#25 – Can I forgive the man who aided my attackers?

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Last year our family suffered a violent armed attack in our house. Armed men entered our house, robbed us, and seemed to be set on killing me.
The attack was possible partially because a man who had worked for us since the week we arrived in the country betrayed us. He schemed with the bandits that he would be in our house and ensure the kitchen door would be unlocked. He feigned to be surprised and scared when they attacked. He picked up kids around our house when they got hurt, he was in our house every day. He and I are the same age, have the same number of kids, and we tried to support him in his quest to support his family.


I forgive him.


I realized I have to.


“Have to forgive” can be a tricky idea.


Do you ‘have to’ because God said you have to -and you feel you need to obey? Or you’re scared what will happen if you don’t? Or you feel pressured/obligated/forced to forgive?


‘Need’ to forgive feels a bit more accurate.


Jesus tells a story about a man who had a debt of ten thousand talents. A ‘talent’ was a currency worth 10,000 denarii. A denarius was what you could earn in a day of labor. So he owed 10,000×10,000 or 100 million days. If you earn $50,000 a year, this debt to you would be ~$52 Million. He had this debt forgiven. Then he turns and vengefully demands repayment from someone who owes him a bit less than $20,000.


What Jean-Paul ‘owes’ me as a ‘payment’ for what he did against me is the $20,000 compared to the $52,000,000+ that I owe for what I’ve done against God. So for me to say I won’t forgive J-P in light of this story is not so much “I have to” but more – “how can I not?”


How can I look at all the wrong I’ve done, built up over 47 years – and then hold this one event against someone in unforgiveness?


The servant with the large debt was forgiven ALL of it, so how then can he not forgive ALL of what is owed him?


So maybe it’s not so much ‘have to’ or even ‘need to’ but ‘get to.’


I get to forgive him because doing so also releases me from bitterness.
I get to because that’s what helps spread mercy, and goodness.
I get to because I realize in comparison to what I’ve been forgiven, it only makes sense.


DO THIS

What grudge are you holding? Who are you withholding forgiveness from? What hurt are you unwilling to move past?

Bring it to mind. Start to think of what you’ve done that’s similar – or maybe the exact same. What have you done to others? Put that hurt in context of how you’ve sinned. How you’ve failed. How you’ve hurt others.

Then revisit WHY you are unwilling to forgive that person.


PRAY THIS

Forgiving, ever merciful God,
You have forgiven me so much,
things I’ve done intentionally,
things I’ve tried to stop doing,
things I’ve not done that I really should have.
You’ve seen it all. You’ve felt it all.
You’ve forgiven it all.
Help me have the same attitude towards those who hurt me.
Amen


#24 – your view may not be the only one

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If you fly low over Burundi you see a network of paths, connecting clusters of houses spread over the hills. You notice the lack of cities and highways, but also this web of red dirt paths cutting through the lush green hills.

Drive a Land Cruiser down one of those paths and you notice how narrow they are as the roof rack starts to pick coffee off the trees, and your mirrors hit branches of banana and sorghum on both sides at the same time. The potholes and bumps are obvious, as is the questionable strength of certain bridges.

On a motorbike along this same path you see the kids run out and stand within centimeters of you. You realize how many people are around.

If you ride a mountain bike you hear so much more, and are more aware of the steep hills as you climb up them, and attempt to keep control on the downhill. The different crops and animals become apparent.

When you run there is a level of approachability between you and the people around you. You notice the mats of beans drying in front of mud huts, and faces of children carrying yellow jerry cans of water.

If you walk the path, kids walk along side you and try to have conversations in rudimentary English. You look up more to see the clouds developing over the hills, and the villages on the hills across the valley.

It is the exact same path – the place is the same. It’s merely your perspective that has brought about such a difference.

Sometimes we lose contentment because we are shocked by others not seeing something the same way we do. Maybe it’s someone at work who has a different idea to solve a problem, maybe it’s your spouse who views your habit as ‘annoying’ and you see it as ‘quirky. Your friend who thinks differently than you about the appropriate government response to COVID, about the role of the church in the public square etc. etc.

Oftentimes none of these perspectives are incorrect, but they are all incomplete. None of us ever fully understands any problem – certainly not any issue with a decent amount of complexity.

We can feel upset, annoyed, disturbed by someone else due to the view they have on a situation. But what if – it’s merely that one of you is running the trail, and the other is in a plane?

