Saturday, June 19, 2010

This Grand Illusion.

Last night during a family bike ride I experienced that deep sense of contentment following a deep breath and gratitude for peaceful moments. It doesn’t happen often. The weather was absolutely beautiful and all around us was green and growing or flowering. I had two sleepy boys riding in their trailer behind my bike. My daughter was following close behind with my husband pulling up the rear of our little caravan. This perfect ride was followed up by ice cream drumsticks on our front porch while we waited for the lighting bugs to appear. Times like these I realize how truly blessed some moments in time are and how little of anything it takes to make moments special.

So often my thoughts are invaded by this sense of longing for something better, something bigger, and something material to make me content. When I cave to those temptations and go out to purchase my contentment, the satisfaction quickly wanes and I discover something else that would make my life complete. Before I know it I’m on purchase number thirty five and I’m still not content with my wares. There is always something else on the store’s shelf that I don’t have and someone else does. It is odd how we deny attempting to keep up with the Jones’s, and yet it happens. I rarely ask myself, are the Jones’s really happy? Does their wealth or abundance truly make them content? What are they missing in their life as they try to fill it with things? Are they looking at my life with the same sense of self-malcontent?

In the end this is a grand illusion. Our ownership is a farce. Nothing I purchase will ever provide contentment. It won’t offer me happiness or a better chance at friendships. It definitely will not bless my children to train them to swim in an ocean of material goods all the while they drown alongside their parents in a sea of discontentment seeking for what really matters in life. We oftentimes raise our children like little kings and queens offering bits of plastic for a short lived high, don’t we? We treat ourselves like that too, I fear. I think I would rather live to deserve little simple moments of peace than live to glue together another bit of nothing when it breaks. I hope I can raise my children to feel this way as well.

We don’t own what we think we own. In an instant all that we spend our lives pursuing can go up in flames. In a second we are reminded of our creator when all we thought we owned is gone with one severe storm. If all we declare ownership of is swept away by the wind, we truly experience devastation. This illusion of ownership detracts from our purpose. It enslaves us. It owns us.

We don’t need what we think we need. We want. This illusion lies to us and trains us to be a slave to the world, a slave to all things material. It brainwashes us into believing that our children must have more things to be good or successful. It trains families to build their lives and happiness and worth in things. It creates competitors for enslavement. Who can be owned more than the other?

Last night I had that moment when I didn’t really need anything. My family was together. Contentment lives in simple moments. I want to be owned by the creator and nothing else. I do not want to be tied or enslaved to a grand illusion or train my children that ownership of this earth is real or good. There is one who owns and it is not us. In truth, the children and husband I lay claim are not mine, but His. All is His. All is to be used for Him. All we have is a blessing from Him. Loving the blessing more than The Bless-er is backward, isn’t it?

To be truly blessed is to understand that nothing creates contentment like gratitude for simple moments. Praise to the God of all creation. It is through Him and only Him that I am abundantly blessed.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Room for Improvement.

One of the qualities I love about my husband is his ability to see the potential in people. Everyday, through his eyes, he sees the potential of what could be and what steps need to be taken to achieve this potential. If you want to really discourage him then simply ignore potential and maintain the status quo. I will confess to you that it is sometimes tiring to live with someone like this because you easily recognize his discontent with the mediocre, and you are pushed to a level of trying very hard to constantly work toward improvement. To some people of a laissez faire nature this may sound like a nightmare, but it is not. I would rather be with someone who sees the best in me, sees where we both can improve, and who wants to make things better instead of becoming complacent in our relationship. We are blessed with an amazing marriage. After fourteen years I am barely at the cusp of understanding this man, but this one part of his personality I get. I truly love him for it.

It is especially difficult to look at oneself and ask the question…”what can I improve?” This means that you must recognize what is not working or what is not going so well. Those questions hurt. Those moments hurt when you see that there is a lot of room for improvement in your life. Myself, being of a somewhat obstinate nature, I love to justify my behaviors. I have even been known to place blame on others for choices I make. My biggest struggle and temptation is to blame the past for the present. Sadly, if I had to guess, I would say I am not the only person who struggles with the blame game.

When I consider my spiritual life and what I can improve I see a long ladder to climb to get where I want to be. Thankfully, my God allows grace to his people requiring no specific ladder rung level of accomplishment.

Lately, however, I have noticed a tendency for spiritual complacency using God’s overwhelming gift of grace as an excuse. I fear that we neglect our first love of Christ for a couple of reasons. I can share the one that impacts and reflects me the most.

Legalism of the past has created a tremendous bitterness toward any commitment of worship attendance or habitual spiritual behavior. Some of us grew up in congregations that would eternally damn you if you missed a Sunday service, neglected to wear a tie during communion, and/or read from any translation of the bible other than the King James. There are still congregations out there who tout this mantra, and sadly the media has a tendency to paint Christians as illiterate uneducated warmongering haters. Unfortunately, this ill-treatment and utter ignorance of spirituality leaves a bitter taste in our mouths still, and any hint of legalism causes the hair on the back of our necks to stand up as we shudder in a cumulative and often audible shriek of defiance. Some of us vow to never ever raise our children in an environment remotely close to that of the legalists.

Let me suggest that this sense of defiance, whether justifiable or not, sometimes leads us to a place of neglect of our Savior. Out of fear of repeating the past or appearing like a caricature, we require nothing of ourselves and nothing of our children in regards to spiritual growth. Out of fear of our children’s rebellion, similar to our own maybe, we neglect to even share our faith with them and allow them to make their own spiritual decisions at an tender young age where they are instead filled with a worldview in schools and through media that demolishes faith and morality rather than encourage it.

Loving Christ means that we do not fear commitment to Him. In the same way we commit to our spouses and our closest friends, we should not fear a life of an active choice to attend worship, an active choice to learn His word or require our children to learn his word. We do not make this choice, this decision to love, out of fear of damnation. We do this because we believe in the one who sacrificed for us. We love Him so much, that we want to improve. We try to demonstrate to the world our integrity of our faith choice in this way. Otherwise, it is not what it seems at all. Otherwise, we are merely habitual social club attendees, not Christians.

Here’s the deal: I don’t want to be a fair-weather friend. I want to treat Jesus like he is the most important thing in my life. I don’t want the savior of myself, my children, and my spouse to be my last priority. I don’t want to fear the past, present, or future so much that I neglect what is truly important. The past won't embarrass me because it does not define me. The present won't discourage me because it does not forbid me to act in love for the sake of my Savior.

I truly believe He lives, and if that is true then I will commit; I will want to worship; I will want to share His truths with my children. If I truly believe, then my top priority will be to share this gift with others because I love Him and I love them.

In an age where commitment to marriage is laughable I guess I am not surprised to see the same response toward the Savior. Both relationships are born out of love, or should be. Both relationships require commitment even when it is hard, even when mistakes are obvious. I am not the first person to liken marriage to a relationship with Christ. At least in our relationship with Christ one of us won't be guilty of walking away. He will always be there.

I am just not willing to walk away and pretend Jesus never existed for my own comfort. Everyday I hope I am one step closer to understanding Him. Everyday I hope I please Him more, rather than less. I fully understand my failures. I get that. So does He.

I do not want His abundant grace to become my excuse to commit less.