Defensiveness is not a strategy

Years ago I had the grand privilege of teaching high schoolers each Sunday morning. Man, are they smart. And funny. And irreverent. And loaded with potential. If you do not have the privilege of really digging in and spending quantity (quantity - not quality) time with this group, it may be tough to appreciate the depth of their curiosity and their capacity to ferret out BS when they see it.

I had this one kid whose attendance was sporadic, and when he was there he was not exactly dialed in. This made me curious. Mostly he looked hung over on Sundays and there were some rumors about his extracurricular activities and the possibility that he might be a bad influence on the other kids in the group.

One day while buying groceries and junk food for my kids, his dad approached me about his son’s “religious education” and chastised me for his son’s sporadic attendance and his lack of bible knowledge (as evidenced by his inability to quote scripture verses from memory). This, according to him, was a reflection of my poor teaching and my lack of commitment.

So here is the thing about this story. This dad did not go to church. At. All. At the time I was super mad. But after I paused to prepare and really thought the story through, I felt an increased responsibility to this young man. I redoubled my efforts. I did NOT ask the kid to memorize scriptures but I did a few small things to increase his awareness that we teachers saw him. Cared about him. And without saying a word to anyone else about the encounter with the dad - who I would not have even recognized except for the fact that his kid was with him (yes, he said all this in front of his son) - we upped our game.

This was super hard. I wanted to “out” the dad for being a deadbeat. I wanted to whine and complain about all my weekly efforts and this dad’s absence from the life of his kid and I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “HOW DARE HE!!” But the problem with this approach was that it would not have been helpful to the kid, and that was my priority. That was in-line with my core value of loving kids as an expression of bearing God’s image. He already had one fun house mirror of a father image, did he need me tarnishing it further? No.

I do not know where this young man is today. I do know he made his way, eventually, to seminary. This is no guarantee that he has pursued a life of faith but I am pretty sure it required continued exposure to God’s word. I know that he has had a profound influence on my life. He is the kid that opened my eyes to all the ways we judge others and make assumptions about them. He made me realize I could do more - not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

It’s okay to learn even from people who don’t have it all together and even those who stir your anger. It’s okay to find inspiration in rumors of failure or in the face of criticism. How might God be getting your attention today through weird means and mean people?

Changing habits means telling the truth

Have you ever tracked every single morsel you put in your mouth on one of those tracking apps? I have. It’s eye opening. My nutritionist does not recommend this as a daily practice. She wants me to live my life and learn to use my eyes to see what I am eating and learn how to fuel my body wisely.

I continue to learn. But because of my propensity to not pay attention to details, my forgetfulness, my outright denial about some of my habits…that app can serve as helpful accountability. So long as I tell the truth.

There it is.

The fly in the ointment.

Tell the truth. Particularly - tell MYSELF the truth.

So here we go with a question for today: Just how seriously do you take your faith journey? If you had an app on your phone that could measure such things, how are you doing?

And I am really curious about this: What criteria would you use to assess your spirituality? What actions, thoughts, feelings and core values reveal the seriousness with which you take your relationship with your Higher Power?

“[He] said to me as I was walking by, ‘God takes this more seriously than you do.’ “

~ By the Book (view the video here)

Building trust is a long process

We have a mechanic whom we trust. If he says our car needs a major repair we thank him for finding the problem. We do not get second or third opinions - although I do not think he would be particularly offended if we did seek outside input. We do not waffle about whether or not to take his advice. We do not curse our misfortune at his hands or blame him for finding a problem. Why? Because we trust him.

Why do we trust him? Because we have built a solid relationship over the years that has made trust possible. He has never let us down, although there was that one time he forgot to tighten a new tire fully and that resulted in an interesting ride back to the shop. Did we stop going to him because he made a mistake? No. He immediately acknowledged his error and made amends. Our long history gave us context to chalk it up to a fluke and we did not allow it to overly influence our capacity to trust him.

Trust is built over the long haul. This is true in all relationships, including our faith in God. But today

does not have to bear the weight of total trust building. Today is a step not the entire journey. But it does require taking a step. We have to keep a steady pace, we need to keep actively engaging in our faith journey. We have to allow for confusions and even doubts. We have to “turn” and keep “turning”, one day at a time (as the Third Step points out so clearly when it asks us to turn our live and will over to the care of God).

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

~Ephesians 4:15-16, The Message

Are you actively pursuing spiritual maturity? Is there anything you need to change in order to continue your faith journey?