If you had the chance, the best way to fully understand would be to experience each of the different ways yourself.

Since that’s not usually possible, you get together and talk with someone who has experienced one of the others. You’ll not only see things you never noticed before, but hopefully develop an appreciation for their perspective.

That understanding may help you find contentment in the disagreements.


DO THIS

The next time someone’s response/opinion/thought on some issue really gets under your skin – pause for a moment.

Try – it can be so hard – but try to see what they see. Where are they coming from? What have they experienced, seen, learned that puts them in that place. Maybe you still feel they have a lack of understanding, but at least make an effort to see that.

If you can start to understand why and how they got to that place – you can more easily have conversations about how both your perspectives may have some merit – and you’ll find yourself benefiting from each other, instead of finding ways to disprove them.


PRAY THIS

Give us humility Lord,
to accept that we don’t see all sides of a story.
Give us acceptance for those we think are wrong.
Give us grace when others treat us poorly for our perspective.
Give us modesty when we share our thoughts.
Remove the stubborn stains of pride, vanity, conceit, and self-satisfaction.
Make us more like your Son.
Amen

#23 – maybe context will help

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I need to start with this:

I often say to people: “you can’t tell yourself you’re not allowed to be sad/disappointed because ‘someone has it worse than you’ – any more than you’re not allowed to be happy because ‘someone has it better than you.’

I really don’t agree with the response “well – it could be worse….” when someone is hurting.

If someone has lost something or someone dear I feel “at least it’s not…” is a completely inappropriate response.

Telling someone it could be worse is NOT a way to help someone through a time of grief, suffering, sadness, or disappointment.

HAVING SAID THAT…

I think sometimes we do neglect to put our discontentment in a wider, or global, or historical context.

This week after working at the malnutrition feeding program, Susan was trying to help a woman at our hospital. She has a child, no husband, and is being discharged. She is being sent home to die because she has advanced breast cancer, and there is nothing our hospital can do for her. She is 25. Susan bought her some painkillers.

This week one of the pillars of our community lost his son. He was only 26. He had finished school, and just completed his first year of University down in the capital. I was the one who broke the news to his best friend. I went up to see the family and ended up walking right behind the father as he followed the body of his first-born son to our morgue. Later as I walked home past the morgue, there were two young men on bicycles, both with wooden coffins of hand-hewn wood just bigger than shoeboxes strapped to the back of their bikes. I assume they were young fathers there to bury their dead infants.

Sometimes finding contentment means putting our own suffering into context.

Being close to those who suffer is not easy. It can cause us all kinds of problems. Our friend & teammate Eric wrote a book about how to come alongside others without becoming crushed ourselves.

It’s not easy, but we need to.

Not just for the sake of others – to help them by at least sharing their pain.

But also for ourselves.

We lose contentment when we think we ought to have it better. When we think we’re being singled out for hardship. When we feel like we’ve been wronged like no other. When we feel like our suffering, our grief, our disappointment, our loss – is somehow unique to us.

It’s not.

We can’t be content if we think we’re somehow being singled out for hurt. We will find contentment when we can be a small part of helping others who are hurting.


DO THIS

Who in your life is hurting … right now? Who do you know has recently experienced loss, or is just in an extended period of disillusion or is struggling? Call them. Now. Text them, send an email. Reach out somehow. Now. Everything else can wait.

This is a gift both to them…and to you.


PRAY THIS

Father of comfort,
Lord of the grieving,
God of the hurting,
Comfort me in my loss – so I can comfort others.
Give me strength in my weakness – so I can support others.
Show me how you are with me in my pain – so I can be with others.

Amen

#22 – You’re a failure.

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I can still remember the day, the afternoon, the moment even, very vividly.

We were living in France, where I was completing my Ph.D. One of the things I realized very early (like day one of each class), was I was behind essentially all my classmates on the actual subject matter of our courses.

A business Ph.D. is intended to create researchers. Professors who will teach others what is known in the discipline, but also (and more importantly according to many including those who ran my program) push the envelope of what is known. Research is the way the theories that are taught to business students come to be.

