We are at the point in the holiday season where rushing and crowds have become the norm, and you can’t quite go anywhere without there being both a crowd and a line. Stores are jammed with anxious shoppers filled with unease and foreboding, and the roads are bumper to bumper with people fixated on getting to their next destination. Everyone’s tempers become short and their bodies are consumed with a low tolerance for everything. More importantly, we all get caught up in it pretty quickly. As seemingly normal, kind, and sympathetic people, we grunt and groan our way through aisles filled with too many people when we just want to get to the item we came to the store for, we find ourselves rolling our eyes and muttering under our breath at the people in front of us at the cashier as those people fumble for their coupons and argue a price, and we blow our horn when the light changes at an intersection if the car eight car lengths in front of us doesn’t immediately start to go as we are worried that we will have to wait ANOTHER cycle in the changing of the traffic lights. Everyone is in our way, and if we are not careful, the season becomes not the season of joy and celebration but the season of rushing and endless frustration. If we take a step back and think about it, we quickly begin to realize that the rushing is hardly worth it since we are rushing to the next holdup: the only thing that waits for us after our rush is more waiting. Even beyond the season, too quickly we have become people rushing to get to the next point where we are waiting to rush again. Looking at it in a different way, throughout our day, we are given pockets of time to do what we wish to do with them, but we don’t take the time to enjoy those moments because we are wishing them to be over too quickly as we rush to the next big thing. Our time on this earth is limited, and when we have a moment of down time or of waiting, we impatiently push through it so that we can move on to the next activity. We are not getting the most we can out of our God-given quiet moments. The author of Psalm 46.10 writes, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The psalmist want us to take those moments and use them as times of growth. God has built in these times of reflection into our day, and often times they are times of solitude, so why not take those moments where the rush is beyond our control and use them to spend a moment or two to grow in our faith? If we are stuck in a store and can’t do anything but wait, take that time to pray, meditate, or just wonder at God’s creation. Use that time to breathe deeply and enjoy that time with Him, praising Him for all He is doing around you. Find the peace that comes with knowing a God that, despite the chaos of the universe, still wants to take a moment and spend it with just you. Don’t succumb to your surroundings with frustration but instead rise above them with peace and stillness that only comes from above. Amen.
I traditionally have a steady stream of students out my door with various problems that are plaguing them. Being a teenager is tough, and they are often buffeted with problems and decisions that will decide their entire lives, with them feeling hopeless and fearful, as a result of these decisions. One such example was just this week. I had a senior student approach me who is very worried about the uncertainty of her future when it comes to college. She had already submitted her applications to her schools, spending hours poring over them, refining each and every detail. She also had to prepare a portfolio, which was also done and submitted. Now, she was waiting to hear from these schools and was terribly worried about where she would be spending the next four years. Additionally, she was worried about a health diagnosis which would be ascertained from a recently submitted blood sample. In both situations, she had nothing further to accomplish or tackle and was just waiting on others to tell her what the outcome was. Stressing about the situation, I asked her if there was anything further that she could do, to which of course answered, no. I reminded her that there is great freedom from worry when there is nothing to do to get you closer to your goal. She was completely powerless, which meant that there was no point in worrying. She found some comfort in this idea, and her level of worried decreased significantly because of this logic, but she still was unable to fully find peace, instead feeling not only worried but also defeated and lacking in hope. As Christians, we are told that our future is cared for by an unseen force. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, encourages the church to free themselves from worry: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4.6-7). To logically reason out that one needn’t worry further is a good start, but what to do with that feeling of unease once you can reason the rest away? Yes, maybe we can lessen our worry by knowing that there is nothing we can do to alleviate the situation, but then we must find a place to rest our future so as to gain hope. Paul suggests to present your future to God and let Him handle it. There is great hope to be gained with the knowledge that in addition to not having control of the situation, the one who is in control has great love for us. He wants the best for His children and however the future turns out, it is well within His plan. We may not be able to control our future, but we can control our worry through hope in Him, thereby retaining hope. We may not be able to see the exact details of the future, but we can see that it is filled with His love for us. This week, put your trust in Him and find your hope again. Amen.
