beast.

I had been putting off this loathsome chore for several weeks now, but the time had finally come. Several small pets from around the neighborhood had apparently gotten lost inside my hedge and their owners were concerned.

My hedge comes honestly by its nickname “The Beast.” It is at least 100 feet long and – when allowed to grow unchecked – reaches 12 or 15 feet in height. Not content to grow upward, it also bushes out horizontally in a very shaggy, unkempt manner.

With all equipment finally in order (and Joan standing by, ready to dial 911), I began to operate.

About ten minutes into the procedure, I was interrupted by the delightful Scottish brogue of Hugh, our neighbor-behind-the-hedge. Hugh had come out onto his deck, was waving his arm and cheerfully hailing me. “Hey there, neighbor! Would you like to borrow THIS? It’ll make the job a lot easier!”

In Hugh’s left hand was a shiny red electric hedge trimmer with a 22-inch blade. My sad excuse for a hedge tool had only a stubby 16-inch blade.

Hugh (and no, I did not make up this name. My Scottish neighbor really IS named “Hugh.”) headed over and in the twinkling of an eye was standing at the base of my ladder, red, 22” trimmer in hand.

“Here… let me show you how it works,” Hugh said. And in an instant, he had commandeered my extension cord and began trimming massive swaths of hedge. “You see,” he said, “You really need to get right back there or else you’ll be out here again in two weeks doing the same thing.”

After turning over his red “Beast Tamer” to me, Hugh exited by the rear gate, but not before saying, “And don’t worry about the top. I’ll just trim that from my side when you’re done.”

And then, in less time than it took me to grab Hugh’s hedge trimmer and ascend the step ladder, I sensed that a mystical transformation had taken place. Suddenly, an EVENT (a neighbor stopped what he was doing and helped me trim my hedges) became a STORY (“I live in this great neighborhood where people go out of their way to help each other.”)

And hopefully, in the retelling of this dull, dry, quotidian event I have been able to illustrate something that is both a primary penchant, but also a fundamental need of human beings everywhere… the need for STORIES. (To that end, may I recommend one of my favorite bloggers to you, Mitch Teemley and his blog, The Power of Story at: https://mitchteemley.com).

Every day you and I stumble through a collection of seemingly happenstance, unrelated moments of our lives. We get up, water the house plants, walk the dogs, shower, eat a little yogurt and granola, and do a thousand other things before we turn off the bedside lamp and close our eyes.

Throughout that haphazard progression, we are niggled by a fundamental hunger for MEANING. We look at this tangle of these random, multi-colored threads and ACHE to believe that if we flip the frame over and look at the other side, we will see a beautiful, flowing, coherent, tapestry. A yearning to make sense of the world around us is an essential part of being human. In our heart of hearts, we know that a narrative of randomness and arbitrarity is ultimately corrosive to our souls.

And so, we must each choose the narrative we will live by.

Not just the one that helps make sense of today, but the one that helps make sense of FOREVER. Because it is only in the setting of that meta-narrative that our mundane mini-narratives can add up to anything at all.

Today I join the Old Testament hero Joshua in declaring, “As for me and my household, we will serve [choose] the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15, NRSV).

And trust me when I tell you, in my life I have done extensive shopping at the Narrative Mall and after much painful trial and error, I have chosen THIS ONE as the one I will live by.

Why?

Because as Beast Tamers go, this one beats them ALL!

 

Abundant blessings;

22
Jun
20

Is This Such A Good Idea?

Growing-Flower-in-ConcreteThere is a basic premise behind this post you should be aware of before proceeding further. The premise is: GOD EXISTS.

Of course, you may continue reading even if you disagree with my basic premise. You just might not enjoy it as much as others.

The question I want to raise here might sound blasphemous to people of faith, but it is one that has troubled me for a long time. So, I figured, what the heck… the blog space might be a good place to chew it over.

That question is: WAS GOD CRAZY? IS GOD CRAZY?

