Saturday, September 29, 2012

September 29, 2012

It’s Not Fair

“It’s not fair.” That is the first phrase that came out of my younger son’s mouth this morning. I hear it a lot. Frankly, it is true. Life is often not fair. I felt that same cry coming from my soul as I read this week about Rebekah and Jacob’s deceit of Isaac and Esau in Genesis 27. I wondered what else was behind this story of a family so divided that a mother and son would go to such lengths to deceive and steal the blessing from the husband/father that was supposed to belong to another family member.

Something in this passage brought me to tears. I cried for the messiness of life, for the messiness of the world, for the conflict in human families, for the conflict around the world. All because of perceptions so many have of not having what others have and attempts to take things into their own hands, often by force and even violence. Life isn’t fair.

I was very conscious of how uncomfortable I felt with this story. I wondered how a blessing could be valid when it was so deceitfully stolen from another. It’s not fair! Jacob doesn’t deserve the blessing, and that unsettles me. But then it occurred to me that Esau didn’t deserve the blessing either. Being the oldest son doesn’t make him a worthy recipient either.

This story disturbs me because people get what they don’t deserve. In many ways it offends my sense of justice. The story hits me emotionally because it taps into the myriad of circumstances in my life and the lives of others that remind me that life really isn’t fair. And then it hit me. This story isn’t about life being messy or unfair. It is the story of God and how he ushers in his kingdom. He doesn’t do it according the world’s standards. He doesn’t do it through human knowledge or achievement. He does it by grace. He accomplishes for us what we cannot accomplish for ourselves.

Jacob doesn’t deserve the blessing. He is a broken person in need of healing and a sinner in need of redemption. Something in me wants to control, wants to earn, wants to achieve, wants to deserve what I get. But I don’t. I can thank God life is not always fair. The gospel of Jesus Christ is scandalous because it is a gospel of grace. There is nothing I can do to earn it; all I can do is receive the grace God extends to me—not just once and for all but every moment of every day for all of my life and into eternity.

This passage was a source of conviction to my sense of fairness, but it has led me to a deeper awareness of who God is and who I am. It is unsettling to realize how big God is and how very small I am. But it is also reassuring  to know that I am loved and God is control in ways I never can be. There is an invitation in this story to lay down my willful posture of human striving to willingly receive his love and grace. I can cooperate with God rather than try to control what he is doing in me, my family, my work, my community, and his world. That’s a different way of living life. It’s not my natural human inclination to live that way, but I am learning.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

September 22, 2012

Life Is Messy...But a Gift of Grace

As I read about the beginning of Jacob’s life in Genesis 25, I am struck again by how messy life is and how much there is in life that we have no control over. Jacob had no control over the family he was a part of, the fact that he was a second-born twin, his physical appearance, the essence of his personality, the fact that his parents would play favorites. Jacob could not have remembered the history of his early life. Much of what he learned came from stories told by others. These stories have been passed down to us as the word of the Lord.

We all have stories about our early lives, and this story of Jacob is particularly intriguing to me because I too am a second-born twin. I have heard many times how my parents didn’t know my mother was carrying twins  because there were no ultrasound back then, though my aunt had suggested she was either having triplets or an elephant because she was so big. After my sister was delivered, the doctor said, “There is another one.” And twelve minutes later I came into the world. 

My sister and I are fraternal twins, though we look more alike than Jacob and Esau apparently did. But we were different temperamentally as well. My mother loved to tell me how my sister started to walk when she was 8 months old, getting up and running until she fell down or ran into a wall. I, on the other hand, walked along the furniture until sixteen months, and when I finally let go, I walked without falling down.

It’s difficult for me to accept that in Jacob’s time, the firstborn alone would inherit the family wealth. That system sets ups a kind of favoritism and conveys messages of value or lack of value. So while it may be understandable that Isaac favors the son who will carry on his name and the family destiny and that Rebecca favors the child who is more like her--without power or promise—it’s still hard for me to read about their favoritism because my parents really tried to be fair in how they dealt with their children. But the truth is, children are different and have different needs. And every family has their ways—some good, some not so good, and even children in the same family can have differing perceptions of what life is like. 

So reflecting on Jacob’s story, his family, his beginnings, his life, and his relationships has drawn me to think about myself. Being a twin, birth order, personality, family dynamics, and other factors have shaped me and the way I view the world—in conscious and unconscious ways. That is true for every one of us. Like Esau and Jacob, we all have the tendency to want what we want when we want it and to seek to control and take care of our own needs by our own human striving. We want to control our destiny by our own willful choices. 

However, the invitation from God is to see our life not as something to be achieved but a gift to be received. Yet in order to do this, we must lay down our willfulness and willingly trust his love and rely on his grace to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. As I was reflecting on this, I was reminded of a passage from Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son:
It was not I who chose God, but God who first chose me. This is the great mystery of our faith. We do not choose God, God chooses us. From all eternity we are hidden “in the shadow of God’s hand” and "engraved on his palm”. Before any human being touches us, God “forms us in secret” and “textures us” in the depth of the earth, and before any human being decides about us, God “knits us together in our mother’s womb.” God loves us before any human person can show love to us. He loves us with a “first” love, and unlimited, unconditional love, wants us to be his beloved children, and tells us to become as loving as himself…. It is the first and everlasting love of a God who is Father as well as Mother. It is the fountain of all true human love, even the most limited. Jesus’ whole life and preaching had only one aim: to reveal this inexhaustible, unlimited motherly and fatherly love of his God and to show the way to let that love guide every part of our daily lives… It is the love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate.

