Monday, September 16, 2013

When the Holy Spirit meets the Bickersons

My husband and I spend our Thursday evenings doing something a little out of the ordinary: we go to assisted living facilities and recreate old-time radio shows for the entertainment of the residents.  Our little troupe performs old favorites like Baby Snooks, Fibber McGee and Molly, Sam Spade, and The Honeymoon Is Over - better known as The Bickersons.

This Sunday afternoon one of our fellow radio players dropped by the house to rehearse a "new" episode of Fibber McGee.  After we were finished, just for the fun of it, we decided to do a quick read of our latest Bickersons script, even though none of us would actually be the ones performing those roles this time around.  As the title suggests, John and Blanche Bickerson spend every episode bickering, always in the middle of the night. It's rollicking fun to act out their skirmishes.

This is why, after our friend went home, I had the Bickersons on the brain as I closed myself into our tiny bathroom.

Paul and I have lived in our little house with two very small bathrooms ever since our marriage, over six years ago.  It was clear from the earliest weeks here that Paul was never going to agree to use the second bathroom, ever, for any reason.  I don't really know why, but that is the way it is.  And so, all our toiletries, towels, laundry, and grooming tools, along with our overlapping work schedules are crowded into this space.

So, on this day as I pondered  how odd our bathroom arrangement is,  it occurred to me that it is even stranger that we have never, in all these years, had an argument or even a memorable bicker over the use of this room. How is that even possible?

The fact is I have often been annoyed about the bathroom situation. At times I have even thought, "I should just move all his stuff into the other room!"  But I have never acted on those thoughts. I know he has his reasons (incomprehensible to me) for wanting to share this bathroom.  I also know that he has been just as inconvenienced as I have been by this arrangement.  Yet he has never uttered a complaint.

Why?

And a snippet of Scripture came to mind:
"...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control..." Gal. 5: 22-23a
The Holy Spirit?

Really?

When I was a teen attending a charismatic church, this is not what I was told to look for.  Not even close. But, based upon what I had been taught, I if I did decide I needed self-control, I would have expected God to zap me with it, maybe as a result of someone laying hands on me.  It would be a dramatic miracle. Poof! I'd be self-controlled.  But self-control was not really on my radar.  When the Holy Spirit is at work, people speak in tongues, or are healed.  The Holy Spirit does hair-raising things. Or so I thought.

Self-control? Not bickering over the bathroom?

Yawn...

A few years back, I was enjoying a Puritan-esque sovereignty-of-God revival.  The Puritans, thank God, did value the fruits of the Spirit, and by this time, so did I.  Through them I came to see self-control as an evidence of God's work of grace.  Its presence was something miraculous that God bestowed on us, a sign that we are truly saved. A work solely of God's grace - so only He would get the glory. It's absence was cause for self-examination - reason to doubt whether I was really saved or not.  The only recourse was to repent, pray for my salvation, again, just in case, and pray harder for self-control to be given to me by God as a sovereign act of divine grace.

How strange it is that these two nearly opposite theological perspectives had left me with the same notion: that whatever work God does in our lives comes as if by magic.  Just pray and wait.

But if there is anything I've learned over the last few years, it's that God seldom works that way.  The day in-day out of the Christian life is miraculous alright, but it seldom feels like it. What this spiritual fruit called self control more often looks and feels like is me actually controlling myself, day by day and moment by moment making decisions about how I am going to behave.  It is called "self-control" for a reason.  It means I take responsibility for my own actions and take control of my own self.

So, what does this work of the Spirit look like in my life?  What does it feel like?  It looks like an irritated Me, deciding to let it go, for the sake of my husband.  It feels like choosing kindness over selfish anger. It feels a lot like something I do, not something God does.

And yet, I know myself well enough to know that me making those kinds of choices on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute basis is an absolute miracle. The miracle is found in a heart that actually desires to love God and neighbor. Were it not for the work of Christ in my life, were it not for an understanding of the Scripture, were it not for solid biblical teaching, my married life would be one long miserable Bickersons episode.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Today Is the Day

At age forty-six* I shredded my mother’s papers. It was ten months after she died, at age eighty-seven. The documents spanned twenty years of life, hers and mine. Hundreds of bills fretted over. Hundreds of checks written. Thousands of moments represented: fears, pain, courage, labor, dreams, and prayers. A fourth of her life. Half of mine.

Two evenings spent, shredded it all.

