I've wanted to follow God ever since my babysitter told me the story of Adam and Eve, using flannel-graph images stuck to the back of fuzzy orange couch straight from the seventies. "God loves you," she said. "He made you. You're his child." It was such an easy concept for me, at four, and I threw myself into following God with my whole heart. I even dragged my parents along.
The problem was, once we became Christians, my world quickly began to shrink. Music went first, when my dad destroyed all the "secular" music that had facilitated hours of joyful father-daughter dancing. "They're singing about bad things," he explained. God is pure.
Admiring zeal, or intense enthusiasm, is a mixed bag. The zeal that exudes from anyone can be easily admired when we are in favor of his or her desired outcome. The Olympics are on the horizon, and it’s common to rally behind the intense effort of these athletes as they work towards reaching their dreams. We marvel in statements like, “What passion they have for their craft!” “How dedicated they must be to compete and train, day in and day out for what they really believe in.” This is all good, but it’s important to note how sheer determination alone is not enough to win unanimous favor in the eyes of the people.
“I think we can overdo the whole ‘authenticity thing,’” said Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber at a conference I was attending. “Like I can be real clear about who I am, and be in your face about it, and then later—I’ll change my mind.” I’ve been turning this idea over, and holding it alongside an op-ed in the New York Times titled “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.” The author, a professor of management and psychology, described the ways authenticity can be taken too far, can be overdone at the expense of sensitivity to others, and that expressing what you think and feel at all times can be a detriment to success in the workplace.
When I see or hear the word "honor," three things come to mind almost immediately. All are from childhood and have remained with me through the years. First, I think of the commandments handed down by Moses and often learned as a child. "Honor thy father and mother." Then, I think of honoring veterans of various organizations who have served, taught, and protected so many people—many of whom they may have only met briefly or not at all. Finally, I think of invitations with the phrase, "The honor of your presence is requested."
It was a typical painting party with varying degrees of talent. People had gathered to enjoy company in a creative way. And typical to each occasion, the accompanying loads of baggage came in the door. Baggage that whispered to some, “You’re not good at this,” to others, “You will fail.”
I set up the room with intention. The night progressed, conversations unfolded, moments were shared, and encouragement and honor for where people were in the process was given.
We looked for symbols in the unexpected accidents, admiring the developed talent of some, and enjoying the new creative experience for others.
What a gift it is to wake up and enter the day slowly. I work at home, and even though I hold to a fairly strict schedule, I grant myself the luxury of taking my time to awaken; a mindful beginning to what will surely be a busy day.
As the sun creeps over the hilltop, shining its first light on my little house tucked into the hillside, I notice its reflection on the bedroom window. This invites me to reflect, too. I think back over the day that just passed. I ponder the day that is yet to come. I watch the light expand across the wall and its gentle movement invites me to deeper reflection.
A fairytale always ends with the prince and princess living happily ever after. That is how we know it’s a story. Real life has more than just one huge problem to overcome. It has many challenges. A few are big ones, but most are just growing from one life stage to the next. The purpose of meeting and overcoming these challenges is to leave behind our preoccupation with ourselves and grow in love, compassion, courage, and gratefulness. I have found that while meeting these challenges, we can also have joy. It is a matter of focus.
I am presently ministering in an Aboriginal parish in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and my Sunday ministry is one of presence, of being with and listening to people. I have been graced with the privilege and honour of being the recipient of many sacred stories. People seem to just sit beside me and talk. Although we are an urban parish, Sundays often bring visitors from distant First Nations communities.
Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting everyone's time in spiritual direction. I meet with a seeker, spend an hour listening to them talk about their life. They share about their kids, relationships, desires, and goals; all things that you might discuss with a friend over coffee. I do my best to be present and open to the leading of Spirit, but if I manage to insert one wise question or thought into the hour we spend together, I feel like I'm doing pretty well.