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I’ve been going to church since…forever. Or for as long as I can recall, anyway. I remember being so small, the only way I could see over the pew in front of me was to stand on the kneeler, something my mother did not like me to do. One look from her, and all thoughts of bad behavior ceased.

These days, things are different. Parents bring bags of Cheerios to placate and bribe their children into ceasing their screaming for ten seconds. Toddlers wail through the readings. (“It sounded like sinners shrieking from the depths of Hell,” my husband observed after one particularly noisy Mass.) Kids run in the aisles, dart in and out of church, play loudly with toys. One set of parents remains seated, even when the rest of the congregation stands or kneels: They can’t move, or their three-year-old will howl with rage because she has to move out of their laps, where she is being petted and coddled. There is a “Cry Room” in the back of the church designed for these children, but most parents don’t use it. New blinds were recently bought for the Cry Room; in a week they were broken. No parent came forward to claim responsibility for their child’s misdeed.

All of which adds up to a compelling case for a blog post about irresponsible parenting and the decline of “kids these days.” But it isn’t, honestly. This post is about me. I can’t see past these interruptions. They bother me, distract me from the word of God. And guess what? That’s my fault.

Why am I using the most important spiritual time I have each week focusing on the wrong thing? Why can’t I stop condemning? And, most essentially, who is really in the wrong — little kids who can’t help themselves or the grown-up woman who spends her time judging them and their parents? Yup, it’s true. I’m the sinner. My focus is off. Moreover, it’s not my job to judge anyone; that’s up to God. And God understands kids. I’m the one who doesn’t.

Lord, remind me to bless parents who manage, by hook or by crook, to get their little ones to Church each week. Bless, too, the children, who will learn what’s really going on, eventually. At least they have that chance. And when things get noisy or distracting, Lord, center my attention on You. Because I’m supposed to know better. It’s time to demonstrate it.

Heavenly Lord,
‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’
It sounds so easy that I nod along.
‘Yes, I can do this.  I will do this.’

Yet time and time again,
I catch myself judging and condemning –
the incompetent mother,
the oblivious father,
the inadequate checker.

Almost without thought,
I find these people wanting
in oh so many ways.

But when I am honest,
I also find myself falling short
of the goal you have assigned to us all.

Trust in You.
Do not assume that I know –
Your will,
their situation,
many details of my own reality.

Please help me see the people around me
as You see us all, as Your children,
flawed, failing, and forgiven.

Amen.

Last week, Ruth commented on my post, Rules and Hair Splitting, and suggested that I explore it more fully in the weeks to come. Specifically, she asked me to continue writing on how we so often judge others. I’d been noodling over just how to do it when I read her post for this week.

The following verse caught my eye:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know.” (Proverbs 3:5)

What  does this have to do with judging others?  On the surface, perhaps nothing, but it jumped out at me nonetheless because of a recent personal experience.

As should come as no surprise to all of you, I am Christian.  Specifically, I am Presbyterian, a denomination that is often considered, for want of a better word, Conservative.  Maybe this is the reason that many people who know my religious affiliation assume that I am also Politically Conservative.  I’m capitalizing this because, for me, this is a huge deal.  Huge.  I can’t even tell you the number of times that I’ve been cornered by someone who is sure that they’ve found a sympathetic ear as they vent about gay marriage.  Seriously?  What about me makes them think that I agree with them?  I have no idea, but they are certain.  Certain.  CERTAIN.  It is particularly embarrassing when one of my gay friends is standing right next to me.  Why do these people make this assumption?

As our church works to hire a new pastor, I’ve been mentally bemoaning the fact that it is highly unlikely that they will pick the candidate I favor.  After all, with so many terribly conservative members, how can we get someone with the liberal leanings I would favor?  How do I know these people are conservative?  Let’s just say that when they discuss Presidential politics, I listen but generally keep my opinions to myself. How can anyone possibly vote this way and not be that conservative in everything?

Laughing already?  Then you see the freight train heading right for me, don’t you?

