Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What I learned from a toddler

The other day I saw a little girl at the play ground. She happily toddled around and then all of a sudden the joy turned to sadness as he stubbed her toe trying to navigate the stairs that would bring her to the slide ride – her favorite part of the park. This little girl was surrounded by many willing to help, but she resolutely walked by the other Moms’ caring hands, her big sisters offer to pick her up, her doting grand father’s strong embrace and headed straight for Mama. At that moment, nobody could comfort like Mama, and she was not at all distracted by nor convinced by the poor imitations of comfort, she wanted Mama. Not long after she found comfort in her mother’s loving arm was she off to play again, attempting to scale the steps once more.

That scene made me think of myself and how I handle hurts: the harsh words that slice through the heart like a newly sharpened knife, the unkind look that drills a hole in my soul, the perceived snubbing that causes my self confidence to crumble, the list goes on and on. So where do I turn when my soul is crying, when my heart is aching? Am I easily distracted by the comforts of the world: food, shopping, activities, the latest exercise regime, etc? Watching the drama play out in front of my eyes made me stop and reflect on my own behavior. The little girl may have been really hurt, but from the looks of it, it was probably not severe. Yet, she was hurt and she knew where her true comfort would come from – Mama.

I realized I could learn a valuable lesson from this little girl. Maybe I would stop hurting faster if instead of trying to anesthetize myself with counterfeit comforts, I would walk straight by and right in to the loving, kind and comforting arms of my Father. The things of this world provide fleeting, ephemeral incomplete and conditional comfort. He is the only one that can provide unconditional, lasting comfort, and complete healing. Next time I am hurt, I am going to be like that little girl, and run straight to God.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What I learned gardening

Spring was in the air, it was warm, and the recent rains had made the soil moist making it easier to pull out weeds and weeding is what I needed to do, so I donned an old pair of pants, garden gloves and headed outside. I stopped at the top of the stairs, overwhelmed by the immensity of the project, wondering how soon we would need a machete to cut a path in our way. How on earth would I ever tame this yard, I wondered silently. What ever little energy and enthusiasm I had had for gardening quickly diminished like ice cream on a sunny day. Not that I had much to begin with, gardening is not something I know much about, and I can think of a thousand things I rather do. However, the yard needed care and it was a good excuse to be outside and soak up the first rays of spring sun.

The former owner of our house spent a lot of time and love on the yard, there are beautiful plants, trees, flowers, bushes and roses galore everywhere. I am sure that at one point this garden was a pure delight. But years of neglect is showing, dead limbs, old roots, withering plants and weeds too tall to measure all contribute to the abandoned look.

Almost paralyzed by the enormity I suddenly remembered advice offered by a professional gardener: “Just take a 2x2 area and make it look pretty. Don’t look at the whole lot, just that small piece. When that one is done, pick another 2x2 area and begin all over, before you know it, the entire garden will look wonderful.” In business we used to call that chopping up the elephant in to bite size pieces. Since both Lukas and Noah dream about picking fruit in our yard, I decided to start around the one and only fruit tree we have – a neglected lime tree.

I had to duck and crawl, step and climb to get to ‘my’ area but I was determined to keep my focus and make this one little piece look nice; and once cleared of weed, I could feed the tree in the hopes of gaining some fruit for the boys to pick later on. As I kneeled by the tree, pulling long limbs of ivy, yanking thick deep rooted weeds out of the ground and cutting dead branches of the tree, I began to see the similarities between this garden and my spiritual life. Ouch…

Years of raising young boys with little time for personal reflection, neglect of my spiritual growth, allowed sin to creep in, take root and take over. The fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of Christ (Ps 139), Christina, was covered in a tangled web of sin. Nothing earth shattering, front page worthy, but the hidden sins, those that feed on very little and seem to take root rapidly; just like the vines of ivy that creep, crawl and spread with lightening speed if allowed. As I pulled and tugged on the ivy, and dug deep in the ground to pull out the entire root it became clear that I needed some weeding in my life as well.

Although long neglected, our yard at a quick glance did not reveal its true state. At a first blush all looks well, it is lush, it is green and there are plenty of color and blooms to feast the eye upon, if it just wasn’t all weeds all would be fine. Weeds are not necessarily ugly, as a matter of fact Noah often picks it and proudly brings it to me as a beautiful gift, yes the flowers are pretty, almost dainty, but still it is a weed. Sin is not always appearing to be ugly, it has so many clever disguises just like these blue dainty flowers, yet the roots are deep, and it crowds out the other plants, choking the life out of anything in its path. Pretty on the outside does not always accurately reflect the inside. And the opposite is true as well. Last fall, with expert assistance, I pruned the dozens of rose bushes scattered throughout the yard. When the work was done the bushes looked anything but pleasing or pretty, yet now a scant few months later each is blooming and blossoming with vigor.

The large, deep roots left big holes in the moist soil. If I did not fill those in, there would be large unsightly holes starring at me every time I walked through the garden. Must the same, I realized that not only do I need to take out the sin that has rooted itself in my life, but I need to ensure that I fill the hole left behind with something else. Time spent pursuing these activities must be filled with something of meaning and purpose or I will quickly fall back in to old patterns and habits.

Nobody could see me under the tree as I pulled and tugged allowing me precious silence and contemplation. Just like the garden overwhelmed me with its immensity of work, I can at times feel dejected and immobilized by my sinful nature. There are so many areas needing improvement, so much to work on, and no matter my resolve and resolution, it fades quickly and I am back where I started. Sanctification is simply too big of a job for me to handle on my own and all at once. As I thought of the advice from the gardener I realized that could easily be applied to me as well. Don’t worry about all that has to be done, simply focus on one thing and work on that – pulling out the sin, getting every last bit of the root out, filling the hole left behind. The heaviness in my heart I felt for some time, the condemnation that I had carried around suddenly lifted and I felt as if I had lost at least 10 lbs, My heart was light and my spirit invigorated, I can do this. I can focus on one characteristic and master it well. The work under the tree was almost done.

Finally, as I looked at the retaining wall behind the tree I saw remnants of the ivy that I had pulled out, still clinging to the concrete with all its might. It is not enough to pull out the roots of sin, it is not enough to simply sweep around the immediate area, but it is vital to look all around for places where the sin I am tackling has crept in, it is amazing in how many places in my life I can identify the same sinful behavior – and if it is not dealt with it will graft itself and take root again. I have worked all too hard on my 2x2 area to allow any weeds to remain, it has to all come out, every little bit.

An hour later, my knees soar from kneeling in the dirt, my back hurting from bending over, my arms and hands raw from pulling, I was done. The work was complete and I could put down citrus food to hopefully nurture the lime tree back to health and fruit bearing.

Although my body was physically tired from the work, I was light in heart and encouraged from my encounter with God in the garden. I now look forward to my next 2x2 square and for what God is going to teach me next. Until then I am busy tending to one habit/characteristic in my life that needs to go. I am armed with the right tools, and I am ready to reclaim my soul.