So it was a time I had a lot of required reading (many days I would have dozens of 40-page dense research articles I was expected to read, analyze, and be able to discuss) and had a lot of stress for feeling like I just couldn’t swing the course work. At one point I remember going to the head of my program and telling him that it seems like I just can’t hack it. I’m not up for the coursework. I had been getting grades that were something like 12/20 and on one exam (I think it was something like multivariate regression analysis – which honestly, I now barely remember what that even is) I had failed. You needed 10/20 to pass, and I got a 9. In all my previous schooling, I had NEVER tried as hard as I was then, and I had never had the sense of ‘I just don’t get it’.

Our kids were not necessarily thriving in French public school, an environment which still uses public shaming as a pedagogical method. Some teachers seemed to assume there was something wrong with our kids for being at the bottom of the class for reading skills (we tended to think it was because we had just thrown them into a school system in a language they didn’t know…but I guess we can agree to disagree on that one). I was driving to get our kids from the village school. The road to the school was a tiny narrow one-lane road lined with plane trees on both sides. It looked like originally was meant to drive up to the door of the church and stop, but it jogged over around the corner of the church (literally, with many scrapes on the centuries-old stone on the corner of the church where people had slightly misread the corner)

I was probably late, and was just managing this chicane in our beat-up used Renault mini-van when a motorbike came around the corner of the church towards me. I slammed on the brakes, as did he, but the lack of four wheels to balance on meant he lost his balance, and slid on the ground, scraping across the pavement and coming to a halt under the front of my car.

Once realizing no one was hurt, I got a little perturbed. What the heck was he doing darting out around the corner, GOING THE WRONG WAY ON A ONE WAY STREET?

He then proceeded to point out a sign, quasi-buried in the hedge on the other side of the barely-big-enough-for-one-car road, indicating to be careful of oncoming traffic. Not only that – his direction had the right away around the turn.

Cue a rather deep searching of soul, ending with essentially a brake-down inside my head.
I couldn’t pass the exam.
I couldn’t understand the concepts.
I couldn’t keep up in class.
I couldn’t provide my kids a good school situation.
Heck – I apparently couldn’t even drive.

So friend…..I’ve been there.

Feeling like you just can’t do what you’re supposed to do. What others think you should be able to. What you think you ought to. What everyone else seems to be able to.

When you get there -I think there’s one way out.

Accept the fact that you don’t perform your way through life.

Realise you don’t achieve your worth.

Be honest about the fact that your ability to get things done is not what will bring you contentment.


DO THIS

What have you failed at recently?
What do you feel you should be able to do – but somehow never got it done – or done enough – or good enough?

How much of your contentment has been lost by that ‘i’m a failure’ feeling?

How much of your value and your worth has been lost?
Sit for a minute to just dwell in the reality that you are not valuable to God because of what you can do. How you can perform. How good you do your tasks.
You are loved, accepted, valued – because God loves, accepts, and values you for who you are.

Nothing more. Nothing less.


PRAY THIS

Lord, you have made me who I am.
You gave me talents and abilities,
and at the same time limitations and weaknesses.
Help me remember you gave me both.
Remind me you love me not in spite of some things.
You just love me.
I don’t have to perform.
I don’t have to earn your love.

Thank you for that.

Amen

#21 -Where are you God?

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Yesterday I sat down to watch the sun rise over the valley in front of our house. Due to this being almost the shortest day of the year here 2°south of the equator – the sun came up just after 06.00 instead of just before 06.00. I had my bible out, and I was praying “God be present with me…”

Then I realised.

He is.

If there’s ever someone who’s absent (mentally, emotionally etc) from these times…it’s me.

God is here. He’s not distracted. He doesn’t’ think of his to-do list. He doesn’t get agitated by the annoying hadada birds and their ridiculous call starting at 05.20 (actually…i’m not so sure on that)

Sometimes I think we (aka “I”) can become discontented because we think we’re alone. Maybe it’s not that drastic or extreme, we don’t think God is gone, or absent…but we forget he’s here.

But he is.

One thing that can get to us is the feeling that God has forgotten about us, or doesn’t’ care enough about us, or is not really with us.

If one party is absent from our times together with God – it’s not him.

The very least we can do, is appreciate that.


DO THIS

Take time to sit and appreciate this fact.

Accept this reality.

Dwell in this Truth.

God is here. With you.

Now.

Wherever you are.

And He always is.

Just sit in that for a while.


PRAY THIS

God,
you are here.
Always with me,
Never to leave or forsake me.
Help me to remember that.
Guide me to also be present with you.
Amen

#20 – Not doing what you “should” Pt. II


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Imagine this situation, which plays out every day on the hills around us.

