August 31, 2021
There is a saying among ministers that we often preach or write blogs/columns about things we are going through.
But then we make it sound like we have been practicing these truths for ages and have a black belt in various spiritual disciplines. However, the reality is that we just got our spiritual white belts a few months ago.
My advisor at Unity Institute and Seminary told me, “Rick, it is good to show the congregation some of your foibles. But don’t show them too many of your foibles. You want them to be leaving the sanctuary with some hope.”
So here comes the truth in packaging: I want something, and I want it really badly. Let’s call this something X. There is no need to go into details about what X is. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt anxious, moody, forlorn, and almost despairing because X is not in your life? And you are starting to doubt that X will ever be in your life?
Then you start thinking X is in everybody else’s life. Why isn’t it in my life? It is so unfair. So let’s start the pity party. To quote the late Leslie Gore: “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to …You’d cry too if it happened to you.” Or to quote the contemporary TikTok star, Olivia Rodrigo, “God, it’s brutal out here!”
I am thinking of Abraham from the Bible. Abraham and Sarah wanted children. God has told Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Yet here is an older Abraham, who is still without children. Abraham made a covenant with God, and Abraham has lived up to his side of the bargain. The question is: When will God live up to His side of the deal?
One day some mysterious strangers show up at Abraham and Sarah‘s tent. Abraham is a gracious host and provides these visitors with warm hospitality. Then the men (or are they Angels?) tell Abraham that Sarah will soon have a child. Sarah laughs when she hears this. Because of her age, how could such a thing happen? Of course, Sarah then gives birth to Isaac, and the name Isaac in Hebrew is connected to the Hebrew word for laughter. Abraham goes on to be the father of three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham’s spiritual descendants are numerous as the stars. I think his spiritual children have added a great deal of light and heat to the world.
I am also thinking about the Jewish exiles carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon after the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s temple and captured the holy land.
These exiles sang, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). It was a bitter time. And yet, their freedom – their return to Jerusalem – was not that far around the corner. It happened when Persia defeated Babylon, and a second temple (the temple that Jesus knew) was built.
The “still, small voice” inside of me says, “Rick, now wait a minute. Do you think you might be getting a bit grandiose and melodramatic in comparing your situation to Abraham and the Babylonian exile? In your case, we are talking about X.”
“Okay,” I say, “But in the Bible, you say the following about X … All I am asking is for this to be true for me about X.”
Sometimes for me, the “still, small voice” can be very chatty: “So now you are quoting Scripture like a pentecostal minister. Is it the case that when the Bible says what you want to hear, you start upholding the literal inerrancy of the Bible?”
“All right,” I respond, “I see your point. But this X-related stuff really hurts. Please show me how to deal with it.”
As Scripture says, “Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.” A few days later, I was teaching an online class on The Lord’s Prayer. In this class, we looked at what New Thought thinkers, like Emmet Fox and Eric Butterworth, have said about The Lord’s Prayer. I asked a person in the class to read something Emmet Fox wrote about the “Thy will be done” and “Give us this day our daily bread” parts of the prayer. As they read Fox’s observations, I was struck that these were the words and advice I was seeking. Fox wrote:
“If only you will find out the thing God intends you to do, and will do it, you will find that all doors will open to you … It is the will of God that we should all be healthy, happy, and full of joyful experiences … But in order to obtain these things, we have to claim them, not necessarily in detail, but we have to claim them, and we have to recognize that God and God alone is the source and the fountainhead of all our good … God being the Source, the number of channels is infinite. The Source is one.”
Emmet says that when we realize the above in our heart of hearts, we can feel real peace and joy despite external appearances.
My six-year-old, Therese, would like for me to buy her an iPhone 12. I realize she has much to learn before I buy her even a simple track phone. I believe Spirit has sometimes taken a similar approach with me. Before X comes into my life, I often have to learn that I can be happy, joyous, and free without X. Idolatry may not be a fashionable word in the 21st-century, but I have seen how I can be capable of making a false God out of an X.
Meanwhile, I have also seen how many of my long-run problems started as my brilliant short-run solutions. That is why I pray, “This or something better.” And if X is not here, it might be because something better is on its way.
Augustine, in his prayers to God, put it so well: “There is no rest until we rest in you.” When we follow Augustine’s advice, our X-problem looms far less large in our lives, and we can start to enjoy “the peace that passes all understanding” – even if we don’t have X.
Can I pick up my white belt now?