In honor of St. Patrick’s Day: Jesus asked God, “Where have you been
these past two years?” God replied, “In Ireland.” Jesus was shocked by his
Father’s reply and replied, “A pandemic has been raging these past two years,
and the world is falling apart, and you’ve been in Ireland? Please Dad, for the
love of St. Pete, what’ve you been doing?” God kindly leaned over and said,
“Working from home, son, working from home.”
So many are going through life thinking they’re to make everything
happen. We get into this mode where we’re responsible for everything that
falls in our path. Make our children do right and be right. Make our work go
perfectly. Make others happy and ourselves just right. If we keep in motion,
we’ll get there. There’s always something we need to fix, some area we need
to manage. We keep reaching, striving, willing ourselves and others to get
there, to be better, do more, to take on another thing. We keep a watchful eye
to make sure nobody gets out of line. We run a tight ship, so nobody goes off
course. These are battles.
For some, it’s like there’s a war going on inside. So little rest, no peace.
It’s overwhelming. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”.
One translation says, “Stop your striving and know that I am God”. Come
back to a place of peace. Find your refuge in God. Our Psalm started out
telling us where to go to make that happen: “God is our refuge and our
strength, a very present help in trouble.”
A refuge is a place of safety and shelter where we’re protected from
danger and distress. A refuge is where we take cover during a storm. In Old
Testament times, a cleft in the rocks or cave was a good refuge from armed
conflict. They were where people often hid to avoid a battle. In modern
times, we can even make sophisticated underground bunkers to protect
ourselves. A good refuge provides protection for the vulnerable and peace for
the distressed.
When you feel overwhelmed and burdened by your responsibilities,
don’t try to handle everything by yourself. God is your protection, your
solace, your comfort, and your refuge. Let the Lord flow in. Loosen your
grip on the idea that you need the control or must be responsible for it all.
Instead, let the Lord have it. You’re not supposed to determine everything.
But living that understanding, that faith, is harder than it sounds. There
are a lot of “battles” that we believe need to happen. If we don’t strike out,
then worse things could happen, we believe. In other words, life is a struggle,
and we must struggle to succeed.
This is how a lot of good parents think. Grandparents, too. It’s tough
not to make sure your child, your ward, is keeping his nose to the grindstone.
She ought to do this and be that and be better than I was. But that’s a tough
ask—not for the reason you may be thinking: That you’re that great, and so
who can reach your level of perfection. Not quite. To ask our child or
grandchild to be better than we are is a tough ask because look how hard we
struggled to get where we are. We really think we can require someone else,
our own child or children, to do better? That’s a lot of pushing when we
ourselves couldn’t do it. We ought to be careful, more at peace, calmer,
You see, a lot of folks have this idea that their children are like clay,
you know, to be molded. The problem is, well, they’re not. Kids break. Of
course, they’re resilient, but even if they don’t break under the pressure, they
can get turned or molded leaning or crooked, with weaknesses caused by
when too much stress is applied in certain places. Hands on parenting and
grandparenting means a light tough, not a two-handed grip. It means
kindness in words and actions along with hopefulness in spirit, joined with a
sense of freedom aligned with boundaries. These together bring out the
fullest child that can emerge in time.
But just as important or maybe even more important than creating such
a wonderful child is something quite different. What children also need is an
anchor in the storm of growing up. They don’t always need someone who
tells them they can face the storm alone. They need a harbor when their
world changes, especially in today’s world. Children don’t need someone
who tells them about how they themselves succeeded. They need a refuge
when the mountains come tumbling down on them. They need a peaceful
place when their world goes bananas, and he world we’ve helped create is
going bananas. If we’re pushing them then we’re not giving them peace. If
we’re hassling them, then we’re not harboring them. Everybody needs a
home to come home to, a resting place when there’s no rest to be found. By
the way, everything I just about parents toward children goes for spouse to
spouse, partner to partner. Everybody needs a refuge.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus was talking to his disciples for
what was one of the last times. He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.
If you abide in me, you will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do
nothing”. He could have talked to them about performing miracles, being
strong, courageous, and different from others, about how one needs to be
faithful and dedicated and up to the task and ahead of the curve and keeping
an eye out for others and getting the job done and making sure each one of
you is pulling your weight. Instead, he told them they’re going to need to
hang on to him. They were going to need a source of strength and
connectedness. They’re going to need not to be doing, as much as needing to
be abiding. Not as much heading out into the storm as being willing to be
centered, whole, in one piece, and connected to a source of calmness and
good purpose.
