Texting forces you to be clear and concise. It’s harder to say something important in 50 words than it is in 500 or 5,000. Every word counts.
So my daughter is at a public university and having conversations about faith. She texted, “Dad. My roommate is asking about Lutherans. Not sure what to say.”
Remembering something from a mentor of mine, I texted back:
What if you could invent a religion? You’d probably make its central figures heroic and virtuous. All the characteristics we wish we had. This is true of most ancient religions and mythologies. They are typically a picture of a peoples' aspirations more than they are of reality.
I only know of one religion that is scandalously sober in its assessment of its key leaders. Only the faith named for Jesus, the Christ, has such a scathing view of her adherents.
You go to a mechanic to look over your car.
You go to a financial advisor to review your retirement plan.
You go to a doctor to examine your health - blood work and scans.
But what about your soul? Do you ever examine your spirit? For Christians, Lent is an annual soul examination. I thought about how odd this is while watching a Serta mattress commercial. They promise that their beds will improve “physical and emotional health.” We hear a lot about health in the body or mind. But what about the soul?
We have millions of remedies for physical maladies - nutrition, drugs, treatments, surgeries, and mattresses for good sleep. We have ways to address mental health - counseling, therapy, rest, social connection, pills. Few address the spiritual reality of being human. The Bible has words to describe the core of who we are. Soul. Heart. Spirit. Their meaning overlaps with one another, although they all refer to an inner, hidden reality.
The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus. Janus has one head but two faces, each turned in opposite directions. Janus is the god of doors, gates, and transitions. So January is aptly named, a time to look back and gaze forward.
We all have Janus moments in life where we stand in a doorway between two rooms. We pause at a pivotal moment between two seasons of life. We can’t stay in the doorway. We need to set down our things and settle in a room. But there are times where we feel “in between" two places.
Going off to college.
A relationship change.
Illness or injury.
Children growing up and moving on.
My counselor is “retired.” He is the former director of his counseling agency, but maintains a part time caseload of clients. Last week he told me, “I have never been busier in my whole career. And I’m retired!”
He shared how unique this present moment is. “No one alive has been through this before. In my career I witnessed Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, 9/11, and the 2008 economic crash. But this is different. I’ve never seen as much anxiety in nearly 50 years of work.”
Are you empty? Good. You are completely normal. The things happening to you should deplete you. The pressure of this moment reveals your natural limits. You are finite. You only have so much to give and then the vessel is empty. No man is God.
But emptiness is not an easy state. It leaves you:
For much of the United States, there is a polar vortex assaulting us with cold air. We are in the depth of winter. When the cold bites your nose as you walk out the door, you remember how harsh life can be. At the same time, there is a beauty to winter's austerity.
Seasons are necessary components of nature, a natural cycle. So too, our lives consist of seasons. There are times of abundant fruit. There are times of barren loss.
Are you in a winter season right now? Some thoughts on winter in nature, and in your life:
I know. You’re tired and stressed. We’re in the middle of a long, multifaceted crisis. It’s not just COVID and health. It is a crisis of convergence – medical, societal, racial, economic, and political. Any one of these would be a burden to carry. All together, they feel like an elephant on your shoulders. Here are seven pieces of godly wisdom for living faithfully under stress. (Some of these arose from a Zoom call with Rick Warren. A story for another day . . .)
This last Sunday, I didn't feel like preaching. The theme was "joy," and I didn't feel joyful. It’s really hard for me to be fake. I’m a bad liar. I’ll always tell you the truth, and the truth is that joy cannot be forced.
You can try to create a little Christmas joy: Put up lights. Buy presents. Have a drink. Those things may bring happiness for a moment, but not genuine joy. You can’t make yourself be joyful.
As I was preparing to preach on joy I was talking with someone in an absolute miserable situation. And I thought, “It is inappropriate for me to talk about joy right now. Hope, faith, love – yes. But joy would come across as insensitive." I’m not sure if this is the time for joy. Should we just skip the joy candle in 2020?
Here's what flipped my perspective on joy. Maybe it will bring you some joy in a season of darkness.
It's election day in America. Many Christians are freaking out, as if the kingdom of God depended on the outcome of a vote. Both political parties have said this election is for “the soul of America.” I don’t want to diminish its importance. If you haven't already, vote! But the kingdom of God does not depend on the ballot box.