April 3, 2010

Rethinking the Past

It is bright and sunny here today. It is supposed to be beautiful, temp-wise. We had a week of 80+ days, followed by a couple 60 degree and windy days (no rain though). The flowers are all in bloom and it really is quite lovely. March and early April are the nicest months to visit Phoenix. The hotels, especially the big resorts go all out with the flowers. You can drive from one resort to another just to go and check out their flower displays. By May, the heat will be upon us and then all the lovely more delicate flowers will be gone (no geraniums -- my fav). We will be stuck with Vinca (don't mind me, it actually is a nice flower, it is just the ONLY flower that can take the hot, hot days of June-August).

Still, Arizona is a beautiful place if you like dirt, rocks and red skies at night. It is truly a desert paradise. I remember when we first moved here, the first thing I missed was all the green of California. I missed the grass, for certain, but I also missed the hillsides being covered in lovely and lush green landscape (shrubs, bushes, grasses, and trees). It took me quite a while to develop a "desert eye;" an eye that can spot the more subtle shading of green.

In the desert there are many shades of green, they just are lighter, more yellowish or very pale in color. You don't have the deep dark greens of a Northern climate. You also see the variety of plants after a time. When you first move here, you see cactus everywhere. Everyone plants with cactus because it needs no water (just rainwater). You see only certain trees, the native species because they also need very little water. You don't see the little succulents that send out beautiful flowers until they bloom once each year. You don't see the trees that put on gorgeous displays of flowers until spring. You have to wait for the BIG PICTURE, the big and bold and beautiful desert picture to come into focus. For many long months, you most see the same old thing, same old flowers, same old rock, same old trees. Then BAM! your eyes are hit with a profusion of color (especially with the wildflowers that seem to grow where they choose -- in rock covered yards, on hillsides, and all over the 'blooming' desert!)

This is the exact same way it is with our life. We don't see what is right in front of us until something shakes us up and causes us to refocus our eyes on the BIG PICTURE. For most of us, this shake-up comes to us generally as a life-changing event. A new marriage or a new baby will cause us to rethink old habits and patterns. We will have to make some changes to accommodate this new thing in our life. It is a good change, an exciting change. A change that makes us want to experience it fully. It is difficult to change, and none of us like it, but some change is worth it. Some life change is worth the effort to modify and remodel our views and perspective.

Some change is difficult, some is unwanted, like that of a death or severe personal loss. These types of events are often unexpected, and they take us by surprise. They require us to rethink and to retool rather quickly. We don't have time to prepare for their arrival, so we have to do two things at once: deal with the discovery or process (in the example of life illness or coming death) as well as prepare for the future (after the event passes). It is far more difficult to process change, to accept it and then live with it, when you are faced with this type of event.

None of us are prepared for devastation. I recall seeing the "walking wounded" -- those people stranded by Hurricane Katrina or in the aftermath of all those Midwest tornadoes. You see people, many of whom who have some experience with either type of event, walking around numb. Their world, everything they new and expected to see was destroyed. It was ground zero, a battle zone, and they were plopped down right in the middle of it. They were happy to be alive, for certain, but you could see the intense focus on their faces. They were desperately trying to find, to see, to recognize something that was familiar. They were looking for the past, but only finding shards and remnants of the life they once knew.

Often we do this as well. We go through a period of numbness anytime we experience tragic change, change that up ends our once normal and predictable life. We then begin to refocus our attention on what matters most -- for many it is simply getting through each day. After a while, we accept the change and begin to form new habits and patterns. In short, we reestablish a predictable routine.

Routine, it seems is a critical necessity to a sane mind. Doctors will say how important routine is to a small child, how it gives them a sense of security, a sense of "before and after". Adults need routine to become comfortable too. Whether it is getting coffee on the way to work, following a particular path to the office, or ordering our morning (shower, dress and breakfast), we tend to establish and then follow routines. They keep us focused and ordered and moving forward.

Any life change, any kind, will alter our routines for a while. It can be hard to adjust (I remember when my son was born -- oh my -- nothing prepared me for round the clock feedings) and we can struggle against having to do so for a time. Usually, we make minor alterations, minor adjustments, and then settled back into our familiar routine.

Sometimes establishing a routine is nearly impossible. Again, I think back to victims of natural disasters, to people who are forced to live in shelters for long periods of time. Just having a normal life is impossible. Going to the store (what store?); taking the kids to school (impassible roads). Normal, every day things we take for granted are no longer there to comfort and contain us.

How a person deals with change directly speaks to their maturity and their character. Most people can endure a change, a major life change, but to really see depth of character, take a look at someone who has endured significant, multiple life changes. In doing so, you will see steadfastness, discipline, and a stout heart. You will see immovable and unshakeable determination in the face of total uncertainty.

Oh, how I wish I could be this determined. Oh, how I wish I could be this steadfast. The truth be told, we all (believers in Christ Jesus) are being made this way. Whether we like it or not; whether we admit it or accept it; the Lord is making us over and into a people of discipline and focused determination.

The Apostle Paul calls us all to "run the race of faith" and to "press onward toward the upward calling of Christ Jesus." We are being called to walk a life of uncertainty, to be adept at shifting priorities, and changing habits and routines. We are being asked to be flexible, to let go of certain things, and to embrace other things. We are being told not to hold on too tightly to the comfort of this world (it is passing away), but to hold on only to the Lord. We are being warned that our life is headed for a major change, and are given tools to help us handle that change when it does come (and it will -- to all of us).

Those who heed the Word will find great comfort in knowing that nothing that has happened or will happen is uncommon to mankind. No disaster, no hurt, no pain, no humiliation is uncommon in this life. Someone has experienced it before, and someone will experience it again.

