Tomorrow will be different

In Richmond, we say if you do not like the weather, wait a day because it will surely change. This is good soul care advice too. I suspect we all find greater equanimity and peace when we realize that our highs and lows and in-betweens shift and morph and change. The mountain top experiences are lovely but temporary; as are the deep valleys of despair.

Whether I find myself up high or way down low, I remember this:

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.

Psalm 30:11, 12 NIV

My own view of life is shifting. It helps me, and I hope it is helpful for you too, to know that there is ALWAYS the possibility that God will gift us with singing hearts and joy. When I ran away from home that Spring Break oh so many years ago, I finished my quiet time and strapped on my boots. I went for a long hike. I RESOLVED to choose to believe that my wailing was valid but not permanent. I went looking for joy; I’ve practiced the discipline of joy for so long now that most days I find her.

As I write this, I am at NSC and we are readying ourselves for our Saturday night service. I’m a voyeur as the band practices their set list. I listen as they discuss and choose and wrangle over chord progressions. I am reminded how hard they work to sing and play for us and in this I recognize the joy. They practice; they prepare. Tonight, the music will pour out. It will be a sacrificial offering. And I am lucky enough to know what that costs them and the joy they receive from the offering. Joy is a beautiful contagious lover of God and his people.

One final thought on joy; I cannot find her in isolation. All my joy stories revolve around others. I do not know what this means, only that it is true for me. Where do you find joy? Are you looking for her like a jealous lover?

Hope and despair

Once, many years ago, I was in a despair the likes of which I could not shake. Scott was at Va. Tech in school; Meredith was far away working; Pete was out of town. Michael was in high school and on Spring Break. I needed hope so desperately and my skin, my being, could not stay at home and go to work one more day in such a state of hopelessness.

I asked Michael if he would agree to a road trip, and he was kind enough to oblige. We threw some stuff in a bag and headed west. I dropped Michael off at Scott’s apartment in Blacksburg for a guys’ night, and I went to a local hotel. It was nothing special but this is what you get in Blacksburg with no notice.

That night I was in bed as soon as I got to the room; I woke early the next morning, went out to get coffee and a breakfast sandwich and returned to the solitude of the rented room. I transferred the steaming coffee into my favorite mug and retrieved my quiet time materials. Then I sat. I just sat. I reminded myself that I sit because there is a God and I am not him. I sit to honor his presence, without expecting to hear his voice. It is enough to sit. I sat until I could bear to listen. Then I opened my tattered copy of “Rooted In God’s Love” and turned to the next entry, finding this prayer from Dale and Juanita Ryan:

Lord of joy,

Lord of celebration,

open my heart to the possibility of joy today.

Help me to tolerate the confusion

that comes when sorrow and joy live side by side in my heart.

Give me the courage to

joyfully celebrate life.

Amen

Without a lot of fanfare, my mind opened to a new way of seeing - unbidden and undeserved - hope showed up in the nick of time. I saw how my day-to-day activities often created the illusion that life was more sorrow than joy. As my vision “corrected,” I grabbed my journal and out flowed the joy. The moment I turned and looked at my boys the previous evening, so glad to be together with game controllers in hand. The beauty of the coming Spring evident in the Virginia mountains that I so deeply love. On and on my joy poured out on the pages of my notebook. None of this was news to me, but it had ALL been forgotten. I was bogged down in confusion and sorrow, missing the joy that lived side by side in my heart.

So my friend, as we work to “get it right” - which is a good thing, we must find time to connect to our joy. We sit and wait on the Lord to give us the gift of hope - a gift that comes with no strings. But we also “get it right” as we take time to rightly remember. Look for the joy. Sorrow is a needy beast always yapping at our heels for our attention. Joy is far kinder and more polite. She waits for us to notice her, sitting patiently, eager to connect with us. Friends - find the joy! Then spread it around all willy nilly!

Hope and the future

Yesterday I mentioned a friend who is extremely resilient and provided an example of how is resilience shows up for him and the rest of us. He is, I suspect, temperamentally well-suited for resilience. This is not to discredit his resiliency in any way, because resiliency isn’t a temperament trait, it is a skill set. But knowing this man, I think it is a skill set he took to like a duck to water.

However, I am NOT temperamentally suited for resilience. But by dingy I practice it. It is not natural, nor am I as skilled as my friend, but I personally believe that as faithful people, we are called to resilience.

Whether or not we are working on new resolutions in this fresh, new year, resilience is a crucial life skill. It is the difference between thriving and wasting away. Too often we believe our circumstances drive our thriving - that’s not true. It is resilience.

