Have you seen those gimmicks on social media that ask if the car is blue or green? You plunk in your answer only to learn the car was actually green when you said blue, or vice versa. It’s not a new lesson; either our DNA or our perspective can take us down a completely different path than the person next to us.
At one point I was part of a ministry that emphasized learning Scripture as one of its core values. I learned how to navigate the Bible, to understand the nature of God and how He wants to interact with us. (Confession: I was just a tiny bit of an over-achiever back then. And laid-back was only used in reference to a car seat.) If the Scripture passages were about self-discipline, I was going to be the most self-disciplined. If they were about purity, I was going to be the purest.
Scripture is amazing, and timeless. There are a myriad of teachings that convey God’s heart toward mankind and His standards. The Sermon on the Mount from the Gospels and Jesus’ numerous parables teach us life lessons for relationships, money, time, and prayer. The fruits of the Spirit give the briefest insight into the outcomes of a God-centered life, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Still working on some of those…) The Epistles teach us how to live in community with one another, as followers of Christ, how to love and forgive.
In any culture young adults find affinity in groups and doing things together. It’s an exciting time of life, with new-found independence and (hopefully) income. Everyone dresses alike, group-thinks and adopts trendy catch-phrases to reflect their one-ness. One such phrase we adopted was the pursuit of “God’s best” for our lives. It was sort of a shared core-value, and it got tossed around more than a set of Yahtzee dice. “You could go to New Jersey but you want God’s best for your life, don’t you?” or “You could become the Surgeon General but maybe that wouldn’t be God’s best.”
Whether in this group or some other, catch-phrases or group-think mindsets evolve. Most likely God’s best was originally intended to imply a life surrendered to God’s ways and standards. Instead we inferred a sort of nirvana of a painless future with dreams fulfilled, and problems solved. At what point did fantasy replace an authentic pursuit of godliness? Speaking of which, what would the phrase, God’s best have meant to Mother Theresa? Based on the evidence of her life, it must have meant a life spent emulating the Gospels, i.e., feeding, clothing and loving the unloved, where ever God led her, i.e., Calcutta.
This diatribe about God’s best is only one example but a ginger, truthful examination reveals much. I, for one, bacon-wrap phrases and principles with my own dreams or wounds and then pin it on God with questions, pain or expectations. Suppose my visual of God’s best has always entailed the proverbial white picket fence, a husband, and 2.3 children and a dog. Wouldn’t that be misleading for me as a condo-renting, non-parental, non-dog owning single? It’s a lens that I see through, and one that can lead me to misunderstand God’s abundance toward me.
What if we were to choose authenticity over catch phrases and clarity over shallow communications? What if we were to stand in the midst of what’s done and dreams unfulfilled and took the risk of owning our life, calling it what it is, and reaching toward the One who gave His only Son?
When I was growing up, one of my favorite books on my parents’ shelves was The Family of Man, a compilation of photographs created by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art. In my family, reading is a rite of passage. We’re the type that would ditch the heirloom china but nearly come to blows over the tattered copy of Harper Lee’s legendary book, To Kill a Mockingbird or a first edition copy of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. So it was a bit surprising to learn that this tattered book of photographs had not yet been spoken for, by one of my siblings.
This past week I leafed through the scotch-taped pages of photos. Would that I had Carl Sandburg’s skill of describing the intensity and the atrocities, the deep love and profound beauty expressed here! There is one photo in particular that has lingered in my mind’s eye throughout my life. It’s a picture of a naked baby sleeping on a bed while her mother hovers nearby, gazing at her. The adoration in the mother’s eyes is unforgettable. She closely resembles my own mother, when I was small. In the center of the page is the timeless passage,
Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh . . . Genesis 2:23
Imagine the wonder of a young child as she looks through a book and sees this mother saturating this wee one with love. Amid all the hustle and bustle of life, a little girl forms her own beliefs about love and belonging. She becomes convinced that she is pictured there, along with her very own mother. That is how this book came to speak to me so much. If this publication really depicted Family, and captured foundational truths like Love and Beauty through the simple and wordless medium of black-and-white photography, and I was pictured in the book (…smile) then naturally I was part of the Family, and I was loved. And beautiful. Isn’t it amazing how we form our belief systems?
It makes me wonder how we communicate these foundational truths to those around us?
In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard writes,
“I meant to do a bit of good today. Instead I keep thinking: Will the next generations remember to drain the pipes in the Fall? I will leave them a note.”
Ms. Dillard has aptly captured the essence of the things that so often fill my thoughts, the need to drain the pipes. In an effort to break away from the mundane, part of me wants to shout, “I’ve seen I AM! Now I know that I am Loved!” And then, too, I want to create quiet moments. I want to hover over the babies in our lives, gaze into their eyes and saturate them with love.