September 25, 2014

Waiting in Hope for the Lord

I just realized that it has been almost ten days since my last blog post! This is so not normal for me. I blog every day unless I am sick, I cannot access the Internet or I run short on time in the morning. Lately, though, I have been distracted, and I have not had the time to sit and blog about anything.

Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. We tend to view distractions as a negative thing, something we should avoid at all cost. I wonder why this is the case? (This is a rhetorical question because I know the answer.)  Most of the time we see the distraction as a negative event because it interrupts our lives when we least expect it or want it to do so.  When we get distracted, our daily routine is interrupted, and we are forced to shuffle our priorities. It is this shuffling of priorities that we see as a negative experience. We do not like it when our little world gets rocked, and we have to adjust our time to accommodate the contracted schedule in order to meet our expected outcomes (oh, that was a mouthful of words!) The short of it is that distractions poke into our lives, our very busy lives, at very inconvenient times.

Today, I am thinking about distractions. There are two views on distractions, generally speaking. View 1 says that distractions are always negative, and that the goal of the productive worker (person) is to avoid them at all costs, to stay on task, keep focused, and grind through the to-do list to maintain the time schedule. This is the business model predicated on a strong work ethic. I think we all are mindful of this view because we have been condition to think and perform in this way (through formal schooling and in our daily work environment). View 2, however, says that distractions are not always negative, and that a focused mind set, while seemingly good, could end up counter productive to experiencing new opportunities. This view suggests that it is better to budget some flex time into that schedule to allow for moments of distraction because it is possible, that in these moments, something new, something exciting, or something wonderful could happen. View 2 is the relational model predicated on balance, on stability, and on the "big picture" of life. While most of us feel the need to be productive, and I am not saying that we shouldn't be productive, there is a cost associated with maintaining a schedule full of to-do's (namely stress, work overload and work burn out). View 2, therefore, allows for the possibility of the unexpected distraction to bring good into a very stressed, very pressured, and very managed way of life.

As I consider the types of distractions I have encountered recently, I cannot help but believe that View 2 is aligned with the biblical mindset in Scripture. I am sure there are valid arguments for the View 1 business model too (Scripture discourages sloth, laziness; and encourages diligence, good productive work). However, with a Kingdom perspective, the relational model seems to match that of our Lord, especially in His relationship with His disciples and with His ministry. I believe that this relationship model suggests that when we are less focused on the work we have to do, we are more open to experience relational distractions (people interruptions). Let me explain...

Yesterday, I was at Taco Bell for lunch. I teach M-W and F's at two different Universities. In between my second and third class, I have a lunch break whereby I drive from one campus to the other. I stop some place along the way to grab lunch before I check in to my class. I just happened to have a hankering for Taco Bell so I stopped by one near the school. This school is in a "rough" part of town. It has a very high crime rate (for Phoenix), and generally speaking, it is filled with poor Black and Hispanic people. As you drive through this part of town, you will see homeless men and women begging on street corners, in traffic, and at times, directly in front of stores. I usually do not stop and eat on this side of town simply because I am a woman, alone, and depending on the time of day, do not feel comfortable getting out of my car. I will drive through and then park and eat in my car. It is just something I do.

Yesterday was different. I had extra time on my hands so I got out of my car and went into the Taco Bell. I ordered my food, and when it arrived, I sat at a table by myself. I was on my phone, checking email and Facebook, when an elderly black man came up to me. He was obviously drunk or on something (drugs). He mumbled something to me and sat down next to me. I had a hard time hearing what he was saying, but I thought he was asking me for food. I asked him if he wanted something to eat and he said yes. I bought this man lunch and he blessed me. Granted he was stammering due to whatever he had consumed prior to walking into Taco Bell, but I couldn't let him not eat. I made sure he had some food before I left the store. The cashier waved to me and thanked me. I thought it was weird at first, but now I see exactly how the Lord used me in that situation.

That man probably came to Taco Bell often and he probably asked other people for money or food. Perhaps most people just shooed him away, told him to get lost, or ignored him. Clearly, that man was a distraction to me, to them, to everyone. This poor man was not homeless (he was clean and dressed nicely), but he had a drug/alcohol problem.  I didn't have the time to help him more than what I did, and frankly, a single woman is not the person to be helping an elderly man with this kind of problem (others are trained to do that work). However, I could do something, and that is what I did for him. I let him distract me for a few minutes. Did I change that man's life? Did I get him to seek help for his drug/alcohol problem? No. I gave him a meal, that is all.

The point is that I could have been the one who stayed looking down at her phone and who chose to ignore this man. I could have been in my right as a single woman -- a woman sitting in a Taco Bell on the wrong side of town -- to ignore this man completely. Yet, in my heart, I could see that this man needed food, and I had the means and the opportunity to meet that need.

Distractions, in my view, can be good. They can be life-changing experiences that bring new levels of understanding and meaning to our lives. If we allow people to distract us, to garner our attention, to cause us to experience life in a new way -- then I believe -- we can become better people, better ministers, and better servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I think about Psalm 33, one of the many songs of hope, and I am reminded of the hope that lives within me because of my relationship with the Lord. My life is bound up in His life. My work is part and parcel with His work. Therefore, I must be willing to be distracted by people, all kinds of people, so that I can minister to these people in the way in which our Lord ministered to me. He was real, He was attentive, and He cared about my needs (all of them -- physical, spiritual, mental and emotional). I must do the same for others. I must care about people, all people, with the same kind of care that the Lord gave to me. This is grace and this is love demonstrated, lived out, and experienced fully and completely. I rejoice with the psalmist today, and I sing joyfully to the Lord of Hosts. I give Him my praise, my honor, and my worship today. He is worthy, so very worthy to be praised!

Psalm 33 (NIV)

1 Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2 Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

4 For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of his heart through all generations.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
    and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
    all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
    who considers everything they do.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

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