I am very clearly fighting, what I perceive to be, a losing battle against my own dogs. Of all my dogs, the real terror is 8 month old Phoenix. Weighing in at a mere 38 pounds, she’s the smallest of my three. Gentle and seemingly harmless, she is kind to all around her, and careful in her movements. However, what lurks behind that facade is a ten men demolition team. In our family, we are away from our house for about 7 hours at a time, which as she sees it, is 7 hours in which to destroy any furniture within her soft-mouthed grasp. It started small, with her chewing the corners of the walls, but she quickly graduated to our imported living room area rug, where she decided that it in fact did not need the fringed edges. After spending some time ripping out the bottom of the Ethan Allen chair, she then continued on to the legs of our dining room table. With each new piece, we would fight with her, repeatedly telling her “no” and trying to shame her as much as possible in an attempt to get her to stop. Yet, she lingers on that furniture piece a little bit more until she moves to the next one when she is ready. Right now, she is in the process of slowly dismantling our couch and loveseat. First she worked on pulling the cushions off, then chewing the zipper, and then eating most of the stuffing. Yesterday, she ripped off the side of the couch, exposing the frame and nails, and barfed up some too-large chunk of it this morning, that looked as if it exceeded the size of her petite belly. One of the sweetest dogs I know, I pull my hair out in disciplining her, yet it seems to do no good. In times of discouragement, God reminds us to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6.9). I know that the right thing is to continue in my work with her despite the modest/absent results, but it sure is hard to push forward in this task. However, I also remember the last dogs I trained, and how it took a long time to get them to be as well-behaved as they ended up being. We went through a lot of furniture then, too, but the end result was worth it. In his letter, Paul reminds us to keep perspective when we are struggling through difficult times. We must keep up the effort despite the lack of results, because nothing worth getting is easy to get to begin with. Dieters and exercisers might feel similarly, as they consider cheating or breaking a routine, but sticking with it helps achieve the desired results in the end. When we are faced with the temptation to quit, we must remember that our rewards are not for the present but for future investments. God will reward us in due time, if we have faith that He will. So this week, hold on to the knowledge that our efforts are not in vain, and that if we continue to strive towards the prize, we will be able to proudly point to the fruit of our labors in the end. Amen.
Flu season is upon us and the people around me are dropping like flies. I myself went down for the count this week. Because of my stubborn nature and refusal to admit defeat, I have been going to my teaching job every day and attempting to maintain some of my dignity in front of teenagers. The coughing was bad enough, but that all led to affecting my voice. I began the week sounding like a pre-pubescent boy whose voice cracked occasionally, to ending up sounding like someone’s elderly grandmother who still smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. Not being able to raise my scratchy voice above low talking, I found it challenging to garner the attention of a classroom of teenagers using what I had. Not being able to rely on words, I had to rely on other means, all of which required much patience. I was reminded of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, who faced many hardships in his church in Ephesus, as Paul reminds him to “keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (4.5). As I stared out at my rambunctious juniors, I wanted to use my words to quiet them, but being unable to, I looked for the patience to smile, wait, and listen for when they were ready. (It’s amazing just how quickly they stopped and how quiet they remained afterwards.) A little patience in hardship is a strong ministry for those around us. Word quickly got around the school that I couldn’t really speak and consequently, I found myself smiling more in the halls at students and fellow teachers instead of speaking, a response that was met graciously by those who knew I was suffering physically. I can only attribute that smile to the joy Christ has placed within me, as my body did not want me to smile, but I couldn’t not smile. I don’t say this to lift up my own efforts, as it is not me doing it, but to point out people’s reaction to joy in the face of hardship, as it has a lasting effect on those around you who see the joy in Christ that we have. So, this week, as you find yourself in difficult hardship, no matter how small (waiting in line a little too long, encountering a worker who gets your order wrong, having an inbox that is overflowing), take the time to allow Christ to flow through you and smile at what really isn’t such a big deal in the grand scheme of things. It may be the best glimpse of Christ’s love that the people around you see all day. Amen.