Are you striving or are you abiding? Are you on your own or do you
have a connection to the Lord? There are always opportunities to strive and
push. But that comes with baggage. We can all live worried, stressed, trying
to fix everything in our own strength. We can push hard against the walls, the
apparent walls, but that’s a battle. Oh, I know good things happen to those
who get on with what needs to happen, but it comes at a cost.
I walked into our family room the other day, and there was a lizard on
the floor looking out the window. I got a brown paper bag, and I was going
to catch it and put it outside. I put the bag on the floor just right, and
carefully scooted it up to him, but at the last minute she ran away. I tried this
again and again. Every time it would out-maneuver me: run under the couch,
I’d move that; get it in a corner, he’d run up the wall. This went on for 15
minutes. I chased it all over the room. Finally, it was so tired that it couldn’t
run anymore. I scooped it up, opened the door and let him out. The whole
time it was running I was trying to help, but it wouldn’t let me. It didn’t see a
way out and couldn’t realize I could open a door and solve its problem.
We try to do in our own strength, solve this problem, fix this person,
accomplish that project. The whole time God is saying, “I want to help, but
you have to let me”. If you’re doing it only in your own strength, you’re
going to be frustrated, you’re going to get worn down, exhausted.
Nobody’s Atlas. It feels good to be as close as you can to be Atlas,
carrying the world on your shoulders, but when you do there’s no doubt that
you’re carrying what isn’t yours to carry. Not only are we carrying too much
but we’re taking away from someone else their world, their weight, what’s
supposed to be their destiny. Don’t take from someone else. You’re strong
but getting worn out isn’t faith; getting overwhelmed isn’t the cost of
discipleship, or love. Trust another person. Abide in the goodness of God.
Find your way back to your heart and let go of the fear that drives us to the
edge or drives others to the cliff.
When you’re abiding, it takes the pressure off. Instead of focusing on
what you’re to do and what others must do, you’re focused on what God can
do. You’re depending on God’s goodness. If you’re forcing things, you’re
limited to what you can accomplish. The problem is we all face giants that
are too big, people that are more powerful, a medical report that says,
“There’s no way”. Our strength, our effort, our talent, no matter how hard we
try will not be enough. That’s why Christ said, “Apart from me you can do
Each morning, we get up on our own strength and get going to make
our day happen. It feels good to have the strength still to put two feet on the
floor and go. Understood. I’m as prone as anyone to rely on my own skills,
strength, knowledge. Getting me to let the Lord have a say and help a
situation is not what comes naturally or easily. Who doesn’t want to see how
far we can take things and how much we can accomplish! But I’ve learned
one thing after all this striving and doing and struggling and working—I
better be able to say, “I’m sorry.” Sometimes, I don’t just step on someone’s
toes; I step on her foot and kick him in the shin. I’m sure I’ve taken out a
knee or two as well. Saying sorry is like begging for forgiveness rather than
asking permission, but it’s better than nothing.
We get going so fast and pushing so hard to get that thing done, to get
our way, to show the world somebody what’s what and who’s who that we
don’t see our single-minded focus to accomplish makes us an accomplice to
things that go too far. When we drive 70 on a 30-mph road someone’s bound
to get hurt. By the way, it’s not just another person or other people. Selfinflicted wounds happen all the time.
If you’re a striver, a pusher, a require, and demander, I hope you’re also
an apologizer. I hope you’re someone who reflects on what you’ve said or
done. I pray you’re able to see where you’ve gone too far. I hope you’re a
peacemaker, a peace seeker, a builder and not a bulldozer. If you break it,
you need to rebuild it.
Be better at seeing where you’ve gone too far. Pull back before it’s too
late. There’s more to life than merely getting what you want and need. There
are treasures that can’t be obtained by yourself, by demanding them. There
are treasures you want that can’t be forced. Instead, they’re given or shared
or received. They’re offered because they come from connectivity, from
permission, from unity, from peacefulness. They come because we’re part of
the vine and we wish to be fruitful and faithful.
Find time to feel protected and not vulnerable. Make peace with
another person rather than provoking them. Be a builder and not a battler. Let
the Lord be your refuge and great strength. You can go to God when you feel
like life is coming at you from all directions. Be still and know that God is
with you.
Can the church say Amen?