Thursday, July 26, 2012

Facing Questions and Accepting Limits


In the movie, The Help, Aibeleen Clark is the maid who is the first to volunteer to share her stories with Skeeter, who writes a book about their experiences. At the end of the movie, Aibeleen says: “God says we need to love our enemies. It’s hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feels like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.” The truth really can set us free—free from having to be someone we are not, free from having to conform to other people’s expectations. It begins by being honest about who we really are and what we really feel.

One of my most liberating experiences, an “aha” moment, though I came to it only gradually, was when I gave myself the freedom to be honest about what I was really thinking and feeling about God and the spiritual life. I gave myself the freedom to question things that I was taught by Christian pastors and leaders should never be questioned.

Is there a danger going down this path? Yes. A few people lose all bearing and reject any possibility of believing in an Absolute. A few walk off the deep end and do not come back. A few get lost and wander about for a while. But most find a balance. Honestly confronting the questions that well up from within teaches us how to live with Mystery, a key component in any healthy religious faith.

The honesty needed to explore critical questions, rather than ignoring, dismissing, or suppressing them, is crucial to authentic spiritual growth. So is the honesty needed to face our limits, which can be very humbling. Maybe we are not as strong, capable, and brilliant as we think we are.

I was recently amused by a comment, our son, Jordan made. My wife, Melissa, and I were in a conversation about the house we own in Flatwoods, Kentucky. We have been leasing it since 1996, when we moved to Waldorf, Maryland. Our conversation revolved around the topic of selling it. The house has baseboard heat and window air conditioning, and we raised the question: Should we install central heat and air before we attempt to sell it? We know it would make it more marketable, but would we get the investment back, that was the question. I mentioned that it would probably be very expensive installing the duct work.

Jordan, our son, a senior in college, happened to be home that afternoon and jumped into the conversation. He chimed in, “I could do that.” “You could do what”? “What you are talking about: Installing the pipes.” “You mean the duct work for the heating and air?” “Yea, I can do that?” “Really?” “Sure. No problem. It’s all good.”

I honestly can’t recall seeing Jordan ever drive a nail or tighten a screw. I suspect that here is a young man who has not yet honestly faced his limits. Why do you think the military starts recruiting kids while they are still in high school? They tend to have an inflated sense of their limitations. It usually takes some experience and suffering to confront us with our limits.

But then, on the other hand, when we tackle the difficult or encounter trials and hardships we may discover that we are stronger and more capable than we thought we were. We may learn that we can actually handle some things that we thought we would never be able to do. It works both ways.

When Jesus sends out the twelve to preach the good news of the kingdom of God and do the kingdom works of healing the diseased and demonized, he does not permit them to make preparations for their journey. They are not even allowed to take food. They are simply to go, trusting in and depending upon the welcome and hospitality of the people in the villages where they are sent to minister. 

What is Jesus doing? Certainly this is no model for doing missions. In one sense, there is an urgency to get out the message, but in another sense, this mission functions for the twelve as their initiation into the way of Jesus. Jesus is teaching them that if they are to be his coworkers and partners in the work of the kingdom, they must minister from a place of vulnerability, not superiority. How often in the history of the church have we reversed that?

Jesus tells them what to do when they are rejected: shake the dust off their feet and move on. Jesus knew they would experience rejection. That was part of their initiation. Jesus was making sure they knew their limits and learned how to serve from a humble, vulnerable place.

I don’t think it’s possible to experience much growth in spiritual consciousness or much development in character transformation without:
* honestly and humbly confronting and accepting our limits, and
* honestly exploring our deepest questions as we learn how to live with Mystery. 

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