Notice that I particularly called on faithful people to practice resilience. I’m not talking pie-in-the-sky, God blesses me because he loves me, and every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before thinking. That is not resilience. It’s a kind of spiritual languaging that some find comforting, and if you do - awesome. But I do not. It doesn’t fit the facts of my life. I believe that the facts and our faith align.

Does God bless his people? Yes. Do God’s people suffer? Yes. Resilient people can believe both those things at the same time without poking their eye out with a pencil, because resilient people do not NEED everything to go well for them in order to feel loved by God.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NIV

Hope is a gift not a guarantee. Whether or not we fulfill our resolutions in 2019, our hope does not rest in getting what we want. My friends the Ryans wrote this on page 242 of “Rooted In God’s Love” - “We need to remind ourselves daily that we do not serve the god-of-relentless-cheerfulness, or the god-of-naivete, or the god-of-blind-optimism. We serve the God of Hope. God is hope-full and loves to share hope-full-ness with us. We can come to God with our fear, doubt and despair and God will give good gifts to us. When all other reasons for hope fail us, we can return to the God for Hope because God is greater than our disappointment, greater than our failure, greater than the problems and conflicts in our hearts and our homes and our communities and our world.”

Hope is not warm and fuzzy

I once thought hope was a perky disposition and that I was constitutionally incapable of feeling it. I was, yet again, wrong. Our cynical, sarcastic family is excellent at foreboding joy! But when I heard that research had proven my suspicions about the meaning of hope unfounded, I was comforted to know that I too could be a person of hope.

Here’s what C. R. Snyder, as explained by Brene Brown learned about hope. Snyder says hope is a three part process:

1. The capacity to identify a realistic goal. This aligns nicely with resiliency training, where we have learned that the ability to set and strive for a goal is a skill set resilient people practice and master. Maybe it isn’t realistic to say that you are going to go on a diet and only it sprouts and cauliflower. That’s not realistic (or healthy). Maybe our resolutions have failed because we have not practiced setting a realistic goal! (Good news, we can learn from this!)

2. Set a course to achieve the goal. The path may be winding, which requires flexibility, but it is important to be intentional about walking the path. If the path isn’t working, we get help to adjust our course.

3. Finally, the magic ingredient is this: have enough belief in ourselves that we can stay on the path until we have reached our realistic goal. When I am working out, my trainer believes that I can do things that I would never think were possible for an old lady. But since I am choosing to get it right rather than be right, I acquiesce to her way of seeing me and by dingy - I try. She’s right more than she’s wrong!!

Which part hope do you need some support and encouragement with? Hope may not be warm and fuzzy, but it is an essential element if we are going to stay the course.

Wretched and Hope-Filled

What if you are as bad as you think you are?  Let’s talk about that scenario.  


You think you are bad?  You think your life situation is heartbreaking?  Ok.  But here is one other piece of information for your consideration.  There is no need to compare and compete for the worst story.  


But suppose you did compete and won?  Suppose you really do have the worst story EVER?  And suppose you are the villain in the story (at least in part)?


Consider this:


Even if he (GOD) has driven you to the far end of heaven, the Lord Your God will gather you up from there; he will take you back from there.  Deuteronomy 30:4


Our stories do not serve us well when they keep us stuck.  


The 12 steps and the scriptures are in sync on this - we must come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.


A sane perspective understands that God is all about gathering up and bringing us back.  Are you willing to be brought back?  Or are there some areas that remain stubbornly resistant to hope?

Stubborn Hope

Hope is not a Hallmark card sentiment for me.  


It is often a fight to the finish.  The battle is between my stinking thinking and the discipline to believe that if God is who He says He is.  When I practice this disciplined way of seeing and being in the world, I have an inspired way of seeing that ALWAYS allows for the possibility of hope - regardless of my circumstances.


Hope is also realistic.  It believes in miracles AND it accepts reality.  When our dearly beloved friend Will was diagnosed with cancer I hoped for a miracle AND I paid attention to what the doctor and Will were teaching me about his condition.  I so wanted the miracle, but I did not indulge in fantasy living - because that is not genuine hope.


Hope can bear the weight of reality and still be hope.  In 2 Samuel 14:14, it says this:  

We all have to die - we’re like water spilled out on the ground that can’t be gathered up again.  

This in no way gives information about the exact date and time of any of our departures.  But it teaches us a limit to our humanity - we are all mortals.  We will all die at some time.  This is a reality limit that must be factored into my hope.


