What brings you comfort? What brings you hope?
I have to tell you, I have had a rough new year so far. I have been sick on and off for what seems like two months; things have not been easy with some of my past and present relationships; and Jacob had to be put down. Then there is the weather, and I am not really a winter sport kind of guy anymore…
When you sit back and look at the things that happen on a daily basis it is hard not to be overwhelmed. I don’t know about you, but I wake up in the morning with a list of things I could be accomplishing, knowing that I will probably not get to it all… then there is another list of things I wish I could do for fun, but don’t seem to have enough time.
I don’t mean to complain, not looking for sympathy really, just trying to establish some common ground. I bet my life is not as hectic as half of yours. I bet the things I need to worry about are far less important than the things that each of you has to worry about.
What I am getting at is a part of our Lenten journey, a part of our recognizing the world for what it is. The world is not easy. It is as simple as that.
Whether it is struggling to get ahead, or managing to keep all of the balls we are juggling in the air, each day presents challenges, it presents problems, and it throws unexpected curves at us.
So how do you handle that?
With the Kids
Certain stories in the Old Testament are meant to be read for certain reasons. Take the story of Jonah and the Whale, the whole point of that book of the Bible is to tell us that sometimes God knows better than we do. Or how about Noah, a book about second chances….
Well, the story of Abraham is a story about being faithful. From start to finish Abraham struggles with doing the right thing even though he is pretty sure it is not going to work out right. And God continually tests Abraham with impossibilities. Why don’t you pack up and move to another country and start over? God asks, and Abraham follows.
But, here is the thing, this is getting old, and so is Abram.
“Look,” he says to God one night, “I’ve been doing this for a while now, I get it, you need help and I am there for you, but what about me? You promised I would have a family, and time to enjoy them, and, well, I am getting too old for that now…”
You can almost hear the resignation and sadness that the world has not worked out the way Abram wished…
“So come outside,” God replies, “take a breath… now look up… tell me what you see… “
The passage is about the stars. You cannot count them. And that is what your descendants will be like, so numerous you cannot count them. The whole sacrifice and burning fire is just about cementing the promise… it is like God and Abram become blood brothers… but the real point is the frustration and the response that God’s promises are good; really good.
“It will be worth it,” God whispers to Abram. And that is, frankly, what keeps me going for a lot of the time; the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, things will always get better. It is a promise I believe in.
Dealing with Foxes
My daughter has been bullied in school. She is going to see someone about it because the teachers and principle, as much as they have tried to help, cannot seem to get through to this kids parents, or the kid himself, that it is not ok to be mean to people.
Anyway, the counsellor who was talking to my daughter got her to draw pictures. I thought it was fascinating… what animal do you see yourself as? What animal would you see a bully as?
Jesus talks about Herod as a fox. Makes sense, he is cunning, sly, always out for himself, you cannot trust him…. The sly, trickster fox is a character we all know.
So when we feel overwhelmed like Abram it is easy to say we just have to have trust in a better tomorrow, but what about when we are dealing with the foxes of this world, what then?
Those curves that happen in our lives and make it difficult are not always random… sometimes there are people actively trying to make life worse… they might be a boss, someone you once knew, someone who is jealous of you, or even a random unemotional bureaucrat who is just following the rules, no matter how much those rules hurt.
At some level what my daughter has to do in grade two is what we have to do in adulthood, is what Jesus had to do in ancient Palestine – keep on keeping on. Be brave, do what we know is the right thing to do, follow God even when it is scary.
The lament we hear Jesus saying, speaking of Jerusalem and how God longs to protect it like a mother hen protects her chicks, is Jesus way of saying that he wishes things were different, that he wishes we accepted the help we need, that we should all know that God loves us and accept it…
But there will always be foxes, there will always be bullies, and the truth is, no matter how much we know God, like any good parent, wants to keep us from all harm, we have to do something too. We have to be the ones who face the day; and that sometimes means being here, as Jesus says, today, and tomorrow and the next day… even if it is not what we most want to do.
In both Jesus and Abram’s case there is something to fall back on. I guess that is important for us to remember. Neither of these characters was starting from scratch, they had known God all of their lives, they had been through a lot already, and they just needed reminding.
I think we are in the same boat. We have all had pretty long and interesting lives, there have been good times and bad, and we find ourselves in a church for a reason. We believe, on the whole, that good wins the day, that God’s promises are true, that things do work out.
I like to think of life like a tree; I am always reaching for new things, I am always growing and spreading out, some branches don’t get too long, some eventually break off cause I am not focusing on them, but down below the surface I am rooted deeply in what I believe, and that is what holds me in place during the storms.
Jesus knew that the people of Jerusalem could trust God, he knew that because they had long roots, all the way back to Abram and before, of doing just that… and he could not understand why the people themselves did not know that…
Well, like us, they did… but we forget. The storms come and we worry, sometimes for good reason and sometimes for no reason. But like our heroes of the faith, if we could learn to take a step back and trust, learn to say that even when bad people, bad things, or time gets in our way; things will work out… it would be a lot easier for us.
I remember a presentation in Grade 12. It stuck with me every day of my life since then, it was from Josten’s, the ring company back then, trying to get us to buy a class ring. I wanted the ring, would have bought it anyway…. But they had this whole glitzy slide show, pictures of all our sports teams, and fun days at school, and everything….
And then in big letters and a booming voice it said, “These are the best days of your life! You do not want to forget them!”
And instantly I turned to my friend, sitting beside me in the auditorium and asked, “it doesn’t get any better than this? Why not kill ourselves?”
Seriously… to say, these are the best days of your life is almost like giving up hope… we need hope!
I guess this is where I started. This is what gives me hope, the sense that I am connected to something larger than myself, the sense that God has always been there for people, past, present and future.
I am not sure I could get out of bed in the morning if I really thought that this was it, that life would not get any better… But I know it does, it always does. That is faith.