In asking this absurd question, I am not worried about a lightning bolt shooting down from heaven, leaving behind a pile of charred cinders where I once sat. This question comes from the same place as the fable of the seven blind men standing around the elephant, feeling different parts of the beast and saying, “No… THIS is what an elephant is!”

My question comes from a place of a hopelessly flawed and incomplete understanding of something that is infinitely larger and infinitely more complex than my pea-sized brain can grasp.

Actually I am betting that God is more amused than angered by my question.

But here is where my question comes from: with the availability of the infinite power, knowledge, and authority befitting a being named GOD, why did said God choose to leave so much raw agency in OUR shaky hands?

Honestly, sometimes God’s choice to give human beings the gift of free will feels a little like a parent choosing to give a three-year-old a handgun, the keys to a car, and a can of gasoline and then saying, “Good luck with all of that!”

And as you and I and a host of bad actors all around us continue to soil and char and trash our world and its inhabitants, it boggles my mind to try and figure out why God chooses to keep extending our, “… dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”(Gen. 1:28, NRSV).

Is that really turning out to be such a great idea?

To help guide us on our stumbling, faltering way, of course, God has blessed us with a ROAD MAP.  It is all spelled out exquisitely in that sixty-six-book collection known as The Bible.

I mean, yes, God INSPIRED the words of the Bible (as it says there in 2 Timothy 3:167), but here again, God left the TRANSCRIPTION of God’s word in the hands of flawed, fallible human beings.

God then took this silliness a step further and deputized some of these same stumbling, blind, three-year-olds (people like ME, for example) to speak on behalf of The Almighty and lead others into something resembling faithful obedience.

Hence my original question: “Is God crazy?”

On one hand, it all seems like a system exquisitely designed for failure. That is, until one tiny bud of green life pushes its way up through the blanket of ash and begins craning its neck toward the sun… reminding anyone who cares to listen that, “… where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (Romans 5:20, NRSV).

It might not always seem true, but it always has been, always is, and always will be true; Grace overcomes sin. Light overcomes darkness. Love overcomes hate.

So maybe this IS the way it is supposed to work after all.

 

Abundant blessings;

20
Jun
20

This Side of the Desk

When Breath Becomes AirI just finished reading the book When Breath Becomes Air.

I am still drying my eyes.

It is the story of a brilliant, gifted neurosurgeon named Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi seems to be on his way to an illustrious career as that rarest of medical hybrids, a surgeon/scientist. He is married to his med school sweetheart and they are preparing to conceive their first child. His world is suddenly blown to bits when he receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer at the age of 36… just as he is preparing to graduate from his residency program.

Oh yeah… did I mention that it is an autobiography? Kalanithi wrote it himself… as he was in the process of dying.

Watching him navigate the transition from doctor to patient – while remaining fully a doctor – is one of the more intriguing storylines in the book. Midway through his cancer treatment, Kalanithi says that his experience with the disease has helped him realize that, “… the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

If I didn’t know better I’d say he was describing the work of a pastor!

Kalanithi regularly expresses amazement at the way it has been possible for him to know volumes of information ABOUT the body and its diseases without truly grasping the full weight of their impact on the real people he serves as a doctor.

Until suddenly, he finds himself sitting on the other side of the desk.

Today I am trying turn up the dial on my education about the lifelong challenges faced by African Americans. I am reading books, I am talking to people, I am watching movies and documentaries, I am thinking quietly, and I am praying. Please understand… I tick off this list with a sense of embarrassment, not pride. This is all work I should have been doing a long, long time ago.

And believe me, it helps. Ava Duvernay’s powerful documentary, 13th (referring to the 13th amendment to the constitution outlawing slavery) opened my eyes to things I was painfully naïve about. She taught me, for example, about the wide disparity in the legal penalties for possession of crack cocaine (a low-cost, smokable form of the drug, favored in inner-city settings) and powdered cocaine – used almost exclusively by white suburbanites.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg of eye-openers and gut-punchers in store for those who choose to tune in.

Unlike Dr. Kalanithi, however, I will never be visited with the opportunity to suddenly find myself sitting on the other side of the desk… eyes finally opened… perspective finally focused and accurate. I will always only be who I am; the lifelong recipient of a host of benefits derived from a playing field tilted severely in my favor.

