Reality Reflection: Anticipating Bad Things

I got a call today from my doctor telling me they were cancelling and rescheduling my appointment next week based on anticipated weather. Yes, you read that right and no, I don’t live in the southern US where there are frequent hurricanes and related storms during this time of year, and no, it’s not winter with big snow storms that we do get. Of course I didn’t want to reschedule but I didn’t really have a choice. Of course, I know this isn’t about me, but the weather hasn’t been exactly predictable lately and I don’t think it’s necessarily a wise decision to make. It upsets many people’s schedules and is a day of lost revenue for them.

As I was thinking through my frustration and confusion over their decision to close because of the anticipated weather, it got me thinking about how often we do this kind of thing: make/change plans anticipating the worst. Why do we anticipate the worst out of our world and each other? Don’t get me wrong, we’ve definitely been handed a tough hand this year and there’s still a lot of days left in the year, and it often feels like we’re waiting for yet another shoe to drop (and it may). And it does pay to be prepared for issues or potential problems that may pop up. For example it is good to have insurance on your car and home so that you’re covered in case things happen.

But I don’t want to live in a world where all we’re doing is looking over our shoulders and waiting for yet another shoe to drop. I couldn’t live in Alaska with so much night and snow, I couldn’t live in a place where it rains more than it’s sunny, I don’t like to spend more time than I have to with people who are always negative or put others down. Most of those are things I can anticipate and avoid or make decisions based on, but there’s no way to truly anticipate everything that happens in life or all the situations we find ourselves in. But I think we can do a better job of noticing when we’re avoiding something based on fear that it might happen and don’t have really good evidence that it will, or making plans based on strong evidence that it will happen. What will you choose in this new month?

Guilt, Forgiveness and the Future

I’ve been alternating between two topics to share about today, and I think they are so connected that I have to talk about both. The topics? Guilt and forgiveness. I don’t think we can talk about victories or being successful and not make time to talk about them, because no one is perfect, everyone makes bad decisions from time to time and sometimes we make decisions based on the knowledge or resources we have, only to find out later that it’s not enough or we really screwed things up for someone or several other someones. You can certainly feel guilt over those mistakes, but the question becomes do we let those moments, those mistakes, become negatively defining moments in our lives, or do we accept them as learning a lesson, apologize if necessary, and move on wiser and more committed to doing better next time?

I think we should have all three as components to our lives when mistakes and failures pop up. We should feel guilty for our part in what went wrong, we should ask for forgiveness of both others and ourselves, and we should be committed to moving on and doing better. If we stay focused on guilt, we’ll never get to a better world. If we don’t make time for forgiveness even if we can let go of the guilt, we don’t necessarily show or recognize the impact we’ve had on others through our actions or lack thereof. If we don’t move on (or refuse to let others move on) even after guilt expression and forgiveness conversations, and after fixing our mistakes or undoing damage if possible/necessary, what’s the point of feeling guilt or expressing forgiveness?

Part of the conversation has to be about empathy and understanding: expecting those failures and mistakes, and expecting them from both ourselves and others. If you’re able to get it right more than 90% of the time, that’s really good considering the number of decisions that you probably had to make, and pros and cons you had to consider, and impact on others you had to do. No one gets it right 100% of the time, between being sick, tired, and just plain human.

What can make a difference? Part of how we learn to work together better and do better for each other is the commitment to that relationship and taking time for empathy and considering the situation or offering a helping hand, and the other part is not jumping down their throat for their mistake or failure. Have the courage to speak up when you see an injustice or mistake or wrong doing, but always try to speak up in a way that will help build a relationship rather than tear a person down. All of which speaks to the goal of always trying to do the best for yourself and others, and making it as much of a habit as possible to think of and be respectful towards others. What have you been learning about guilt and forgiveness lately?

Tragedy, Love and Forgiveness

We begin what feels like the twelfth month of the year because of all that’s gone on even though it’s just the sixth. Of course I have hopes that we’ll just improve from here, but we’ve entered into a different world over the past few months that is strange and new and it’s too soon to know if it’s good or not. It feels very fragile, almost like what I think it must feel like after an earthquake, not that you’re waiting for another shoe to fall or quake to happen, but just shaky. Of course the latest developments in this very long year are another tragedy and some people aren’t making the best decisions in response. I don’t know how much of that has to do with the last few months and the lack of movement and mental stress that we’ve endured or if unfortunately it’s how some people would have responded regardless.

