The men’s group where I am a member was discussing Romans chapter 8 this morning. We were talking about what it means to have God’s peace. Several in our group are going through tough times; some family issues and others business problems. They were asking why they aren’t experiencing God’s peace. It is easy in the middle of a problem to point to someone who is not having the same problem and attribute God’s peace to them. If I am experiencing a problem that is causing turmoil in my life, and I see someone who is not experiencing the same problem, it is easy to assume that she must have God’s peace unlike me. Sounds silly when you say it like that, but it is an easy leap to make when you feel life crashing down around you… at least it is for me. That leap is not fair for many reasons. The reason I want to focus on now is that life happens; whether as a result of our own actions and decisions or things that are completely out of our control. It’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring our spiritual status by our physical status. Are we prospering? We must be “right with God”. Are we failing in life? We must be out of God’s will. I don’t believe that our physical circumstances and our spiritual circumstances are that easily related… I’ll try my hand at an un-parable. Jesus might have introduced it like this, “The Kingdom of God is not like this…”
A farmer planted corn and the corn did well. Later others can come by and saw acres of corn. They knew merely by virtue of the plants they saw that the farmer planted corn.
Not so spiritually speaking. It would be judgemental and wrong for me to look at my friend whose business is not doing well and say that he’s not right with God. And it would be just as presumptuous to look at my friend whose business is prospering and conclude that he must be close to God. It just doesn’t work like that. Yes, there is a sowing and reaping, but it’s dangerous to look at the physical and make spiritual judgements.
In my own journey, when I relate the peace of God with my own prosperity, I tend to want to fix the physical in order to address the spiritual. I create “places of peace” that are really nothing about following God. They are merely my own “happy places”. I create peace in my life when I plan, work and succeed. Am I saying this is wrong? Please hear me on this: This post is not about good and bad, nor is it about right and wrong. I am merely doing a bit of sorting. What is spiritual and what is physical? What is peace and what is God’s spiritual peace? Nothing wrong with creating happy places in my life, but I don’t want to confuse them with the Peace of God that is present even when I’m not in a happy place… In John 9, the disciples asked Jesus why a man had been born blind… well, not quite. What they asked was whose sin caused him to be blind. They were connecting his physical condition to his spiritual condition. Jesus rightly called foul on their presumption. Just because I do A and then get B does not mean my doing A causes B. In fact, that line of thinking leads to superstition and superstition merely confuses the situation.
Continuing the sorting process… Later today, a podcast of Speaking of Faith on prayer got me thinking of multiple levels of thankfulness and grattitude. A little girl read this poem by Mary Oliver (emphasis is mine)…
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
How wonderful to stroll through the fields, to play in the grass all day. I could be thankful for that. But the grass must be tended to. What about mowing the grass? Can I be thankful for that too? What about the daily work and grind that saps all my energy and seems to be for nothing. Can I be thankful for that? There must be multiple levels of grattitude. For instance, there’s a “childish” grattitude for simple things (generally selfish) and a deeper “adult” grattitude for what’s behind those simple things. I say “adult”, but it doesn’t come automatically at any age.
I have such fond memories of Christmas meals with my dad’s family in West Virginia. So much family in one room that you could hardly move. The aroma of more wonderful dishes than you could imagine. So many that you could hardly taste taste them all in just one sitting. I was thankful for that even then… and I am thankful for the memory of those gatherings now. But I had no thought for (and hence no grattitude for) those who did the work to cook those meals and plan the evening and clean the house and… It’s only as an adult that I can see that side of it. Only as an adult, do I realize that the events like these that set the stage for great memories take great planning and execution. They do not merely happen. That doesn’t lessen my childish grattitude. In fact it enhances it and in a sense, completes it. I can only be thankful for what I have some understanding of.
So, yes, I can be thankful for a walk and a tumble in the grass… and I can be thankful for the ability and the tools that I need to mow that grass. I can be thankful for the family times and thankful that someone has put the energy and planning into creating these times. The more I know, the more I can be thankful for. As I write those words, I hear the dryer tumbling freshly washed clothes and I realize that if my sweetie hadn’t taken care of that, I would be doing laundry instead of blogging. Thanks Honey… Happy Monthiversary… thirty years and 2 months!