Facing Life on Life's Terms

Fear Sad Glad

In the past four weeks as we started packing up our house to move  5000 miles from Anchorage Alaska back to Nashville Tennessee: 

  • I had a crazy lady run me off the road, try to run me down when I sought to get her license plate, and then lie to the insurance company and get away with it

  • my daughter Jessica graduated from High School in Alaska

  • my daughter JennaRae graduated from college in Minnesota

  • my family helped stage a semi-surprise visit to Alaska by Josh Patton who asked for my daughter JennaRae's hand in marriage. (September wedding in Nashville).

  • I took my youngest son David on a physically demanding and emotionally rich “rite of passage” weekend in the Alaska wild

  • my wife Brenda and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary

  • my mom had her second heart attack 

  • and a very close friend who I mentor and who mentors my son Jay was in a serious jet ski accident and was flown to Seattle where he is fighting for his life (Jay was w/ Trevor when it happened and was the one who rushed him to the hospital). 

A friend of mine said, “Jeff, that’s a lot!”  

I had one day when I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up for a few days.  But mostly I’ve just FELT it all.  I remember Chip Dodd sharing with me that “what the heart won’t do, the body will do.”  If I refuse or deny my fear, I will be anxious.  If I refuse or deny my sadness, I will be mired in self-pity.  If I refuse or deny my hurt, I will be crushed under the weight of my resentment.  

But if I will surrender to my humanity and the neediness exposed by what my heart feels when facing life on life’s terms, I will be led to a needy place that brings me into intimate relationships with others and with a God who embraces my need.


Boston Strong!?

Fear Sad Angry Lonely

I felt fear and sadness when the news of the bombing in Boston erupted upon our television screens.  Later that evening, my initial feelings about the incident gave way to an even deeper fear and sadness over what was becoming of our country.  I posted the following statement on my FB status:  “911 burst through the ‘innocence’ of our borders and fundamentally changed our nation in ways no one could have imagined.  This horrible tragedy today in Boston will have a ‘doubling down’ effect.  If you have done much international travel you have seen it and felt it – only to be comforted by your return to the USA.  That is changing.  The loss today is very personal (almost hard to imagine) and very national (we are the world).”

Now almost two weeks later, my sadness grows for something . . . and wants to honor something I believe has been lost.  While I understand and acknowledge the nobler sentiment in statements like “We are Boston Strong!” my sadness honors a deeper loss evidenced in a collective response ABC News described as the “defiant spirit” city officials say “united the city in the face of terror.”  Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz “Big Papi” exemplified the sentiment I am referring to when from the Fenway Park during a pre-game ceremony to honor the dead and wounded, he shouted into the microphone, “This is our (expletive) city!”

Boston Strong?  Really?  A 25 year old blows up a pressure cooker and kills and mames innocents.  Then his 19-year-old brother evades a military style manhunt that keeps an entire city under lockdown at a cost of $333,000,000 per day.  And when the 19-year-old fugitive is finally captured before he has a chance to bleed to death in the back of a covered boat, we celebrate in the streets convinced the “threat” is over . . . as if it’s over.  On the contrary, killing one bomber and capturing another did not end anything -- it only exposed two realities:  we are vulnerable and our demonstration of “strength” masks our true weakness.

What is our weakness?  Our weakness is that we seem to have forgotten where our true strength comes from – evidenced in how so little of the post bombing response credited a dependence upon God when we were helpless and humbled, a cry out for His ever present help in times of trouble, or a gratitude to Him that an entire city under marshal law is finally free to leave their houses and go back to work.  

One citizen interviewed in the post-capture celebration stated while shaking his clenched fist like a hammer, “Moments like this don’t show our weakness, they show our strength.”  Whose strength?  What strength? Ours?  It felt like I was watching an ant shake its fist at a giant.

I'm not advocating weakness in the face of those who wish to hurt us or destroy our way of life.  I just don't think what I saw in the outfield at Fenway had anything to do with strength.  It was more like the rage that stems from unacknowledged un-surrendered fear.   