Life is short. Shorter than I imagined. You think eighty-seven years is a long time. But it’s not, not when you’re the one living it. And you are.

I don’t know when my time will come, but I know that it will seem to me then as though no time had passed at all. “How did I get to be so old?” I will ask. I know, because I’ve asked it already. And what will I say then that I’ve lived for? Will I say that I’ve lived and loved well? If my time comes today I’m afraid I’ll say “no”.

Today is the day to repent.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:24-31

Today is the day to do the one thing God wants,  ”seek him and…reach out for him and find him.” Oh, He makes it so simple. Why do I insist on complicating things?

*Today I found this article which I wrote nearly three years ago in a private blog that I am now in the process of re-purposing. It didn't hurt so much to read it now as I did when I first wrote it. In fact, it encouraged me. So I've moved it here.

Friday, September 6, 2013

How Will the Children Find Peace?

My family was ahead of its time. Mine was not the idyllic late-sixties childhood. I was a latch-key kid a decade or more before there was a name for such a thing.  But even before my latch-key days I was ahead of my time. I attended a unique private school in Culver City, CA which provided both before and after school care.

It began in my pre-K year. I must have been four years old.  My mother and I would get up early in the morning, while it was still dark, to get me dressed in my uniform.  I ate my breakfast, and then we were off to work.  Mom would pull the car up to the curb in front of the school.  There Mrs. Aiken was waiting to escort me through the glass double-doors of that two-story building. It all seems so ritzy in retrospect - as if I were the daughter of a president or a celebrity. At the time it felt ordinary.

Inside those doors they taught the little ones, pre-K and Kindergarten, to sing in French.  They taught us to use paste, and not to eat it. They let us play, too, in the miniature wooden kitchen, and with a little wooden train set.

When we reached 1st Grade we wore different uniforms through those doors.  Gone were the neat stiff blue-jeans and checked collared shirts. Big kids, we wore navy jumpers, white blouses and saddle shoes, and navy cardigans with a crest over our hearts.  Now we were taught that if we were not busy with an assignment, we were to sit silent and still, hands folded and two feet on the ground.

They also taught us to dance.  It was an escape for little girls like me, from sitting still, and from sports. On Monday, Tap.  On Tuesday, Ballet. On Wednesday, Tap.  On Thursday, Ballet.  And so it alternated five days a week, every week of the school year.  Ballet was the great joy of my early school years.

We also learned Spanish, and English, and Math, and spelling.  I worked hard.  We all did. To do otherwise was impermissible. As the hours passed we were ushered from one room to the next to learn each subject in a group organized not by grade-level but by our ability and personal progress.

I learned fast and well behind those doors.  I also worked late.

This school not only provided morning supervision before classes, but after-school care, decades before such programs would become commonplace.  As a result, I would arrive at school between 7 and 7:30 in the morning and remain behind those doors until 5:30 or 6, depending on how long my mom remained trapped in L.A. traffic.  At certain times of the year it would be barely light when I was dropped off and dark when I got picked up to finally go home.  I still remember the desolation of sometimes being the last child left, dark windows in my periphery, waiting to go home.

And so, I remember my first day at Sunday School.

It was shortly after my mom remarried and we moved to a different town. For some reason, my mom got it into her head to join the Lutheran church up the street.  Perhaps we always went to church, but this is the first I remember of it.

As we got out of the car, Mom handed me a quarter, and I burst in to tears.

"What's the matter, Laurie?"

It was money for the offering plate.

But I thought it was lunch money. I thought was being sent off for another day of school, on the weekend. I was heartbroken.

Sadly, aside from felt-boards and smells, that first moment is all I remember of the years of Sunday School that would follow.  I would never love it, because it would always represent for me a theft from the few precious unscheduled hours of my life.

And so, today, forty years or more later, when I see mommies and daddies rushing kids from here to there, from one scheduled, supervised activity to the next, my heart breaks a little.  How will those children ever view church as anything but another thing on the already-full schedule?  How will they ever recognize Christ as anything more than an add-on to an already-full life?  How will they ever have the quiet moments to recognize the beauty of God's creation, to commune with their own souls, to count their blessings and reckon with their sins?  When will they consider life and beauty, death and eternity?

As I consider how pressured I felt back then, how precious my unstructured down-time was to me, I think how much worse things would have been if I also had the technology available to me that kids have now. Would I have ever read a book just because I wanted to, drawn a picture just for the joy of it, or prayed in the quiet emptiness of my own room?