A young child gathers firewood or fetches water. Getting older they’ll graze the family’s three goats if they’re a boy, or tend to younger siblings if they’re a girl. They help with tilling, planting, harvesting the family field. As they age, they find someone from not too far away to marry. They build a small house of mud bricks and hopefully acquire their own small plot of land to grow food to eat, and maybe some extra to sell. They have children. The cycle repeats.

What does God “want them to do” with their lives?

What are they being “called” to do?

What “should” they do with their lives?

Often the core of our concern for “what should I do” is a sense that we have a very specific and direct calling- usually associated with our work. We approach this concept quite differently than the original Biblical authors.

The prophet Micah said God wanted people to: “Act Justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God” {Micah 6:8}

Isaiah said God wanted his people to: “…break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts…. sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.” {Is 58:6-7}

When Jesus himself was asked what’s the most important thing I do in my life? He replied: “Love God. Love others.” {Matt 22:37-39}

“Yes fine, but what about ‘my calling’ – the thing/job/role I’m supposed to do? “

We’ve allowed a concept unique to modern, wealthy societies creep into our view of God’s calling when we think this way. In places like rural Burundi, if someone’s father is a sustenance farmer (whose farm is smaller than your garage) they will also certainly be a farmer.

This doesn’t negate that many of these people wish they (or their kids) could be something else. However, it doesn’t change the fact that for most of human history, the idea of choosing our own vocation is unthinkable. If you are a coffee farmer because your father was a coffee farmer, is there any sense in questioning whether God wants you to be a coffee farmer? Maybe you ‘should’ have been a teacher? But if that was never an option, is there any point in agonizing over what never was and never will be?

Why then do those of us with the privilege of exercising so much influence over our ‘work’, feel like we only have one ‘right’ choice to make? We think if we pick the wrong thing, God is not pleased, or at least disappointed.

Let’s start to view our ‘life’s calling’ as being an apprentice of Jesus, first and foremost. Then where we live, what we do for a job, what our home life is like – are all secondary issues. Actually, they are at best a distant second.

If we are called to love others, we can do that in any situation. We can do that as a stay-at-home parent, as an unemployed student, as a music teacher, as an aeronautics engineer, or as a bus driver. If you find yourself any place there are humans around, you have a calling right in front of you. Whether it’s your children, co-workers, neighbors, classmates, that guy who eats lunch at your table, or that woman who sits next to you on the commuter train every day.

Wherever there are people, there are hurts to be shared, stories to be heard. There are ways we can help or at least things we can do to show love.

“A new commandment I give to you: love one another.” -Jesus

That’s Jesus calling for those who want to be his apprentices. And the beauty is that it’s completely independent of any work or life situation.


DO THIS

Reflect on the following verses {taken from The Message version}:

Matthew 22:37-39 “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’

1 Timothy 1:5 The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love – love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God

Micah 6:8 But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.

What do these say to you about your ‘calling’ – about what you ‘should be doing’? Think about those already present in your life that you can love better. There is no need to go looking for a new/better calling – start with the one you already have.


PRAY THIS

Forgive us Lord for waiting to hear from you, when you have already said so much.
Forgive us for demanding a calling, when you have already made so much clear.
Forgive us Lord for thinking there is a limit on how we can serve you,
when we can follow you wherever we are.
Give us courage to act with justice, hearts to extend mercy, and humility to walk with you.

Amen

#19 Discontentment is not doing what you “should”

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The job I currently have involves spending a lot of my time overseeing the construction at our hospital here in rural Burundi. I spent 12 years in post-secondary education, culminating in a doctorate that specifically trained me to be a research professor of management. So let the record show that I am no stranger to this sense of not ‘doing what I should.’

“You spent all that time in school, why are you not doing what you trained to do?”

I get that a lot. Not always spoken to me, it also comes from voices inside my head, either me playing it back to myself, or me imagining others saying it to me. I know there are people who feel this way, as they have more or less said so. Some make it obvious, others try to couch it diplomatically. But the implication they, and the voices in my head, all have are the same. “You’re wasting your time because you’re not doing what you should be doing.”

And if I’m being completely honest, I can feel that way myself.

Expectations, both our own and others, can be a huge drain on our contentment. Not because they are necessarily bad, but we have problems when we start to live with a lot of ‘shoulds

You should be married by now.

