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As you walk down the hall to my office and look up to the right you will see a sign that says, "Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life." I put it there for a couple of reasons. First, to remind me how much I love what I do - and how little I like jobs. Second, because I seem to have more than a few people drop by and disclose they are not doing what they love. I like to have them get a little foretaste of what I am most likely to say before we are finished.
I've probably lived by that simple code as much as anyone I know. I have actively avoided getting entangled by tasks that bore, de-energize, frustrate or take me out of my "zone" of enjoyment. In fact, in talking with a young friend the other day about my inevitable retirement he said, "Your working life is what everyone hopes for in life and retirement. To do what you love is what we are all after. What in the world are you thinking?" He was right. I have not worked a day for a couple of decades now.
Well, that's not entirely true because I teach a Sunday School and I have learned to do things that I do not love and, truth be told, have very little competence for. I tried to slough off the visitation, counseling, confronting, hand-holding and grief to others early on because it was not what I loved. I did not have the gift of compassion or mercy so there was no reason to go and sit with people about to go through surgery or just coming out. There was no benefit to them or me in saying hard things to a wandering spouse or sitting with my hand on the arm of one in deep waters. (I'm not proud of what I'm telling you.)
Then one day my wife, Carol, explained there is such a thing as duty. I knew that but always equated it with guilt or obligation. It was something that made you do what you didn't want to do. That's not duty. That's grudging obligation. Duty is what you do to honor your commitment to a calling to serve others. People don't care if I'm not good at compassion and they really don't care if I have all the answers in their darkest times. I realized it was not about doing only what I enjoyed or for which I had a feel. It was doing the necessary parts of what I had been called to do for them because that is my role and responsibility - even if it is not my love.
It is not out of guilt or obligation - and not yet out of love. Maybe someday. It is a duty and one that has begun to make me fit for eternity far more than doing merely what I love.Comments
Rodney King died recently and, of course, his most famous line was out of the riots that followed his beating and arrest. "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?" While that line has been comic fare for years, I ask myself that question all the time. I don't like conflict or confrontation and living in the midst of tension drains me.
While some like the action of Israel conquering the land of Canaan, I like the verse that goes, "Then the land had rest from war." That is exactly how I would have things end. Happily ever after and everyone getting along. Unfortunately, that's not the way it ends in life...or in the Bible. It's true the land had rest from war but that is followed by this: “So then, the Lord left some nations in the land to test the Israelites who had not been through the wars in Canaan. He did this only in order to teach each generation of Israelites about war, especially those who had never been in battle before."
God did not leave the enemies because the people were bad. He left the enemies because the people needed them to become good. I would prefer God drive out all the enemies completely so I can settle down and enjoy the peace but God knows we will become complacent without them. We want to eliminate risk and obstacles but without them we do not grow. Moreover, it's not enough to tell our war stories to our children. They must have their own experiences with opposition and hardship. Otherwise, they will become "at ease" which is far different from being at peace.
All of us have "enemies" the Lord has left in our lives that we will resist and spend our lives overcoming. All of us will one day see why they were there and we will tell each other our stories of how we struggled with them. For without enemies there are no stories - just a flat and colorless life of getting along.
I received a call today from a friend with whom I’ve not spoken in a couple of years. He has brain cancer and we were talking about the struggle. He told me about a time last year when he thought he was going to simply give up and die because of all the complications and stress on him and his family. I asked him why he didn’t give up and his response was a long pause and then, “The presence of God.” I heard the exact same response from another friend with cancer two days ago when I asked him what was keeping him afloat. Time and again I have heard similar responses. I admit that I have sometimes wondered if those kinds of statements are not just positive thinking or what people think they should say to keep from falling apart. However, I have heard enough people I trust say “this has been a gift to draw me closer to God” or something similar to begin to think it is true. It is terrible but it is true. I have heard more about the certainty of the “everlasting arms” and the promise that God will never leave or forsake us from people in treatment than any other relationship in my life.
Now for the hard part. I think we are more likely to see a spiritual renewal in this country as a result of people suffering and yet sensing the absolute presence of God than we are from patriotic rallies of people reciting 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” For some reason, much of what I hear reflected is a desire to return to a time in our nation (real or imagined) when we were strong and secure without all the complications and stresses we now face. That is, in some ways, just the opposite of the testimony I hear from my friends and those who surround them. They are experiencing the inexplicable sustaining power of God in their weakness and desperate dependence on Him. In my mind, that is the key to spiritual revival – not making a national effort to find favor with God.
