Flunking Elementary School

I’ve reminded myself a great deal lately about a spiritual truth that is echoed in all the synoptic gospels.  In that lifeline to us, Jesus says in no uncertain terms that “unless we become as children, we cannot see the kingdom of God”!  He then adds that the kingdom in fact “belongs to such as these”, while negating the lack thereof in what seems nothing shy of both an inhuman and uncommon characteristic to those who would live as an acolyte in the upside-down kingdom.

And in fact, if I had a dollar for every time I had read these profound words, surely I would dare not work another day.  For they have become commonplace, and as much a part of my daily vernacular as “please” and “thank you”.  In fact, I have often chewed its sagely cud and then tried to swallow long and hard; forever trying to get the spirit of it into the sinews of my spiritual bones so it becomes in fact “who I am” and all that I desire to be.  And yet I have found, as I’m sure perhaps you have as well, this is a children’s class we were actually supposed to somehow graduate from; perhaps even long, long ago.  And yet it’s neophyte and elementary wisdom somehow continually escapes us, so we eternally hit the repeat button on the lecture, while simultaneously being shuffled back against our will into our assigned seats somewhere in the back of the class.

I’ve thought about it a lot lately though.  Especially in the quiet and somewhat somber reminiscence of my recent date with destiny, forced to deal head on with the sheer brevity of life that impolitely asked me to stand to its attention!  And as a result, somehow its now circumspect advice has become all the rage of my life, as I now trade my back seat for a front row closer to the Master, asking him for one more chance to be the boy that finally made good on what has been entrusted to him.  And as always, He is willing to stay after to make sure I somehow start to get it right.  And what I am finding in His special after school class, is that being an eternal child is the absolute best place in the world to be in His kingdom—if we are willing to become one.  And so, as I ponder much more wakefully these days, I’m reminded of several attributes, that in order to graduate this perpetual class, must somehow become the more natural inclination of my life.

Blind Trust

The first thing we notice about small children, although we won’t fall prey to the idea of their impeccability; is that one can’t help but realize that it seems to be in their very nature to trust the adult in the room with the entirety of their lives.  There seems to be a quiet and yet obvious demeanor that all is right with the world.  And all the while, they don’t have a clue yet about their own depravity, much less the entrusted adults in the room; yet they innocently and also somewhat blindly render their cares to a “Que sera sera” notion.  They are totally relaxed in one’s safekeeping who has proven time and time again to be trustworthy; forever throwing caution to the wind to those we might normally find suspicious, especially when there is the distinct possibility that’s its actually the devil in a clown’s garb (IT Part 2).

Is it any wonder then why we can’t become the teacher’s pet, when our “fight or flight” trajectory through life has taught us to always be on our guard and to trust no one, or; shame on us.  For our trust is oftentimes stolen from us by a road of adults that paved our initial way with the projection of good intentions, yet which eventually taught us the cruel truth that came with wounds that last “forever and a day”.  And so, the admonition to “become like a child” scares the Hell out of us quite frankly, when everything we know has taught us that for enlightened adults, this is sheer and utter credulity.

Dependency

The second thing we notice about children is this sense of utter dependency.  In fact, it comes ever so innately, without even a smidgeon of guilt for it being characteristic of them.  That is because this is in the very fabric of their DNA.  It’s their default position.  And to think or feel otherwise is as foreign to them as a day without ice cream.  They in fact know their Father will take care of them, and because of this realization, it never enters their thoughts as to the possibility that something will go awry.

And yet for us, we have become rather stalwart to the possibilities of taking anything for granted in this life.  Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps has long become the obsession of any given day, and to close one’s eye to the outside chance of some chink in our armor invites the incessant counting of sheep, coupled with a myriad of best made plans for another day.  So each new morn, we lambast ourselves in the mirror of the mistakes we’ve made, with a promise to our independence that it won’t happen on our watch ever again.  And so the monotonous cycle keeps us forever in its lair, unable to learn anything of peace and rest, or of a burden that we are told is light and easy.  Though Jesus offers it, we really don’t believe it.  Because in order to do so, it will require our abdication from our self-made throne.  And to add to our dilemma, we must also let go of the never-ending worries that preoccupy each waking hour in order that they will not overtake us, and likewise cause us to skip out on the one who promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us.  The road as we all know is of both winding and long.

Born Again; Again and Again

I guess I kind of understand what Jesus was after when he baffled Nicodemus with the admonition that he must somehow be born again.  We skirt by that not really understanding; that though it refers to our need for change and a new “spiritual” birth, we often miss that this regeneration often needs to be both remembered and perhaps reenacted, oftentimes repeatedly throughout our walk on the narrow path. The reenactment is needed because children more than anything want to grow up, when all the while Peter Pan is whispering to us to instead forever stay a child.  That’s sage advice indeed.  For if indeed the kingdom belongs to such as these, we must grow ever more comfortable releasing our chokehold to the uncertainties of life, and instead put our tiny little hands into the hand of the man who always calms the sea.  For I am quite sure that if we cannot, we will not even begin to ever truly know Him and His actual goodness in the very midst of life’s ambiguity all around us, and as a result, the best we can ever hope for is an elementary deja vu.

