Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obedience or Love?

This morning I did NOT want to run. But, out of obedience to my persistent alarm clock and out of obedience to my decision last night that I would run early this morning, I pulled myself out of bed and trudged out the door. I was doing what I needed to do, but there was very little joy in the effort.

Then came mile 2.1 and I made the turn to head back to the house. All of a sudden I realized that I was feeling pretty good and that my morning jaunt was no longer such a chore. In fact, I was enjoying my run. It struck me that even though my body was doing the same activity at the same intensity, running out of a love of running felt fundamentally different than running our of a sense of obedience.

What made the difference this morning? I really think that it was a function of feelings eventually catching up with right actions. (Granted, this does not always happen and some days I am an unhappy runner the whole way. But that is the exception, rather than the rule.) I truly believe that we can generally behave our way into proper feelings.

If I am feeling impatient, but take on the actions of patience, then I end up feeling more patient. If I am not concerned about an event, but take on the actions of anxiety, then I end up feeling unpleasantly eager about the event. What about this one? If I am feeling somewhat distant from God, but take on the actions of being close to God, will my feelings follow? Often they do.

I have often wondered whether God is pleased when I do the right thing for the wrong reason. I have come to the conclusion that God would rather that I do the right thing for the wrong reason than to do the wrong thing for any reason. He would probably prefer that I do the right thing for the right reason, but that goes without saying. With my kids, I would rather that they do the right thing out of love, but if they do the right thing merely out of obedience--I'll take that.

All too often I see myself and others being driven by what we feel. Yet feelings are too fickle to be the drivers of our lives. Yes, the mind can be confused and reason can be clouded, but I am wired to have mind and reason in the driver's seat. Feelings can come along for the ride, but they don't get to determine where we go.

Once again, as in running, so in faith. Choosing to do the right thing out of obedience is likely to lead to continuing the right thing out of love. It is better to start right behaviors with an ignoble motive and move to a noble one, than to not start the right behaviors until the motive is pure. At the end of the day, even if a motivation of love doesn't follow obedience in a particular instance, at least I will have done the right thing.

Pressing On!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pain -- a Reprise

C.S. Lewis believed that the issue of pain warranted an entire book--The Problem of Pain. He was writing into the world of Great Britain early in World War II, when his countrymen must have felt like all was not right with the world. Lewis makes the point in Chapter Six that pain (or tribulation) is God's intended vehicle of reminding us that "all these toys [goods and experiences] were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world, and that my only real treasure is Christ." Lewis further opines that because it is in the human nature to run back to our "toys", God must allow tribulations to continue until "God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless."

Pain/tribulation can be a useful tool, but only if I embrace it properly. My natural tendency is to seek to reduce pain/tribulation. I generally don't go looking for ways to increase my pain (despite what one of my sisters says about my running). I do not believe that God wants me to look for ways to be in more pain, but I do believe that He is best served when I embrace the pain as a tool for my education and ultimate betterment.

After all, if it is pain that best serves to remind me that this life is not all that there is and that my best existence is that which is and will be beyond the here and now, then pain is my friend--and I should not run from my friends.

Sometimes the pain is physical. The pain I feel when I run is a good pain of exertion, but also serves to remind me that my current physical body has an expiration date. I can choose to be upset that I hurt, or I can be thankful that better things are ahead. Sometimes the pain is emotional. At those times I can choose to be angry with who or what is causing the pain, or I can choose to recall the promise of a future existence where there is not more sorrow and no more mourning. Sometimes the pain is spiritual. When that is the case I can choose to despair over the low moral and spiritual state of our country, or I can choose to be encouraged that one day God will reign visibly and without limitations of time or space.

So much comes down to choosing.

May it be said that I chose wisely.

Press on,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Of the People, By the People, For the People

When Abraham Lincoln scratched the words of the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope -- government of the people, by the people, for the people -- I am not sure that last weekend is what he had in mind. From the outside looking in it appears that we got government of the people, by an elite group who consider their own notions of what people want or need to trump what the governed are actually expressing, for some kind of misplaced notions of legacy.

Does government have a role in the lives of the governed? Absolutely! And the role is spelled out in the enumerated powers of the Constitution. Do those enumerated powers include the power to mandate health insurance coverage? Only in some twisted sense of pseudo-Constitutional over-reaching. (In my mind the same could be said for the requirement for universal education to a certain age. Is it beneficial? Absolutely! Is it the government's proper role to mandate? Absolutely not!)

