Friday, December 30, 2016

Starting the New Year with Wings

My wife and I grew up, as some will know, in Bible-believing families. We all had our favourite Scripture verses and my wife’s favourite is taken from Isaiah 40:30-31. The latter verse states: “… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV) It is a powerful image of just how our faith can help us rise above calamity, trial and tribulation, to soar with new freedom in our daily lives.

But, what about the reality check that many do each day? We are never without some sort of problem for very long in the context of our daily lives, or that of our family or friends.  A parishioner of mine once said; “If my life were a TV program it would be a soap opera! ... Every day is filled with endless drama and nothing ever gets settled … it is just one thing after another!” It is hard to imagine living a life without drama. For those who follow Facebook on the internet, you will find that there are many who post statements proclaiming the desire to live without the constant drama, and will give sage-type information on how to overcome relationships that are always causing “Drama”.

But it isn’t just the dramatic, found in friends and relationships that can cause the sap to be drained from us on a daily basis. It is the effort of living, the constant drudgery of the mundane, along with the normal everyday things that can be overlooked. Like snowflakes that gather into mountainous drifts, the “small” things left unattended, due to exhaustion or indifference, caused by busyness overwhelming our sensitivity, can soon become another nail driven into our striving for just plain peace in living. There are so many factors in our lives in this era in which we are living. The striving after all the trappings of living today can tire us out and there is more and more chance of our souls being weighed down, than ever before.

I have always loved nature. Who doesn’t; right? Even as an adult I was mesmerized by the effort of squirrels for instance, who work tirelessly to prepare for winter. Even while invading my outhouse at the cottage, and using its eves for a winter nest, those little creatures gave testimony of their endurance and stamina. Ok.... I got them out of my eves, but that does not belittle their effort, and their seemingly endless proclivity for doing what came naturally. The interesting part was their chatter and then their constant scolding when I interrupted their work, or even came near them. They got disturbed, but not to the point that they could not continue.

I wonder how many times a beaver will rebuild it’s dam, once the forestry department has torn it open. How many times will a wildcat or coyote approach a trap and try to steal the bait without being caught in its grasp? It seems that nature’s design has as part of its plan, to make us both tenacious and resilient. My wife and I once saw two birds flying up the harbor near where we live. They had come quite a distance and they seemed to be struggling, as their flight looked wobbly, reflecting perhaps their exhaustion as they carried what looked like sticks in their talons. They were eagles, carrying building materials to their nest somewhere in the Provincial Park near our home. What stamina! No matter the energy needed to build the nest, this nesting pair took on the project and I suspect continued until it was complete.

But, that is the animal kingdom … right? What makes us so susceptible to the weariness, found in the activity of living? Why are there so few moments where we just rest peacefully, rather than wander about in the maze of mental gymnastics, while caught up in subjective reasoning, rather than seeking freedom in the solace of faith? Is it our training, our upbringing, some cultural environmental disease that is battling our immunity, finding a way to block sensitivity to our own plight? Well, perhaps so. We are the product of so many environments these days. We are looking down all the avenues of reasonability for answers, but want too many quick fixes and superficial answers. I was once accused of being too pragmatic in my early adulthood! Can you imagine! LOL… I had to look it up. I am a linear thinker, or so I found. Everything for me runs in straight lines, or so I was told. That made me a good Chair of the Board, because I wasn’t easily pushed down rabbit holes in conversation. While there were many occasions where I had to defend a decision, concerning the direction of higher academics in my job, I wasn’t drawn away from the point of the argument by those who would try to dismiss this mere mortal, who just happened to be the bearer of not-so-glad tidings by times.

The question arises then; why do we rise to the occasion sometimes and crash and burn on other occasions? It wasn’t always easy to face the upper echelon of academia, believe me! More than once in my academic journey I was reminded that my duty to the job at hand was my studies and not chasing after the call of God in my life. Yes… you heard it right! There is a fine line between an active Christian trying to fulfill the mandate toward preparedness, and being that of a servant in the activity of carrying out their calling. Balance in life is not always found even in the hallowed halls of Seminary. Many were the blossoming theolog, who fell under the weight of striving after academic achievement, far above the true path of preparedness through surrender. I do not believe God’s desire is for all who enter preparation for the work place, either as a seminarian or through a broader path of academics, to gain the highest academic standing in every case. Taking time to understand a broader spectrum of understanding of life, family, community and the world, better prepares young minds for both living and thriving through the stresses of life being lived; not just striving after being on a Dean’s list somewhere.

But people do fall down and many more are weighed down so heavily by life that they have trouble seeing the forest, much less the trees, the moss, the nature that surrounds them. There is often little that supports the effort to rise to meet the needs, much less the courage to match the desire to find such exertion. I read this morning that we often carry the weight of living daily too much on our own. The burdens of our own little world on our shoulders can make flying impossible. Imagine tying 40 pound logs to the talons of those eagles, wanting to build their nest. There is no way that these majestic birds could carry such a burden, but we, like the eagles in that scenario, often overwhelm ourselves with such burdens and yet expect to rise above it all, just on the power of self-proclamation and inner strength. This is a circumstance headed for a collision course with reality.

So, what is the answer? Inner peace, though elusive by times is just a matter of surrender and release. Ok… too much reductionism for some, but take time to do the research. What makes life so stressful for you? Where do you put the focus of your efforts? What drives your desires on a day to day basis? Most importantly, what is the most significant thing in your life … something that means more to you than anything else? Put away your cares for a moment and walk to the edge. Yes… the edge. That is where we face all the fears; it’s that place where one decision can make the difference in the direction of our lives. There we find ourselves evaluating our priorities with a deeper sense of importance, and it is there that we most often are enabled to make good decisions, over against those that may lead us back into the fog of just daily living. Being on the edge is like being at our lowest point in life. I once said that I was at a point where I felt lower than a snakes belly in a wagon rut. It was no picnic there… it was life or death for me. As hard as the moments were in those days, I found that there were things worth living for.

Today, I look back and wonder how many times I have felt the weight of situations that I could not handle, on my shoulders, and still I tried to manage. My first instinct tells me, “I can do this!” But God says, “Let go and allow Me!” That is no easy task, believe me. Pride and embarrassment take its toll and when the effort to handle the moment alone overwhelms me now, I am reminded that I am not alone.

Are you carrying around burdens that are not yours to carry? Don’t just let them go for a minute while you pray, only to pick them up again afterwards and carry them away with you. If a short prayer does not seem to work, then kneel down in your heart and surrender to His peace. I can tell you that it is not easy… but it is worth it. Walk over to the edge, dump the load and take time to see those things which bring you joy while you are there. Be reminded that life is not just a minefield waiting to blow up in your face; it is a garden in which dreams and joys are planted, so that the harvest might bring dreams fulfilled and even greater joys. Blessings are not fiction; they are a real part of our surrender to God, so that He can bring peace as He carries our burdens for us… so that meanwhile, we can find our way!