I am very grateful today for my life, for being a twin, for the family God has given me. But what I am most grateful for is the deep and abiding truth that I belong to God. That is a gift of grace, and as I follow the story of Jacob’s life and the many ways that life is messy, I want to continue to recognize grace, rejoice in grace, and rest in grace.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Without Power
A week ago Saturday I was working in my office at church when a terrible storm blew through. Eventually the power went out. Though daytime, it was so dark I really couldn’t see to do anything, so I decided to go home. 

As I turned onto my street to go home, there was yellow tape blocking the way; I had to park a block from my house. I could see a large tree limb that had fallen and an electrical line snaking down the middle of the street. I learned from neighbors that a transformer had blown and there had even been a fire. Once home, I discovered that we were without power. A while later we learned we were the only house in our neighborhood without power. 

For some reason this experience spoke to me. I was without power and had no ability to fix what needed to be fixed. I couldn’t move the wire or restore power. All I could do was wait for someone else to come to do what needed to be done. I figured it would be days before the power company would get around to restoring our power because we were a single house. What was interesting to me was that I didn’t feel anxious or concerned. Actually, I remembered the many people who were without power for so long earlier this summer when an even worse storm blew through. And I was aware that humankind lived without electricity for millennia and people still do in many places around the world. This is life. There really was nothing I could do except wait until someone came to fix it. 

Being without power at work and home resonated with another kind of powerless I am feeling—an awareness of my inability to change or fix anything. This actually was a great gift because it helped me to realize the need for a deep inner letting go of my human striving. That doesn’t mean I don’t do anything, but there is a way of arranging my life to let go and to wait on God to do what only God can do.  I feel very peaceful about this and grateful to name my place on my journey. 

One of the most interesting aspects of this experience of being without power was that letting go opened me to recognize and receive gifts of grace. I noticed that the storm brought a change from the oppressive heat and humidity and ushered in the brisk, cool temperatures of fall—a real reason to give thanks because we didn’t have electricity for air conditioning or fans. Our neighbors invited our family over for dinner, and we enjoyed a time together that we would not have had otherwise. They loaned us battery-powered lanterns to use in the darkness. 

By 3:00 p.m. the following day, there were trucks on our street working on the problem. But they were not from our local power company. Rather they had traveled from Richmond and North Carolina to come help those without power. We had power again days before I expected to because people went out of their way to help the helpless. In the midst of my own sense of powerlessness, I could see the gifts of grace God was extending to us accomplishing for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves. I am grateful.

The truth is we are all more powerless than we believe we are. We were created to be people who are dependent on God and the resources he promises to give us. Living in an independent and affluent culture can cause us to forget that. Sometimes dark and difficult circumstances bring us to a deeper awareness of our own powerlessness—illnesses, grief, a broken relationship, loss of a job, or maybe something far less painful or traumatic like a power outage. It is helpful to name where we are and to remember that God promises to always be with us. His grace is always sufficient accomplishing for us what we cannot accomplish on our own. He will help us—not always in the ways we want or expect, but he will lead and guide, heal and transform, renew and strengthen us as we wait on him to do what only he can do.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lessons From A Junk Drawer 

Last spring, I found a tape measuring on the floor, so I picked it up and went to put it away in our junk drawer. I couldn’t get the drawer open let alone put something else in it. That experience spoke to me as a metaphor for my life. My life—any life—is like a drawer: it will only hold so much. And choices are made almost daily about what goes in and what comes out and how it gets arranged. While the decisions about what is in the junk drawer are not mine alone, it is still up to me and the others in my family to work together to see that it does not become so full that it can’t be opened and thus rendered useless.
Last spring I began blogging daily during Lent, and when Lent was over, I stopped completely. It was one of the things I stopped doing because I needed to sort out my life to decide what was going to be in and what was going to be out. To tell you the truth, I’m still in that process, I have decided that I still want to blog, but this time I’m committing to doing so only once a week. If time allows and I have something to say, I might do it more frequently, but I will do it at least once a week.
However, blogging is just one piece of a bigger picture. For me, fall always marks a new beginning. At this time of year, I think about the commitments I am going to make. You might say that it’s a time to dump out the contents of the drawer of my life to reflect on and then arrange the way that will help me live the life I long for and believe with all my heart Christ has already acquired for me through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The way I am doing that is by asking myself what are the practices, relationships, and experiences that will be a means of offering myself to God so that he do for me what I cannot do for myself?
This is a very individual endeavor. It takes times, thought, prayer. A key word is intention. Change will happen in my life. Time will pass. The only question is whether that change will result in growth or that the time that goes by will bring me closer to the Lord I love and whether I am becoming a more loving person as he desires me to be.
To be honest, I am so aware of ways that I need to change and probably more aware than ever of my inability to change myself. But I am hopeful. Not because of me. Not because of what I am planning to do in these coming months. But because of Christ and his purposes in my life and the power of his Spirit working in and through me and all who trust him. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippian 1:6). That is a truth I believe and am choosing to live into.