As I poured myself a bowl of granola this morning I smiled in anticipation of how good it would taste and how much I like to eat it. Yet even as I finished pouring I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t eat this today. I should save this granola for a morning when I’m on the run. It’s the weekend and I have enough time to make oatmeal.” Then I caught myself. “Granola can be eaten only during the week and when I’m in a hurry? Says who?!”
Recently my son and I watched The Maze Runner, a movie about boys who have no choice but to make their own society. “Those are the rules,” Thomas, a newcomer, is told by the other boys when he wants to challenge the status quo and do something different. There is no awareness by the boys saying “those are the rules” that they made the rules and they can change the rules. The fear of change, of destabilizing the current set-up, keeps the rules in place, even when a change could help their situation.
I know that I have plenty of rules that run my life, rules made by me or made by others and internalized by me; some helpful (“look both ways before crossing the street”), some not. There are plenty of rules in the Bible, some helpful in our present day (“pray without ceasing”, “love your neighbor as yourself”), some not. Jesus was a big questioner of authority and he upset the status quo by holding people to the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. Next time I hear myself saying “I should (or should not) do this-or-that” I will try to stop and ask by whose authority the rule was made and whether I need to follow it in this case. Rules of the road? A good idea to follow them! Rules that are habits, put in place because “we always do it this way”? Maybe it will be time to shake things up, toss out those rules, and feel the freedom from judgment that Christ’s example provides.
Lord, help me to focus on the spirit of your law rather than the letter of my rules. Help me to give up the “shoulds” and “should nots” that limit me in artificial ways. Amen.
I love ice cream and I eat it with some regularity. The cool sweet creaminess is refreshing and delicious, and even the image of ice cream speaks to me of relaxation and enjoyment. I don’t hurry my way through ice cream, taking a long time to lick a cone, or savoring a little bit of topping with each bite of a sundae. When I was very young I made a poster with the heading “ice cream is good any way” and I illustrated it with a cone, a sandwich, and a sundae.
I’ll admit, now that I’m older each decision to eat ice cream usually comes with a bit of debate. Should I have some at this time? When was the last time I had some? What else have I eaten today? What else do I plan to eat? What else am I willing to forgo so that I can have some? How much exercise have I done? Of course all these questions are related to my weight and my body image and (in last place) my health. Have my good choices weighed out this potentially bad choice? I have it pretty firmly embedded in my thinking that I must earn my ice cream, that it is a reward for good behavior.
I’ll also admit that my relationship with God is somewhat like my relationship with ice cream. Even though the reformed Presbyterian theology is embedded firmly in the belief that all our transgressions are forgiven – that Christ died to save us from our sins, once and for all – I still fall into old ways of thinking. I catch myself thinking that I have to earn God’s grace, that I have to do enough good things to account for the times when I am selfish or competitive or uncaring.
Thankfully, I sometimes short-circuit my questions about whether to have ice cream or not and I just enjoy it! So too I am learning to stop the calculations and equations about earning God’s grace and instead rest in the assurance, the blessed feeling of acceptance, that comes with putting aside the questions and instead believing in what I say. I am loved by God no matter what, and I don’t have to earn that love. I can chose to relax and accept it, enjoying the feeling of refreshment and joy that comes along with it. Amen!
“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” Ecclesiastes 2:24-25.
God said to Noah: “So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” Genesis 6:14-16
Am I really being instructional or just being picky? This was the question that went through my mind as I hung the laundry on the clothesline, remembering times when I had told my kids to help me, then told them exactly how to hang each garment. The ways that they were hanging the clothes on the line would accomplish the task of drying the clothes (and wasn’t that the point?) but it was not being done according to my methods, which of course had been honed by years of perfectionistic precision.
These musings led me to reflect on how God instructs us. In Noah’s case, our records show that God told Noah to build an ark of specific proportions, and to fill it with his family and specific numbers of every animal on the earth. As far as we know, God didn’t add lots of specifications about how to build the ark, and God didn’t go on to remind Noah to pack all the other items that would have been necessary to equip the ark and its passengers for a long voyage. God laid out the big picture and left the details to the person chosen for the job.
I know that drying laundry doesn’t compare to building an ark, but my lesson for the day is that when I am asking someone to do something, I should choose a person who is capable of doing the job,focus on the bigger picture, and back away from the details. Yes, there is a time and a place for intervening with instructions if things are going awry, but I need to allow other people to do the job in ways that may be different than mine. Their ways may be better or they may not be, but it might not matter in the long run. Do I want dry clothes or do I want to be right about how I like to dry them? Do I want my kids to figure some things out for themselves and feel competent or do I want to do the job myself?
Lord, when I get too caught up in the details, help me to keep the bigger picture in mind. Amen.
Essays about everyday life, with a spiritual twist.
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