This week’s epistle text comes from the book of James chapter 5:
5:8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 5:9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.
The week’s text comes in stark contrast to our current political climate in which there is only grumbling between the two parties. In the midst of all the grumbling, it is so difficult to find the truth. Who is right? Who is wrong? These questions even make one side the winner and the other side the loser.
During this high and holy season of Advent where this epistle text is brought to light, I wonder if there is another way. Is there a chance that instead of being so quick to defend “our party” or “our perspective” that instead we could be patient and strengthen our hearts. Maybe, just maybe during this season of the coming of the Christ Child, perhaps we could open our hearts and minds to the ideas and perspectives of other people instead of digging in our heels and defending what we believe.
A recent article summarizing a report on generosity reported:
Atheists are more generous to Christians than Christians are towards them.
The report continues:
we found in multiple studies that our atheist participants behaved more fairly towards partners they believed were Christians than our Christians participants behaved towards partners they believed were atheists.
We, as Christians, find ourselves not inhabiting the very tenets and behaviors that Jesus Christ taught. We are not generous. We are suspicious and stingy. We do not treat others fairly. We defend and grumble against anyone who doesn’t believe as we do.
As a pastor and as a Christian, I find this deeply disturbing. There is so much hurt in the world and so much loneliness. As we wait for the coming of the Christ Child, I wait in hope that there we will begin to see and hear people who look different and believe different with open ears and open hearts.
All around us, we see evidence that the seasons are changing. The brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows are highlighted by the fall light that looks and feels different from the summer light. The change makes us pay attention and look at our everyday paths and patterns through new eyes.
When we’re going through a changing season, it isn’t quite as evident. In fact, we might be almost through a season of change before we ourselves realize what we have been going through. The season might not be one with brilliant colors and basking in the light. The season might be one of hurt and grief, hopelessness and loneliness. It’s hard for others to see this change within us for our leaves don’t change or draw attention to what is going on within.
It is easy to interact with others by simply passing by, not really looking and not really hearing what’s beneath our conversations. This season of change invites us to change the way we interact too.
Listen deeply, look deeply, connect deeply.
As we turn our attention this week to the season of Thanksgiving, we are also right on the heels of the season of Advent. I have seen so many advertisements about the shortened shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas with the reminder that this store and that store have already started their Black Friday sales.
I can feel the pressure. I feel behind already because I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping.
In the midst of all the advertisements, it is easy to get caught up in our culture of buying and consuming. As I was sitting by the fire last night, I looked around and found myself in the midst of stuff. So much stuff.
Some of it was good stuff, stuff that had been given to us by friends and families. Toys that reminded me of our son’s first birthday, our little red house in Asheville where we became a family. Books that told the story of our educational careers and then our professional careers. Pictures that showed our children growing and changing.
Americans are surrounded by stuff. In fact, we own so much stuff and continue to live in the midst of stuff that new houses were 38% bigger in 2002 than in 1975. We have so much stuff that the average American will spend 3,680 hours or 153 days of their lives looking for stuff they have misplaced. We are surrounded by stuff with the pressure to buy more stuff.
The self-storage industry makes $38 billion a year on our storing stuff that won’t fit in the confines of where we live. That’s 2.3 billion square feet of storage. This is more than enough to house the entire homeless population in America many, many times over.
The home organizing industry has taken a different approach and has capitalized on our need to organize our stuff at the rate of $16 billion a year with a growth rate of 4%. We are living in the midst of so much stuff and that stuff makes us lose time, money, and our sleep studies have shown.
As we creep ever closer to Advent there is a whisper of something different. An invitation to leave all the stuff behind and marvel and wonder at the Divine Incarnate in the form of the Christ Child. Will we hear it in the midst of all the stuff we are trying to get done?
Almost without fail when I ask a fellow parent of littles how it is going, their response is: “It’s busy.” To be certain that’s true. Just trying to get out of the door with shoes, weather-appropriate gear, and all the other things “just in case” there is an accident or someone gets hungry can be overwhelming. Not to mention all the doctors’ appointments, haircuts, and dentist appointments.
