Friday, October 30, 2015

Measured by Death

Have you ever wondered how much you really love someone? Or perhaps more likely, have you ever wondered how much someone really loves you? I have been thinking about this lately (both questions really), and as is often the case, I think the answer lies in something I already "knew" but never really allowed to transform my thinking.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
If you want to know how much you love someone (or how much someone loves you), you have to measure it in death. Are you willing to die for this person? Now before we drift off into imagining some heroic act of selflessness, like pushing someone out of the way of an oncoming train or volunteering to take someone's place so that they live instead of you (a la Maximilian Kolbe...or if you prefer, Katniss Everdeen), that isn't really the kind of death I mean...or that I think Jesus means.

On one hand, yes...we should be willing to physically die for those we love. And I don't want to minimize the difficulty and anguish that comes with physical pain and suffering. But I think sometimes...and maybe most of the time...the tougher measure is not would we die for them, but how often would we die for them. And right there, that implies some other kind of dying (as most of us only physically die once).

The death I am talking about here is the kind of death you feel when you seek forgiveness, even though you don't believe you really did anything wrong. The kind of death that occurs when you bite our tongue instead of pointing out that their great idea wasn't really theirs, but was actually yours. It is the death that happens every time you choose against your own self interest...your own favor of someone else's. It is a death of the self....of the ego. And in many ways, I think this is the harder kind of death...because it isn't one and done, but something that repeats over, and over, and over.

Ultimately it is about being selfless, about putting someone else's needs or wants ahead of your own. And really that is what love is...what true love is. It is about the other person. As I am sure you have heard, love is not just a feeling. And love is not about how someone makes you feel, or what they do for you. No, love is about what we do for them. And so the measure of that love is death. Are we willing to die for them....not just once, but over and over. Because as we all know, the opportunities to fight against (and ultimately "kill") our selfishness, our ego, are abundant....and daily. But that's what it is all about. If we truly love someone, that is, if care about them more than we care about ourselves (and that's what all those Valentine's cards say, right?!), then we should be willing to endure whatever pain we need to, in order to allow them to have their need met or their want realized. Our happiness, our joy, should be found in bring them happiness and joy. But then, that is easier said then done.

Why? Why is it so hard to let someone think we are wrong when in fact we know we are not? Why is it so difficult to humbly seek forgiveness for whatever offense someone feels we brought against them, even if whatever we did was unintentional or the other person is only offended because they are being overly sensitive? Why are we so unwilling to put in the work necessary to change that thing about ourselves that frustrates the other person? And why are we so quick to reject the idea that we should have to do any of this?

The bottom line is that we are selfish creatures. Our default setting is to take care of ourselves first and foremost. And with that comes the desire to avoid things that are painful or uncomfortable. In other words...our first instinct in almost every situation is to avoid avoid death. And so when it comes time to love, to those acts of selflessness...of choosing someone else over ourselves...of deliberately choosing the suffering that goes along with self-denial...well...those moments...those actions..just don't feel right to us. That choosing against our self, that dying to self that is the measure of love just feels wrong. It's almost like we are programmed to not love. But that's a lie. That is our rationalizing, sinfulness talking. Love is a choice, but it is one we have been freed in order to choose. It is the choice that ultimately leads to our greatest happiness. But there is no denying, loving means dying. The more we do it...the more more we die...the more we love.

Father God, sometimes my soul feels like it is literally screaming when I try to deny what I want for the sake of someone else. And it is even worse when my "choice" in the situation is only to not resist or fight against what may be the other person's selfishness. I see that love...Your about giving...and sacrificing...and dying. But also see that it doesn't stop there. Because what we always seem to find on the other side of that dying to self, is life. When we love, we often find that we are loved. When we give, we find that we receive. We when allow ourselves to be last, we find that we are the first to realize that being first isn't what matters. Yes there is death, but there is also resurrection! Please, Father, continue to transform my thinking...and my acting. Let me you died, so that I can You Love.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Out of Control

As I watch my parents getting older, I see them struggling to accept the changes that inevitably come. There is no doubt the ailments and physical challenges can be tough to deal with, but I think the worst of it all, is really the loss of control. Whereas once they could go anywhere and do anything....they're limited now. Some of it is psychological, limits they put on themselves such as the realization that your body is kind of doing its own thing now and so public settings suddenly have a lot more variables. But the bulk of it is the undeniable, no getting around it, reality that you literally can't do some things anymore. If you can't drive, you are suddenly dependent on others to get to the grocery store or the pharmacy or a restaurant. As you lose strength and dexterity, you can't reach the dish on the top shelf of the cabinet or move the chair to clean up the spill...or even get down to the spill to clean it up. Even the most basic things like getting to the bathroom in your own home can become a significant challenge. And so I see this, and I empathize, and I think how awful that must be. But then I realize...