It’s been hard over the past few months because you want to point fingers about the spread and cause of the virus, but there isn’t yet an exact answer and there may never be, and with as many asymptomatic cases as there are it’s not like you can always say you knew you were sick before you passed on the virus. As much as you can point fingers at those who are being violent in their protests as well as those who practice racism towards others, but again, how much of this is a result of the past few months and how much is a revelation of who they have always been? As my heart was hurting for people who have not only struggled over the past few months but now had their businesses damaged, not to mention for the racism that still happens around our country, I thought about how God would respond or what He might say about all of this.

The first answer I came to was that God is love. John 3:16-17 says “For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.” and Matthew 22:37-39 says “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'””

This leads to my second thought and that’s that we don’t have to love the actions of someone, but we have to love them. There’s nothing worth loving about some of the actions over the past week, but that doesn’t mean that those people aren’t worthy of love or that God doesn’t love them. It goes along with the saying that you can forgive someone but not forget their actions. Neither loving or forgiving some people is easy, which goes along with many other things we experience in life, but if God and Jesus can forgive those who murder or do other things that don’t seem or aren’t so forgivable or fixable, I think we can at least be open to the possibility of God working in and through us with love and forgiveness.

So this week I’m praying for peace and positive progress, that all of the events of the past months will not be in vain or forgotten, and that we’ll be able to come together again in the future (sooner rather than later) with love, stronger and more focused on truly making this world a better place.

A Time for Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a topic you may be exploring this Lent, or as part of the current victory journey you’re on. Like many other things, there are levels of forgiveness, like forgiving someone for opening a second bottle of the same product before the first is finished, versus forgiving them for making a mistake at work, versus forgiving them for injuring or killing someone. Forgiveness goes right along with learning how to work with others, and learning that it’s not always your way or the highway and that things won’t always work out like you expect or plan or want them to.

Working on forgiving others should also shine a light on who you are as an individual and what/if you’re doing things that you will need forgiveness for, or maybe could catch and work on before they get to that point.  For some it can be more challenging forgiving someone than asking for forgiveness.  We need to learn both sides of forgiveness, because it is a two-way street and it’s good to know how you work through both sides of it.

Going through the forgiveness process should teach us about awareness and our relationships. We should be learning about what is truly important to us, learning how to be better communicators and better setters of expectations and rules or limits, and learning to better understand the people we interact with each day. If we’re doing this thing called life right, we’ll be learning and growing with each new day. As much as we may try to master life, I think instead we should be focused on working on our community skills, our awareness skills, and our interpersonal skills. Rather than trying to be perfect, I think we should be working on making life better for all of us.

And part of a better life is learning how to work together, which most certainly will at some point in time include a need for forgiveness. Maybe forgiveness is a recurring theme in your life right now and you’re learning a lot about how important forgiveness is in keeping your relationships with others in your life healthy. Maybe most of the forgiveness situations you’ve dealt with have been small ones that aren’t of great consequence, and that can be a blessing. Having to work through a big forgiveness isn’t something most people enjoy, nor should they, because it means something has gone really wrong.

Forgiveness will challenge you to consider what’s important in your life, what changes need to be made in your life, and the impact the decisions you’ve made and relationships you have are making on your life. Everyone makes mistakes so some forgiveness is normal, but if you’re constantly having to forgive or be forgiven, it should be a wake up call that something has to change.

Maybe now is the time for you to own up to the reality of forgiveness in your life, and make some of those hard decisions about the direction your life is going and the people in it. The best time to make those decisions is before things go too far, or any farther than they’ve already gone if you’re seeing serious warning flags.  Do you need to forgive or ask for forgiveness?  What have you learned lately about forgiveness?

Taking Time for the Tough (Spiritual) Stuff

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lent and what it is all about over the past week or so, maybe you’ve been thinking about it too. One of the things I’ve really been thinking over is the largely negative focus and content of these 40 some days. For these days we’re focused on the sins we’ve committed, the ways we’re not measuring up in life, how we’re not listening to God, making sacrifices, and of course the Crucifixion which is at the very end of Lent. Who really wants to spend extended time thinking about the absolutely brutal way that Jesus died? Sure, none of us are perfect, but it’s hard to dig into that for 40 consecutive days. It should really make you question why we allow so much negativity into our lives on a regular basis with the news or our jobs or the company we keep.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how silly it sounds to be struggling with 40 days out of every year, when it is something we should really do on a daily basis anyway (reflecting on our lives and repenting for our sins). We should always be open to constructive criticism because it helps us get better, and when we do better we deal with fewer mistakes and issues. And then I got to thinking about how Jesus spent some 30 years with us here on Earth, and while all moments weren’t challenging and many were rewarding, it’s certainly not the same as living in Heaven only. So if Jesus can put up with 30 years of Earth life, we should be able to devote much less than that to Lent.

