Weariness Versus Wonder

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Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada/Photo by Pam Ecrement

The frenetic pace of most of our lives leaves us exhausted many days and when that pace continues routinely, a relentless weariness creeps in as an unwelcomed guest. The results can vary, but for me it usually means that I cease to have enthusiasm or interest in many of the things I normally love to do. I see everything in my day as another “to do” when my energy and interest level say, “do not”.

None of us plan on living at a harried pace. We tend to accept it as temporary initially, “some days are like that”, “some weeks are like that”, and soon it can become “some months are like that” or even “some years are like that”.

The demands of this life keep nudging us to do more and if we can, we call it success. It is a subtle temptation, which gains credence by our culture’s narrow view of success. If we yield to the temptation, we can get caught in a cycle that is hard to stop.

We look forward to the weekend, summer, vacation, or the spring break to restore us and lift the weariness. Sometimes we gain relief only to resume the pace we were determined not to restart. Sometimes the pace of our time away from routine is no less busy. We are even more surprised if we are in the group who makes exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep habits a priority. How can we still be weary?

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Perhaps we have forgotten that we are human beings versus human doings and have become so driven to “do” that we no longer know how to “be”. We have also lost sight of the wonder all around us that serves to remind us of our Creator. We get so caught up in mowing the grass, we fail to notice how it feels beneath our feet, the shade of green, the fragrance it emits when freshly cut, or the genius of photosynthesis. We see the spider and its web and fail to note the delicate lace design of the web shining with drops of dew in the morning.

In many ways, we cease to experience wonder about anything and yet it is wonder that really helps ease the weariness when we are on vacation or a true break from the daily grind.

We sense it on the beach as the waves come crashing onto the sand. We feel it when the breeze tosses our hair as we stand at a newly discovered trailhead. We taste it when we bite into the first watermelon of summer or the first fresh tree-ripened peach of the season.

We see it when we stand at the edge of a canyon watching the beauty and power of a cascading waterfall. We experience it when we cradle a baby in our arms. We delight in it when we take time to look up into the star-studded night sky.

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Flight View/Photo by Pam Ecrement

Wonder!

It always points us to the wondrous Creator and realigns our perspective, refreshes our soul, quiets our spirit, and causes us to pause and take in the moment.

That’s the true cure for weariness, pausing to take in the moment, to discover the wonder all around us even when we are not on vacation.

If we will only open our eyes to see it!

Peyto Lake, Alberta, Canada
Peyto Lake, Alberta, Canada/Photo by Pam Ecrement

Interruptions

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I sat at my desk focusing on a project or at least trying to do so. I had been interrupted more than once and then the phone rang again. Ugh! I thought I would ignore it, but by then the interruption was a reality so I took the call.

Interruptions.

They cut into our time and intrude on our plans, our project, and our rest. Interruptions hit the pause button, if not the stop button, of that thing we want to do. If we are working on a task that we do not like, for the moment the interruption might be welcome, but most of the time we chafe at an interruption. It slows us down from doing what we want to do. It stops us from moving forward. It reminds us that we are not the center of the universe and not in control.

Interruptions come at us from all directions. They are a normal part of living.

Jesus was often interrupted when He walked the earth. The woman with the hemorrhage touched him as He was walking, on His way to something else He planned to do. Children interrupted Him in the midst of teaching adults. What was His response? Did He see interruptions as a frustration or an opportunity?

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What can we learn from that? What can I learn from it?      

The man on the phone identified himself by a name that jarred me into alertness. The name was that of an author whose book had greatly impacted me thirty years ago. In a split second my mind was whirling trying to sort out if this was the same person. The man went on to state he had called me because he noticed I shopped online often for his father’s book. He quickly went on to tell me his middle name, which differed from his father’s.

He explained that his father had died and he had some copies of unsold books so requests routinely came to him. He was curious. What caused the interest in the book after so many years? How had his father impacted someone that now looked for more copies?

Our conversation lasted for nearly fifteen minutes. I shared about its impact on me and said I used the books with others I counseled. He said he was coming to my area in a few weeks and wondered if he could stop by my office. We hung up and I leaned back in my chair reflecting.

The call had interrupted things I needed to get finished that day, but if I had not taken it I would have missed meeting the author’s son, which blessed me. I would also have missed being a blessing to the author’s son as I told him about the impact of his father’s work.

As I reflected on the call, I felt challenged to consider what the Lord might want to show me through the many interruptions I experience every day. Not all interruptions seem like opportunities or blessings. Perhaps before I chafe at an interruption I need to pause and consider what the interruption is about, whether the Lord is in it, whether it is an opportunity. What can I learn from it?

What do you do with interruptions?  

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How Are You Growing?

Photo by Gabby K from Pexels



I wonder how many of you have a place in your home (or the one where you grew up) with marks on the wall to show how tall you were growing. I didn’t, but I know others who have that memory. It was obvious that from the moment you were born there was an expectation that you would grow, not just taller but in every other way as well. Milestones were significant and parents eagerly awaited marking each one.