You should send your kids to this kind of school

You should take that job

You should spend more time at home

You should take a holiday with your family

You should stay late today until this is done

You should pray more

You should…

The list can go on forever, but at the heart of it is the sense we ought to be doing something that we’re not.

Often these things people think we should be doing are good, or noble, or helpful. The problem is not that we shouldn’t do them, it’s the sense they ought to take priority over other things, or even everything. The other problem is when the shoulds in our lives are more personal preferences, things that one person deems more valuable/important than another. Is getting married good? Yes, as is remaining single. Are some private schools good? Yes – and so are some public schools.

Many of the things people pressure us to do reflect more about them.

I want grandchildren, so you should have kids.

I put my kids in a private school, so to validate my choice, you should do the same.

I had to claw my way up the corporate ladder, therefore you should also have to sacrifice your time with your family to get where I am.

When we get caught up in trying to fulfill other people’s expectations for our lives, it will rarely end well. Whether it’s our parents, our boss, our neighbor, or anyone. When we try to meet other people’s goals, life gets hard. We will have a hard time finding contentment when we are trying to fulfill someone else’s dream.

What we ‘should’ do is unique to each one of us. It is also unique to times in our lives. Maybe there is something that I should do, that I will eventually do. Maybe it’s something that I should do, and I’ve already done it, and now I’ve moved on to something else.

It’s one thing to believe you’re doing something wrong. But it feels like it’s a much deeper attack on who we are if we start to believe that we’re doing the wrong thing.

If we think we’re meant to be a school teacher, or a marketing manager, or a software developer, or a stay-at-home parent, or a research scientist, or whatever, …but we are not as “good at it” as we want, that is different. With that, we can always say we need to work harder or find smarter, or learn more, or get more experience or something. We’re doing the right thing, we’re just not yet good enough at it.

But if we think we’re doing the wrong thing, even if we’re doing fairly well at it, that is much harder to accept. If I question not if I am a good father, but whether I even wanted kids – that’s much different.

If we start to think there is something we ‘ought’ to be doing but we’re not, that hits our identity. Hard.

What we need to do is step back and consider if all the should’s in our lives are things we honestly think are true. That God would have us believe. That we think are true.

DO THIS

Identify some thing you think you ‘should’ be doing. Maybe more of it, maybe less. Maybe a different job, different stage in life, different whatever.

Spend some time reading through relevant sections of the Bible, praying and journaling.

Try to see if this truly is something God wants for you. Is it merely your own wish? Is it merely pressure from someone else?

It could be all of teh above, but it’s much better to identify now what is really behind that feeling of “you should.”

PRAY THIS

Father of complete acceptance,
God of second chances,
and third,
and more,
You do have desires for us,
ways you want us to live,
But so often we get caught up in pursuing specific paths.
Remind us there are infinite ways to serve you.
there are so many ways to love our neighbor.
Give us peace that we haven’t gone too far in some direction,
Show us that you can use every step we’ve taken.
Help us live not for the approval of others and their expectations,
but for your glory and the good of those around us.

Amen

#18 – Discontentment is Greed Pt II

READ THIS

The job I currently have involves spending a lot of my time overseeing the construction at our hospital here in rural Burundi. I spent 12 years in post-secondary education, culminating in a doctorate that specifically trained me to be a research professor of management. So let the record show that I am no stranger to this sense of not ‘doing what I should.’

“You spent all that time in school, why are you not doing what you trained to do?”

I get that a lot. Not always spoken to me, it also comes from voices inside my head, either me playing it back to myself, or me imagining others saying it to me. I know there are people who feel this way, as they have more or less said so. Some make it obvious, others try to couch it diplomatically. But the implication they, and the voices in my head, all have are the same. “You’re wasting your time because you’re not doing what you should be doing.”

And if I’m being completely honest, I can feel that way myself.

Expectations, both our own and others, can be a huge drain on our contentment. Not because they are necessarily bad, but we have problems when we start to live with a lot of ‘shoulds

You should be married by now.

You should send your kids to this kind of school

You should take that job

You should spend more time at home

You should take a holiday with your family

You should stay late today until this is done

You should pray more

You should…

The list can go on forever, but at the heart of it is the sense we ought to be doing something that we’re not.

Often these things people think we should be doing are good, or noble, or helpful. The problem is not that we shouldn’t do them, it’s the sense they ought to take priority over other things, or even everything. The other problem is when the shoulds in our lives are more personal preferences, things that one person deems more valuable/important than another. Is getting married good? Yes, as is remaining single. Are some private schools good? Yes – and so are some public schools.

