Monday, January 24, 2011

Keeping it Simple

Last summer I invested in a touch screen cell phone that made viewing the internet on my phone significantly faster to navigate, not to mention the internet looked much better than on my previous smart phone. I knew that with a touch screen, I would be giving up the ability to text as quickly, but it wasn’t so bad when I turned my phone “landscape” instead of its normal “portrait.” However, about two months ago, my phone stopped automatically turning “landscape” when I turned it sideways. I supposed that some internal sensor was somehow malfunctioning and then made a mental note to stop by the Sprint store next time I was near one. It was a major inconvenience at first, as texting was significantly easier when the letters were bigger as they were when it was turned sideways, but eventually I just got used to it being different. I accommodated pretty quickly to the inconvenience and soon forgot that my phone was even broken. I would remember every now and then, especially when I wanted to view a picture or video, as the viewing size was about half as big in the standard viewing position. But most of the time, I…managed.

I finally made it into the Sprint store and prepared myself for the wait while they fixed the mystery problem. I was just taking a look at the Samsung Tablet, when the tech came up to me and told me that it was fixed. All they had to do was turn the auto-rotate setting back on in the Settings menu, as somehow, I must have inadvertently turned it off. So, for the last two months, while I had been too busy to go to a store, and then too forgetful to ask anyone else who might know more about phones, and then too accustomed to it not working like it should, the solution to the problem was only three clicks on my phone screen.

Isn’t this how things often are for us? The simplest solution is usually the correct one (like when your computer won’t turn on, plug it in and let it charge—it’s probably just a dead battery). I was prepared for them to open up my phone and replace “the internal sensor” (I’m assuming that there is such a thing?!). But, that would have been both a waste of time and supplies AND more than what needed to be done (and it wouldn’t have fixed the problem, anyway). But isn’t this what we do sometimes? We are experiencing a difficulty so we say that God’s leading us in a different direction, when sometimes it’s not that complicated…we just need to be patient or learn the lesson that we experience when we encounter challenges. We dream up all of these explanations like God is probably calling us to do something else, or giving us a test, but the answer may just be that we need to be patient, or faithful to what we know at this point, or simply, to love others.

And even if we do remember that the simplest answer might be the correct one, sometimes we never quite get around to trying out that simple answer. Instead, we get used to limping along in life. We have a vague recollection every now and then that something isn’t quite like it should be, or like we’d like it to be, or like we know that God wants it to be in our life. Instead, we’ve figured out how to just get along and maybe even learned some good lessons about perseverance in the meantime. But, the reality is that we often allow stuff to get in the way of living a life of abundance that Jesus talks about! Sometimes that “stuff” is busyness, sometimes fear, sometimes it is doubt or insecurity, but sometimes it is just that we’ve become so acclimated to our concessions in life. We see glimpses of a desire that God has placed in our lives, but we know that doing something different will “rock the boat.” The “merry-go-round” is in motion and slowing it down to do something different could result in us being able to do something else that is more in keeping with what God is calling us to do, or, it could result in some scraped knees, or worse—some broken bones! But oh, when we jump…when we give up our grasp on safety, or predictability, or even preference, we open ourselves up to God showing us new ways to trust, new levels of spiritual maturity, and even new gifts to explore. May we have the courage to break out of our ruts and live the abundant life to which God has called us. May we know that sometimes it's best to not know how things are going to end, and may we trust God to be there no matter what the end result is.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Best Days

Each January, I spend a little time looking back to the year behind and ahead to what is on the horizon. Last year I wrote about my desire to grow in patience this year. I believe that indeed, patience did grow in me this year. I remember hearing someone say once, “Don’t pray for patience—that’s one prayer that God always answers. He tests you and you’ll need patience.” Well, in many ways, this year was full of many challenging days and was a year that was hard for a variety of reasons. In fact, I’m sorta glad to see it go. Nothing major, just a period of challenge on which I was acutely focused.

Yesterday I was listening to Garrison Keillor question his guests on his radio program, “Prairie Home Companion.” He asked them, “What was your best day of 2010.” His guests had all be selected, presumably for having a wonderful year and were really quick to answer the question. But as I was thinking about my own answer to the question, I struggled a bit, presumably due to the challenges of this year. I sometimes feel like I live life so “fast” that I often miss out on the sacramental moments like being able to recognize a “best day” while it’s happening. Part of it is probably my personality—I see “trees” instead of the “forest” most of the time. I get stuck in details—starting this, finishing that, anticipating problems so as to subvert them, etc. I have a hard time pulling away from the perspective of the tree in order to see the beauty of the landscape that lies both behind me and ahead. I know this about myself, so most days I practice the Daily Examen of reflecting back to where I experienced Christ most keenly in my day and where I felt most distant from God. But even still, last year felt like a blur. In my Garrison Keillor-inspired extraction from the trees, I am able to see the landscape and see some of the best days of my 2010.

I had several “best days” as I took a couple of vacations with friends last summer. We laughed, told stories of the “good old days” and encouraged one another through current struggles. Relationships are absolutely priceless. They are what matters most. And my best days are days that remember that.

Another “best day” for me involves my family. Also last summer, my niece, who is more like a sister (or even a daughter to me) got married! It was an incredible day, as the man she married is a kind and wise partner for her, but also because our family (under the leadership of Megan) and many friends of Megan and Brian, “threw” the wedding for them, from decorations, to food, to flowers. It was an inspiring time of bearing witness to their vows they made to one another as we supported them as they covenanted with God in marriage. I still get a little teary.

I had other days that fell into the “best day” category, but they were much more about the daily-ness of life. They were days when I knew contentment, when I felt love and belonging, when I had assurance that the work that I am doing with college students makes a difference in the Kingdom. It’s these days, without the splash of big events, that I actually desire more of in the coming year.

In July, I was sitting in a Chinese Restaurant in Nashville, eating dinner with a friend who I’ve known my entire life and I got a fortune cookie: “Your fondest dream will come true within the year.” Well, obviously I don’t usually put much stock into fortune cookies, but this one was one of those rare times when I thought there actually might be a little bit of a sacramental moment in the fortune cookie. I don’t honestly know what my “fondest dream” is, but as I look ahead to 2011, I want to live in the sense of hope and expectation that I experienced during the season of Advent. I lean forward into a year where I am living in the abundance of God’s grace, not thinking about the next problem to solve or item to remove from my to-do list.

So, this fortune that I got that day last summer has reminded me to dream. Sadly, in my seeing the trees, I forget that. I’ve seen lots of evidence of God’s faithfulness through the last year, and I’m excited to see what happens in the coming year. Here’s to 2011, a year full of “best days!”