It’s very, very easy in the midst of the busyness to never be fully present. To be moving at such a break-neck speed that we are never where we are and we are just on our way to the next appointment. Sometimes we move in the midst of busyness because we are feeling lonely or isolated. Sometimes we move in the midst of the busyness because we are fearful that we aren’t a good parent, that we aren’t paying enough attention to each of our children Sometimes we move in the midst of the busyness because we aren’t sure of our purpose. Nothing feels intentional about our daily activities and yet everything feels pressing and that it needs to be done right away. As the holidays approach, it’s even easier to get lost in the midst of the busyness and never be truly present.
Maybe today instead of being in the midst of the busyness, we can defiantly say stop and sit down for a minute and be present feeling our cold feet against the cold ground, noticing that we have been slouching out of fatigue and exhaustion, and paying attention to our dry knuckles that are reminding us that we need to drink more water.
When we stop in the midst of the busyness and say no to our culture of chaos, we remind ourselves that there is more to us than just our physical beings. We are emotional and spiritual and we need to feed those parts of ourselves. Busyness only starves those parts of us claiming there is never enough time or that we don’t deserve to pay attention to that still, small voice whispering “just be”.
Everything around us is telling us to work more, add more to our calendars, and spend more time running from one place to the other. Everything about the upcoming Advent season says the opposite. Wait. Hope. Be.
In the midst of the busyness maybe there is a deep cry for something more meaningful, less exhausting, and more fulfilling. Can you hear it?
The phrase “when it rains, it pours” means that when one thing goes wrong a trail of other difficult things happen in a row. It is a reminder that the skies can be cloudy and in just a moment that can change and there can be rain so hard you can’t see and even a short dash from the door to the car door can leave you soaked through.
In the midst of the rain, it is always difficult to be thankful. Your body is soaked and there are often shivers that follow the respite from the rain. Even though you are out of the rain, you can still feel the impact of that rain in your bones.
In the midst of the rain, it seems like the sun will never shine again and the warmth is far away. In the midst of the rain, the ground is nourished and all of those buried seeds began to take root and when the rain stops, what blooms is new life and new hope.
This week in the move to our new office, we moved a bookshelf. As my partner was taking it out the door, the three-year-old started crying. We both stopped for a minute thinking that something had fallen and hurt him, but when we asked if he was ok, he responded, “But I don’t want it to move.” Let’s just say we’re at an age where we are more than a little resistant to changes in environment, schedule, and apparently bookshelves.
He’s not the only one that I’ve heard lamenting change. In my work as an editor and offering advice to writers who would like to become published authors, I often hear: “But I didn’t think I was going to have to change things.” Change is never easy no matter how old we are.
Interestingly, the idea that we are not changing constantly is something that we have convinced ourselves is true when in fact it’s not. We are constantly changing. The air around us is constantly changing. The temperature increases and decreases throughout the day or changes. Our bodies are changing digesting and reacting to the food and liquids we have consumed. The places we live and the transportation we use are constantly changing as wear and tear begin to take hold.
Change is all around us and indeed within us.
When we say we hate change, what we really are saying is that we hate being confronted with the reality that we don’t have control. We like to think that we have created something that will hold and that will remain stable from day to day. And when something bigger than a bookshelf moves or changes, we find ourselves in the same position as our three-year-old crying and reaching out for things not to move and change.
What if instead, we clung to the reality that things are always changing and that change is the only constant we can depend upon. Then we would ride the waves of the air current, marveling at the way that sun moves across the sky, and being astounded by all the work our bodies do every single minute to keep us breathing.
Our plans were changed because of bad weather on the weekend we were planning to carve our pumpkin. By the time we were able to carve it, let’s just say it had been with us for a while. I had this feeling that once we got inside, we were going to find something besides just the seeds and pumpkin guts. As I worked to pull off the top, just as I had expected, there was a big spot of rot (see where the pumpkin top looks like it has a bite out of it?). Although I expected that there was something not quite right with our pumpkin, I didn’t really know what was going on until we took a look inside.
The same holds true for our own lives. We might look orange and pretty on the outside, but if there is something that is eating away at us, a broken relationship, unresolved conflict, fatigue or exhausation, slowly by surely that one spot will grow bigger and bigger until what’s going on inside leaks out.
