7

One of the Least of These

English: Sunday School or Church Hall? This bu...

English: Sunday School or Church Hall? This building was in the field opposite to the former Methodist Chapel in Chapel Lane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It keeps coming to my attention that I have always had a problem associating with “the least of these,” though to many I am considered to be one of “the least of these.”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25:40

I generally want to keep an arm’s length distance between them and me because I’m afraid that somehow their stupidity, disease, narrow-mindedness, extreme poverty or proclivity toward difficult life’s situations will somehow rub off on me and make my life of trying to “fit in” an even worse feat. And we all have at some point in time dissociated ourselves from those who in our minds are the least in comparison to our superior set of beliefs, our higher standard of living, our elite political affiliation or our seemingly safer side of the tracks.

Ironically, even though we’ve all been looked down upon by some other group or person who deems themselves superior to us and even though we know what it feels like to be ostracized from a group for not fitting in, even though we are very familiar with the sick pit of the stomach feeling for just not quite measuring up–we still hold others to our “higher” standard–silently judging them on the inside while parading a fake smile on the outside until they’re just out of ear’s distance and we are free to say what we really think about their inferiority compared to us.

Those we considered to be the “least of these” yesterday may not be the ones we deem “least of these” today.  Life experience tends to shape our opinions about who makes the cut as being acceptable in our sphere of influence at the moment.  We habitually lean toward surrounding ourselves by people who make us feel better about ourselves.  We will hang out with people who have a little less than us so that we can feel superior about having more but not be burdened by feeling the pressure of having to help them in a big way.  We can feel better about associating ourselves with those who have more than us, but most often those relationships can only be sustained if we anticipate there is something to gain.

I’ve been visiting new churches for a few weeks.  I’ve never attended a church without having been employed by the church.  Meaning, I’ve never had to choose a church based on any other decision but the fact that they were employing me as a musician.  I really feel a leaning to take my children to a church where everything will be spoon fed to them, where they will have exciting activities, be fully engaged with the latest technology and  exposed to at least the “higher” of arts–whatever that really means.

But today we visited a neighborhood church where none of the above was true and I felt like I was among “the least of these” in some part of my wretched heart. And I WAS one of “the least of these” because my children were not behaving and there was no formal childcare or children’s program to make me feel human and well put together, once my children were out of sight and out of mind.  In fact, there were only about ten people in attendance, mostly older people.  There was one little girl who was kind of floating around the sanctuary.  She invited my children to go back to the “play” room and watch T.V.  I told her that I wanted them to stay in the sanctuary (because apparently there was going to be no adult back there).

Then finally after Sunday School was over (I didn’t realize it was Sunday School at the time), two older women took the children back (one other child had arrived eventually) to the play room.  I stayed with my youngest (a little over a year old) and then when he finally would not keep quiet, I went to the back with my children and one of the ladies struck up a conversation with me.

She described her life as if she was telling a story where she understood that her character was THE “least of these” written into the details without her consent.  Having grown up with Colitis as a young girl she eventually had to get a colostomy.  The doctors told her she would never be able to have children because of that, but she ended up having two children anyway.  She gave God the credit.  She went on to say that because of all her physical ailments that she also has problems with her brain so she was never able to finish school.  She said that she was still praying for God to heal her, that her condition is much better, but that she still hopes for complete healing and that if God could heal blind eyes back then that surely he can heal her now.  She said that many people stop by the church, receive healing and then never come back.  Apparently her son was in a could-have-been deadly wreck recently but God spared his life.  She said that she gets up at 5am every morning to pray, that she prays for all those she knows who are in need.

Somehow I felt like God was saying, “I am here.”  “I am anywhere you are that feels small.”  “I know that you want to live a comfortable life, feel good about yourself as a person, rub shoulders with those who shine, but this is where I am.  If you really want to find me, you’ll find me among the “least of these.”  “You keep saying you want to find me but you already have and whatever you do for the least of these you will have done for me.”

