Supposed to…

Today was supposed to be our last Wednesday night of the school year. It was supposed to be a night filled with fun, reflection, laughter, smiles, eating contests, prizes, bad jokes, maybe even tears because of it all; but tonight, this Wednesday will pass like most nights do – without much notice.
 

Our students were supposed to have a chance to be together one last time before summer activities kicked off and everyone scattered. I was supposed to have a chance to speak to those students one last time before summer activities kicked off and everyone scattered.

I imagined today to look different than it does today. It was supposed to look different.
 
My chemistry teacher in high school, Mr. Key, would say:
 
“I used to be young and stupid. Now I am old and stupid.”
 

[Mr. Key, if you are reading this, I’m sorry that this is what I remember from your class and not what you taught me about covalent bonds and balancing chemical equations. I was young and stupid then, and I guess I am just old and stupid now!]

For most of my life I have found myself in this state: Not knowing things I wish I would have known and knowing things I wish I would have forgotten. Every birthday I have reinforces the feeling of having no business calling myself a year older because what have I achieved to constitute graduating to the next year? If birthdays were only celebrated upon achievement…well then happy 13th birthday to me!
 

But here is something I have learned: there are people, there are places, and there are times in life that are supposed to be important; but no one is going to be able to tell you when those moments are supposed to happen, where those places are supposed to be, or what those people are supposed to look like.

The last time we were supposed to meet on a Wednesday night was supposed to be tonight. The significance of the last Wednesday night was not found in April 29, 2020, but it was found in the last time we were set to meet before the summer…we all just got the date wrong.

Did I let a significant moment pass by in late February without recognizing it? Did I trade a significant moment for the chance to “do it later”? Did you? Tragically, I think we are far too certain that significant people, places, and times live in the distant future instead of the present. Yes, there will be significant moments in the future, but I think we will only recognize them if we commit to look for significance moments in the present.

I was supposed to be getting ready for the Senior Trip, Super Summer, and all sorts of summer activities. But if those things are taken away, what might have been something bigger I was supposed to be getting ready for?

As Christians, we have been given a “supposed to” lists from all over the place. We are constantly told what Christians are supposed to do and to not do. What Christians are supposed to believe and what not to believe. What other Christians they are supposed to listen to and not listen to…

Instead of subscribing to these numerous “supposed to” lists that flood our feeds, what if we gave priority to a “supposed to” list we can all agree has significance and daily application:

 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:12-17

 

If you find any significant people, places, or moments while trying to fill your life with those things…
 
well…
 
you’re supposed to.

 

dan



“Being Okay”

As a person who lives more on the introvert side of the spectrum, I always thought I was better equipped to deal with isolation and being alone than others. When I heard self-quarantine and social distancing had become a reality for society and not just something I saw in movies, I thought to myself, “I was made for this. Give me an internet connection, Netflix, Instagram, and an Xbox and I promise that I will win the award for Best Social Distancer.”
 
I am not sure if “being okay” with staying at home for long periods of time is a skill I was born with or if it is the result of many life experiences built on top of one another, but I do know “being okay” with life circumstances is a lifestyle that faith calls me to pursue. I don’t believe “being okay” is a sliver-lining we are called to put on not-okay situations, but instead a state of harmony with not-okay situations like Paul McCartney sang about in the song Let It Be.
 
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” (Psalm 46:1)
 
When we say these words assured of it’s truth, we have found something holy and continuously true. However, as we say those words we face the reality of how difficult it is to carry those words as our strength while living in times of trouble. Committing to those words places a daunting yet beautiful challenge in front of us: Trust that God is God.  Trust that the God who was with the Israelites in the wilderness is the same God with us now when we wander in our own wilderness’. When those words are the lone echo bouncing around in our heads through big and small troubles, we start to see the internal and external life God creates — a life that exists peacefully among both the jolting and calm movements of the world around us.
 
Psalm 46 continues:
 
“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging…”
“The Lord Almighty is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:2-3, 7)
 
Or, for example, consider the lyrics from the old hymn:
 
If dark hours about me shall roll…Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul…It is well, it is well with my soul.”
 
“Being okay.” — confidence in the strength of God being greater than the strength of any trouble.
 
I cannot remember the name of the theologian or place I heard this, but a life of faith is best pictured as a waltz or a dance.  It requires graceful movement, spacial, social and mental awareness of all things on and off the dance floor, and the courage to take the hand of God who has asked you to dance.
 
