Monday, June 27, 2016

The Prison of Fear

In Anam Cara, John O’Donahue talks about fear and how fear keeps us from being ourselves, which constrains us from living out our unique God-given destiny. He relates a story from India about a man condemned to spend the night locked in a cell with a poisonous snake that will kill him if he makes even the slightest movement. The man spends the whole night standing in the corner, afraid that even his breathing might cause the snake to strike. As the first traces of daylight come, he can make out the shape of the snake in the far corner of the cell. As the light increases, he realizes that what he thought was a snake is actually an old rope.

It’s a powerful illustration of how fear causes our imagination to turn old ropes into snakes, to turn what is harmless into a monster. Fear distorts our vision, makes situations into something bigger than they actually are, and holds us captive to illusion. When we are afraid, we cannot be free.

Fear may manifest in jealousy, anxiety, insecurity, resistance to change or arrogance. However it masks itself, it is still fear and it keeps us from living fully. It constricts our spiritual growth, much like a pot-bound plant is unable to flourish. When we aren’t growing spiritually, we begin to lose ground, and like a pot-bound plant, we get weaker.

O’Donahue says that the way to transform our fear is to ask ourselves that we are what it is that we are really afraid of. What makes us resistant to change? What holds us in an anxious, insecure or jealous state of mind? If we can name our fear, we can begin to transform it. But we have to acknowledge it. We have to admit the emotion that holds us captive. We have to be vulnerable, and this may be the hardest step to take to free ourselves from fear.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Being Seen

A few weeks ago, our pastor preached on Luke 7:11-17, where Jesus raises the widow’s son, restoring him to life. He talked about how Jesus sees the woman, and how there is seeing, and then there is really seeing. We can know that Jesus really sees us, and that is a comfort when we sense that others don’t truly see us for who we are or what is going on in our lives.

A blessing by John O’Donahue includes this line:
May you have friends who can see you.

That simple thought is a significant blessing because many people move through life at such a frantic pace that they are unable to see others, even those who are in close physical proximity to them. Physical closeness does not translate into being seen in the way that Jesus sees and that O’Donahue invokes in his blessing.

Being seen involves understanding, at least the willingness to understand. It means seeing another for who they are. To see another for who they are means not allowing stereotypes to govern one’s seeing. It means not projecting the actions or habits of one person on another. For example, you can’t assume that your spouse will act as your parent did.

To have friends who can see you has been one of my greatest blessings. Being misunderstood and mislabeled is painful, but is more common than it should be, especially because it takes time and attention to see another. The easy way out is to stereotype, project and label another. We think if we can do this, we can “manage” or control another.

But people are not machines or projects. We are, each one of us, uniquely created by God, with our own distinctive desires, gifts and vulnerabilities. To label another is to deny their uniqueness. If we choose to follow Jesus, then following means a willingness and effort to see others. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Something Beautiful

In the book, Anam Cara, John O’Donahue shares an idea from Blaise Pascal that is good advice: In a difficult time, you should always keep something beautiful in your heart.

It is easy to be brought down by difficult seasons and events. None of us are immune from tough times, but while we may not choose the struggle, we can choose our response to it. Pascal’s wisdom can be part of our response. To hold something beautiful in my heart keeps me from being defined by whatever difficulty I’m facing. It shapes my thinking and helps me to recognize the seasonality of struggle.

Keeping something beautiful in my heart does more than counterbalance the difficulty; it likewise keeps me from despair and allows me instead to be hopeful. There is a very fine line between hope and despair, and the perspective I bring to struggle determines whether I endure the struggle with hope or am sucked into the mire of despair.

As I hold something beautiful in my heart, I am also invited to be gentle with myself. Difficulty is not a time for blame, shame or guilt. These hold me in the hard place and keep me from moving through the struggle. Blame, shame and guilt are paralyzing and prevent growth.

Just as seeds begin in the darkness of earth and have to move through darkness to get to light, we have to keep gently growing through our own seasons of darkness and struggle until we break into the light where we can grow and flourish. The seed holds something beautiful within itself, the image of what it is to become. The same is true of us. This is good to remember when we are in the midst of difficulty.