Monday, April 29, 2013

Urban Legends

 An urban legend is a story based on hearsay and widely circulated as true; like alligators living in the sewers of New York. I had my first experience with an urban legend when my husband was in seminary. Kevin and I were having dinner with some friends when they shared with us an amazing story.

Kerri, a young lady we all knew, had been driving home from work at Union Planters (a local bank) when she spotted a hitchhiker on the side of the road. Even though she would normally never pick up someone she didn't know, she felt led by God to stop and give this guy a ride. He sat in the back seat and she began to converse with him.

After a short while, he said to her, "Do you know Jesus?" and she said, "Yes, I do." The stranger responded, "Good, because He is coming back soon." She was taken aback by his statement and looked in her rear view mirror to see the hitchhiker, but he had vanished.

"Wow, that's a really amazing story. But, are you sure it's true?" we asked our friends.

Our friends looked a bit offended by our statement. "Don't you believe that Jesus is coming back? Don't you think it could be soon?"

"Well, yes,"  I said, "We know Jesus will return one day, maybe even today. But we just don't know if this story is true. I am going to call Kerri right now and ask her."

I picked up the phone and dialed Kerri, she didn't answer. But, I got her answering machine and left a message asking about the story. She called back in about ten minutes to tell us the story was not true. She had stopped answering her phone because she was being inundated with calls about the supposed event.

The rumor on our seminary campus came to a halt, but we would hear this same story in various places for years to come. Usually there would not  be a specific person's name, but a sister or cousin or neighbor of someone you knew. There were always little details like the name of the road or the place the person was employed that helped lend credibility to the story.

Unfortunately, the story wasn't true. I took the job of cold water pourer and/or balloon buster to inform people that it was just a concocted tale. Not a fun job, but necessary nonetheless. Most often, people would be greatly disappointed.

However, there is no reason for lost hope. Because the real truth hasn't changed. The reality is still filled with hope. Jesus did die, Jesus did rise, Jesus did appear to His followers, and Jesus did ascend to heaven with a promise to return. He's still coming. I don't need modern day myths to assure me of what is truth. A made up story doesn't change the truth that Jesus will return.

So last week when I got caught up in the chill bump excitement of a new modern myth, I was almost let down when I discovered it was false. ALMOST.

 This myth is about the eagle and how it molts, supposedly pulling out all of its feathers, breaking its beak against the rocks, and ripping out its own talons in order to be renewed and live another 20 or 30 years. (Truth is that eagles molt continually like most other birds and they never break off their beaks or pull out their talons.)

The part of the myth that my spiritual sisters and I got excited about was how the other eagles would protect and feed this molting eagle while it was in this helpless state. The eagle on the path to new wings and health was not alone, he had his other eagles supporting him and helping him through the tough time of loss. He would only make it because of these other eagles; without them the eagle would starve and fall to the elements.

Kinda cool, yes? You can see why I was pulled in and wanted this to be true, right? But it's not. It's totally false.

Yet the falsehood of the story doesn't negate the truth of our need. We still need others around us in the hard times. If we have great losses and are at our most vulnerable, we've got to have friends that help carry us through. We can't make it by ourselves. Healing, hope, and health always come through relationships with others.

Eagles may not need a support system of other eagles, but you do need the support of others. Without others, you will succumb to the elements. God didn't intend for you to experience the pain of this life by yourself.  Don't walk your road alone. Reach out, make friends, get support and learn to fly again.

And please, never, ever pick up a hitchhiker.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Skills for the Occasional Bungee Jumper

In my last blog post I shared about how I struggle with co-dependency in my marriage; how I often take on things that are not mine. Kevin's choices, attitudes, etc. become a launching ground for my "let me fix/control this problem" approach. Unfortunately, this messed up approach doesn't work well for anyone. The help isn't helpful.

I also promised in my last blog that I would share the skills and tools God has given me to use when I find myself free-falling with the bungee cord of idolatry wrapped around my ankles. So here are those tools:

Self-awareness is the number one skill I have had to develop in order to untie that nagging bungee cord. Self-awareness comes from admitting what is going on in me. God wants me to know what is going on within me. By this I mean that I am to be fully honest with God about my emotions, desires, and struggles. This is biblical truth, not psychobabble. James 1:8 says that a double-minded person is unstable in all his ways. If I am hiding part of what is really going on in me and denying that it exists, then I am being double-minded. Eventually my double-mindedness will lead to instability and sin. I will make sinful choices and not even know what is driving my behavior.

God wants all of my heart. If I am to give it to Him, I must begin to know what I am giving. I cannot give Him the parts I don't know exist.

All of the other skills I will need are completely useless, if I am not first aware of and acknowledging the problem. So under the skill of self-awareness is a subset of skills and tools God has given me to be free. The Father has shown me my need for:
  • Opening my heart to others. This one is perhaps most challenging for me, but oh so necessary. Sometimes it even comes before self-awareness because I need others to be able to see myself clearly. While it maybe easy to isolate myself or just keep things between me and God, I will miss health and healing in my life if I don't get real with others.Sin grows in isolation. Healing happens in relationship. Self-sufficiency is a lie from the pit.  Even the sinless Son of God asked fallen human beings to pray with Him when He was suffering. If Jesus had friends and asked for their help, I need that too. If I don't open myself to others, then I am missing God. God tells us repeatedly to encourage one another, pray for one another, love one another, share with one another, etc. God's plan for me is relationship with Him and relationship with others. I can't be close with hundreds of people, but I can have a few very close friends who know my struggles, can see my blind spots, and can speak the truth freely into my life.
  • Stillness and quiet, so I can hear what God is saying to my heart. Many times when I am feeling ill at ease and uncomfortable around my relationship with Kevin, I have tried to keep busy so I wouldn't have to think about it. This approach fails me on two levels: 1) I avoid what I need to face and 2) I am still able to obsess/replay the mental tape of what is eating at me. I must intentionally pull away from my own busyness and thoughts to stop and listen to what God says.
  • Meditating on the truth and reading God's Word goes hand in hand with the stillness and quiet. I often go to the Psalms, Jeremiah, or Lamentations when I  my soul is not at rest. Here I can see and hear how godly saints of old were completely real with God about what they were feeling and thinking.  I often identify with their cries and I am set free to tell God exactly where I am.
  • Opening my heart to the changing work of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes when I am stuck, I don't want to let go. Sometimes I struggle to open my hand and heart; I want someone to pay for the hurt. When I find myself hardened like this, I have to tell God the truth again and ask that He help me to want to change, to help me see His truth, to help me see how I am not helping myself or reflecting His glory.
  • Repeating a short phrase that captures God's heart for me. These can be Bible verses or phrases or maybe lines from a hymn or song. A few of my favorites are, "Even so, He loves me," "He is for me," "He is with me always", and "I am His beloved daughter." I pick one of these according to my need and put it on autoplay in my mind.
These are some of the ways God works in me and sets me free from the law of sin and death (idolatry and bungee cords.) When I read over them, I realize none of them stand alone. Each is dependent on the others. It's like a cycle of healing and health.

While co-dependency has its downward cycle of despair (try harder... do more... fail... despair...), healing has a cycle of hope: open myself to others, see the truth, tell the truth to God, feel connected, tell the truth to myself, feel solid, open my hand and heart, feel release and freedom and more hope.

And that is a cycle I can live with.

Copyright 2013