Maybe we do need it shoved in our faces each year that we’re not perfect people, and that we absolutely need a savior who is willing to die for our sins so that we can go to Heaven. Maybe these 40 days are a necessary reality check for us if we’re willing to use them as that, and as a result be stronger for the other 300 or so days of the year. Maybe instead of seeing these days as a challenge to conquer or tough spot to work through, maybe we’re supposed to see them as an opportunity to rest from trying to be perfect and project the best us we can to the world, and be real about what we’re going through and where we’re at in our lives. Maybe we do need to feel a little weight on our hearts and lives and remember how big of a sacrifice Jesus made for us. What are you seriously contemplating this Lent?

Time for Atonement

This week the Jewish people are remembering Yom Kippur, which is also known as the Day of Atonement. I find it interesting that while we Christians may talk about it from the book of Leviticus, it’s not a day we set aside as holy. We look at Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, and the Ascension, but not Yom Kippur. If it is the holiest day for the Jewish people, and obviously from a part of the Bible that we as Christians read, why isn’t it something we Christians really talk about?

Let’s start with what atonement means. Atonement is defined as making amends, reconciling, or reparation for wrong doing. Atonement is what people do when they have to pay a fine for a traffic ticket or do community service, and we also say ‘I’ll make it up to you’ on a regular basis. The issue or difference comes in because atonement isn’t always a step we take or a step we know we take in the forgiveness process, but I think it’s one we could take and recognize more often. Especially when it comes to relationships, it’s may be the difference between being able to work things out and repair them versus throwing them out and not trying to or being able to fix things.

So where does atonement fit in to our lives as Christians? Galatians 1:4 (ESV) says “Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.” We know that Jesus died to forgive us for our sins, to make our slate clean, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t recognize when we sin, shouldn’t ask for forgiveness for our sins, shouldn’t atone for our sins, shouldn’t learn from our sins and do/say differently if and when there is a next time.

There’s more shame in pretending you’re perfect and hiding your sins than admitting you have sinned and working through the aftermath. Admitting you have sinned means you’ve got the opportunity to be forgiven and be able to be healed of that sin and make changes going forward, which is way better than trying to live under an ever-increasing mountain of sin. Not every sin needs fixing, some need to be forgiven and forgotten.  But in the situation where it’s appropriate to atone and there’s a chance to make things right, grab that opportunity to get your life headed back in the right direction and showing that you’re as good as your word when you apologized.

Prayer and Restoration

School is in full swing, and while I don’t have plans to go back there are still some things that come up each year on the school calendar that I make note of for one reason or another. This week schools around the US are gearing up for See You At The Pole. It’s a student led spiritual ministry for students, by students at schools of all kinds, not just private spiritual based schools. In this day and age students have to communicate with the school about doing it, but back when it started in 1990 students would just show up around the pole and pray.

Each year they do pick a different theme to reflect on, but the ultimate goal of the event whether it’s done at a school or off campus (due to a request to disperse), is to pray for the school and students. Prayer is and has always been a central part of the Christian faith and it’s also a central part of many other religions as well. Faith and prayer is as natural together and intimately connected as peanut butter and jelly or fish and chips. This year the organization has chosen the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to be the focus for the prayers and topics of discussion on Wednesday:

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”

It’s a great verse for many reasons, including the focus it has on the topic and importance of prayer. What so many people need today is restoration. But this verse, and others throughout the Bible, are clear that like many other things including the seasons, there’s a process that has to be followed. Restoration can only happen after realizing something isn’t right, admitting your part in it, making changes in your life, and asking for forgiveness.

I do pray for restoration, and also for the strength and courage to do what it takes to get to that point. Each student that stands up and joins around a flagpole on Wednesday is taking an important first step and showing great courage and strength. If we were all to stand up and pray for each other, could you imagine the healing, transformation and blessings that could occur in our lives?

Life may be just beginning for those students, but we’re still here too, so it’s not too late to say a prayer and begin a restoration process in your life as well. How will God heal you this week?