Many of the things people pressure us to do reflect more about them.

I want grandchildren, so you should have kids.

I put my kids in a private school, so to validate my choice, you should do the same.

I had to claw my way up the corporate ladder, therefore you should also have to sacrifice your time with your family to get where I am.

When we get caught up in trying to fulfill other people’s expectations for our lives, it will rarely end well. Whether it’s our parents, our boss, our neighbor, or anyone. When we try to meet other people’s goals, life gets hard. We will have a hard time finding contentment when we are trying to fulfill someone else’s dream.

What we ‘should’ do is unique to each one of us. It is also unique to times in our lives. Maybe there is something that I should do, that I will eventually do. Maybe it’s something that I should do, and I’ve already done it, and now I’ve moved on to something else.

It’s one thing to believe you’re doing something wrong. But it feels like it’s a much deeper attack on who we are if we start to believe that we’re doing the wrong thing.

If we think we’re meant to be a school teacher, or a marketing manager, or a software developer, or a stay-at-home parent, or a research scientist, or whatever, …but we are not as “good at it” as we want, that is different. With that, we can always say we need to work harder or find smarter, or learn more, or get more experience or something. We’re doing the right thing, we’re just not yet good enough at it.

But if we think we’re doing the wrong thing, even if we’re doing fairly well at it, that is much harder to accept. If I question not if I am a good father, but whether I even wanted kids – that’s much different.

If we start to think there is something we ‘ought’ to be doing but we’re not, that hits our identity. Hard.

What we need to do is step back and consider if all the should’s in our lives are things we honestly think are true. That God would have us believe. That we think are true.

DO THIS

Identify some thing you think you ‘should’ be doing. Maybe more of it, maybe less. Maybe a different job, different stage in life, different whatever.

Spend some time reading through relevant sections of the Bible, praying and journaling.

Try to see if this truly is something God wants for you. Is it merely your own wish? Is it merely pressure from someone else?

It could be all of teh above, but it’s much better to identify now what is really behind that feeling of “you should.”

PRAY THIS

Father of complete acceptance,
God of second chances,
and third,
and more,
You do have desires for us,
ways you want us to live,
But so often we get caught up in pursuing specific paths.
Remind us there are infinite ways to serve you.
there are so many ways to love our neighbor.
Give us peace that we haven’t gone too far in some direction,
Show us that you can use every step we’ve taken.
Help us live not for the approval of others and their expectations,
but for your glory and the good of those around us.

Amen

#17 – Discontentment is Greed

I am not poor. Poor are those who desire many things.

Leonardo da Vinci

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Greed.

This is probably one of the hardest things that we (and I’m definitely including myself in that ‘we’) struggle with. If I’m honest, most of the times I feel discontent are when I compare myself to those with more than me (which of course, is actually a very small percentage of the world’s population). When this happens, I start to feel life is just not fair, I’m not getting what I should, and most importantly… if I could just get a little more.

I just need a bit more.
Not too much.
I know deep down that greed is bad.
I don’t want to be super-rich.
Just a bit more than I have now.


Often I try to temper this feeling to make it more palatable, even if it’s only to myself. I say “It’s not that I want a Ferrari or anything, but if I could just have a newer minivan – how can that be wrong?” “I don’t want a giant McMansion – but a bit bigger house would be good for my family – that’s not asking for so much is it?”

The problem is we actually believe there is some level of material wealth, of comfort, of possessions – that we can plateau at – and then we won’t desire any more. Our most truthful response to the question “How much money is enough?” would be “Just a bit more.” If we are not content with where we are in life – because we are looking, longing, coveting for something just a little bit more – why do we think it will ever end?


The opposite of greed – an attitude of giving and generosity – also works in the same way. If you can’t be generous with what you have now, it’s unlikely that you will be generous when/if you ever have more. I have seen this kind of generosity that stems from the heart- that doesn’t try to justify the gift based on the giver’s current place on the socio-economic ladder. It is so good for me to see others who give not just sacrificially – but willingly, joyfully- as it helps me see the greed in my own heart.

