“Rejoice with those that rejoice; weep with those that weep” (Romans 12:15).
In “The Divine Comedy” Dante and his guide Virgil descend into the lower regions of hell where they come upon a vast cemetery. Here the souls of heretics—specifically those that have denied the resurrection—are kept. (Having believed that their souls will die with their bodies, their souls are now forever buried with their dead bodies.)
As Dante stares at one of the coffins a figure rises, Farinata, who complains: "Your family has been bitter enemies to me, and to my fathers, and my friends.” Dante explains that his family tried on at least three occasions to redress every wrong, “but they could never get it right."
At that point Dante and Farinata are interrupted by Cavalcante, a friend of Dante’s who lifts his head above the edge of the same tomb and asks about his son Guido who was married to Farinata's daughter, Beatrice. Dante, using a past tense verb in referring to Guido, gives Cavalcante the mistaken idea that his son is dead. Cavalcante cries out: "What did you say? Is he not still alive? Does he not still carry the light of life in his eyes?" And falls back into his tomb, grief–stricken and weeping.
Farinata, oblivious to Cavalcante’s sorrow, without missing a beat, picks up his complaint where he left off: “… and if they do not ever get it right that hurts me more than this wretched bed…”
I think of those occasions when someone reached out to me in sorrow and I, preoccupied with myself, told my own sad story instead of listening and asking questions to draw out the other person’s grief—and missed an opportunity to weep with them.
Or those occasions when someone shared a moment of triumph with me and instead of sharing that persons’ joy and enthusiasm I trumped their story with a joyous moment of my own—and missed an opportunity to rejoice with them.
The wise man said, “If you start talking before you listen intently, you’re a fool and a boor!” (Proverbs 18:13).
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Is This All the Thanks I Get?
“Then I said to them, ’If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.’ And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.”—Zechariah 11:12
For several years Carolyn and I, like Job, sat in a Nash heap—a 1959, porcelain–white, Nash Rambler station wagon that looked for all the world like an inverted bathtub on wheels. (If turned up side down I could have clamped an outboard motor on the rear bumper and raced the thing in Vancouver’s annual Nanaimo Bathtub Regatta.)
I still remember the day we began visiting car lots to replace it. We looked at a number of shiny new cars and finally decided on a purchase. Unfortunately, the payments were more than we could carry.
We dickered for a while with the salesman—his price and ours—but concluded that the twain would never meet and hastened to make our departure. On the way out of his office, the salesman gave us his best shot: “Hey, you guys deserve this car,” he shouted. In my heart of hearts I responded: “Indeed we do!”
Entitlement has always been one of my soft spots. “My accomplishments deserved unending praise,” I say, which is why I get my nose out of joint when others fail to fully appreciate me.
Then, one day I happened upon God’s word to Zechariah about a shepherd who would be dedicated to the good of his people, who would encourage peace, prosperity, and bring tranquility and harmony to his flock. He, however, far from being appreciated, would be despised and rejected, valued at thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. Should I expect more?
One of the things I’m learning, as I’ve grown older, is not to expect too much from people. It’s possible to pour a good deal of energy and love into a friend or family member and see no growth, or receive no gratitude for our efforts.
It’s good, in those times of disappointment to look into our motives: do we have an unholy sense of entitlement, or a passion to be seen and applauded for our efforts? Can we give freely and allow others to take responsibility for their own responses?
We should never expect to gain from others what only Jesus can give. To do so is to be utterly unrealistic. Our task is to give— “full measure, pressed down, running over”—and leave the outcome to our Lord.
There are grateful men and women in this world and we may hear from them, but if the statistics in Jesus’ story of the ten lepers means anything at all they suggest that only a small percent of those we love and serve will ever thank us. The others will be silent at best. Some may even become hostile.[i] We should take note that even one remembered and was thankful, remembering that God alone enables us to do good things for others.
If the love of a grateful heart
As a rich reward be given,
Lift thou the love of a grateful heart
To the God of Love in Heaven.”[ii]
[i] A social worker I know commented recently that, in his opinion, the insatiable demands of those who feel “entitled” and their bitter resentment when their demands are not met, more than any other cause, produce care-giver burnout—the fatigue and depression that plague so many of his colleagues.
[ii] George MacDonald, “Lessons for a Child”
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Oh Lord, I want to be as beautiful
as gold, as strong as steel.
These traits stand out
and draw me close with their appeal.
But then I always shy away
from awful burning heat.
I'd far, far rather just forget—
Gently though, I start to hear
Your garden prayer
and see that He heard You,
and even still
brought on that fiery, bitter cup—
And then the Spirit takes
Your agony and pain
and pictures in my mind
the only way to gain.
The longed-for gold and steel
come only to the slain.
Lord, I still don't like the
Bitter, fiery cup.
But I too, kneel down and
then, to drink, rise up
knowing You will surround
with angel-strength divine.
And that I'll walk on more beautiful—refined!
Luke 22:40-46 and Hebrews 5:7
Monday, August 3, 2015
Taking it Easy
The sacred weeks, with unfelt pace,
Hath borne us on from grace to grace.
My father and I used to fell trees and buck them with a 5’ two-man crosscut saw. (It now adorns one wall of our son Josh's patio.) Being young and energetic I tried to force the saw into the cut. “Easy does it,” my father would say. “Let the saw do the work.”
I think of Paul's words; "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Easy does it. Let Him do the work.
C. S. Lewis explains the process this way: “Put right out of your head the idea that…Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out—as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They (the Gospel writers) mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you… gradually turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity”
Turning us into “a new little Christ,” takes time—actually a lifetime—but God can begin the process right now. Sit at the feet of Jesus and His Apostles and take in what they have to say. Say your prayers. "Keep yourself in the love of God" by reminding yourself all day long that you are His beloved child, resting in the assurance that he is “gradually turning you permanently into a different sort of thing.”
Just go for walks,
live in peace,
let change come quietly and invisibly on the inside.
Change comes to us quietly, invisibly, but inexorably. God will "complete" us in due time (Psalm 57:2).
Thou sayest, "Fit me, fashion me for Thee."
Stretch forth thine empty hands, and be thou still;
O restless soul, thou dost but hinder Me
By valiant purpose and by steadfast will.
Behold the summer flowers beneath the sun,
In stillness his great glory they behold;
And sweetly thus his mighty work is done,
And resting in his gladness they unfold.
So are the sweetness and the joy divine
Thine, O beloved, and the work is Mine.
The sweetness and the joy are ours; the work is His. Easy does it. There is no hurry. We will get there some day.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 191-192
 Jude 20,21
 “Shouldn’t we hunger and thirst for righteousness?” you ask. I answer: “Doesn’t the desire for goodness come naturally?” Even the worst of us longs to be better. An analogy comes to mind—a small child in Toys “R” Us, holding up his hands, reaching for a wondrous gift high on a shelf just beyond his reach, his eyes glittering with desire. His Father, sensing his desire, retrieves the gift and brings it down to him.
 Thomas Merton, Woods, Shore, Desert: A Notebook, May 1968, Santa Fe: University of New Mexico Press, 1982, p. 48
 Gerhard Ter Steegen