Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Cultivating the Right Spirit

On my drive up to Bridger Bowl this Monday, I found myself in the midst of a simple miscommunication that sadly resulted in a very angry man hanging his head and his middle finger out his window and shouting in a violent tirade. Fortunately, I wasn’t able to hear the specifics of his outcry, but while I’m not a professional lip-reader, I’m assuming the words he was screaming would not be appropriate for me to share with you all. 

It was about 9:15am on Monday morning, so I found myself in the long line of skiers making their way to the mountain. I wasn’t in a hurry (like some people often are) and had no desire to pass the cars in front of me (like some people often do). But suddenly I noticed that the car in front of me had drastically slowed down and the driver had extended his hand from window and appeared to be waving me on to pass. I checked to make sure it was safe and then quickly skirted around him. 

But I quickly realized that he hadn’t been waving to me, but was signaling to a plow truck that was waiting to merge into the long line of traffic. I tucked in behind the plow to contentedly and patiently continue my journey to the ski hill, but not before being presented with a barrage of angry words and actions from the man I had passed. And I mean a vein-popping, red-faced sort of ANGRY. This guy was SO MAD. And he offered the same furious gestures to the two vehicles behind me that misunderstood what was happening and passed him as well.

The thing that shocked me most about this encounter, however, wasn’t the content of his tirade, but how quickly and instinctively it emerged. He didn’t have to mindfully and intentionally conjure up his response. He didn’t take a moment to process his emotions and then react accordingly or appropriately. He just erupted, without hesitation.

Which means that this man’s life has cultivated a spirit of frustration and anger, emotions that sit bubbling, just below the surface, ready to explode at any given moment. And I’m really not trying to judge him, because I do the same thing at times. I’ve never found myself screaming obscenities out my car window (or using my middle finger in that sort of way), but I certainly react poorly and regrettably at times. Maybe he had a really bad morning. Maybe he has a family member who is sick or struggling. Maybe he’s suffering from relational or vocational stress. I totally get it. But for whatever reason, he hasn’t cultivated a peaceful and generous spirit that will emerge as kindness and love in his moments of anxiety, pain, and struggle.

We all foster a certain lifestyle that will naturally rise to the surface in our moments of crises or uncertainty, for better or worse. Jesus says it this way:

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

Whatever we’re nurturing—whether grace, peace, generosity, and love; or judgment, anger, greed, and hatred—will dictate how we react and respond to the onslaught of encounters we experience each day. So, let’s make sure we’re doing the hard work, up front, of cultivating a righteous spirit that will subconsciously emerge as forgiveness, generosity, peacefulness, and love when we’re faced with trying situations. Let’s make sure that what we’re storing in our hearts is the sort of thing we’d want bubbling to the surface—because it surely will.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Let Jesus Have It

A few weeks ago, one of my Facebook friends shared the included meme about bitterness, hurt, and holding grudges, with the concluding advice that when it comes to these ideas, we need to simply ‘Let Jesus have it.” The argument is that we aren’t meant to carry these burdens, so we should let them go and give them over to God. When it comes to our bitterness, hurt, and grudges, we should let Jesus have it.

It’s a nice sentiment and I appreciated the reminder to place my ultimate concerns in Jesus’ hands and let him deal with my troubles.

But, like I so often do, in the hours and days to come, I found myself overanalyzing the expression “Let Jesus have it.” This phrase is interesting because it can be used in a number of ways—with one being sweet and kind, and the other angrier and more upset. 

Like we’ve already addressed, one way of ‘letting Jesus have it’ is a lovely act of trust and surrender. We acknowledge that the heavy weights we too often bear were never meant to be borne alone, so we offload them onto to the strong shoulders of our Messiah, Jesus. 

But the phrase could also be read differently. In our common lexicon, to ‘let someone have it’ is to unload the full range of our emotions in a verbal or physical tirade. We tell that person what we actually think; we give that person what they have coming to them; we spew out our anger and frustration; we don’t hold back. And while this ‘letting them have it’ outburst might feel a bit relieving and personally cathartic, when this action is directed at another person, it almost always comes out in sinful and relationally harmful ways.

But what if the object of our ‘let them have it’ emotional explosion was God—the way King David expresses his anger and frustration in the book of Psalms? Would this still be considered sinful and relationally harmful? Or does scripture make it clear that God has broad enough shoulders to bear the brute force of our indignation? I would say that the Bible gives us adequate justification for venting our frustrations with God. And in fact, even encourages this sort lament.

So, to return to our original phrase, “Let Jesus have it,” what if both ways of thinking about this expression were faithful responses to our bitterness, hurt, and grudges? Obviously, ‘letting Jesus have it’ through surrendering our worries and struggles to him would be a faithful way of dealing with our emotions. But I would also argue that ‘letting Jesus have it’ through angry, frustrated, vocalized lament is also a health and faithful way of dealing with our problems. We certainly don’t want to stay angry and frustrated forever, but naming our irritations—our bitterness, pain, and relational problems—and voicing our true emotions to God is not an act of weakness or sin; it’s healthy and sometimes necessary.

So, whatever struggles you are dealing with right now, the invitation is to find a way to ‘let Jesus have it.’ Maybe you can do that in a calm, collected, and peaceful manner; or maybe you need to scream out your frustrations to the Lord. I think either way of dealing with our difficulties can be helpful and healthy, but the main point is that our struggles—our pain, suffering, heartache, loneliness, and interpersonal challenges—must be dealt with, one way or another. 

So let Jesus have it.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Two Favorite Parts of the Day

There are two parts of my day that I’ve grown to really love—one in the morning and one in the evening. Each morning at 8:10, we open the front door and head out, as a family, on our daily walk to school. We’re only three blocks away, so it’s a relatively short time together, but I love the opportunity to spend a few minutes in conversation and connection as a family. 

There are no distractions or disruptions, just pure, unadulterated presence. We talk and walk, holding hands and playing with the dog—and when we reach the playground, we hug our kids goodbye, wish them a great day, and then lovingly and watch them all the way to the door of the school. On most days I find myself praying them to the door—asking God’s protection over them; praying they will be kids of compassion toward others; powerlessly placing them in the hands of their teachers, while inviting God’s presence over the whole process. It’s sweet and innocent and I fear for the day when our kids are “too old” for such behavior.

The other moment of my day that I’ve grown to love is walking with Annie, our dog, a few nights a week after the girls have gone to sleep. If Annie hasn’t had enough time to run and play during the day, it feels important to get her out to burn off a little energy before bed. And I find these short, half-mile walks to be incredibly peaceful and relaxing at the end of the day. It’s dark and quiet, the stars are out, the wind blowing lightly through the trees—and I often find myself in prayer and gratitude for the day. My mind and breathing slows, my heart and soul are at peace, and the stresses of the day melt away. It’s a beautifully sacred part of my day.

And I say all of this to encourage you and myself to find these moments of serenity, quietness, and prayer more often. Maybe this evening ritual of walking in the dark needs to become daily, for me, rather than just occasional. Especially in our current cultural context, we need to find peacefulness and connection, with God and one another, during this season of chaos and disunity.

So, what are the places and practices of peacefulness for you. What settles your soul at the end of a grueling day? What brings you peacefulness amid a world of pandemic and social unrest? What rhythms always invite you into a posture of prayer? And are you doing those things with regularity and consistency? Are you committed to these practices, even when busyness appears and stresses arrive?

Let’s make sure we are caring for our entire selves during this time where we could easily neglect our health.