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Posts Tagged ‘acceptance’

Holidays are over and my boys headed back to school this week filled to the brim with adolescent reluctance.  Now they are in high school there is less drama and screaming in getting back into routine, but there’s certainly a whole lot more sighing and rolling of the eyes.

Just as they have grown taller over time, so too have their questions evolved. It can be daunting as a parent to be asked certain questions.  When they were very young, the questions about sex were difficult, but at least they had their funny side – “Mum are those lions on TV fighting?” (son 1) – “No, they are just playing!” (son 2).  Phew, that time I didn’t need to say anything at all, just quickly change the channel!  But I have found the theological questions are often the hardest to answer.  As little guys, there was the “So who is God?”  This one was easy enough.  But then came the brutal follow up question: “But who made God?” and things started to go downhill from then on.

Recently another theological question arose during a car trip to the local shops.  “Why do Christians believe different things, and why do they disagree so much?”  Now where do you begin answering a question like that?

The first thing that came to my mind was a day long ago when I was home alone as a fifteen year old.  A sweet looking elderly lady with a woolen skirt, sensible shoes and a wide welcoming smile came to the front door.  She was clutching a booklet with what looked like happy people in a tropical garden on the cover and began talking animatedly about paradise on earth and God’s kingdom.  She seemed friendly and harmless enough so I told her I had recently become a Christian myself and shared with her how happy I was with my new-found faith.  Strangely, my enthusiasm for God seemed to dial down the radiant smile on her face.  She continued with her heaven on earth spiel and I continued telling her about my discoveries about God.  As we talked, it became glaringly obvious that we were both coming at this Christian thing from a very different angle.  I was willing to accept our differences and call it a day, but she continued relentlessly, becoming less friendly and more red in the face as she went on.  Eventually, when open hostility took over and the sweet-looking lady turned very sour, I shoved her back out the front door, closed it with a thud and stood feeling stunned, confused and shaken. A few minutes later the tears came.

That was the day I discovered that not everyone professing to be a Christian is full of the unconditional love and acceptance we expect, and that beneath certain inviting smiles lurks a whole truckload of secret agendas and control issues.

Recently I attended a Christian Women’s Conference in Sydney. The keynote speaker was an entertaining and intelligent woman and I enjoyed listening to her words of wisdom.  But towards the end of her final talk, she made a comment that jarred against my spirit.  Describing how we listen to God and are guided by Him, she encouraged us to read God’s Word, but to guard against such things as listening for his voice in other ways, seeing him at work in circumstances, or of taking notice of mystical things such as dreams and visions. Now I’m sure we have all met people who have gone a bit too far down the “mystical” path and have left reality far behind, but her tone was verging on mocking and allowed no room for those who may have had genuine mystical encounters.  As she spoke I recalled the heavy sprinkling of mystical experiences throughout the Bible  – for example the promises in Acts 2:17 that: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams’.

I sat squirming at this point as I just happen to be one of those slightly weird Christians who do have the occasional mystical encounter – a sentence may pop into my mind at just the right moment to steer me out of trouble, or a dream predicts a pivotal event which is ahead and prepares me for it, or I meet a new person and inexplicably know about a secret battle in their life which helps me treat them with an extra dose of sensitivity.  During times of illness, stress and grief, these “mystical” experiences have given me the strength and hope to keep on going. I know not everyone experiences God the way I do, but I suspect some of you reading this will relate to what I’m describing. We all have our own stories to tell and it’s captivating to listen to each story with an open mind and a gracious and humble heart.  Our stories are as diverse as we are –  and are uniquely ours.  To listen to a well educated and well meaning woman of faith denounce these experiences as silly in a room of a few thousand left me feeling utterly deflated.   I half expected everyone sitting around me to hear the undignified slow squeak of a balloon losing its air.

So I gazed at my son with his important question, sharing his concern for the confusion and pain that arises between those of us who profess to share a common faith.  I answered along these lines:

“You know when we go out together, we head down to the bookstore and buy a book each and then go and chat in the café?”

“Yes” he replied.

“And you know how your brother hates bookshops, and when we get together we go for a walk in the bush and look at all the different types of birds, and take some photos?”

“Mmm”

“Well I think it’s like that with God too.  Each of us are different.  He loves us all, and he knows exactly how to communicate with each of us.  Some of us are academic, logical and structured  – others are emotional, creative and messy.  He relates to each of us where we’re at.  Different churches reflect these different ways of relating with God.  The problems start when people of one style of faith begin to judge and criticize people of the other types.  If we could only accept our differences, get on with our own journey (or as I read in Romans recently “tend to your knitting”) and leave others to tend to theirs, we would fully express what it is to be a Christian.”

