“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
Christmas already feels long since past. With its noise and bluster, I’m never entirely sad to see it go.
The family, the house, the food and drink, the schedules and music can finally all return to normal. School routines will begin again. The boxes will be repacked and the tree will stand bare in the backyard until the Scouts come or until I chop it up for firewood.
I’ll choose a word. Last year, permission was my word to concentrate on, to contain and define my focus. I wish there was a word for the happy-sad of leaving the old behind and moving on. I suppose it’s the idea of “Auld Lang Syne.” It means “old (times) long since.”
“In the days of auld lang syne” is basically like “Once upon a time…”
While Sheri lights candles and unwinds the ribbon from the tree, I write, wanting to help but also wanting to receive her love well. I’ve never been good at it, too concerned with being thought well of, being useful, i.e. loving.
Only that’s not the same thing, is it?
How well do I let myself be loved? I suppose I’m like most men, too independent and proud.
Well we’ve just returned from some good time at my grandma Tillie’s house in Tahoe where my parents live too now. They’ve always been generous to a fault and I’ve been among the greatest recipients, but now they’re helping Grandma and as she ages and her pain increases, her gratitude is wearing thin. I can’t blame her. I curdle under the least amount of strain. But if pain can steal away our gratitude and humility, who are we really?
Why do we think we deserve a pain-free life? Few people really receive anything well, love or pain. But I want to learn.
Charlotte comes in and asks for help bringing the Legos up from downstairs. Because I’m writing about this, I agree willingly. But if I wasn’t?
How can I be more humble and selfless in the New Year? How can I learn to receive better? And what’s a word to capture that?
After over three years here, the neighbors still don’t know our names. We’re holed up because everywhere the needs seem too great and if we reached out, we’d be smothered. We’re so sure of it. It’s what happens.
But now I’ve seen how unspoken rules can make even the sweetest grandmas difficult to love. And our pain makes us withdraw from life.
Everyone is hurting; everyone feels entitled now and then to complain and act out. To take offense. We get angry and it becomes difficult to receive love. We become difficult to love.
How can I not become blinded by my hurts? To not imagine independence as virtue, but to accept I need help and not refuse it? Taking pride in not needing love is a trap, an empty victory.
My ankle is still healing after my fall Halloween night. It has taken time to accept how slowly I heal. Pain, like pride is universal. Love can also make me cringe. But any relationship requires receiving whatever is given, love or pain. And if we reject love or pain in whatever form it’s offered, we take offense instead and grow bitter.
The choice is ours: which will we take?
If we don’t allow ourselves to be loved, we reject God. But isn’t it also true if we don’t accept pain, we don’t accept Him? Whatever he gives, it’s from a heart of love.
Why do we feel we deserve to have things our way? Where does this entitlement seep in? Our sacred cows, the notions we were taught about life and relationships, these ignorant assumptions that we’re special—whether it’s because we’re advanced, in charge, in pain, oppressed, wealthy, enlightened, talented, religious, unique, cultured, tenured, black, white, in, out—entitlement says “I deserve better.”
Life isn’t about entitlement. Love doesn’t claim titles like possessions it’s owed. It releases any claim of ownership.
Relinquishing our claim to anything but the Maker’s claim on us, this seems like the cure.
I see all the ornaments and decorations going back in the boxes and I realize we will feel dispossessed until we release that we can’t possess any property but what God gives. There should be a word for voluntarily relinquishing what’s not ours. Who will invent the word for the conscious rejection of any entitlement that takes up space in a heart? I want to use this word for my new year: the one that means giving up all lesser claims that compete for my loyalty and deny God room in my heart.
I know power corrupts and money is at the root of all kinds of evil. But maybe as Tozer said, any claim I take is a claim on my life and therefore limits it. Feeling owed becomes a type of ownership and will only diminish, distract and dilute the Master’s ownership.
Maybe the word for 2015 is mastery. I want to learn to be mastered. Can I claim nothing, possess nothing aside from the ownership of my Creator, Redeemer, Deliverer, Almighty God and Best Friend? Crazy to some, maybe But to finally believe love is all, maybe receiving anything less would be the crazy thing.
Then, when others compliment or criticize, I could say, “It’s not me. It’s the Master.”
Who can do what He does? To put away all else that competes for attention and step confidently into the blank days before us? Boldness comes in his love and maybe only by it can we disown all else. The very idea that we could go without every lesser possession but his love, we can only understand that, only give and receive love because he loves us. This guiding light deserves our full hearts, our commemoration the day we finally possess it.
What will you allow God to do in you, despite you, with you and through you this year? Will you allow him to master you? Your experience of life and all it’s joy and pain, it all rests on how well you will humble yourself to receive nothing else.
For there was, once upon a time, a Master who loved…
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes—
Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Leftovers to do, warmed up, for the rest of the week—
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted—quite unsuccessfully—
To love all of our relatives, and in general,
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
~ W.H. AUDEN, The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden, 1945
For the higher purpose,