Category Archives: humility

Where is your brother?

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As I re-read Lesson Two this week (Why are you angry?), this time I landed on God’s 2nd question to Cain:  Where is your brother?  The first part of the story focuses on Cain challenging God’s right to be God and to, therefore, make the rules. Cain essentially challenges what later becomes the first commandment to love God with our whole being, putting no idols before him–not even ourselves. Maybe especially not ourselves. God, in turn, confronts Cain on that issue.

But God’s 2nd question confronts our responsibility towards others as do most of the rest of the 10 commandments. In the story of Cain and Abel, as in the commandments, God equates true worship with, first and foremost, wholehearted, unabashed devotion to himself, followed by a commitment to one another. No lying, cheating, murder, slander, even jealousy. It all starts, though, with devotion to God. Without worship of God as our starting point, are we capable of true devotion to one another? What is the impetus? If I am the source of my own moral decisions, when someone else gets in the way of something I want, be it an object, a goal, an idea, or even a perceived right, my only responsibility is to do what “feels” right. But if God is the object of my worship versus my own ego’s demands, my decision points are derived from God’s ideas of how to treat people versus mine.  I’ll just be honest. In my case, this is so much safer for myself and for those who have to live with me!

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Beginnings

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Carolina morning

Carolina morning. Photo by L. Kay Johnson

The importance of accepting new beginnings has become clear in recent months. I know I’m in a time of transition, but where there’s no road map or guaranteed formulas, every morning is like a new experiment..a “why not try it this way” kind of day. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m also learning to rely on that “new every morning” mercy. A few practical routines and practices seem to help:

  • Breathing: Sometimes taking the time to breathe is an act of trust.
  • Gratitude: I’m reading Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts. Timely stuff.  (Highly recommend it, by the way.)
  • Prayer. My favorite these days:  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. Seems if I can keep these two prioritized, the rest is water under the bridge.
  • Journaling: Forgive the analogy, but when my mind is roiling, journaling is kind of like throwing up on paper. Messy and gross. But you feel so much better afterwards. And somehow it all often magicaly transforms into clarity and useful ideas.
  • Exercise. Don’t think. Just do.  Amazing how much clearer my mind is when I give myself this gift.
  • Sleep.  Do I really need to give myself permission!?  Apparently so.
  • Sunshine. Seriously. Amazing what a few minutes outside can do for my attitude.
  • Truthful Friends. No substitute for friends who listen when I wail and then tell it like it is.
  • Trust. Like breathing, all of the above require trust.

One blogger captured some great ideas about how to start the day that I thought I would share as well.  Good stuff. Now trust…and go for a walk.

Addicted to Extraordinary

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sacred ordinary

photo by schmense

Some things in life spoil you for the ordinary. Meaningful volunteer work, crisis situations, military service, even adventure travel—these kinds of things may lead to an addiction to the extraordinary, where our identity clings like seaweed to the “importance” of what we do.  My “spoiler experience” was five-year stint as a young adult with a mission organization. I lived and worked with a pack of fired-up young people out to save the world. We worked in an inner-city mission in Amsterdam, and it seemed that everything we did had eternal significance. Nothing wrong with passion and a desire for meaningful service, but I made the fatal error of deeming that kind of work as “sacred,” while a regular job was merely “secular.”

Of course, now I see things differently. Everything is sacred. I read a book once years ago, whose title I have forgotten, where the author shared his struggle with ordinary life. He was attracted to a radical life of solitude, prayer and meditation, but this guy had a regular job, a wife and three kids. He could barely get in a quiet moment edgewise, much less hours for meditation!  In time, though, he began to realize that before there were any monastical orders, before there was even a church, before the first apostles forged unknown territory to share God’s story, even before Jesus preached or healed or died on the cross—before all of that…there was a Mary and a Joseph.

A housewife. A carpenter. They didn’t do anything any more radical than raise a child.

They got up every day and worked, cleaned the house, paid the bills, and made dinner.  It was all so very…ordinary.  But without that ordinary, or as author Leigh McLeroy calls it, that “sacred ordinary,” the rest of the story could not have unfolded.

I don’t want to miss that sacred ordinary now. Do you? Whatever you are doing, give it to God who redeems all of our work, making it sacred through his grace.

Blessed are those who mourn. Really?

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I’ve been re-visiting the Sermon on the Mount. That’s the one that starts out with the “Beatitudes,” and I’m struck, again, with how strange and totally foreign these words are to our “Anthony Robbins” way of thinking. This is not a success-by-numbers speech. This is anything but.

Think about it. Who are our “golden” ones–our “blessed” ones? Those who pursue their passion. Those who set goals and meet them. Those who courageously and fearlessly plow through obstacles or face fears to win the prize. Our ideals are all wrapped up in performance.

Jesus takes a completely different stance. He says that the blessed ones are those who are “poor in spirit” and “meek.” He lauds those who “hunger and thirst” for righteousness. He calls the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted blessed. He even says that those who mourn are blessed. There is not a hint of stellar performance in these character traits. He describes people who are down on their luck, desperate, and denied. How is that blessed? He contrasts these with those who are rich, fed, comforted, and well respected. He says they are the ones to be pitied “for they’ve already received their reward.” If we are honest, doesn’t “rich” describe most of us who live in the U.S.? Can we even compare our poor to, say, the poor in Haiti? Calcutta? Zimbabwe? I don’t think so.

I don’t think Jesus is condemning material blessings. After all, all blessings come from God, but I do think he is warning us about being lured into a false sense of security and comfort by them. Those who are desperate, those who mourn, those who are hungry–they know all too well their need. Those who are comfortable and well fed can all too easily fall into a belief that they have need of nothing. When we believe we have (or have access to) all that we need because we are comforted and well fed, we’ve missed the real treasure–and in so doing, we’ve missed everything.

An Italian Epiphany

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“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Henry Thoreau

Tuscany landscape

A few years ago, my husband and I spent almost 3 weeks in Italy, during which time we were “unplugged.” No cell phones. No Internet. It was glorious.

But it was also a little disturbing.

I was startled to realize how much of our lives are sucked away by this plugged-in world of cell phones, Internet, piles of email, junk mail, meetings, and a head full of “gotta do’s.”

Italians may have their foibles, but when it comes to the fine art of enjoying life, we could all learn from them. They know how to stop working…spend time with family…linger for long, delicious hours over a meal with friends. And get this—they do it all without guilt.

I vividly remember asking myself, “Is it possible to bring this way of life home with me?”  Just as vividly, I remember the answer I felt in my gut, “It’s possible, but you’ll have to build from scratch, and you’ll have to choose it—every day.”

For five years, I’ve been gnawing on the truth of that realization.dinner with friends

We don’t clutter our lives overnight, and it takes time and deliberate effort to dismantle the madness to make room for people, for reflection, for creative space—time to breath, to pray, to meet a friend, or even time to show gratitude, thoughtfulness–simple hospitality.

Our culture and society will fight you tooth and nail in the effort.  But Thoreau’s words are a good guide. When we are tempted to pile on some new thing, we should ask how much of our lives we are willing to exchange for it.

There’s an element of trust and humility in saying no. Do we really think the universe depends on us?  When the cost of any new thing prevents us from being faithful to the people who are already in our lives or even to ourselves, maybe it’s time to simply say no—and trust.

Girl Thinking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2010 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.