The idea that we are in control is a lie. At least the idea that we are as in control as we think we are. We are like children whose parent lets them hold the steering wheel or drive the boat or take the controls of the airplane. At that moment, we literally are steering or flying. And we very quickly believe that we are keeping the car safely on the road or we are keeping the boat afloat...or the plane in the air. But it's obvious to all of us we picture that scenario...these children are not really in control. One false move from another car on the road, or one rogue wave, or one mechanical failure in the engine, and suddenly whatever control we had is ripped away.


Think about it. Don't we all walk around feeling/believing we can direct our own path? But really, how much control do we really have? We can't prevent that natural disaster from tearing apart our lives. We can't prevent cancer or some other disease from ravaging our body. We can't prevent evil...and those possessed by such evil...from hurting ourselves or our loved ones. Heck, we can't even guarantee our next breath. If we could, many of us would choose to go on breathing forever.


Now don't get me wrong. This isn't some manifesto bent on denying free will. When that child is holding the steering will, they are driving. One quick turn of that wheel would have real consequences. And we can certainly make choices that impact our lives for better or worse....and the lives of others. We are responsible for our actions. What we say and do does have consequences. But I think there is wisdom...and valuable coming to grips with the fact that we are not really in control...or the control we do have is very limited. We are fragile creatures and we are dependent on a host of things over which we have zero control. And that is OK.


I think so much of our angst...our frustration...our anger and rooted in the lie that we have control. We should be able to have what we want, to make this or that happen, to realize this or that experience in our lives. We just have to work harder, or get to know the right people, or earn enough money, or whatever. We can do it. Or so we believe. And obviously our experience shows us...people do accomplish things. But what we fail to recognize when we see someone receiving an award or sitting on their yacht or accomplish a that there were a million other things that had to happen...that had to line up...for that person to be in that position. And of that million, 999,999 were out of their control...and probably not even things they were conscious of...or could have been conscious of even if they tried.


So where does this leave us? For me, there is actually comfort in this. I know how easily my own life can suddenly seem overwhelming. So many things to do and seemingly so little time to do them. And these are just the things that I am aware of...that I have some modicum of control over. But I can appreciate there are thousands of things that I don't even think about that are impacting my life and the lives of those who I love. I know there are people who don't believe there is a God. People who think this all just kind of happened...this life we live. But to be honest, if I believed that life was just a fortunate accident or cosmic event, I would be scared as hell or very likely would have a mental breakdown. Despite the laws of the universe, that would still feel too chaotic. No, I believe we are made for order, we desire order. We are ok not being in control, so long as we know there is someone in control. And I don't mean that in some Orwellian or Huxleyan sense. I think we all have the knowledge that we are creatures...and of our Creator...written in us. And that knowledge is there in part to remind us that we are not in control and maybe even more importantly that we don't need to be.


I believe life is much better recognizing that we are like that child, sitting on our Father's lap, and He is giving us the steering wheel. He let's us decide where to go. He allows us to direct our lives. And He will completely take His hands off the steering wheel if we want. And as we grow He will even let us work the gas pedal. But He is also willing to help steer, to offer directions, to suggest the best way to go and some great places to see. Yet He does allow us to slip into the belief that we are completely in control. As we get more and more distracted by the thrill of driving, He continues to keep things out of our path, ensures we have enough gas to keep going, and keeps the car running mechanically, all behind the scenes...never forcing us to recognize that we are really only still going because He enables us to do so. But it is precisely because we allow ourselves to believe we are in control, that life can get so scary. No matter how much God allows us to do without seeing Him and no matter how well we 'steer' our lives, the fact is that we are regularly confronted with events that we would not have chosen. And at those moments, we are forced to recognize once again...we are not in control. But the fact that we are not in control does not mean that we are out of control. For just as there are constant reminders that we are subject to things over which we have no control, there are constant signs that there is a plan. Life is not haphazard or chaotic. There is purpose. Maybe the greatest thing over which we do have control, is our willingness to accept the reality, that we are not in control...and to thank God that we are not.

Thank you, Father, for life...for allowing me to make choices...for allowing me to decide the person I am becoming. But thank You also, for saving me from myself, for providing me the opportunities to remember that I am a creature who is loved by his Creator....and that while life is so much bigger than is not bigger than You.