But what happens when those milestones we all recall and look forward to have been checked off the list? When does that happen? Is it after formal education ends, after a wedding? Somehow it can seem as though no one looks so much at growth after these big milestones. Does that mean it is supposed to somehow plateau? Do we grow heavier but not smarter, more interesting, and wiser?

Is there a downward slope toward our senior years and retirement without much expectation of growth? It matters to me more now since I am in that senior category with adult children and six amazing grandchildren moving toward adulthood at a tremendous pace. And I am not naive to think I am not the actual age that my birth certificate says, but I am still interested in learning new things, having new adventures.

This week I was reading something that jumped off the page at me. Let me share it with you:

“Aging is inevitable, but it’s biologically programmed to be a slow process. Most of what we call aging, and most of what we dread about getting older, is actually decay. That’s critically important because we are stuck with real aging, but decay is optional.”

Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge in Younger Next Year
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels



Okay, you’re right, there are things that are going to change. Our hair color (if we choose), our skin tone and texture, gravity takes its toll, senior discounts show up in our inbox or our mailbox, and more. There are also those genetics we talk about or hear our doctors ask us questions about, but more doctors are aware that we can affect those genetics more than we once thought by the lifestyle decisions we start making in mid-life and beyond. And it’s not just our exercise choices (or not) and our dietary choices that matter, even though these are big keys to how “gold” those golden years may be. Whether we continue to enjoy learning something more or different, have a passion we are committed to pursue long after we enter that last third of our lives, and hence, keep growing are all key. And that is all about stewardship of all that God gave us.

There are cultural differences in how we approach aging that impact us a great deal. They don’t just affect how others view us but also how we view ourselves. More than ten years ago I read a fascinating book some of you may have heard of entitled The Gift of Years (Growing Old Gracefully) by Joan Chittister. Her book is chocked full of nuggets to rethink your view of aging and growing.

“It is not getting older that is difficult. It is the fear of getting older that plagues us.

When we count age as nothing but a series of losses, we lose sight of its gains.

What we must not do is do nothing. We cannot allow ourselves to die from the outside in. It may be necessary to live with a body that is changing. That we can’t avoid. But the shape of life itself we can control. We are responsible for the shape of our world, however much it seems to be reshaping itself.”

Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years
Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels



Another key is to not cut yourself off from meaningful relationships. God designed us for them and when we have them, whether a spouse, a dear friend, or a small group of “buddies” we enjoy hanging out with, it results in a better quality and longer life for any one of us.

We see a number of great examples about how various persons in the Bible approached age. One of my favorites is in the Old Testament book of Joshua. In Joshua 14:12-15 we see the story of Caleb whom we met as one of the 12 spies Moses sent to check out the Promised Land. Only he and Joshua saw the fruit in the new land despite the giants they would face. They saw the possibilities with God. Now at this point in the story only Joshua and Caleb are left entering that new land. Caleb is 80 and yet he tells Joshua “give me that mountain” as the land he will occupy. That says a lot about how Caleb approached life and how his faith continued to grow.

You see I think God intends that we continue to grow long after those marks on the wall at home have faded from view. It won’t look the same for me as it does for you, but (like Caleb) we need to look at the possibilities out there and not only look in the rear-view mirror. One of my dear friends will be 86 in a few months. Yes, she has a variety of evidence of aging going on, but a few weeks ago when I was feeling overwhelmed with handling my husband’s recovery from surgery, she arrived in our driveway with a multi-course meal she had prepared. Her face was beaming because this is what she most loves to do – bless others with food she prepares when things are not as easy for them.

Possibilities…they are endless if you take time to discover them and allow the Lord to continue to grow you up in Him.

“Who hasn’t gone through a period in life when they wished they could simply disappear and start all over again? What most of us do not realize is that today old age is that new life. And we must deal with it, in one way or the other. The gift is recognizing the potential of it, both spiritual and social, and knowing what to do with it.

We get to make new friends, to develop new activities, new routines, new social circles with them. We begin to do untried things in unprecedented places. And we get to tell all the old stories to a whole new group of people.

There is startling experience of variety in it all. A kind of giddy sense of possibility.

We no longer have to wear the old roles that so defined us for so many years…”

Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years

The pandemic caused most all of us to feel closed off and shut away from much of how life had been. We couldn’t be together and if we could, we couldn’t really see each other’s faces behind the masks to enjoy a familiar smile and hugs weren’t supposed to happen either. And it hasn’t stopped yet after a year, but that doesn’t mean growth in us should stop. Life is still in you if you are reading this. How can you spend it today? What mountain is there for you to conquer?

They Missed It – Do We?

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When Christ arrived on the earth (despite so many prophecies), many at that time missed it. They were looking for a Messiah that would come and set up a kingdom on earth that put the Roman Empire out of business. They believed the kingdom would look more like the earthly kingdoms they had known. But during the years He walked the earth and taught them, He told them in parables and other teachings that it was quite different than they had imagined. Some began to see the truth, but others did not accept this as the true Messiah and King.

When Christ ascended into heaven following his resurrection, He left the disciples to lead and establish his kingdom here on earth. What a challenging task for this group and despite all odds against them, the survival of the church today gives testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit operating in them to bring about just that. But as we await his return, are we missing what it means to live out the kingdom as aliens in a fallen world?