Getting through Lent with Grace

We’re a week into our journey of Lent for this year and I’m working through a couple of different Lent devotionals. I’ve been enjoying them because they each bring a different perspective to this journey that we’re on and to spiritual life as well. One of the things I struggle with regarding Lent may be something that you struggle with as well, and that’s the continual focus on our sins. I know it’s important to recognize our sins, to ask for forgiveness of them and to make changes in our lives based on not living those sins, but it’s not exactly encouraging to talk about our failings all the time.

Maybe it’s my fault because I’m immersing myself in Lent and not just reading one devotional each day, since it gives me a lot more exposure to the topic of Lent and those that go along with it like looking at your failings. On the other side of the story sometimes it’s good for us to really take a solid look at all aspects of our lives. About how we treat people, how we use our resources, how we treat ourselves, how we think, how we worship, how we go through our day-to-day lives. Taking 40 days out of 365 to make sure we’re leading lives God would be proud of isn’t so bad.

Since we’re human we know we’re going to mess up as we go through life, it’s a consistent messing up-seeking forgiveness-healing cycle. The reason we can do the solid 40 days of Lent and reflecting on our imperfections is because we know that after doing the hard work there will be a great reward, and that’s the celebration of Easter and the promise of God’s eternal love. Whether this Lent journey speaks to you and invites you to take time for reflection more frequently throughout the whole year, or you just take this time to experience God’s grace and love, I encourage you to be open to whatever God will be showing you.

“Lent is a time for us to take an honest look at ourselves and receive the grace of Jesus’ healing love.” Loyola Press

30 Days of Thanksgiving: A Little Forgiveness

Today in the US we’re taking time to be thankful.  That’s right, Thanksgiving has officially arrived.  I do hope that you’re able to gather either today or in the coming days with family and friends and celebrate being alive and all that you’ve been blessed with since last Thanksgiving.

Today though I want to take a step in a different direction and talk about something you may know about or have heard about, that the First Thanksgiving wasn’t all roses and sunshine.  It actually is directly tied in with the loss of thousands of Native American lives, and the poor treatment of settlers towards them, not just when they arrived but for over a hundred years after that.

It wasn’t right of the settlers to treat the Native Americans as they did, especially with all the stories we have of how they helped the settlers not only survive but thrive here in America.  It’s especially difficult to realize that this country is based on freedom and letting people be free to worship and live as they chose, and we didn’t let them live as they were or wanted to.

So today I raise the often challenging topic of forgiveness.  It’s not always easy to forgive, especially if you’re the one who was hurt.  But accepting and asking for forgiveness are two important skills we need to work on more often.  Why? Because not forgiving means you’re choosing to be stuck in the past and let that pain hold you back.  Forgiving doesn’t mean you don’t hold them accountable or that you forget and let others get hurt as you were, it just means you’re free to move forward with less of a burden or chip on your shoulder.

So this Thanksgiving I encourage you to consider forgiveness, both accepting and asking for it, if you’ve got some relationships in your life that you value but some mistake or failure or hurt has been damaging them.  Life is short and you don’t know what a day will bring, but forgiveness may mean that you’ve got a circle of friends and family surrounding you and supporting you through whatever life brings.

30 Days of Thanksgiving: God is gracious

I’m amazed that God still calls us His children, even after all the ways that we screw things up or don’t follow through in the right ways. It’s an honor and privilege to be called His children, one I think we forget about from time to time because we don’t have a relationship with God exactly like we do with most of the important people in our lives. Most of them we see on a regular basis or talk to on the phone or over Skype or something similar where we see them. Even long distance relationships aren’t the same as the relationship we have with God.

But God never forgets us, He continues to be giving towards us and one of the most important things is that He gracious and forgiving of us. God doesn’t want us to sin but knows that’s part of our human experience that we’re (hopefully) working on getting better at. It can’t be easy for God to forgive us as often as He does for some of us, but it has to be rewarding when He sees we’ve learned our lesson and don’t repeat the same mistake again.

While we shouldn’t enjoy trying God’s patience, and it’s humbling to realize exactly how patient He is with us, God’s patience is something I’m very thankful for. It’s a good lesson for us to learn, that if He can be that patient with us, surely we can be a little more patient with and forgiving towards the people we interact with on a daily basis.

If you’ve been trying of God’s patience lately I encourage you to find the motivation in you this holiday season to really step up and work on yourself.  Holidays are a time for celebration, and there’s no better reason to celebrate than personal growth and a closer and healthier relationship with God.