But no God.  This does not feel good.  I do not feel superior here.  I feel strangely in and out of my element at the same time.  Why haven’t you healed this woman yet?  Why have you not changed my heart so that I don’t look down on people of her kind, people of my kind.  Her faith is so much stronger than mine.  I’m sure she’ll be praying for me tonight before she goes to bed.  I prayed for her too, already– that she won’t be so pitiful, so pitifully trusting in you.  Why do I want to run away from this, away from her?  Why do I want my children to have more and be more?  What is the more I’m trying to have them be?  And if we’re all trying to climb our ladders, who will be there ministering to those at the bottom who could never ever “fit in” where I’m more comfortable trying to fit in?  Why can’t you just make all this sickness, all this dumb brained poverty pant sag-gin’ sub culture just go away so that we can all feel good about where we’re going and where we hope to end up?  And God, where are you when I feel like the least and when she knows for sure she’s the least but is still willing to pray for others, encourage others and have hope that you’ll heal her completely?

Surely you’ll have mercy on us all because we are all “the least” among the counterparts of who we’re trying to become–sick of heart, downright mean people who always look down on others.  Most certainly you have compassion on those of us who are first now, compared to those who seem to be last but who are closer to your heart because they know suffering and can’t seem to catch a break.  Are these, this woman who feels like the last, who I judge as even further back in the line than I am, are these the ones who you say will be first when your Kingdom finally comes?  And am I really willing to completely let go of what others think just so I can be the last in order to earn first place?

And as we left the church, the other little girl told my girls that she hopes that they come back because she is usually all by herself–no other children.

And as I told the pastor about where I previously attended church, he invited me to come back and sing for them without any reserve about whether I would be “good enough” for their taste or not.

I was the least of THEM.

3

Prayer

Jesus in Pray

Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems for me, impossible to stop praying the same prayers over and over again like a broken record.

When before I’ve always felt my prayers to be authentic conversation with God (God, my life is quite miserable today. Please do something about it.), after which I felt better once I uttered the familiar pleas almost trance like–now I feel quite silly when I start to pray.

I’m not sure whether this is because I’m “growing in faith” or “diminishing in faith.”

But I’m beginning to notice embarrassing patterns in my prayer life that should my prayers be thrown up on a screen for everyone to see, I might emphatically claim they’re not mine at all.

You see, I pray for things to be a certain way but only if it’s God’s will of course, and then when nothing turns out at all as I’d hoped, I thank God for knowing what is best for me, and then I try to re-examine my desires so that they might finally align with what would please God more, of course.

But it’s all turning out to seem like a little mind game I’m playing with myself to be able to sustain hope in the face of disappointment. “Oh God, please help this to work, if it’s your will.” “Oh God, it didn’t work, so please help me to not get stuck in this moment of disillusionment, not my will but yours, Lord.” “But God, really, what is wrong with me? Why are my plans not your plans and why do my plans fail and how do I really know how to plan according to your will, and how can I possibly pray in accordance with your will, for who can know your thoughts when your thoughts are so much higher than mine.”

So after all these years of praying, I really don’t know how to pray. It doesn’t seem right to pray for this or to pray for that, especially when there are so many people who don’t have half of what I have.  I should be praying that those who have less than me will finally have more.   But how can I give more when it seems I’ve given all I can want to give and that giving may not make any difference in the lives of others, especially if it makes me worse around them than I was on the inside now seeping out? I want more, but it doesn’t ever seem right to try to get what I want or to pray that God will show me how to get it, because why do I want it? What will I do with it? God knows I already turn my eye blind to helping those who look like on the outside they should be able to help themselves, I walk right past, because if I’m miserable, so should they be too.

The only thing I’ve ever earnestly prayed through is for the protection of my family and for the successful adoption of my husband’s siblings. I really believed that helping orphans was in accordance with God’s will. Is that why He answered my prayers? But from the point of a successful adoption on, nothing I pray really seems like it merits a direct answer. Nothing related to personal gain ever feels right to pray. Why? Are there certain prayers that are just wasted breath? For those who have children who constantly plead for the same things over and over again, until you are annoyed witless, I’m sure you’ve wondered if that’s how you sound to God. Since He’s all powerful, can he just turn off his ears to the noisy pleas of his children for bigger homes, better jobs, nicer cars, more prestige and worldwide recognition?  I mean are we SERIOUSLY asking God for more than what He’s already given and what we fool ourselves into believing we’ve gotten for ourselves?