The other day I got a surprise.  Two of the women I had pegged as Conservative walked into our meeting fussing about someone in their Bible study class.  “Can you believe the homophobic nonsense she was spouting?”

Ahem.  Can you excuse me a moment, Ladies?  I believe I need to get my hypocritical, judgmental foot out of my mouth if you can give me a moment.

I’d love to say that I’m innocent of judging others, but obviously, I’m not.  And, as so often happens, I figured this out only after a not-so-subtle nudge from the Almighty.  A nudge that reminded me to trust in Him because He, much more so than I, know what is in other people’s hearts.

–SueBE

1 My child, don’t forget what I teach you. Always remember what I tell you to do. 2 My teaching will give you a long and prosperous life. 3 Never let go of loyalty and faithfulness. Tie them around your neck; write them on your heart. 4 If you do this, both God and people will be pleased with you. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. 6 Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way.

Newsflash:  You can’t hold everything.  Your arms aren’t big enough.

But in a way, we do try to hold everything as we go through our daily lives.  We try to hold the whole world as we know it together through our own efforts.  So often, we find our arms growing weary, and it all falls down around us.

There’s a passage from the Old Testament that has been rolling around in my brain today.

Trust in Jehovah with all your heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding: In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (ASV)

Hmm.  I thought God wanted us to use our own understanding.  To use our best judgment and not always expect Him to step in every time we’re in a tiny bind.

In other translations of the Bible, I’ve heard the term “understanding” translated as “intelligence” or “prudence.”  But the version that brings it home for me is the Good News Translation:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Never rely on what you think you know.  Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (GNT)

This makes sense to me.  “Never rely on what you think you know.”

That must be how we do it.  Keep the faith, do your best, and leave the rest up to God.  Hold everything?  Consider it done.  No matter how hard we think we’re trying, He’s doing all the heavy lifting, anyway.

I had to laugh last week when I read Glynnis Whitwer’s Proverbs 31 daily devotion, “I Would Have Made a Great Pharisee.”  Whitwer discusses her love of rules and how even religious rules sometimes move her focus from where it should be – the condition of her heart.

No, it wasn’t a particularly funny devotional, but it reminded me of this summer’s Bible study program at my church.  The first night of class, a scheduling conflict kept our craft lady from attending.  Fortunately, her adult son agreed to take her place.  No, he’d never taught arts and crafts, but he had taught children as young as 3 to play golf.  We, Presbyterians gathered for Bible study, wouldn’t have clubs to swing so how hard could it be?

And he did great with the kids.  Handing out the quilt squares and fabric markers, he told them to draw a picture showing what they were grateful for.  It worked great.

With the kids.

He gave the same directions to my adult class and that’s when the questions started.  I don’t remember the specific questions, but I do remember his look of panic as they tried to get him to give them some parameters, establish some boundaries, and lay out the rules.  Yes, I laughed, but mostly at myself, because I wanted answers to the same questions.  After all, didn’t there have to be a right way and a wrong way to do this?  And it was important to get this right since our efforts were going to be made into a quilt for all to see.

I often react the same ways to God’s rules.  Do unto others . . . which others?  In every situation?  Be kind to our neighbors . . . does that mean the people down the street, too?  The ones with the yapping dog?  And what about someone on the other side of the world?  Who doesn’t believe what we believe?  Certainly they don’t count, do they?   Judge not . . . wait, does that mean I can’t call gangster rap evil?  Or look down my nose at women who dresses trashy?

Give the same rules to a group of children, and they know pretty much what God wants.  Treat people with kindness.  Sure, that might mean sharing their snack or letting you borrow their snuggly, but isn’t that actually a much better approach then our quest to limit the situations in which God’s Rules apply?

Not that I’ve managed to quell my own desire for clearer guidelines, but at least I’m laughing.

–SueBE

A couple of years ago, my mother fought and survived cancer. A few weeks ago, her doctor discovered a new mass. He verified it. He scheduled her for a biopsy. The day of the biopsy arrived, and a final scan was taken before surgery. Only now, there was no mass. Nothing, nada. “Um, maybe it was a cyst that dissolved due to hormones,” the doctor offered. My mother doesn’t take hormones. That can’t be the reason. So what is?

