Hang in There

There were three of us in the group. One had been married almost 60 years, another 36, and another (me) 48. We all agreed that marriage is full of challenges. Life deals the marriage blows that are hard and the couple’s approaches differ. What is good for one partner is not good for the other. What one does may totally irritate, or even undermine, the other. Our opinions about important things clash. We three also agreed that we are glad we have hung in there even with all of the trials and frustrations.

Struggling through the hard spots, wrestling with tough issues rather than ignoring them or allowing them to escalate out of control, and accepting one’s own and the other’s flaws and limitations—even getting help—are not fun. They are, however, the building blocks of an intimacy and love much more wonderful than the romantic notions I began with as a teenager. It is in those places where the hard edges of my personality could be ground smoother, where the need for God and awareness of God’s saving grace became clearer, and where my heart could be tendered.

There are times, though, when divorce is the right thing. I don’t want to deny that truth. Knowing when to give up and when not to is serious discernment. I just want the chance to say that in many situations there are very good reasons to hang in there, use those hurting times as an opportunity to grow emotionally and spiritually, and reap the benefits long term.

The same can be true for hanging in with other relationships and communities—a church, a school, a job. I have even found it useful to hang in there with the Bible. There are things that upset me earlier that, after much wrestling and study, I have found new, more informed, and faithful ways of understanding. And I’ve learned that I have to leave some things hanging, knowing I don’t understand them yet but the day may come. That humility is a rich benefit of hanging in.

Queries:

Midlife is a time when challenges can hit particularly hard. What helps with discerning the difference between (a)what needs to be changed and can be changed if addressed and worked on, and what can’t be changed but can be accepted, and (b)what is in fact the true breaking point?

What would you say about the value (or mistake) of hanging in there?

Prayer:

“Give us strength for this day and love for each other.” Pray for those with whom you have important relationships. “Help us to change the things we can change, to accept the things we can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For further reflection:

“that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and depth of insight. . .” (See Philippians 1: 9-11).

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. . .” (See Ezekiel 36: 26-28).

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The Bible

I don’t want to read the Bible as a book of rules, or of science or history as we now understand those disciplines. I want to read it because it is a book of Life and a book about Love.

I cherish the Bible because it makes me part of a much larger story—not confined to my family heritage, to this culture, this country, or this time. Having heard, read, studied, and prayed the Bible for years, it is part of me and I am part of its story. It guides, comforts, teaches, and challenges me and keeps my life from being just about me. It reminds me that I am loved always and forever. It gives meaning and purpose.  A Vietnam veteran told my husband’s history class that he got through his service in the war by reading a pocket New Testament that he carried.

The Bible is a book for those who are open to faith. Well-educated intellectuals (“the wise”) may read it and scoff while those who have had less privilege (“little children”) understand it well and find comfort and hope. It makes me think outside my box. For example, in a world that sets up so many boundaries and divisions, I read “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28).

Admittedly I can also read passages that upset or mystify me. Sometimes I dig deeper and search for a way to make sense of the passage. Sometimes I let those go for a time. There may be another context when those passages will open up for me. I once read a single Psalm daily for a week. Almost every day something different in the Psalm caught my attention and spoke to me.

I don’t know what the key is that unlocks the Bible’s treasures for someone. But if one does want to be opened to the Bible, I feel sure a way will be provided.

Queries:

Why do you read, or not read, the Bible?

How has the Bible impacted you, or how could you be open to what it has to offer?

Prayer:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119: 105).

For further reflection:

About scripture St. Augustine writes: “What you do not understand, treat with reverence and be patient, and what you do understand, cherish and keep.” See St. Augustine, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, trans. Thomas Comerford Lawler (NY: Newman Press, 1952), 70.

“I don’t read Scripture to learn doctrine. I don’t read it to find answers to every question. I read it to find God.” Carole Spencer, 1999, quoted in Catherine Whitmire, Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2001), 118.

What Is Your Image of God?

The New Testament book of James, while it calls itself a letter, is more like the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures. It gives insights and wisdom about nature and reality and the divine. James 1: 5-8 begins by telling us that if we lack wisdom, all we need to do is to ask God, who gives it generously. All is well. But then he says we have to ask for it in faith without doubt, ending with if we doubt we “must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” That stings. Who doesn’t doubt?!

Some people read this passage as saying that when we ask God for anything, if we have faith, we will get it; and if we doubt, we won’t. If we are good, God rewards us; if we don’t obey, God punishes us. If we believe with no doubt that God will cure our loved one with breast cancer, it will happen. But if we doubt, God won’t make her well. Ouch! Such a reading sets us up to be able to manipulate God—and then who is God?

I believe, instead, that this passage is simply telling about how life is. Time and again I can fall into the doubting mode, even doubting the very existence of God. What happens then is that my sense of purpose and meaning disappear. I am anxious, uncertain, and irritable—like an ocean wave blown by the wind. Nothing goes well. I don’t think God is punishing me. I think I am getting the consequences of my choices. And when I turn to God and ask for help, I am met. The turning isn’t an intellectual change. It is simply letting go of the doubt and opening to Mystery. I have merely dropped into God’s flowing stream, where life and gifts lie generously available. There is no reprimand for having doubted—only wisdom.

Queries:

What image of God are you carrying?

What experience have you had of the wind and waves of anxieties and doubts? And of their being calmed?

Prayer:

Ask for what you need, and be open to the presence and action of God in your life.

For further reflection:

“But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (See Matthew 14: 22-33).

“For the Lord gives wisdom. . .” (See Proverbs 2: 1-6).