I was visiting with my 86 year old neighbor, Jack, the other day who had recently been in the hospital. Jack is a veteran who served his country in the Korean war and lost the lower part of his leg in the process. Jack is a no nonsense kind of fellow who continues to work hard and take care of himself the best he can. As we were visiting, Jack started telling me a story about the days after he lost his leg.
He had been sent back home and was in a military hospital recovering. Jack being very direct told the doctors he had to be out of there in a day because there was a girl he loved back home he had to see graduate high school. The doctors didn't think he would be ready to discharge from the hospital in that time frame because of the severity of his injury. However Jack demanded his release because there was no stopping him from making it to this event. I realized as he was telling me this story there was absolutely no "poor me" mentality. Despite losing his leg he had already moved forward focusing on what his life could be, not what he couldn't do because of losing his leg.
We sometimes get stuck thinking about what we have lost; a circle of dwelling negativity pulling us down into the depths of despair. I think this also translates to being spiritually lost. Being spiritually lost can create a myriad of feelings such as bitterness, anger, loneliness, confusion, and disconnection. I think its important we take a little closer look at this.
"Happiness doesn't depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude." - John C. Maxwell
The way we approach our lives including spiritual life is extremely important. One rule of parenting I have read about is what you focus on you get more of. If you continue to redirect and make comments about unwanted behaviors your children have, the more of them you usually get. By focusing on the positive actions you begin to see more from your child but also feel better about them yourself. I think this is a rule that can translate to our spiritual lives. If we take time to focus on God in our lives, the more of God we will see. When we have been hurt or feel lost this is hard to do. Our communities are what supports us during this time by helping us maintain a positive view through our struggles. They keep us moving and walking on our journey. However we are always the ones who get to chose how we view our world and the attitude we carry with others. Attitude impacts our decisions, relationships, lifestyle, and identity. Attitude can either push us to higher heights or sink us to the bottom of the ocean. The happiness we seek in life and in some ways our spiritual life is contingent on the mental attitude we choose.
Walking in the Valleys
When I was younger, I went through valley's in my life where I wondered where God was. I didn't know what to do and definitely didn't want to talk about it, thinking I was alone. As I have matured I have realized everyone goes through these ups and downs in their spiritual life but seldom do we talk about them. If you feel lost spiritually, or distant from God, I want to let you know it's ok. I encourage you to talk with someone about it. The most helpful times I have had is when I have opened up and shared what I am thinking and feeling with someone safe. Many times moments in the valley lead us to moments where we experience God in a powerful way. It seems we cannot have one without the other for each makes the other better.
The Rest of the Story
Holding two crutches on the side of the road Jack started north having to go from Indiana all the way to Joplin, Missouri. He made it one block before someone picked him up and gave him a ride. When the driver could go no further, Jack was let out. Just as the man was getting Jack's stuff out of his vehicle another truck pulled up and motioned for Jack to get in. Jack hopped in and the man took him most of the distance South down through Arkansas.
His ride pulled to a stop so Jack thanked him and gathered his things, stepping out of the truck. Almost immediately another man driving a red sports car saw him getting out as he was passing and pulled over. Jack got in and held onto his seat as the guy drove upward of 100mph the rest of the way through Arkansas right to Joplin, Missouri where the girls family met him.
Jack witnessed this girl graduate and then married her two weeks later. They were happily married 62 years before she passed away in 2014. Was it just dumb luck or was it possibly something else? I tend to believe it was an amazing story of someone loving and desiring something so much that it happened.
What do you desire in your life on your spiritual journey?
Who would you travel that far despite all odds to see?
When have you felt things fall into place and what did you attribute that too?
When have you went through a valley in your life?
I hope this blog has been helpful for you! If it has please go to our facebook page Emporia Community of Christ and like us. This week think about what you desire in your life and share it with someone close to you.
This last week I heard a story that took place over thirty years ago which I felt was important to share. An individual was preparing to be baptized and was highly concerned about having to be submerged fully underwater. Her baptismal day came and she stepped into the water with the minister. The minister raised his hand and said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." She was slowly brought down into the water however her face did not go under. This was something that had been planned because the candidate was uncomfortable with being dunked.
A week or so after the baptism, a few of the members went to the District President, who was in charge of a large area of churches, with their concerns. "She wasn't fully submerged underwater which means she was not really baptized", the members argued. The President told them she was baptized despite fully going under the water. However they pleaded with the President that she needed to be baptized again to ensure she was going to heaven. The President looked at them and said, "I can guarantee she is going to heaven." The group looked surprised and said, "How is that?" Answering the question the President said, "Well she will be walking around without a face but most of her will be there." The members immediately said, "That's Ridiculous!" The President looked at them and said, "So is this conversation."
Now that may not be the best way to handle people however it got the point across. Don't get me wrong here, rules, policies, and traditions have an important place in church practice however when they infringe on the personal livelihood of an individual than they need to be reexamined to see if they still fit this time and place. Many people have been hurt by past church policies, driving them away. Let's briefly explore the aspects of this today.
