Wednesday, May 15, 2013
By Micky Wolf
The window next to my desk provides an interesting and occasionally inspiring variety of glimpses of people and things. (Some previous experiences shared here and here.) On this particularly sunshiny morning, signs of a glorious spring are everywhere. Buds of pale green leaves seem to be expanding by the moment while the profusion of bloom clusters covering the dogwood tree are equally eager to spread forth their velvety layers of glorious pinks. Little doubt, it is show time for God’s creation.
Today, another observation: a small, clean, pickup truck, its distinctive need-for-a-new-exhaust-system rumblings preceding its actual appearance. This wasn’t the first time I had seen it, but this time it stopped. As it turns out, the driver is purposeful—he hops out, quickly peruses the trash cans and containers sitting curbside and in an instant, retrieves what interests him.
I have never talked with the fellow. Maybe one of these days I will and that will be a story for another time. However, whatever his motivation, he clearly seems to be on a mission of rescuing and salvaging. All of which has caused me to ponder—is there none other a Master of Recycle than our good God?
Diamonds in disguise...
In recent years we have become increasingly aware of the need to decrease our consumption of raw materials and natural resources. As a result, the stuff sitting curbside on trash pickup day often looks like an organized mess—strips of cardboard sticking up here, a tangle of twigs poking out of that container. Many communities encourage the practice of recycling by providing free crates—glass in one, plastics in another, and so forth.
Being more careful to use and reuse or re-purpose everything from soda cans to the kitchen sink is important. Yet, how often do we notice God quietly about His work of recycling—transforming—each of us into something beautiful we could not have dreamed possible? Maybe it has to do with what we consider to be trash.
We are familiar with the expression God don’t create no junk. True. However, He can create nothing short of the beautiful and miraculous in and through us if we cooperate with His process of recycling. What does that mean?
First of all, we need to let God be God. We see the ugly, worn out, or broken—He sees the elements of a new thing. We see our sinfulness, selfishness and self-centeredness. He sees our sacredness, our heart, our spirit and soul, the raw ingredients He can shape and mold.
Secondly, we need to release our ‘stuff’ into His hands. Our shame and condemnation—often clenched and buried within our soul for fear of being seen or heard. Our pain—for the unresolved sadness and grief of separation and loss for those we have loved, and who have loved us. Our resentment and judgment—for the times others actions wounded us in the deepest places of our being. Our anger—for the times our own actions betrayed and hurt those nearest to us.
Thirdly, we do not need to be concerned with organizing and separating the trash of our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviors into neat piles or bins. God is Perfection; we are each a work in progress, perfect in each stage, according to His will and plan. Rather than trying to make ourselves over, we need to trust He knows exactly what is needed in any moment.
Stories in the stuff…
Every piece of trash at curbside has been a part of someone’s life. From the empty pizza box which fed the gang at the birthday party to the broken drinking glass which slipped from the shaking hand of the grandmother with Parkinson’s disease, each item speaks a silent witness to the unfolding of those lives.
As it is with each of us. We may believe the bitterness we harbor for regrets and disappointments is trash of the worse kind. And it is. Yet, the story it speaks of need not be the final, poisonous chapter. You can make the choice to put it out to the curb of your heart where God can take it in His hands and transform it into a sincere confession leading to repentance and forgiveness—of others and yourself.
The trash at the curb may speak volumes about those who placed it there for disposal. At the same time, the junk we carry about and want to believe is hidden is more obvious than not, especially to God. But remember, He is the trash collector of Divine and loving intent, moving about to gather, retrieve, recycle and repurpose in a manner befitting His loving and compassionate nature.
To save or to toss…
In God’s business of re-purposing, nothing goes to waste. No thing. And no one. Unless we intentionally choose to turn away from Him, He will go to the ends of the earth and beyond to save us. Yes, some of the stuff within each of us needs to go, but that is never to be confused with believing we are unworthy, of little value, or need to be put aside as junk.
Turning trash into treasure…
Interestingly enough, from the beginning of creation, God has always had a different perspective about what needs discarded and what can be beautiful and serve a purpose in the Divine economy. If you struggle with believing much of who and what you are needs recycled, you are in good company. The Apostle Paul provides a great example: "Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever." (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Who knows, maybe the quiet man in the small truck is simply visible evidence of God’s transforming power at work.