But when I look at my ability to perform this dance, I sheepishly try to fade out of sight because deep down I know I am no good at what is happening out there on the dance floor. When I replay memories of the times I tried to waltz peacefully with life circumstances, to “be okay” with disruptions in life, all I see is a person who refused to learn the dance and instead poured concrete on his feet. I have memories roll through my head that remind me of the times I traded faith for frustration when even the smallest things in life came up: hitting red lights when already running late, getting stuck behind someone paying with a check at the grocery store, or when my favorite forms of entertainment (Netflix, social media, Xbox, etc.) become stale and discontentment kicks in…
 
If I cannot say,
“though all of the red lights find me,
though I am slowed down by archaic payment methods at the grocery store,
though I grow bored with Netflix, social media, and pwning newbs on Xbox [“pwning newbs” is a gaming term used by gamers to communicate: “I am beating this person by a such a large margin that they must be new to the game]…
 
The Lord Almighty is with me. The God of Jacob is my fortress.”
 
Am i just giving lip service to who I declare as “my God”? If I shiver in fear when a life circumstance the size of a pebble wiggles and even slightly moves toward falling into the shallowest waters of the sea, do I ever stand a chance of seeing Psalm 46:1-7 as a reality in my life? 
 
The short answer: YES! Even though I compromise my patience for bursts of anger at measly red lights, I and you will always stand a chance to see God prove to be our refuge and strength and ever-present help in times of trouble because our God is who he says he is: God. He promises there is no place too far for him to go to rescue you. If our God were anything short of that, he would not be God because he would then be unable to provide us one of the things he promised for us: hope.  “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” — you will always be someone God longs to give shelter from trouble.  You will always be someone who God longs to show how true he is to his promises. He is gracious, merciful, and moved by anyone who seeks him no matter how many troubles they have surround themselves with.
 
The long answer: Lets do some self-examination.
 
Maybe I am not as good at “being okay” with tough life circumstances as I thought? Maybe I lie to myself when I sing the words “It is well with my soul”?  Sure, I have said I am a follower of Jesus. Sure, I have been ordained as a minister of the Gospel. But if I am consistently failing when slight winds touch the sails of my ship even though I have said I am all of these things, how am I going to respond when I find myself out at sea and a furious storm comes my way? Is “living by faith” a priority of mine, or is “living by faith” something I aspire to do?
 
 
[***Pause for a moment here. Take 5mins-50 hours (as needed) and make a list of things you consider to be “priorities” in your life.***]
 
 
I was listening to a podcast called “The Minimalists” where the topic of discussion was priorities, and I wanted to share some of that content with you. They began the conversation by pointing to the United Nations and their “list of priorities” which consists of 163 issues considered to be their priorities (you can fact check this if you want, but the illustration should hold up either way).  If you google search “define priority” you will find a graph that charts the use and mention of the word. From 1800 to the early part of the 1900s, the word “priority” was not used much and then there was an increase in its usage around 1950. 
 
 
A priority is by definition a thing regarded or treated as more important than another, the prime concern. It’s very nature implies a singular focus rather than multiple.
 
If I had a list of 163 priorities — would you agree that I might actually have no priorities? Of 163 things in my life, I couldn’t narrow that list down? I couldn’t figure out a couple things that deserve my utmost concern?  When we take stock of our priorities, I wonder if we have blended our understanding of “what is a priority” with “what is important.” My health is something I consider important, but I still eat fast food and neglect going to the gym. It may be important to me, but can I say I’ve made it a priority?
 

If we can be honest with ourselves for a moment: is it possible that the list of priorities we made earlier was actually a list of aspirations? 

The difference between aspirations and priorities is that aspirations exist in our everyday thoughts saying “Who do I want to be in the future?” while priorities exist in our everyday actions saying “Who am I going to be today?”
 
And it is in this very difference that we find our trouble. BEFORE the mountains started falling into the sea and when those mountains were only the size of getting caught at red lights while running late — was my priority, my primary concern and initial action to find refuge and strength in God, an ever-present help in trouble? Or was my priority, my primary concern and initial action to be petty and impatient?
 
If faith exists only in our aspirations, in our “one day…” thoughts, it will always be difficult to take up the daunting yet beautiful challenge of trusting that God is God at red lights, during stay-at-home orders, and during earthquake — because “one day” is usually farther away than we thought and “tomorrow” is always closer and comes faster than we expected.
 
Maybe you are great at this, but when I look at myself I see that I tend to mainly aspire to “being okay” with whatever comes my way, and what I prioritize is being petty, passive aggressive, revenge, self-righteousness…because those seem to be the actions I find myself doing every day when faced with “trouble.”
 
 
 
Take a few minutes to look at what you have done with your time away from school, away from work, away from friends, away from all of the “distractions” that we used to say got in the way of our faith. Now make another list: “What are my priorities?”
 
 
 
 
dan