What, if anything, do we do now? In the face of feeling powerless to control events that seem to be spinning out of control, can we do something other than sit back and complain? Of course we can. Will it make a difference? I really don't know--but what difference does that make? The honor is in standing for what we believe is right and just, not necessarily in winning.

My greatest fear in all of this is that pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle will use this latest government over-reaching as a club to smack each other with in the coming months. Republicans will seek to bash Democrats with the cudgel of overly big government; and Democrats will seek to beat Republicans with the shillelagh of lack of compassion. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am no Pollyanna, but has our country devolved so far that all we can see is the chasm between the partisan positions? Is there no one who will strive to govern for the people instead of just against each other?

I am reminded of the older gentleman at a church board meeting who interjected into a serious gripe session, "Any jackass can kick down a barn, what are you going to do to make things right?" What am I going to do? Control what I can control and do what I can to influence the rest.

What does that mean? I will take a more active role in managing my own health care so that I am reducing the unnecessary costs on my behalf. That will show that government intervention is not needed to reduce health care costs. I will do what I can to help those who are in need of medical care, but are otherwise unable to get needed care. That will show that government is not necessary as a "safety net" and that regular people who care for one another can really make a difference. If it works, then I will tell the story. If not, then I will shut my yap.

Pressing on,

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What Kind of Pain?

One common denominator among humans seems to be pain. Be it physical, mental, relational, or emotional, we are born in pain and often exit this life with some degree of pain. And in between, many things hurt. Pain indicates something. Sometimes it is a warning--stop and move your hand away from the hot stove immediately. Sometimes it is a recollection of past loss or longing. Sometimes it is the result of working hard. (One of my future sons-in-law did a very active project over the weekend and is experiencing the pain of long-dormant muscles as I write.)

Yesterday's afternoon run was pretty good. Outside, shorts and a long-sleeved shirt, ice off the paths around town, very little wind. All in all an ideal Minnesota late-winter experience. Yet about 3.7 miles in, I found myself noticing some pains and doing a quick assessment. Most of the running literature that I have read distinguishes between a dull ache, which is either the body recovering or some low grade injury to just work through; and a sharp pain, which means to pay attention and see what just happened. Usually I keep running through the dull aches--just part of being almost 50. But the sharp, sudden onset pains are the ones that I need to pay attention to. Did I just step in a hole? Did I pick up a rock in my shoe? Am I breaking something? Yesterday's fell squarely in the dull ache category, so I kept going. But I think that pain can be a barometer of deeper things.

The author of my Lenten reading this morning pointed to the role of pain in repentance. Edna Hong wrote, "The purpose of Lent is to arouse. Tom arouse the sense of sin. To arouse the sense of guilt for sin. To arouse the humble contrition for the guilt of sin that makes forgiveness possible." She goes on to write, "[A] guilty, suffering spirit is more open to grace than an apathetic or smug soul." In other words, pain in the soul paves the way for grace and forgiveness.

In a way, physical pain is a necessary result of getting physically stronger. Working the muscles, running more, produces the pain of recovery. But it is a good pain. To avoid the pain means to give up the benefits of recovery and growth. While I would rather not jump into the lake of pain, I can embrace the good pain and recognize it for what it is.

Pressing on,

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Power of Just One More Time

Right now I am at the end of what has felt like a long two weeks on the road. (This is not about whining about business travel. I am very happy to have a job and the travel simply goes with the territory right now.) The days of meetings and talking with people all of the time have just plain worn me out. But the one constant has been climbing back on the treadmill every morning or evening for just a few miles. None of these runs over the last two weeks has been memorable--that same window shade is half up every day. None of these runs has been long or challenging in new ways. But these runs are bringing some sanity to my days on this trip and are building the foundation for better runs later. It would certainly be easier to stay in bed an extra hour or sit and watch TV at night, but since when has easier truly been better.

I am also struck by the connection to my time connecting with God and His word. Most days do not feel noteworthy in and of themselves. Most days are not grand epiphanies. Most days are a few minutes of praying and a few pages of reading. Yet those ordinary days seem to be what anchors my soul and what allows me to remember my God who is ever before me and beside me. Plus, I believe that these ordinary, humdrum days are what provides the foundation for those moments of particular insight or inspiration.

More and more I am content to persist through--and even enjoy--the unspectacular runs and devotional times. Not out of complacency, but (I hope) out of valuing the ordinary as a foundation for the extraordinary.

Sometimes victory is just pounding out the same 3.1 miles on the treadmill that I ran yesterday. Sometimes success is reading a few more pages in the middle of some long book of the Bible. Sometimes the greatest expression of power is just going at it--whatever your"it" may be--just one more time.

Pressing On,