How do I feel about being a diamond in disguise?
What is the story in my stuff?
Do I believe I can be saved, or need to be tossed?
What kind of treasure might God be recycling to the surface in me?
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
By Micky Wolf
People are likely not much different when it comes to making mistakes or failing—we would rather not, thank you. Subsequently, when I recently encountered the phrase do you think you can take failure, I found myself revisiting the idea of what it means to fail.
Most of us are familiar with the concept (repeated on numerous occasions by parents or mentors and beginning at an early age) of the importance of learning from our mistakes. But what does that really mean, especially in light of the implication there could be something inherently good about failing?
- Mistake—to blunder in the choice of; to misunderstand the meaning or intention of; to make a wrong judgment of the character or ability of another. (Miriam Webster Dictionary)
- Failure—omission in performing a duty or expected action; a state of inability to perform a normal function; a fracturing or giving way under stress. (Miriam Webster Dictionary)
While it might be said that making a mistake leads to failure, both share the following: lacking insight or awareness and mostly in ignorance, our action or inaction may lead to unintended results which, from our perspective, could be considered less than favorable. And yet, what if God has an entirely different perspective on the matter?
First lesson—redefining mistake and failure
Our tendency is to lump our mistakes and failures to together in the context of what we do or do not do, and whether it is right or wrong. Either way we are defining the situation in the context of morality. Without a doubt, it is important to take responsibility for actions that are hurtful toward others or self. On the other hand and upon closer examination, what we might call failure has a lot more to do with blundering, misunderstanding, making a quick judgment, or simply being forgetful, than anything else. The good news is each of these predicaments, so to speak, often provides a wealth of opportunity for God to help us learn healthier and more loving ways of interacting with others.
If you believe you have made a mistake or failed, it is important to be quick to take responsibility for a blunder, misunderstanding or judgment. Also, do not overlook what God might desire to show you through the experience. When we take time to ponder what happened, we open ourselves to hearing the voice of the Spirit, to discovering authentic Truth. If you need to make amends, do so. If not, move on, considering what you called a mistake or failure as the opening of another door through which God can enter to shape and transform your heart.
Second lesson—incorporating healthy fear
One explanation for our inability to fail well is we make the choice to stop. Stop. Our thoughts are stuck. Our steps are stuck. Our whole being becomes enveloped in a mist of misgivings. Bottom line? We think that by making the choice to stay put, we can mostly avoid failing in any manner or form.
When we believe that refusing to move is an effective way to avoid failure, we are usually giving rule and reign to unhealthy fear. This powerful emotion is allowed a place of prominence and power on the basis of our recollections of past experiences which typically involved physical pain, emotional embarrassment, or public humiliation of some sort. Furthermore, if we were not parented or mentored through the fallout of the event with kindness or compassion, we may literally shut down when it comes to taking any future action, no matter how small the risk.
Healthy fear has its place to alert us to impeding danger, either in our environment or through the actions of other people. Other than that, if we ever hope to live freely and spontaneously, especially with regard to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, it is imperative we learn to distinguish fight-or-flight-fear from that which serves more as walls we have erected for self-protection. Even our willingness to consider what might be at the root of our fear is a positive step in overcoming the numbing and dulling effects of trying to play it safe all the time.
Third lesson—savoring and enjoying failing
The idea of embracing mistakes and failings—and finding God at work in them, no less—may seem a bit unnerving or ludicrous. And to savor and enjoy the process? Yet, if for no other reason, we need to rediscover the lost art of failing well as one of the best ways we can discover who we really are—or are not—as unique individuals created in the image and likeness of God.
For every risk we take, for every idea or action we move on, the more we will begin to understand the subtleties of our being: our strengths, our weaknesses, our desires, our gifts, our talents, our hopes, and our dreams. This will not ever be a neat and exacting process. If we choose to persist in trying to play it safe, we eventually realize we have done little more than erect barriers and distractions to experiencing the joy God desires and hopes for each one of us.
So, do you think you can take failure? Hopefully, the answer is yes. One thing for sure—learning to fail well is a clear indication of being fully alive, open, and responsive to each God-breathed moment of life. In that light, fellow pilgrim, what could better be described as success by any definition?
How would I describe failing? How does it feel to fail?
Do I live with healthy fear? Unhealthy fear?
Have I given up on taking risks? Why?