But does that deficit mean I can’t be an effective ally to the cause? No. It just means I will never be black.

What it does mean is I will need to work even harder to educate myself… and never stop educating myself. It means I need to take people at their word when they relate their experiences of encountering systemic racism. It means I need to actively use some of my privilege and advantage to advance the cause of justice… not just to make my world more comfortable.

It means I need to redouble my efforts to listen to and follow the advice of the prophet Micah who said, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV).

 

Abundant blessings;

23
Apr
20

Helicopter Prayers

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”         – Psalm 28:7, NRSV

Medevac helicopterShe was tiny. So tiny the bed covers seemed to swallow her.

There were so many wires and tubes and machines protruding from her it was difficult to find the person in the forest of medical technology.

She had been here a little over a week. Her cancer – originally diagnosed five years ago – had returned with a vengeance. Emergency surgery had recently been performed to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor from her abdomen. No one – including her family – was painting an optimistic picture.

Rose was dying. And she knew it.

My friend Bill was Rose’s pastor. When he walked into Rose’s hospital room, he was prepared for the worst. During his six years serving this congregation, Bill had come to know Rose as a woman of deep faith and high energy. Her special mission was taking communion to the – as she called them – “old folks” who could not make it to the worship service to receive the Sacrament directly.

Rose, incidentally, was 82.

Rose’s eyes were closed as Bill pulled a chair up to the side of her bed. He didn’t want to disturb her and so thought he might just say a brief, silent prayer, leave his business card on the bedside table and tiptoe out the door.

As soon as he sat down, Rose’s eyes opened. She turned her head to the right and said cheerily, “Well good morning, Pastor!” Then quickly asked, “It is morning, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Yes, it is morning, Rose,” Bill said. “I am so sorry I woke you up. I know you probably need your rest.”

“Oh nonsense,” she said with a weak, dismissive wave of her bandaged and intubated hand. “There will be plenty of time for resting after I’m gone. Actually, you caught me in the middle of my new ministry.”

“Oh?” Bill said, not even trying to conceal the tone of surprise in his voice. “Tell me about that.”

Rose replied, “Well, if you look out those windows there on the other side of the room, you will see that my room looks out directly onto the hospital’s helipad. Can you see it?”

“Yes,” Bill replied. “I see it.”

“Well, every time the helicopter takes off from there, I say a prayer for the pilot and each of the medical people on board. I pray that they will reach their destination safely. And then when the helicopter comes back, I say a prayer for the person they are taking into the hospital and for all the staff who will be taking care of them.”

Rose paused a moment and then added, “They just took off a minute ago and so I was in the middle of my prayer when you walked in.”

By every outward measure, Rose’s situation was hopeless. The progression of her illness was beyond the reach of the best that medical science could offer. Only a miracle (never to be dismissed!) could save Rose at this point.

And yet, in the midst of it all, Rose’s spirit prevailed. Hope did not die. Rose’s hope came from a deep trust that God would always provide for her… even if that provision was not designed to be in the form of physical healing.

Like each of us who are dealing with this virus, I have an entire set of hopes related to my own health and safety and the health and safety of the people I love. But when I think of Rose and the hope that sustained her, I am comforted to remember that the deepest, most lasting hope comes from putting my whole trust in God… no matter what set of circumstances I might be facing.

Abundant blessings;

03
Jun
19

Hearing the Call

unknown caller“Who is calling, please?”

Remember life before there was such a thing as Caller ID?

We just blindly answered the phone whenever it rang, trusting that the person on the other end was someone we knew. It never occurred to us that it might be a stranger trying to scam us or sell us something we didn’t need.

Today things are different. If a name does not appear on the screen when my phone rings, it automatically gives rise to my suspicious nature.

 

I instantly wonder; “Scammer? Telemarketer? Wrong number?”Because it is almost never my long-ago high school buddy who just happened to be in town for a convention and wanted to have dinner and catch up on old times.

A call is especially unnerving – I’ve discovered – when it comes from God.