I would not wish the terrible gift of suffering on anyone but the result may be far greater than we could ever imagine if thousands of people are forced to deal with things that are so overwhelming that only the presence of God will carry them (and us) through those waters.Comments
When the girls were young, I took them on road trips over the Father's Day weekend. We never made plans. We just headed out in a direction they chose and stopped when we got somewhere interesting.
One year, we wound up in Natchez, Mississippi. What the girls forgot was how much I love history and they ended up with me on a double decker bus tour to see all the homes and get a feel for the history of Natchez and how it developed from a small huddle of tents on a riverbank in the 1700's to become by 1850 the home of fully half the millionaires in the United States.
As we rode (and they slept) it struck me there were four stages of development in Natchez and each stage produced a different set of innovations and leaders.
Stage 1 brought pioneers and pirates. Life was rough and tumble and Natchez was barely a foothold on the riverbank. No one knew if they were going to survive and those who did were unusual people. Life was uncertain. The wildness was everywhere.
But Stage 1 also forced a number of innovations along the river. The pioneers needed new maps and new tools for navigation. They needed new weapons for protection and so created a whole system of forts and posts that made it possible for the next wave of people to come.
Stage 2 brought the traders. Life was relatively safe. Traders don't like risk that outweighs opportunity. There were markets to be explored and companies to be built along the banks of the river. The traders loved traffic! The word "commerce" literally means "to traffic wares" and that is what they did. But they needed a way to move those wares to the markets and exchange them for goods they could not buy or make in the frontier. The two great innovations of the traders were the organized system of trading companies that stretched north and south - and the use of steamboats for getting their goods back and forth. The traders moved Natchez from a settlement to a city.
Stage 3 was the planters. The enormous homes of Natchez were built by the planters. These were not homes built on plantations for those were in other parts of the state or in other states altogether. These were the town houses of the plantation owners. Life was genteel and cultured. They traveled to Europe and imported the finest materials and products of the world. This was the period of great wealth and comfort for plantation owners of Natchez. The focus of most innovations in this period was making life even more comfortable. Plate warmers, indoor plumbing, fly catchers and ceiling fans.
Stage 4 began with the decline of Stage 3. This was the era of preservers. There are hundreds of people in Natchez today dedicated to keeping these homes and churches as close to their original condition as possible. There are thousands of people in Natchez who make a living because those people do their work so well. The business of Stage 4 is preserving the glory of Stage 3. People come from all over the world to tour the remains of Stage 3. The innovations are not so exciting as those for pirates, pioneers and traders but they are breakthroughs in paints, sealing wax and preservatives. Innovations all the same.
Each of us would fit best with a particular stage, I suspect. The benefit of our individual lives though is we get to live through all of them as we get older. There was a time for being a pirate and soon (for me) there will be a time for preserving those things I have learned to value and have built over the years. Not much glory, perhaps, but things I want to keep. Life is much like a town where you get to live through all the changes.Comments
In his short story, “The Rocking-Horse Winner” published in 1926, D.H. Lawrence describes a young Englishwoman who “has no luck”. Though she and her husband have expensive tastes, neither of them separately or together are able to stay out of the debt necessary to maintain their lifestyle. They are preoccupied by a sense of failure and as a result the house is permeated by an inaudible but palpable anxiety about the lack of enough money.
“And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though nobody said it aloud. They heard it at Christmas, when the expensive and splendid toys filled the nursery. Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll's house, a voice would start whispering: "There must be more money! There must be more money!" And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment. They would look into each other's eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each one saw in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. "There must be more money! There must be more money!"
By rocking madly on his horse , the young son Paul “hears” the names of the winners of a series of horse races and with his uncle placing bets he manages to provide money for his parents. But the voices in the house only increase as their lifestyle rises to outstrip their newfound wealth. In a final effort to discern the winner of the biggest race of the season, Paul literally rocks himself to a fever. But before he collapses he delivers the name – Malabar. The payoff is enormous but Paul never recovers. It cost him his life to quiet the voices in his head.
I read the story as a young teacher but then as a parent I began to think about the voices in our house. What were our own children hearing? It may not have been “more money” but maybe it was “more happiness” or “more respect” or “more importance” or more, more, more of something. Every house has these voices and the sooner we find and deal with them the healthier our children will be. Having worked with families now for many years, I know almost every household is haunted by some unspoken phrase that left unheeded will affect the children for their whole lives. The results may not be as drastic but they carry them forever.
What are the voices in your house?Comments