Thursday, October 25, 2012

Be Proud

A couple of weeks ago, I sat having tea at the home a dear member of the congregation I serve.  She talked to me about her husband of many years.  She told me of his strong faith and dedication to the church, and then she said, looking me in the eye, “I’m very proud of his faith.”

I haven’t been able to get that out of my head.

I’m reminded of the big (almost obnoxiously so) photo of my husband and me on our wedding day that hangs in our bedroom.  As I get older, I’m surprised at how young we look and how much time has gone by since our wedding day.  Our wedding guests wrote notes to us on the mat surrounding the photo.  I treasure them all, but one hits me in the gut every time I read it.  In the midst of lovely words like love always, best wishes, and congratulations, it says be proud of each other. 

So often we forget to be proud—not only in our marriages, but in all our relationships.

So much is packed into that little saying—be proud of each other.  Celebrate each other’s accomplishments.  Look for the best in one another.  When times are difficult, affirm.  Words of praise need to be part of your regular conversations.  Remember how fortunate you are to be together.

I think of the way I get embarrassed when my son says, “You’re the best mom in the world.”  I immediately think of why I don’t deserve it.  I think of the too many nights in a row he ate chicken nuggets.  I think of the week he wore the same outfit to school for several days (probably one day more than he should have).  I think of every reason why I don’t deserve such sweet, sincere words of praise.

Yet what if I believed those words?  What if, in his world, I’m the best mom for him?  I can forget about the days I can’t remember the last time he had a bath.  Instead, I’ll think of what I do well—baking cookies with him, starting dance parties in the kitchen, and reading him stories before bed.  I'll remember it every time I tell him I'm proud of him and see his delighted smile.

What if our churches were places of praise?  What if we focused on being proud of one another?  We'll look at someone sitting on the other end of the pew and see the best.  We'll celebrate each other's accomplishments and lift up each other's gifts.  In the midst of all this affirmation, we’ll live into our best selves.  It’s not a simple fix to bigger problems, but I think it’s a start.  What if we said to one another, “I’m proud of your faith?”  These are grace-filled words.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.--1 Corinthians 1:4-7

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

But You Do See, Lord!

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Psalm 10:1

A telemarketer called our home this week at the exact wrong time. I was cleaning up from a tragic attempt at making enchiladas (throwing most of them away) and finishing up a difficult evening with my kids. I don’t know why I decided to answer a toll free number—knowing it would be a salesperson—but I did. In the course of our conversation the telemarketer became rude and sarcastic and I lost my cool. I let her have it—waxing poetic about her unprofessionalism and rudeness as only a preacher can do—and hung up on her. I’m not proud. It was a completely thoughtless, emotional reaction on my part. Thinking back on it, I may have been setting myself up for a fight as soon as I looked at the caller ID.

I sat down after the conversation, my heart pounding and my hands feeling shaky. I knew I overreacted. After a moment of silence, I said out loud, “I’m angry.” This anger has been building for a while. I had no idea I was feeling it until I lost it on the phone—because often it’s easier to yell at a captive stranger than to address the real reason (or person). I’m angry. I’m angry at people who don’t call me back. I’m angry at teachers who do call when I want to live in the illusion that my sweet son is the most well-behaved and brilliant student in his class. I’m angry I feel guilty every time I take a few minutes to myself. I’m angry I filled two big buckets with green tomatoes from my garden last night because my dog wasn’t here to eat them all before I got around to picking them. I’m angry no one pretended to like my enchiladas. I’m angry that, for all of this, I have no one to blame. I’m angry I blame myself for far too much. I’m angry at life.

So often we think good Christians don’t get angry—and good Christians certainly don’t get angry with God. We assume anger is unnatural, evil, impolite and unfriendly. It is when it’s not expressed or felt but stuffed into an already too-full emotional suitcase. It’s evil when it leads to abuse and pain. When we don’t recognize our anger, it manifests itself in depression, anxiety, and unfortunate interactions with telemarketers.

Anger is also a great sign that something is wrong with our lives or with the world around us. Righteous anger leads us to action on behalf of those we feel are mistreated or systems we feel are corrupted. It forces us to look at our lives and recognize what needs to be changed. It opens our eyes to the truth. It acknowledges our pain.

When we don’t acknowledge our anger at God, it leads to a rift in our relationship. God already knows what’s in our hearts—God recognizes inauthentic prayer. God breathed life into the world and the heavens. God came to earth as Jesus Christ to suffer, die and be raised, breaking the course of history and giving creation a new future. Certainly God can deal with our angry thoughts and prayers.

Thankfully (so thankfully), our faith in God isn’t dependent on our fickle and fast-changing emotions. Our God is the solid foundation, the rock of our faith. When we feel hopeful one day and hopeless the next, God stays put. We’re secure in the love and faithfulness of a God who keeps God’s Word.

But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers; seek out their wickedness until you find none. The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land. O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more. Psalm 10:14-18