The Trap of Joylessness

The Trap of Joylessness

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a Saturday Night Live skit called, “The Girl You Wished You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.” Cecily Strong acts the role of the girl who is characteristically drunk and ditzy, with know-it-all opinions in a pseudo-activist kind of way. She’s looking for a fight. The “straight man” is played by Seth Meyers.

“So are you excited about the holidays?” He asks.

“Excited. I’m repulsed. All this ‘mercialism around Christmas is an outrage. It’s a trajesty. It’s like ‘What are we even doing?’ …” She scoffs.

“You really seem like you’re in the Christmas spirit,” he teases. What does one say to a contentious soul?

“You mean the Christ-mas spirit? Oh right, you don’t care about Jesus because you worship Hallmark.”

“Oh boy!” He looks away.

Later she asks him what he wants for Christmas.

“I don’t wanna tell you,” he says.

“Would you just relax? I’m just asking you what you want for Christmas.”

“Okay, well, I was hoping to get the new iPad.”

She responds with staged timing. “I asked for an end to genocide.”

“Oh, c’mon.” He rolls his eyes.

She slams him further. “Okay, so maybe the next time you’re on your new iPad…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” He feels it coming.

“…Look up ‘How to be a decent human being.’”

And so it goes. Though she doesn’t really portray a Christian, her contrary nature is something I’ve seen in Internet exchanges and Facebook arguments by all kinds of people, including believers.

I stopped to reflect. Some have said that Christians would be called “the haters,” in the last days. In a culture that often reverses right and wrong, standing up for what’s right can be polarizing. Still it doesn’t have to be hateful.

Big stack of colorful Christmas presentsAs I watched the skit, I felt a twinge in my chest. Something else was stirring inside me. Continue reading

Slightly Out Of Reach

Slightly Out Of Reach

“A father holds out his hands to a child who is learning to walk, and he comforts the child with words and draws it toward him, but he lets the child feel the risk it is taking, and lets it choose its own courage and the certainty of love and comfort when he reaches his father over—I was going to say choose it over safety, but there is no safety. And there is no choice, either because it is in the nature of the child to walk. As it is to want the attention and encouragement of the father. And the promise of comfort. Which it is in the nature of the father to give. I feel it would be presumptuous of me to describe the ways of God…when there is so much we don’t know. Though we are told to call Him Father.”

A child feels the risk...

A child feels the risk…

This excerpt is a letter from the remarkable old pastor John Ames, to his wife, Lila, in Marilynne Robinson’s new novel, Lila. The wife has gone through hardscrabble beginnings and is searching for an answer as to why things are the way they are. Why do things happen as they do? Over the course of the story, her husband reveals what he’s come to understand about existence and suffering.

Premiers pasIn the pastor’s kind letter, God is portrayed as a father who offers certain love. At the same time, the child has to take that step and feel the risk of taking it. The toddler has to choose its own courage, because there’s no safety in those first steps.

And so it is for us in choosing steps of faith.

Bill Glass, former NFL star, has worked in prison ministry for decades. He’s shared his life message—“The Healing Power of a Father’s Blessing”—in and out of penitentiaries all over the world. Years ago, I heard his basic talk on the subject. It’s in my top five.

He says a father’s blessing conveys love only if it includes the following…Continue reading

Pause

Pause

Years ago, Nicholas Herman slogged along a snowy trail in the dead of winter. As a weary soldier, he could hardly wait to thaw his frozen feet and eat a bowl of hearty stew. However, while trudging home he came upon a mature fruit tree, stripped bare of its summer beauty.

It gave him pause.

red apple on green leavesGazing at the tree, he considered how the leaves would burst forth with vitality come spring. A flurry of flowers would bloom, bringing color and fragrance. And after lush rains and summer sun, fruit would form.

Like something from nothing, God would provide a bountiful harvest. Suddenly, it all seemed miraculous.

As he stayed in the wonder of those thoughts, God’s presence quietly descended on him, showering glory all around. Who knows how long he remained there. Time had somehow stopped.

d5545757-2c90-4727-80f0-9ec5d0b269c7And in those holy moments, God imprinted something on his soul, which never faded. Released from the mindset of things-as-they-seem, he was captured by a “high view of the providence and power of God.” Later, he told a friend that the experience produced a passion for God in his heart that did not diminish in the forty years that followed.

That young soldier was also known as Brother Lawrence, a kitchen worker for the Carmelite monks in the 1600s. Like a dormant tree in spring, he awoke from an earthly mindset to a heightened heavenly awareness.

He believed an extraordinary God was intimately involved in ordinary life. And that one remarkable truth sparked an ongoing conversation with God that would last the rest of his life.

All because he paused.

Woman with headache, overwhelmed with lifeThe Spirit of God hovers over our busy, distracted, caffeine-charged, multi-tasking days—waiting for us to pause.

But the complexities of modern life demand our constant attention. An ad in the Wall Street Journal for SAP, a multi-national software company, stated that, “Complexity is becoming the most intractable issue of our time, an epidemic of wide-ranging proportions, affecting our lives, our work and even our health. Eight out of ten children today think life is too complicated. A third of working professionals experience health issues as a consequence of stress associated with information overload. And 62% believe their personal relationships are suffering as a direct result of complexity.”

“Complexity comes at an enormous cost,” the ad writer concluded.[i] Of course, SAP is peddling technical resources that promise to simplify. But software, no matter how helpful, is not a balm for our weary souls.

The question is—why don’t we pause? Is there a poverty of soul that we’re afraid to be in the same room with? Do we silence it with the drone of TV?Continue reading