It goes on like this:  But God doesn’t take life away


I didn’t have to spend any energy wondering if God was taking Will (or any of the other folks we have loved and lost in our community over the past 20 years) because he needed another angel, or to pay for a crime he or someone else committed or to punish someone so that they might repent or to teach others a lesson at Will’s expense.  God doesn’t take life away.  Life is finite.  


Furthermore, instead, he makes plans so those banished from him don’t stay that way.


A parent of another young adult who passed away recently is lamenting her daughter’s “lack of faith”; she is obsessively worrying over this thought that her daughter’s addiction “stole her child’s faith”; this is yet one more thing she regrets and blames herself for.


Someday soon I pray there will be a moment when she can see and hear 2 Samuel 14:14 for what it is - a small but powerful insight into how God loves us.  He makes plans for restoration.  This is hopeful.  How he does it, what it looks like, I do not know.  But any situation that I am tempted to wilt over is an invitation for me to remember this:  we all have to die, but God doesn’t take life away, instead he makes plans so those banished from him don’t stay that way.


Hope is a choice; a spiritual discipline; a partner of reality; a gift from God.

God is making things "right": Part II

Acceptance element #4: The willingness to trust that, on the aggregate, God steers creation in a hopeful direction

 

 

When Brittany and I suffered our losses, we weren’t suffering on account of our faith.  Nobody was persecuting us and we were not under attack. While we can draw hope from these verses knowing that they remind us that God does have a plan that is slowly unfolding, their truest audience is someone persisting in the midst of persecution.  

 

 

And so, my summary of the summary of these verses would be this:  God is steering creation in a hopeful direction. To suggest anything more specific is to get lost in the details of a verse that is notoriously difficult to translate in a way that is true to its original language.  

 

 

Knowing that God steers creation in a hopeful direction does not necessarily solve our problems or make us feel better about the tragedies that have befallen us.  However, our ultimate hope, in faith, is that God will redeem creation to such a degree that tragedy is no longer a part of creation. For this reason, I don’t think Paul’s reminder falls on deaf ears, and I do find it uplifting.  I can both experience life’s tragedy as tragedy (meaning: I don’t have to pretend that tragedy is joy in disguise) and use that as a reminder that God is actively working to remove tragedy itself from his creation because he does not want it there.  Tragedy is not God’s desired plan for his people.


Believing that, I think, opens us up just a little bit more to accepting the world as it is.

God is (slowly) making things "right"

Acceptance element #4: The willingness to trust that, on the aggregate, God steers creation in a hopeful direction

 

 

We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.  

 

~Romans 8:28, CEB

 

People often point to this verse as a way of saying that things that are bad only seem bad and that, one day, we'll understand better because all things are actually good once you have time, distance, and perspective.  

 

 

That isn’t actually what’s being said, if we pay attention to context.  As short as I can be, Paul is telling his readers that, though their current circumstances have caused them to despair, their ultimate hope is in a God who, through his spirit, works through creation to bring about his good purposes.  He is speaking on a very wide scale here. God’s plan, what he intends to accomplish in his creation, is ultimately for the good and will be of most benefit to his followers. Paul is not talking here about lost pregnancies or children with substance use disorder, or any specific tragedy that a person may undergo.  He is simply highlighting the fact, once again, that God is in the process of transforming creation and this will be undoubtedly good news for people like those in the Roman church who are suffering on account of their faith.  


More on this tomorrow.

Success, hope, and joy

From yesterday:  What vision of success fosters hope, joy, and meaning, rather than anxiety and competition?  Click here to get caught up.

 

The primary problem we all have with our culture's definition of success (acquiring wealth and prestige), whether we know it or not, is that it is dehumanizing.  It does not foster meaning, provide us with hope, or fill us with joy.  It does not provide us an identity or sense of self that can withstand our failures in life- which we will inevitably have.  At least, it (wealth and prestige) can not provide us these things in the long run.  We may have individual moments of each but, ultimately, we find ourselves living in despair if our aims are as low as wealth and prestige. 

 

How do we find an alternative that does stimulate us while also fostering our growth as people in recovery and people of faith who desire to reflect God's image in our lives? 

 

It starts with the realization that there is no one-size fits-all solution.  People want different things from their lives and people find meaning in different places, even if we share the lenses of faith and recovery in common.  In other words, I'm hoping this string of devotionals will inspire you to formulate your own vision of success based on your priorities.

 

More on this tomorrow.