It was the most honest answer I could come up with on the hop and I hope it reflects some of the truth around this complex issue.  He seemed satisfied with that for now. I’m sure another question will come up soon and I will try to answer.  In the meantime, I will keep on listening for the answers, which I know will arrive in their own unique, quirky and God-inspired way.

So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit…  So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.  Romans 14:10-12 (The Message)

 

 

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echidna-visitorHave you ever had a day of good intentions and set plans that goes horribly wrong? Last Tuesday was ‘one of those days’ for me.  I was the mad woman, disheveled hair, bulging eyes, trying to juggle all the pieces of her life.  Flying in the air were all my roles: mother, wife, sister, nurse maid, house cleaner, PA, friend spinning dangerously out of control.  About to collide in the muddle were the to-do lists, my daily work calendar brimming with tasks and my sick son who needed me to take him to the doctor straight away.   I shut my eyes breathlessly hoping that somehow it would all miraculously fall into place  – but instead it all came tumbling down with what felt like an almighty crash.  It felt so quiet and still after all the juggling stopped.

So I sent some emails and made some calls to excuse myself from life. I convinced the doctor’s receptionist that it was urgent and after the dash to the surgery I quietened the noise in my head and cared for my son. As I checked emails throughout the day I was surprised to see the world functioning quite happily without me.

But amidst the peace and quiet was  a gnawing feeling that I had failed somehow, and that all my heroic efforts in juggling my life had resulted in nothing more than a mess. I hadn’t even managed to get to work. That little voice inside was telling me what a hopeless failure I was.

Late in the afternoon  I heard my husband arrive home and call out to me. ‘What now?’ I thought…  But as I trudged out the door I saw that he wasn’t alone.  We had a visitor – very small, very spiky and quite amazing.  An Echidna had waddled up our driveway from the bushland across the road, right up to our front door, as if to drop by for some afternoon tea. He tolerated our cooing and rude staring as we introduced ourselves and  carefully carried him across the road back to his bush home, gloves protecting fingers from spikes poised ready for a stabbing.  His pointy nose and beady eyes gazed at us as he curled his impressive spiky self, long claws waving in the air.

dropping-by

Despite his threatening spikes, I was awestruck. Something about a random visit from this exquisite creature – so unique and striking – filled me with that crazy joy that bubbles up and is far more common in young children than the middle aged.  Along with the sense of joy came a sense of freedom.  So what if I couldn’t  control my day.  Perhaps my little friend hadn’t controlled his day too well either, misjudging his afternoon stroll in the bush on the hunt for some ants.  The need to control, to stress, to rush, to worry, to get everything done, no longer mattered.  Something about the wonder of our visitor allowed the chains of being human to slip away.

So if you’re having a bad day too, can I recommend spending some time with a four legged friend? Tell your dog or cat all about it and they’ll understand. Or take a walk in the bush and tell the gum trees and the lorikeets about your dreams and disappointments. Escape your electronic devices and reality shows and get outside to where nature is.  God’s fingerprints are all over the natural world.  It has a beauty that speaks joy to us and shows us a compassion so lacking in concrete and steel.  Nature teaches us the art of freedom – without the need for any words.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”  –  Job 12: 7-10

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When I was a little girl, Smoky was my best friend.  On her twitchy arthritic legs, she would observe me knowingly with her piercing yellow eyes, rub her furry cheeks against mine and purr lovingly.   She was always happy to see me, soft and comforting.   When life in the house became too difficult and confusing, I’d escape outside to talk to Smoky.   She was wise, and she never changed.

So this week when I found myself in Kirrawee Pic-a-Pet, smiling at the antics of mischievous fluffy puppies as they crash-tackled each other, knawing their brother’s ears as their tails wagged madly, I wondered if I had grown up at all in the past forty years.   The orange parrot welcomed me with gusto, beady eyes shining as he said a cheery ‘hello’ followed by an enthusiastic wolf whistle.  He delivered his lines with all the elegance of a stage performer, bowing and swaying from side to side, a brightly clad gentleman not afraid to make a lady feel like a lady.   Mesmerised, I stood in front of his cage, pretending to humour the bird, but secretly comforted by his friendly greetings.

Have you ever felt weary of the human race and longed for the company of your loyal labrador or tabby cat?   For all of our advanced intelligence, scientific advances and ability to create complex communities, there are times when people disappoint us.