Selah

 

Settling Into The Old Man’s Skin

I have had a hand full of people that actually care about me, start to look at me with an edge of concern lately.  In fact, I can almost feel them whispering to themselves as I walk by, secretly saying to themselves, “Is he O.K.”?

Changes

 And I understand that a little bit I guess.  After all, they see this once enthusiastic and extroverted guy transform into an introverted hermit type of fellow, and watch from afar as old blue eyes has been walking lately with a little less spring in his step.  I also refuse to “Grecian formula” things up, and so this increasingly graying beard, and once somewhat chiseled frame has started to show signs of budding atrophy–despite my still quasi-consistent attempts to keep everything from falling down altogether on a fat boy treadmill nearby.

They equally scratch their head as they see a chap who was once a movie aficionado grow increasingly frustrated at the morally inept and purposeless selection, and similarly irritated at Christian movie production attempts to “VidAngel” the unadulterated reality out of life that we all know and experience from day to day.  As a result, turning the “boob tube” off as my old man used to call it, often seems the correct order of the day.

These same people no doubt likewise stop to reflect on someone who is now almost positive that nothing good happens after 10:00 PM at night, and who would just as soon pass the time reading a good book or in finding an old empty church to sit and pray in, than to do just about anything else.  This is also the same person mind you who loves a huge mug of Belgium beer, or a glass of exquisite bourbon as much as anyone with half a pulse; and who puts an occasional premium cigar in the same category as filet mignon and a baked potato–hopelessly drowned in limitless butter and sour cream. To add to this complexity, this ever-evolving patriarch can occasionally be seen with the likes of Chicken little, and one of whom has correspondingly grown pretty damn sure that the sky is actually falling all around us.

A Delightful Paradox

Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I like to be around people (in small doses now I’m afraid) but am equally content with solitude that causes me to habitually reflect and write about the sky I just mentioned.  I also grow increasingly content with a mixture of both a holy sadness and an equal zest for what God has left for me and my beautiful bride in the days that lie ahead–despite not knowing heads or tails of its sure footing anymore.  And for sure, that has taken some reluctant getting used to.

In fact, I’ll go so far to say that I believe that this contrast I just described should be somewhat normal for those of us who are still faithfully pulling out eye-teeth in their pursuit of a God who often plays hard to get, and those who also grow increasingly wary of the endless “grasping for straws” for some eternal bliss in a home down here; when all the while we innately know that we were created for a city whose builder and maker is God.  And the truth is, I’m now actually OK with this beautiful contradiction. But it’s taken quite a country mile to get here into my skin.

Death and Taxes

I can remember hearing Billy Graham say one time something that I found rather profound.  He was asked that if he had it to do all over again what he would do different.  He mentioned several things, but the one that stuck with me, that did not make a lick of sense until recently, was when he said, “I would have prepared more for growing old”.  And this insightful thought has stayed with me ever since.  You see because the fact is, that one day, just as certain as April 15th, the grim reaper will come to do his bidding, and I’m convinced more than ever that preparing for this certainty is singularly what has the distinctive power to catapult us into living a more purposeful life, rather than stoking the continual restlessness of having not yet achieved a life of perfect ease and comfort—a rose garden of which God never promised to those of us who voluntarily still walk on the narrow path. But I think perhaps we have forgotten.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have done things in life to try and “get ahead”.  I’ve worked hard, pursued advanced degrees, tried to be the best at a thing or two. And in that quest, I have experienced some of the euphoria of accomplishment, and the equal sharing of the spoils that come with it.  I still pursue this, simply because I want to be as great as I can be with the talents I’ve been given.  And somehow, someway, I believe there’s a best-selling book somewhere in my repertoire that still causes me to not go gentle into that good night.  All the while, I am now equally comfortable with being a normal guy who has also abysmally failed, yet who simply loves his wife and family, and who makes at least a feeble attempt to walk on this broken road. All the while, I am in constant hope for the daily bread and wine given from a Father who loves to give good gifts to his children–even when the battle rages on for the true fallen sons of God to at last be revealed.

Settle Down and Settle In

In conclusion, the reason that I write this, is not to give those concerned more reason to fret about my current metamorphosis; nor do I wish to become an old man before my allotted time.  But what I do want to do, is to find a way to settle into this old man’s skin in such a way that enables me to offer hope and guidance to those who increasingly engross themselves in a never-ending discontentment from a life that they feel has passed them by, and instead embrace a life of child-like faith and trust in the one who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  To continually walk hand in hand with the one who longs to give us peace and rest even in the valley of the shadow of our inevitable death, yet most readily in the daily grind of peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and the ever constant “in-betweens” and “still not yets”.  For this is the path for all who dare walk on this road less traveled, and I simply pray that you don’t have to become an old man before finally getting it into your skin.

Selah