This is what self-care is: taking a look inside. Cracking open the top to see deep into the parts of ourselves that have hold all the seeds. The seeds of our past. The seeds of our hurts. The seeds of our hopes. The seeds of our passions. The seeds of our calling. The seeds of our fear. The seeds of our worries. The seeds of who we are.
When we don’t take the time to look inside or take a look at whether those seeds nestled within us are getting enough water and light and space, then rot begins to grow, comprising all those seeds of possibility.
Maybe you’re like us, the time that you meant to spend in self-reflection or self-care got rained out of stormed out by the fierce urgency of now. Maybe you think that you can’t make up that time or that the time has passed. What we discovered was that once we got inside our pumpkin, even though it was a little worse for the wear, we were able to scoop that rot out. We were able to clean out the part that was threatening the rest of the pumpkin and we were able to transform our pumpkin into a new creation.
See how happy our pumpkin is that we took the time to look inside!
Just recently, Elizabeth Gilbert posted a picture of her 32-year-old self with the description that the girl in the picture looked like a baby. She was in the middle of her divorce and wouldn’t have been recognized in a crowd because she had yet to write Eat, Pray, Love. She offered a beautiful narrative of how she talked to herself during that period of her life and what she would say to that girl now. This struck me. She didn’t find herself until her thirties.
She was in the midst of becoming.
And then a wave of realization washed over me. We are all in the midst of becoming. If you, like me, find yourself at times thinking that by this age or by this season you should know who you are and what you want to do with your life, may I offer the idea that maybe you shouldn’t know? May I go even further and suggest that perhaps you will never know for sure who are you and what you want to do with your life?
That may seem scary. But I think it’s exciting.
There is no single point where there is no turning back and no chance to start over. No signs that say you can’t crawl into a chrysalis for a while to await getting wings. It is never too late to start becoming who you always wanted to be or doing what you always wanted to do. There is no point or season that you are supposed to have it all figured out or know for certain what lies ahead.
You are free to be in the midst of becoming.
In fact, I think allowing yourself the mental and spiritual relief to be in the midst of becoming allows you to open your mind and your attention to new challenges, new opportunities, and new relationships. I can remember the crisis I felt when I articulated a call to ministry. I was already five years and an advanced degree in one profession. I thought it was unwise financially to “switch careers”. And maybe it was. But I know if I hadn’t taken that step towards becoming something and someone I never imagined I could be, I wouldn’t be here in this moment.
You are free to be in the midst of becoming.
While it may seem like you are wrestling and struggling to find all the answers, maybe this reassurance will offer you some relief. You don’t have to know where you will be in five years or ten years or really even tomorrow. You can wake up today or decide after lunch to take an unexpected turn or U-turn or sprint in a different direction. You can try a new road or a road you have already been on before. You can take a break from societal expectations of having a long-range plan or a short-range plan for that matter.
You are free to be in the midst of becoming.
The lectionary psalm this week is speaking to the concerns that so many people have with the current administration in our country. Children put in cages. Abuses of power. Insider politics. Secrets and promises.
While it is important and good in our call-out culture to speak out and speak up, we must also remember to “Take delight in the Lord,” remembering that the work we do is not our own work. It is work that the Holy Mystery is also working on. We are not alone in crying out for help. We are not alone in wondering when justice will roll down. We are joining the cries of this psalmist and indeed the children of God for generations before us.
37:1 Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, 37:2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. 37:3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 37:5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 37:6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday. 37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. 37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil. 37:9 For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
Yesterday was the first day of Fall or the Fall Equinox. It marks the time when there was as much light as there was darkness. From here our days will start to have more and more dark in them. It’s a time that some people feel as if they are losing the light, but for me, Fall has always been a time of a-light-ment.
There’s something about the way the light comes through the kitchen window in the Fall that makes me feel calm and at peace. The sun shining straight into my windshield in the mornings reminds me of the new day and the new opportunities to offer light to the world.
Just as our cars need alignments every so often and our backs need adjustments after hours sitting in our cars and sitting at our computers, so too do our souls need a-light-ment. We need the reminder that the season is changing, that the trees will soon be letting go of their lives and storing up for the dark and cold of winter.
Although we may not like change or be ready for change, change still comes. Notice the way the light is moving. A-light yourself to the gentle breeze, see the possibility that a new season brings.