At times before, because I was certain I could not trust my own motives, I would pray for God to purify my motives.  But not now.  I’m afraid of that prayer.  I accidentally prayed it last night.  “God, please change my heart’s desires to align with yours.”  What?!?  So if I changed my mind today about the whole wanting to live like Christ thing, will He answer my prayer of yesterday, against my ever-changing will?

What if I pray for sanity but God knows that a good dose of insanity will then help me to reach out to those who I would have otherwise written off as “not having it all together.”

“Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”  Isaiah 66:2

Is God still there looking on some of us with favor?  Do our prayers emerge from a place of humility and contrition?  Do we tremble at the thoughts of praying for things that may not be in accordance with God’s will?

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  But I do NOT yet truly fear and much less tremble.

My daughter keeps asking me for a cat over and over and over again.  For her to have a cat would be against my will.  But she has also started praying to God for a cat.  Should I give  her a cat and pray that God will change my heart about having one?  Or should I keep ignoring her pleas and start praying that God will change the desires of her heart so that she will no longer carry the disappointment of not having one?

Your cat may be someone else’s burden.  And our prayers might be against God’s will.  Even so, come quickly, LORD JESUS!

 

2

Garden of Eden-Song about Forgiveness

Song I wrote about how it feels to do something seemingly innocent only afterward to result in spiritual isolation and abandonment. Raising the question of whether God will really welcome us home when what we’ve done seems way beyond the reach of his grace.

I think we all have at least one thing from our past that leaves us feeling like we’re still in hiding, even though God says it’s forgiven.

0

On Being a Crazy Parent Much Less for God

Cover of "Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as...

Cover via Amazon

I often times wonder how different it is to be a dad as opposed to being a mom. What kind of a link do dads feel toward their children? How much of the link that mothers feel toward their children is just a product of socialization–the way we were raised to believe we should in turn raise our children? And how do those expectations of motherhood and fatherhood affect our level of sanity more than the actual work that we put into raising our children  in the right way or as best we know how?

Thanks to one of my relatives who shall remain unnamed, I just finished browsing the book: “Crazy for God.” The book perfectly and not so politically correctly describes in great depth the psyche of the author’s parents who were major proponents of the Fundamentalist movement. Having myself grown up in a home formed at the peak of some of those great fundamentalist revivals of which my parents were loyal participants, I inevitably relate to the some of satire eloquently penned by Frank Schaeffer, so much so that it seems we might have been best of friends or worst of enemies should we have grown up together in the same neighborhood.

I’ve often wondered, especially most recently since my children started using a more sophisticated part of their brain, putting two and two together to formulate their blaring judgment of me into sentences–how they might describe me should they grow up to be a writer and need to use my personality as fodder on paper–going into painful detail about my dedication or lack of dedication as a mom and ultimately my sanity as a person.

Then I came across the book by Schaeffer and resentfully revisited the dread that I might feel should my children ever see me for who I truly am.  The “crazy” light in which Schaeffer shed his mom included the following quote and reminded me of the glorified version of myself:

“Mom lived her life in tension between her unrealized ambition to be recognized for something important, refined, and cultured and her belief that God had called her to do Christian work that required her to sacrifice herself, not least her image of who she really felt she was when the cultural elites admired, or at least envied, mocked fundamentalism.”

The parts that stick out to me here are “unrealized ambition” and “belief that God had called her to do a Christian work.”  And everything in-between is enough indeed to inspire a child to call into question the sanity of his parents.

I’m not sure what Schaeffer’s conclusion was since I haven’t finished the book but forget the schizophrenic Christian part of being a fundamentalist on the fence, my days as a mom are definitely filled with regret over “unrealized ambition.”  I don’t think any parent-to-be truly understands the risk of living ocean front–that the view, the time spent walking on the beach, and the easy access to beautiful moments also make us vulnerable to floods that could rush in and exchange all of our belongings for debris once we’ve settled on having children.

Yes old things are washed away and everything is forced to become new but having children is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.  It’s an emotional tsunami.  All of the unspoken dreams, those things that you’d held quietly in your heart because you still felt like life was slow pace, slow enough that you could catch up to it–All of the ideals that were never challenged by real life circumstances so you could just carelessly hold onto them without the fear of cynicism snatching them away–I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that having children is like an ugly forceps rebirth of self.