The dictionary tells us what a kingdom is: “a country, state, or territory ruled by a king or queen”. The definition implies governance and political power, but what does that mean now when the King is not present on earth and yet we are to be building the kingdom that is not defined by geographical boundaries or the conventional things we know of kingdoms such as politics?

Eugene Peterson quotes Richard Neuhaus in Reversed Thunder for a description of politics:

“Politics reaches into dimensions of behavior and belief. The authority of government is exercised to maintain order, defined by civic and criminal law (otherwise there is babel). Most political systems ranging from family to empire, combine the elements of government and religion, as the Romans did. American democracy separates them. But combined or separate, the two elements are still there, parallel in their political importance.”

Eugene Peterson quoting Richard Neuhaus

Eugene Peterson further points out the challenge in looking at politics and how the kingdom is defined that is that of Christ’s:

“Politics involves two elements: the exercise of ruling power and the means by which that power is exercised. People love to hear that God is powerful and that he rules; they are not as enthusiastic when they discover the means by which he exercises his ruling power.”

Eugene Peterson

Albert Schweitzer saw what we may miss. The kingdom of God begins and sets forth its power and principles in each of our hearts. It is that simple, that complicated, and that which He most desires us to understand. Without that the kingdom of God He is returning to fully establish will not be ready for what his rule will look like when He reigns fully on earth.

Though we may well participate in the political system of this world and be called to do so as his representative, if the evidence of the Kingdom of God emanating from our hearts does not look like Him we have not understood the mission. We may be called to speak light into darkness, but our life must first reflect Him, before we seek to find words that do.

The challenge each day is to allow Christ to rule in our hearts (even in the attic, closets, and basement) so that we are wholly his and He can use us for his purposes. To do that we must keep straight the use of the word “kingdom” according to his design. We must understand how our words must be used with his wisdom and discernment and reflect Him.

“The political metaphor, “kingdom,” insists on a gospel that includes everything and everyone under the rule of God. God is no religious glow to warm a dark night. Christ is no esoteric truth with which to form a gnostic elite. The Christian faith is an out-in-the-open, strenuous, legislating, conquering totality. God is sovereign: nothing and no one is exempt from his rule.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

To have the kingdom of God ruling and reigning in our hearts we must attend to what He has told us is most vital – to love Him with all our heart, mind, and spirit and then to love others as He has taught and lived out for us to see. To do so means we must keep the whole of his Word affixed to our hearts so that it becomes engrafted there and guides each moment.

It will NEVER be easy, but what He calls us to He equips us to as we rely on the power, He has entrusted to us.

How Do We Respond to Evil?

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One of the things that likely impacts how you and I respond to evil stems from how we define it. It can be easy in the current culture to call something or someone “evil” because we disagree with it or them or if it or they offend us. We need to consider our label carefully before we bandy it about as true.

Until we are clear on what evil is and its source we will fall prey to its influence and our responses will be tepid, misguided, or absent.

Evil is defined as something that is “morally wrong or bad, immoral or wicked deeds, embodying or associated with the forces of the devil.” It is not an opinion or a preference. Scripture is undoubtedly the best source of clarification of when that label is appropriate.

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Because evil is so reprehensible it would seem we should be able to call it for what it is and confront it for what it is. Yet history shows in every nation and culture we can be slow to do that very thing if it isn’t impacting us directly. It can almost appear we have accepted the inevitable since we know that until the Lord returns and evil is judged once and for all that it will be present on the earth.

We may feel powerless in the face of it despite the power of the Holy Spirit within us if we are God’s children. Perhaps we tremble in fear. The key is whether we seek His counsel and direction at such a time.

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Two recent books I have read have brought evil sharply into focus. One focuses on the brave men and women in the Underground Railroad who risked death, fines, and imprisonment to help American slaves flee to Canada for freedom before the American Civil War. The other looks at men and women who risked similar consequences for trying to protect Jews less than a hundred years later.

Today despite our “instant” access to news we can forget nearly 215 million Christians face high persecution for their faith. We don’t hear much about that on the news and sometimes not in our churches.

When I consider how I might respond to evil I am drawn to the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 as well as others who responded with courage, wisdom, and discernment. Here are quotes from just a few of those who stood against evil:

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William Wilberforce faced evil head on and wrote these words:

“A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.”

William Wilberforce

Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced difficult choices without compromise when he wrote and spoke. Here is one of numerous examples:

“We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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Elisabeth Elliot in the face of the grievous loss of her husband faced the evil that took him with love and forgiveness. Listen to her wisdom for us:

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”

Elisabeth Elliot

Solzhenitsyn left this powerful challenge to consider in The Gulag Archipelago:

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are replanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

How do we respond to evil?

We start by defining it for what it is and its true source and then seek the Lord for guidance on our response to it when we are faced with it. Above all, we must take into account the words of Isaiah.

Isaiah admonishes us about the need to discern rightly what is evil and what is good:

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”

Isaiah 5:20-21 (ESV)
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