The bible backs me up on this; it is replete with stories of people who ran AWAY when God called (Jonah), who were suspicious when God called (Gideon), who dug in their heels and flat refused (Moses), and even one who was so hard-headed he had to be hit upside the head with a big ol’ bolt of light (Paul).

It took a whole lot of persuading back in 1997 to finally convince me that God was indeed calling me into the ministry. I was – after all – not a young guy by any means. Besides which I already had a good job, and had already seen the trials and tribulations my father went through when he answered the call to ministry later in life.

“Sorry… wrong number,” I wanted to say. “Not interested.”

But wiser friends and family members prevailed and persuaded me to take that call.

So now here I am… 20+ years later, preparing to leave professional ministry altogether… and find myself asking the whole “calling” question all over again.

I wonder: is God still calling me?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the answer to this one is “Yes indeedy, Gomer. If God can call Abram at the age of 75, God can most surely call you at your tender age of 67.”

But if that is true, I am still curious about what God might be calling me TO exactly?

I know the call is not to golf course ministry. I made sure of that by selling my golf clubs in our recently-completed garage sale.

I am pretty sure my call is not to a life of Netflix binge-watching and bon-bon eating, or gardening and telling the neighbor kids to “Get off my lawn!” That just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing God would have a hard time finding volunteers for. (Incidentally, what is a bon-bon exactly?)

I know part of my new vocation will involve spending more time with Joan, more time with grandchildren, more time in creative pursuits, and more time experiencing the wonders of this big blue marble. 

But still… what do you do with a guy who still has health (knock wood!), a passion for Jesus, a willingness to speak up and speak out and very soon a WHOLE lot of new time on his hands?

Surely there is something God can do with all of that isn’t there?

In the meantime, pass the sunscreen, please.

21
May
19

How is your HT/WT?

ContentmentWhen was the last time you checked the HT/WT ratio of your life?

Just in case my question is a little obtuse, let me explain. I am referring – of course – to your “Have to/Want to” ratio… the relationship between the things you do during your day because you HAVE TO do them and the things you do because you WANT TO.

I think each of us probably strives for something like a 0/100 ratio. That is, we hope everything we do is something we do because we want to… even if we have to do it.

I have to eat… but I also want to eat. I have to brush my teeth… but I also want to. I have to write a sermon every week (because – you know – I’m a pastor), but I also want to.

I certainly have a whole host of things on my “Have to… don’t really want to” list, including:

  • Exercise
  • Lawn mowing
  • Shaving
  • Bill paying
  • Weed pulling
  • Poop Scooping
  • TV news-watching

… and trust me when I tell you the list goes on.

Most of us, I would guess, fluctuate somewhere within 10-15 points of the 50/50 line on any given day. But I have also talked to some folks who tell me they feel like they are living 100/0 lives where EVERYTHING is a “have to” and nothing is a “want to.”

Another word for the “have to/want to” ratio might be CONTENTMENT.

JOY works also.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing that a change in the outward circumstances of our lives will be the key to improving our HT/WT ratio. We say things like, “If I could only find a different job/place to live/set of friends I would be a lot happier and more content.”

As a person on the brink of retirement, I often catch myself saying, “Once I retire, I’ll be able to do WHATEVER I WANT TO… all day long.”

And while it is true that I will be able to have MORE of the “want to’s” every day, there will still be quite a few “have to’s.” I will still have to exercise… still have to mow my grass… still have to scoop poop. (Unless, of course, I can somehow train the dogs to use the toilet! Hmmmm…)

While we scour the shelves of the “How To…” books, attend seminars, and engage expensive therapists to help us figure out ways to boost our WT numbers in relation to our HTs, the answer has been right there all along: staring us in the face.

Some wise guy once said, “The key to happiness lies not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you get.”

Socrates put it this way: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 

What it really boils down to is the ancient virtue of GRATITUDE… Being grateful for every day, every relationship, every task, and every breath that enters our lungs. In fact, I am willing to bet there is someone in the world right now who would be tickled to death to have the task of cleaning up his/her back yard after their dog(s).