In the Voice of the Heart, Chip Dodd writes about how FEAR brings us to a place of strength when it leads us to risk, trust, depend, collaborate and ultimately realize our need.  

This rings of a greater strength than the loud but thin protests that imply "you can't get to me!"  The truth is they can and they did -- and it hurt! 

The Bible presents a picture of strength where stout yet humble men like the apostle Paul declare from bended knee (as opposed to hammered fist) that in his weakness he is strong . . . preferring to boast about his weakness that the power of Christ might dwell in him. 

One Boston media headline exclaimed, “City unites in the face of terror.”  My sadness and fear is that we seem to have united around a misguided confidence in our strength as a people rather than the strength of a God who gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud.  

Much has changed since 9/11 when churches were packed and Bibles flew off the shelves after that fateful tragedy.  I know there are many in Boston and the rest of the nation that have been on their knees since the Boston Marathon bombing.  And while I acknowledge that my observations are not inclusive, I do sense a  shift has occurred.  I do fear something is changing, something intangible has been lost . . . and the loss grieves me. 



Fear Anger Lonely

What kept me today from opening my Bible or turning to today’s reading in my favorite daily devotional, Jesus Calling, or checking in with myself and with God by writing in my journal (the place where I most often hear what is going on inside me, where I write my prayers to God, and where I write down what I hear Him saying to me)?

What makes it so much easier to look at my phone?  Check headlines on my computer?  Check my email?  Update a Facebook status?  Read a twitter feed?  Or check off the next item on my to-do list?

I think it’s because I am afraid. 

Afraid after admitting I am in want and in need, that God won’t meet my needs.  Afraid after I bring my neediness to God that I will still be lonely.  Afraid I will still be hurting. Afraid I will still be sad.  Afraid that I will still be . . . afraid. 

If I knew every time I turned to God to meet me, hear me, speak to me, answer me, comfort me, or touch me, that He would -- I don’t believe I would hesitate to employ the disciplines of prayer, meditation, or devotional reading that can be ways of stopping long enough for these relational connections to happen. 

Truth is, I will seek out and find whatever or whoever I ultimately believe will meet my needs.  Which is what I did this morning.

Turning to God with the expectation that He meet me in my turning creates fear because it requires risk.  Risk?  Yes.  

What if God doesn’t meet me the way I want Him to, expect Him to, or even believe I need Him to?  What if God cannot be controlled or manipulated  . . . and what if He doesn’t change my circumstances?  What if He doesn’t change the way my child is acting?  What if He doesn’t change the way my spouse is acting towards me?  What if all He does is listen to me and tell me He will never leave me or forsake me?  What if all He does is tell me He loves me and He cares?  What if all He does is delight in my need of Him?  What if He just stands there!

What if He doesn’t give in to my demand for some measure of relief so I don’t have to be lonely, afraid, hurt, or sad?  What if all He gives me is Himself?  And what if that’s not enough?  And what if that’s not what I think I need. 

The answer is an easy one.  I will do whatever I ultimately believe will meet my needs.  If I believe what I need is relief, then that’s where I will turn.  Which is why I will look to my phone.  I will check the headlines on my computer.  I will check my email.  I will update my Facebook status.  I will check a twitter feed. Or I will check off the next item on my to-do list.  All of those things guarantee me (without risk) what I most want. 

For a minute or five or thirty minutes I get what I most want:  by way of the magic of distraction, I get relief. 

Yes, I will do whatever I ultimately believe will meet my needs.  Which is what I did this morning.  Now how do I stay distracted so I don’t have to face life on life’s terms . . . so I don’t have to need God . . . so I won’t have to wake up tomorrow morning still in need?

I think I will start by admitting to God just how afraid I am that He won’t be enough for me and how often I choose the predictable power of relief over the vulnerable possibility and promise of His presence.