The story reminds me of the Simpson's episode where Ned Flanders wants to baptize Homer and Marge's children, though the children do not want to.
Traditional practices are fantastic ways to meet God and where many have met God through generations. They set the stage for God to meet us where we are. However the true impact of traditions are the personal relationship they have with the person and the community. The way it connects the person to God and those around them in their lives. When we became more interested in specific rules in place instead of how it personally impacts the person than we have missed the point.
Churches are usually very slow movers. This frustrates those on the edge of normal church practice. They love the community formed but cannot stand the slowness of the church to sustain practices that are inclusive of all people. This has driven people away because they cannot continue to comply with such traditions that do not match their true beliefs. However on the other end, changes have been difficult for others to accept because of practices or beliefs they continue to hold onto. Those in the first category hope for the day when change happens but struggle daily with the internal conflict of attending somewhere that doesn't match their beliefs. And those in the second category also struggle with the newness of finding God in a different and uncomfortable way. Change for all people is hard and gives us even more of a reason to dialogue and work together to form community. Through dialogue we find God in ways we may have never anticipated. The conversations about our personal beliefs is what forms community because we begin to understand who we feel God is in this world. I hope all of you can find a spiritual home where these conversations take place.
How many times have we been like Sheldon Cooper having to sit in the same place on the couch but in relation to church practices? Jesus was brought many people to heal or touch showing an extreme flexibility to the moment. So lets not get so caught up in how it has to be and ask the question can it still work this way? Let's hold to the practices that are meaningful to us but also be open to knowing God can meet us in other ways.
What traditions or practices have been powerful for you?
When have you been flexible in the way you worship?
How has change in practices, policies, or traditions impacted you?
Has your church changed too fast or too slow for you?
Thank you to all those reading along! Please contact us if you have something specific you would like us to write about. This week share a tradition or practice that has been impactful in your life with someone else.
A few years ago I met a man named Willie who was homeless and had come in seeking help because he was ready to end his life. We explored what had led him to this point. Willie's life had been filled with trauma, mental illness, and alcohol and drug problems. Nothing seemed to work out for Willie, no matter what he tried. He didn't have anyone he considered close and was just moving through the motions every day surviving. One bright spot he mentioned was his church, though he had not been there for a few months. When he would attend he reported feeling much better about his life, gaining hope. But now at this moment he was hopeless. He said, “I don’t think God hears my prayers anymore and I don’t think he cares about me.”
Sometimes are journey's are hard and we struggle moving forward. We may even ask similar questions as above. In these challenging moment's are communities are imperative. I encourage all to find communities where they feel accepted and can share openly with them about your thoughts.
The most difficult times in our lives, we usually try to keep private. Many thoughts go through our heads when something personal is impacting us. People will think less of me if they find out, no one will understand, or I don't want to be a burden to them. Every situation is a judgement call for each individual on whether to share those experiences or not. Not every situation is appropriate to share. However when we are able to be vulnerable with someone we trust, God meets us. True community happens when we share deeply from our own experiences.
How God Works
When we feel God doesn't answer our prayers we have to ask ourselves how God works in the world. It's an important question which is dictated in our own theological view of God. How does God answer prayers? Can we only experience God in a powerful, mountain top experience? How does God show that he loves and cares about me? I know for me God works through others and the every day situations I find myself in. Discerning that spirit when it happens is what is difficult. But if we go through the day seeking God, we might just find a little nudge in the form of a thank you, hug, or unexpected encounter. Is that God working in the world?
Viktor Frankl is a Holocaust survivor who wrote the book "Man's Search for Meaning." His writings indicated when humans lost purpose and meaning they usually ended up dying within the next week of encampment. As he continued to be imprisoned he had similar questions that Willie had. Where is God? Does he hear my prayers? Is God with us? Viktor Frankl identified that God is with him in his suffering and that his purpose at this point in his life was to suffer the best that he could. This is the same bold message that I have heard from the Community of Christ. God is suffering with us during our trials and he weeps for us. He is there in our happiness but also in our suffering. If you are suffering, I want you to know God is with you. God hears and feels your pain.
The Rest of the Story
As Willie and I continued to talk about his life and suffering I was able to tell him that he was a person of worth and that he had meaning to me. That night, Willie was able to get mental health support for his current situation by going to a place which would monitor and support him. If anyone reading has any thoughts of harming yourself, please tell someone close to you, go to your local Community Mental Health Center, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. During my time with Willie I could see his mood change and his outlook go from being hopeless to having hope inspired by God’s spirit. I don’t tell you this to toot my own horn, I tell you this because it deeply impacted me that Willie did not feel God with him anymore. There are many others out there needing to encounter the healing spirit of Christ some for the first time and others just again. You may be one of those people. If you are, join our community or reach out to one near you. Find a place that is right for you, one that will accept you for who you are and help you grow into who you want to be.
I want to leave you with this quote by Viktor Frankl:
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”
Thank you for all those following along! We love the responses we have gotten and those sharing our blog on social media. This week suffer the best that you can and tell yourself God is with you!
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.