Yesterday on NPR there was a story about Mother Teresa and how she had felt no presence of God for the last fifty years of her life. Only twice in her writings from those fifty years did she question her faith, and then only in letters to a confessor she went to for counsel. The rest of the time, though her letters continue with her dismay at the absence of any feeling of the presence of Christ in her daily life and prayers, she still perseveres with her daily life and prayers. She treats all she meets as though she is meeting Jesus. She honors her hours for prayers.
Another article went into a lot more detail. This article is written by someone who is actively working toward the goal of sainthood for Mother Teresa. He wrote about how Mother Teresa enjoyed a vibrant and lively spiritual life during the first half of her life. This darkness was not something that clouded her early life at all.
She loved Jesus. She wanted to participate in his life fully. She wanted to participate even in his suffering. The writer believes that her later life demonstrated that period of time on the cross when Jesus felt abandoned. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
There came a time in her life when she learned to accept the distance. It seems she always kept the truth, that Jesus was worth serving, worth imitating, whether she felt close to him or far from him.
So there are many thoughts about that. I have had short times like that---several months---when I couldn't feel God at all. How would I do with something like this? Could I be faithful?
I need a lot more time to think about that.
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Then, last night I had this vivid dream.
We were choosing hymns for a service. I was with a group but I don't know who the others were. We were looking for two kinds of hymns.
We wanted some hymns about how good God is. We wanted to list the ways God cares for us and praise him for it. Those we had no trouble finding.
We also wanted hymns about our response. This was more difficult because we wanted to be honest. We found the one, "Here I am, Lord, is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." That was no good. None of us could do that. What we wanted was a song that could poetically and with heartfelt emotion say, "Jesus, I really like you and all the great stuff you do for me and I really want to do something for you but I'm just so busy, so I'll try to fit you in my schedule sometime really soon."
I've thought about that all day.
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Our church periodical came this morning. The cover article was titled "Church or Family First?". I was primed for this one.
Tim is in high school and is interested in everything. Everything has its after school component. We could be driving to town several times every day. Do we look different because we have faith? Or are we on the same track as everyone else because this is what it means to parent?
I think about those moving walkways in airports and how people run on them so that they can get places faster. That is what having a kid in high school can be like.
I watch the families in church as their children hit these years. There are so many choices. There is so much guilt. If they aren't in sports will they resent me? Will I be limiting their potential? What about sports and music? Then you have practices, lessons, rehearsals, games or matches, and performances. And there are scholastic activities. Scholars' Bowl sound fun and so does debate and robotics and pick up games of ultimate frisbee and, oh yeah, church youth group, too. There can easily be no time for homework or family if you have no plan. But what is the plan?
I need a way to discern with Tim what is important to him and to us that is more than just an arbitrary limit on how many nights I want him at home.
So I open the article. It is about how families need church. It is about how church makes families stronger by immersing them in other families who find church important. Church puts them in proximity with older families who are wise, and other adults who value our children, and people who are likely to share our values in child rearing. We then choose to spend more time with these people, increasing our children's exposure to these people we respect.
All this is good. All this is true. But somehow it misses the point for me.
Can't people get most of this from getting close to the other parents of kids in cross country or debate or youth symphony and spending time with extended family? What is different about church?
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I'm reading a book right now called "Grace Based Parenting", by Tim Kimmel. I usually don't buy these Christian parenting how-to books anymore but there was something about this that drew me to it. Grace. Grace implies more than a formula of events and consequences that if applied properly will most certainly output the exact child you ordered. Grace implies messing up and needing forgiveness. It implies seeing a child who sometimes needs forgiveness more than a logical consequence.
So that is what got the book off the shelf and into my hand. But that is not what got the money out of my credit card account.
That was a single line in the middle of the book where I flipped it open to see if this was just another fundamental Christian recipe book designed to make me feel guilty yet again for the person I have not been able to be. That was this line. "Safe Christianity is an oxymoron."
Keeping our children safe is NOT the ultimate goal??? Then what is???
- A sense of security. There is nothing they can do to make you love them more and nothing they can do to make you love them less.
- A sense of purpose. They are here to make this world a better place. There are things they can do that will make this world a better place.
- A sense of hope. They can make a difference. It is worth it to try. Failing does not equal being a failure, it means an opportunity for growth.
My point right now is that we all need a sense of purpose and hope. I'm looking at Rusty and Mary Lou ready to move out of everything they have known in their lives so far in order to follow Jesus more closely. I'm seeing kids step up to join them. They crave a sense of purpose and hope based on faith in Jesus that is way more than safe.
I'm looking at Mother Teresa, who knew the goodness of God so well that she could live through 50 years of his silence and still serve him. Even Princess Diana needed to go and see what that was about.
The church is not going to fulfill it's purpose by giving us a place to feel close and safe while we raise our kids to be safe and smart and productive. The church is the place to find something big enough to give our lives to. It's a place to understand losing our lives to save them---not only understand it but know through and through why that is a good thing---that losing our lives really does save them. That it is not 'by the skin of our teeth' kind of saving but 'life lived as big as it possibly can be' kind of saving. If we are not offering that to our kids AND to ourselves, we might as well just stay on the moving sidewalk. We aren't offering people more than guilt and wishy-washy, feel good, do nothing faith.