And the rebuilding of the thoughts, ambitions and dreams that twist and turn in God forsaken fashion as an initiation into a life of letting go of everything you’d been becoming up to the point that it was your children’s turn to become-could indeed drive one to insanity.

I’m not even sure if I’m in the rebuilding phase.  I’m still wandering around picking up the pieces of what I used to think was important–seeing what I can put back together from the past–trying to determine if there’s any intrinsic value in who I was before I realized what it’s like to be a parent.

And all that to say, “Thank you mom and dad for all you did to maintain some level of sanity in our household growing up, even though I’m sure you must have felt quite the crazy yourself at times.  Thank you for believing through the doubt and holding onto the pieces of everything that perhaps you’re still trying to put together.  Regardless of how your children gauge your level of sanity, as sure as there’s a God in heaven above, He’d reward you with an A for effort.  And fundamentalist or not, there is surely nothing that will keep my boat afloat if human frailty is not factored into the grading curve.”

Happy crazy parenting!!

2

Too much Sacrifice and too little Mercy

Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of us who’ve grown up in the church.  But there’s little difference between us and the world.  Just like them we’re quickly aging and either frantically searching or habitually exhausted by never finding the right answers.  Our goal is to save enough for retirement and the paradox of that day when we will finally have enough money to spend our days without having to go to work is that we will also be too old to enjoy it.  We take pride in our career milestones and the nicer our homes the better we feel about ourselves.  We give sparingly in proportion to what we’ve been given but our conscience is soothed by the fact that we’ve at least done something to help those less fortunate.  Our knowledge of God is a one dimensional story teller version and the reality of faith is only felt when we’re in crisis mode.  God’s presence starts to feel real right around the time we lose someone we love or when we’ve just experienced a financial crisis. Continue reading

3

Experiential Freedom

Salvation Unplugged – But now I see through the glass clearly, until I take my eyes off of Jesus again.

In my quest to re-read Christianity God gave me a gift, not in exchange for something I’d done or as retribution for the misery to which I’d subjected myself all in the name of taking up my cross to follow Him, but he gave me a gift because I asked.  I asked God for the gift of understanding, I asked that the scales be removed from my eyes.  I asked to understand his love, mercy and grace through new eyes, eyes filled with light, not with darkness.  And in an instant, God flooded my soul with a momentary experiential understanding of what “freedom” in Christ actually means.

I felt so free, and I WAS so free that others saw it in me for a few days.  Remember when Moses came down from the mountain and he had to cover his face so that the people would not be blinded because his countenance was so bright?  In a sense this is what had happened to me.  I came down from the mountain and friends and family listened to what I had to say (power).  They were pleasantly surprised by my radiance and the newfound hope physically present all over my face.  I felt love for them and I felt loved by them (love) and my mind was clearer and lighter (sound mind) than it had been in years.  I was a modern day female version of Peter walking on water and it felt really cool that God and I had finally “jived” beyond the contrived Christianity for which I’d been bleeding sweat and tears all those years. Continue reading

1

Thoughts that Paralyze

Have you ever taken the time to identify those thoughts that paralyze you into inaction?

Sometimes our thoughts are on a quick sprint to the destination of nowhere and it’s hard to capture them and accurately identify what it is that we’re truly thinking.

There are many things that we’d like to accomplish in life but our thinking doesn’t enable us to take constructive steps toward reaching our goals.

Do you ever feel a stirring inside to get up and do something but almost as subtlety as that stirring comes–thoughts roll in like the tide and before you know it your motivation to move is washed away.

If we deliberately took the time to hit pause on our disorganized charade of thoughts–perhaps we could identify which thoughts are coherent and which thoughts seem more like random darts thrown by the enemy to attack our purpose in life.

It may come as a shock to you when you finally articulate the thought or family of thoughts that kept you from your last endeavor.  When that first stirring of inspiration was kindled in your soul, perhaps after reading a book, listening to a sermon or observing nature, what was the first thought that preceded your inability to get up and stoke that pile of glowing embers just waiting to be ignited?  Perhaps once you identify what that thought is you’ll be too embarrassed to tell anyone else because of it’s obvious whopping illogicality.

It’s that recurring thought that keeps doing the same damage to your destiny every time you allow it to go untamed. Continue reading