In the rush to dominate, succeed, organise, rule, judge, look good, achieve, perform and win, we often lose sight of what our four-legged friends know so well. 

With their wagging tails, adoring eyes and purring bellies our pets tell us we are valued.   No matter how we look, how we feel or how bad our day was, they are delighted to see us.  There is no hidden agenda, no game playing and no manipulation.   There is only unconditional love, loyalty and acceptance.

I have friends who’ve grasped this concept.  When I’m running late and find them waiting for me at our favourite cafe their eyes are full of delight, not impatience.   When I call at dinner time to pass on some painful news, I am greeted with kindness, rather than irritation.   And no matter how long it’s been since we were last together, the rules are just the same, the mutual respect is firmly in place and the joy of being together is overwhelming.

But sadly there are times when the search for a compassionate heart or a thoughtful soul is fruitless.  So many are striving for success, like mice on wheels running with all their might to ‘make it’ they are blind to their hopeless quest.   

I finally left Kirrawee Pic-a-Pet feeling refreshed and clear-headed.   Talking to the animals had given me the strength to return to the world of people, just as years ago my special time with Smoky calmed me so I could return to my family.  Armed with the wisdom of my furry and feathered friends, I’m reminded of the gift of unconditional love, simple acceptance and, when necessary, a good loud wolf whistle.

Never under-estimate the healing power of unconditional love.   It is the essence of God and satisfies the deepest longings of our soul.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

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How long has it been since you’ve spent a few hours with a baby?   I was honoured to spend a couple of hours this morning with an angelic little cherub, who smiled at me with such joy that I began acting very foolishly.   First came my silly high-pitched voice which I vaguely recall using with my own babies, and then before I knew it I was blowing raspberries and dancing Led Zeppelin style around the room, throwing my hair from side to side, to make him laugh.    He thought it was hilarious and I was encouraged to continue.    It was only after about ten minutes that I realised the light was on, the blinds were open and the neighbours were gardening just outside my window.  

I had forgotten the immediacy of the first few months of life.   The baby’s needs are simple – to be fed, burped, kept warm and clean, but most importantly, to be loved.    While drinking from his bottle, my little friend was engrossed in the experience, and kept smiling so widely in his enjoyment that the milk came rushing out the corners of his mouth.    When he fell asleep snug under his blue blanket, he sunk into the pleasures of sleep, peaceful and serene.

All cuteness and cluckiness aside, what stood out for me today was the purity and joy in his eyes.   It was so refreshing to have this little person look at me so intently and openly, and to find acceptance and trust imprinted in his sparkling eyes.    His eyes were in stark contrast to the eyes of many adults  I pass each day.     Despite numerous conversations and exchanges, there is often no eye contact, just the rare furtive glance.    When our eyes do meet I understand the reluctance, as I discover eyes reflecting  pain, anger and emptiness.     When do we cease being those little trusting beings, and succumb to the hopelessness and pain of this world?

The other person who looks at me like this sweet baby, is my mother, who is at the other end of her life.    A brain tumour has confined her to a water chair and she lives in a nursing home at the mercy of her carers.   She cannot walk, dance, talk, or make many decisions.   Her pleasures lie in eating her desserts, singing, and smiling at the familiar faces around her.     When I visit Mum she smiles that same smile of trust and joy that I saw in the baby’s eyes this morning.

It seems that we come into the world possessing this ability to enjoy life and love people, and it often takes us the rest of our lives to reclaim it, after letting it slip away.    In the middle years we often lose sight of the joy of living, striving for material wealth and success.   In the latter years we wonder what life is all about, take some time out to reflect and step off the treadmill.   It is as if life goes full circle.    If we are fortunate, we end as we began – open, loving and free.

Why do we lose our joy?   Are we so busy trying to grab all we can in this life, to weave complicated webs around ourselves, that we are unable to enjoy the simple things?    Is it the bleakness of this life,  the suffering and rejection we invariably endure, that wears away any happiness we once had?  Is it only for these brief periods as we enter the world, and as we leave it, that we allow ourselves to relax and just ‘be’?  

I wonder if it is possible to take hold of this joy in the rush and tumble of life, without waiting to get old.   Perhaps  we can learn to value simplicity – the joy of eating a juicy strawberry, and the pleasure of curling up in a warm bed.     Maybe we can learn to look on those around us with trust and compassion – rather than as competitors and commodities.     Imagine if we could recapture some of  the innocent joy of the baby,  with cheeks still damp with the dew of heaven, undamaged by this broken world.

And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”               Matthew 18:3

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