A friend of mine recently posted something on Facebook: pictures of hopeful people with captions that read, “God, please help me pass this test,” and “God, let my team win.” The last image was of a starving child in Africa with no caption underneath. Obviously, the post was supposed to illustrate the futility of prayer and/or the nonexistence of a loving God.

I get it. I can’t explain why a loving God would allow children to die of starvation. But I can reason that quite a number of the world’s problems rest with our own human free will. We could feed the hungry if we really wanted to; heaven knows, we have plenty enough. But we don’t, for a number of reasons ranging from practicalities in shipping and distribution to lack of funding to volatile politics in affected regions. However, as to the question of why God would “allow” human tragedies to occur: No, I have no explanation.

I hope to understand these things someday. Maybe in the afterlife I’ll figure it out. For now, I am willing to confess my lack of full comprehension yet still believe in God with all my heart. There are a million reasons for this. The latest one? What happened to my mother was a miracle. The doctor couldn’t explain it. And neither can anyone else.

Ruth once wrote, “Miracles accrue one prayer at a time.” I believe this. Even if the world doesn’t always back me up.

Deadlines, piles of bills, appointments… There’s stress on everyone in today’s world.

Years ago, I worked at a company that didn’t use the term “deadline” for our tasks. They called it the “Drop Dead Date.”

Drop Dead Date. We don’t care if you have to work yourself to a nub. Get it done. We don’t care if you have a heart attack in your cubicle. Get it done. We don’t care if your wife is in labor, your house is on fire, and your money was embezzled. Get it done.

I’ve heard it said that people need anger management training or that they need a life coach.

I think what we need is Happiness 101. Not just learning how to deal with things so they don’t stress you out and make you ill over time. How do you get from I Don’t Know How to This Makes Sense Now?

Do you think you can’t be happy if a bill is overdue? Or if there’s a big family problem that no one seems to know how to solve?

There are some basic things every human needs to be happy. A sense of purpose is key.

A sense of community. A sense of smell. Sorry. Just threw that in to see if you were paying attention! Points for you – you are.

A sense of self.

So who are you? Why are you here? Who are the people in your life who just “get you”?

Find a project that gives your life some juice. Find the people who see the world the way you do. Find yourself by loving who you are, right where you are.

I think all of these things fall into place when you find God. There is a peace that passes understanding. No matter how fierce the storm, with faith you can make it through.

The main thing I wish for you is this:
A rich, full life.
Even if you’re not rich.
Even if your belly’s not full.
The “for-now” -ness gets us all into trouble.
We say we’ll just take this job… “for now.”
Or stick with this relationship that’s a sinking ship….. “for now.”
For now is another way of saying, I accept less than I deserve.
So here’s the tricky part.  Be content but don’t settle.
Expect great things.
Blast off in a rocket to reach the stars.
Build an eighth wonder in your imagination.
How would you live if you knew you couldn’t fail?
What would you do if you had all you ever wanted?
Would you suddenly know how to be happy?
Mr. Right doesn’t do that for you.
Growing a third eye and seeing into the future won’t make it clear.
It’s already there, all wrapped up inside of you.
Ask God’s help.  Do it yourself.
Get on your knees and pray.
Get on your feet and walk.
Be about it.  Now move.

 

The theme this week seems to be fear. That’s an awfully large (and scary) grab bag for me to poke my hand into, metaphorically speaking. (Aside/deflection: Why don’t we all speak metaphorically more often? Life would be so much more literary. I would very much rather live in a poem than in a reality program, wouldn’t you, readers?) Thus, my contribution this week will be a prayer:

Fear

I can’t seem to pray it away.
It sits there, staring,
like something out of Stephen King.
What should I do with fear, Lord?

And you tell me:
“You are not alone.
I’ve seen it, too, in the garden,
after the Last Supper.
You are allowed to acknowledge it.
Just don’t let it tell you what to do.”

And I understand.

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