I don’t believe our place along the greed-giving continuum will automatically slide when we move up or down the ladder of financial stability and success. If we are greedy for more when we think we don’t have much, it won’t change because of a change to circumstances. We can always be greedy, and can always think we don’t have much. If we can’t be generous with what we have now, we likely never will be, for we can always compare ourselves to someone who has more and say “then -then – that’s when I will stop wanting more and start to be generous.” We need to start recognizing this for the lie it is.


DO THIS

I find this is maybe easiest to see looking backwards as well as forwards.
If you journal – this is a great opportunity to look back and see the things you used to think ‘would be great to have, and would be all you need.’ Have they now become just base-line existence?
Look forward to the things you are longing for now. What do you think will really change?
Reflect on comparing yourself to what you used to have, or what less would look like – not only more.


PRAY THIS

Ever Generous God,
You have given us all so much.
Family, friends, homes and communities.
You have allowed us to find things that feel meaningful,
We have the beauty of your creation to enjoy
The joy of music, the marvels of science, the mystery of the mind.
Help us to find joy in what we have – this very day.
Help me not to NEED one more thing.
Show me the gifts I have been given,
and for now – to just be grateful for those.
Amen

#16 – Discontentment is feeling you need to measure up

READ THIS

There’s a good chance every person has had some feeling of God / the gods / the universe / the force is not happy with them. A sense that you’re not trying hard enough, not accomplishing enough, not obeying well enough, not making enough sacrifices – or whatever.

A feeling that you just don’t measure up. No matter where we are, no matter what we do to fill our days, there is a strong temptation to think about who we truly are, the things we do, the websites we look at, the ways we spend our time, the thoughts we have that no one knows – we think about all this and are crushed by a tsunami of “I’m not good enough.”

Many times this gets referred to as “Catholic-guilt” – but that’s not entirely fair as many other traditions have jumped head-first into this and taken it on as if it were their own. I was brought up in a fairly conservative Scandinavian Lutheran setting, and I have some sense of what this feels like. I know that my parents, my church, those around me actually knew what Jesus really said and what really mattered, but somehow that didn’t always get through to me. I think it was something that so many of them inherited from those who came before them, this deep and profound sense of ‘you better do the right thing.’ This idea can sneak into ‘God expects us to clean up our act’ which is a very strange belief for those who want to follow Jesus. As one reads through the record of who Jesus was and what he did and what he said, you find the exact opposite. We have somehow made this idea of judgemental-Jesus sitting up in heaven, watching us, keeping track of our mistakes, and full of criticism and contempt, waiting for the day when we clean up our act enough to be counted among his people. This idea of sitting in judgement, keeping track of wrong and right sounds more like Santa – it’s certainly not who Jesus showed himself to be.

This approach means that we are either arrogantly proud of ourselves (like we’ve already looked at) – in those times when we are successful in managing our outward actions (when tempted to lie, cheat and we don’t) but utterly crushed when we don’t manage our actions and give in. We create a transactional relationship with God where we think he is happy with us, loves and accepts us when we do (or don’t do) certain things, and he is not and will not ever be when we fail.

In any case, when we take the attitude that we are only acceptable, lovable, or worthy when we somehow do whatever it is that we think we should do – then we will live most of our life with a discontentment that is driven by our disappointment in ourselves as we feel that we have failed God.

If a child constantly thinks that they need to earn their parents approval, to prove their worth, and is constantly faced with the reality that no matter what they do, they can never achieve that – imagine the heartache. You would be crushed if you thought that your good behaviour alone is what made your father love you -and then you realized that you hadn’t done enough, so now you have to live with the realization that not only are you not loved, but it’s your own fault. This is what we do to ourselves in our relationship to God when we think that we have to measure up to some external standard in order to be acceptable to Him.

This sense that we dont’ measure up kills any hope of contentment. If we are stuck in a belief that God is not happy with us either we are crushed by that knowledge, or feel he’s right and are disappointed in ourselves. Either way we don’t have contentment.


DO THIS

For a moment imagine that you can sit down with God. Face to face. What is the first thing he says to you?

This probably says a lot about how you view God.

If your first thought is God says something like: “I’m disappointed in you” or “you seem to keep screwing up” or anything along those lines, you’ve moved far from a God who constantly says: I love you.


PRAY THIS

Father of unconditional love,
You have made me the way I am,
You know my faults,
Yet you still love me.
You know my weaknesses more than I do,
Yet you still want to use me.
You see how I’ve failed you, how I’ve abandoned you,
how I’ve ignored and denied you,
Yet you still call me your child.
Thank you.