We must be diligent to keep our focus on the future and not sink into re-evaluating the past. The past is the past, as the Apostle tells us. It is over and done with and there is nothing we can do about anything that either happened to us or because of us. It is gone, and no manner of thinking will change the events or the outcomes. We can use the past, carefully, to evaluate decisions or to learn lessons (don't make this mistake twice), but we must do so with the sole purpose of becoming BETTER, becoming more Grace-filled and Christ-like.

The past can trap us into thinking that it was the best, the only good time we ever lived. It can bring sweet memories (like when your children were little or that hug from Grandma who is now in heaven) or torture relived (if you grew up or experienced great sorrow, pain or suffering). It can live as a time capsule as well. Many people do this, thinking they are cherishing their past, when in reality they are simply entombing it, creating a picture of what they wanted the past to look like, and then capturing it forever in a still moment. In doing so, often reality is skewed, and events carefully glossed over or edited out completely. It is an attempt to preserve the past without hardship or sorrow. It is not the truth, but it is the past the person chooses to keep.

The best method for rethinking or revisiting your past is to simply remember that it is part of a grand timeline, created by a loving God, and not some photo collage. It is a living and moving film, one day rolling right on into the next. The past becomes a billion people all moving on one large people mover. They are moving from the moment of creation to the coming of the end. It is fluid, it is always moving, and it never can be encapsulated into one frame or shot.

If you choose to think of the past this way, then you will easily be able to let the events that occurred several frames previously slip by you, just like you do when you are looking at the art work that you pass by on the airport's people mover. Oops, that was interesting -- oh there it goes (as you pass by the picture and move on to the next piece of art). The Word tells us that we are to hold on lightly to the things of this world, to recognize them, to enjoy them, to embrace them while we can, but to let them go when we begin to move on to the next moment in time.

Letting go is the hard part. Letting go is letting go, and for most people, it is something we simply do not do well. We want to keep everything just as it is, and we try desperately to make it so. We want to be in control, so we manage all the little details, the little events, the little things. By keeping everything under our control, we create a snippet of time, perfectly set and perfectly manufactured to give us that feeling that we are OK, everything is OK, everything will be OK.

The Lord allows trial and suffering to enter our lives, I think, to get us to let go of things. He allows events and changes to occur so that we will come to see that it is far better, far easier to imagine ourselves as though we were on a people mover, gently leaving one experience for the next. The more fluid we are (or become), the more able we are to handle difficult and troubling situations. The more adept we become at dealing with sorrow, the more able we are to help someone else through their sorrow. In all comes down to this: our experiences are meant to be shared. We live them, we suffer through them, we enjoy them, and we sorrow over them. They shape our character and make us to be better people (if we allow that result). Then we can share these experiences with others and help them do the same thing; we can help them see the careful shaping and sculpting of the hand of the Lord.

Our experiences are to be shared just as we are to live with one another in community. Our relationship with the Lord while intensely personal is also multi-relational. It is upward and outward. It is both individual and within community. The Lord's design for His church is for it to be one, to be united in one purpose, in one plan, and in Spirit. It is to become whole, to take individuals and bring them together into a living, breathing, and functional temple -- a living church (not just a building). The Word says that the Lord of Hosts will dwell in the midst of His People, His tabernacle. We are that building, we are that church -- we are THE CHURCH.

The problem with most people (and as a result most churches) is that they simply do not want to experience community. They prefer to live in isolation. They want the individual relationship they have with the Lord, but they don't want to communal relationship He desires we have with others. To do so means that we would have to live transparent lives. Lives that are open and honest with other people. We would have to show our warts and other not-so nice things. We couldn't show off our perfect past (the one we created and kept for visitors); no, we would have to show the true past, the one filled with flaws and sin. This is something the church simply doesn't want to be about, to live within, and to function as -- the church doesn't want to be real.

It is unfortunate because I believe that we are called to live open and honest lives before all men, but especially before our brothers and sisters in Christ. If I cannot share my sin with you, and you cannot share your sin with me -- how can we grow in community? I know my sin. I know your sin (more than likely or at the least have seen it time and time before). Share it, and let me pray for you. You pray for me. Support me and I will support you. Encourage me and I will encourage you. This is what the Word says we are to do -- to build one another up. We cannot do it well if we do not know what needs building up.

My prayer today is for me, for myself. I want to let the past pass by just like the airport people mover. I don't want to keep on recreating my past, making it palatable, more pleasant just so that other people will think I am OK. No, my past is long gone. What took place, whether it was at my hand or another, is gone. It is done. It happened. It is over. I can only look back and say, "Yes, that was what happened then." Sure, I can learn my lessons: "Don't do that again, Carol." Other than that, the past is simply a faded memory of events, of people, and of places, long past on this people mover called LIFE.

Dear Lord,

Let the past be the past. Let me live in the now, seeing and focusing on what is taking place today. Help me to use my experience in shared community. Let me help others if I can, and let them help me. We are called to live in transparency with one another. We all have sinned, we all are sinning, and we all will sin. It is a given, it is not some hidden mystery. It is simply what came as a result of our first father's choice, way back when. Let us grow up in the Word and accept responsibility for others, let us be about building up one another, and let us grow in fellowship and sweetness and harmony. No sin is too black for you. No sin is too dark. Nothing we have done is not uncommon nor is it something you are not acquainted with well. You know everything about us, every thought, every word and every deed. Let us take off the masks we hide behind, tear up the fake photos albums of the past, and begin to live lives of honesty before all men. In Jesus name I pray...Amen.

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