To emphasize the importance of gratitude, the Bible repeats the command to “give thanks” a total of 61 times in both Old and New Testaments. 1 Thessalonians gets a little more extreme when it tells us to: “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1 Thess. 5:18, NRSV).

That’s right: ALL circumstances.

Even when you are working out.

Even when you are mowing the lawn.

Even – I suppose – when you are scooping poop.

30
Jan
18

The Allure of the Forbidden

Apple and snakeMany years ago, when my youngest son was 16, he came to me with a “plan”.

I put the word “plan” in quotes here because it was really more like an announcement and a challenge, cleverly blended together.

“Hey, dad!” he said, feigning nonchalance. “Guess what? I’m going to get a tattoo.”

I folded down one corner of my newspaper, looked over at him, and said, “OK,” with equal disinterest and insouciance. “That’s cool,” and then immediately returned to whatever article I was pretending to read.

In truth, I was not at all OK with my 16-year-old son getting a tattoo… no matter where he planned to put it. And it’s not that I had anything against tattoos. I still don’t for that matter. I just thought 16 was WAY too young for him to start making permanent marks on his body.

No, I chose to respond with artificial indifference hoping that it would blunt the most appealing parts of his “plan” – the elements of danger, intrigue, and parental disapproval.

As it turned out, the ploy WORKED! That brief chit-chat was both the first and the last time I ever heard the word “tattoo” exit his lips. Still to this day – 22 years later – my son remains inkless.

So why is it, do you suppose, that the forbidden thing exerts such a powerful allure to us? It is a phenomenon that finds its origins in the earliest annals of biblical history. God swept his arm out over the entirety of creation and said, “See all of this? Lots of great fruit and veggies out there. Have at it! Eat anything you want. Anything at all… except for the fruit on THAT tree right over there.”

Naturally, “that tree over there” immediately became the most appealing tree in the entire world.

My wife and I have recently discovered that this attraction to the world outside the boundaries is not limited to humans. Our new puppy Rosie totally turns up her nose at the pile of “legal” chew toys and heads straight for shoes, socks, chair legs, newspapers, and anything else that we try to keep her away from.

Here she is, chewing blissfully on the shower squeegee while ignoring the “bully stick” we purchased from the pet store.Rosie with squeegee

So what is it? Do we have some kind of hardwired distrust of authority? When someone intones, “Do this!” does our DNA automatically signal, “Nope”?

I’m not sure I buy this answer at all. I am enough of a dork that I want to know where the lines are so that I can color inside them. Too long a stretch of driving on a highway without seeing a speed limit sign makes me nervous.

Is it because we are so enamored of our personal freedom that we see any kind of limit as a threat to that freedom? We are, after all, the nation born from a passionate rebellion to limits placed on our national aspirations.

Or… perhaps there is a belief – living deep within our chromosomes – that the verboten thing is somehow superior to the permitted one? I mean, it would have to be, wouldn’t it? Otherwise, why would it be off limits? If everyone had free, unfettered access to the thing it wouldn’t be special, right?

Or maybe we are all just trying to add a little spice to our lives by seasoning it with a dash of risk and adventure… like my son with his tattoo plan. I am sure this was the reason I sneaked those first few cigarettes out of my father’s pack of Newports and shared them with my friends down behind the fairgrounds.

Smoking was rebellious and dangerous, so automatically it was EXCITING.

I’m really not sure what the answer is.

Maybe you have a theory. If so, I’d love to hear it.

I know the impulse to disobey is still something that courses through my bloodstream. DAILY. I am almost always able to rein it in, but it is still there. But honestly, wouldn’t a life of rigid, total observance of every boundary be borderline miserable?

And what does any of this have to do with living faithfully under the reign of God?

The apostle Paul tells us that the call of God-in-Christ is a call, not to misery, but to freedom. He says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers, and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14, NRSV).

Slavery to love = freedom? I’ll buy that, Mr. Paul.

But I’m still puzzled about why my fellow humans and I are drawn so powerfully to forbidden fruit.




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