Monday morning I took off for a bike ride in the Berkeley hills. It was a cool, beautiful morning with a fantastic view from Grizzly Peak Road. I was merrily peddling along, and all of the sudden it was like a bunch of uninvited guests showed up and crashed the party. For whatever reason, a gaggle of goof ups, regrets, and “not enough’s” came crashing into my thoughts. “What are you guys doing here?” was literally the question I asked myself. Here I am, enjoying a wonderful start to what promises to be a happy two-hour ride, and things like the circumstances that left my right elbow so damaged were ruining the party. Sure, the infection was the biggest part of the story, but I also delayed treatment right after the accident because I thought I could bounce back and I didn’t want to bother with an x-ray. Grief was right behind, swiftly followed by thoughts of all the things I “should” be doing as the pastor of St. Andrew and feel like I come up short.
This is important…really important. We’re all familiar with this stuff because we’ve all had similar experiences of what Brené Brown calls a “shame” storm. We’ve also lost loved ones and their memory can overwhelm us years after their passing. I miss my Dad. I miss Carl. I miss all the other friends I’ve lost from St. Andrew. I miss a fully functioning elbow. But we’re told to push those thoughts away and look for the silver-lining. When I hear someone expressing thoughts like I just expressed, I want to rush over to them and tell them how wrong they are and why they should “cheer” up.
What I’ve learned over the years in sobriety is the thing to do is not to push this stuff away or try to anesthetize it. It’s counterintuitive, but the best thing to do is to live “into” these grinches who can show up when least expected, and certainly at the worst possible moments. It’s true, they’re the things that make my heart two times too small. I pedaled along, taking each Grinch, remembering it, feeling it, but also asking the critical questions:
- How did God take and use the painful event, loss, and even the suffering to teach me God’s love and something important about the Spirit’s presence?
- What did I learn, so that even as tears come to my eyes, there is something that stirs in my heart which is so deeply connected with grace and gratitude?
Richard Rohr writes: “We dare not get rid of our pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Most of religion gives answers too quickly, dismisses pain too easily, and seeks to be distracted—to maintain some ideal order. ” Isaiah 1:18: “Come. Sit down. Let’s argue this out.” This is GOD’s Message: “If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. If they’re red like crimson, they’ll be like wool.””
I love the readings this time of year that proclaim hope. Passages like Isaiah 40:1-5:
“Comfort my people,” says our God. “Comfort them! Encourage the people of Jerusalem. Tell them they have suffered long enough and their sins are now forgiven. I have punished them in full for all their sins.” A voice cries out, “Prepare in the wilderness a road for the LORD! Clear the way in the desert for our God! Fill every valley; level every mountain. The hills will become a plain, and the rough country will be made smooth. Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it. The LORD himself has promised this.”
I don’t like the story of what happened when King Herod found out he’d been duped by the Wise Men, and they had vamoosed instead of coming back and telling him where to find the Christ child. Matthew 2:16: When Herod realized that the visitors from the East had tricked him, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighborhood who were two years old and younger—this was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared.
It is so tempting to childishly make Christmas a fantasy story of happiness instead of the real story about God’s love and presence entering a world to bring light in the darkness of life as it is, not life as we want it. Making Christmas about happiness instead of joy leads us away from the miracle of God’s presence in the manger, and will more often than not, disappoint us in the end. I’ll admit, drawing a distinction between happiness and joy can at first glance seem trite, but it’s important. Happiness is about what’s outside—joy is about what’s inside. Happiness is getting what we want—joy is receiving what we need. Happiness is the raucous party—joy is the quiet contemplation of the wonder of God’s presence in this moment.
So I pedaled and prayed. And slowly, a deep warmth began to develop deep inside. I began to “hear” “Angels We Have Heard on High” in my head. Nothing on the outside had changed. But everything on the inside had. The questions I’ll ask Sunday are…
Who are the unwanted guests in your life who have already or are likely to show up for Christmas this year?
What can you learn from the discomfort (suffering) these guests create in your life?
How can acceptance, surrender, and gratitude support your learning?
Oh…and we’ll watch a clip from “The Grinch” about the Whoville Cheermeister.
With joy and thanksgiving, here’s what I have on my desk…
DO YOU SHOP ON AMAZON.COM? Just in time for your Christmas shopping—St. Andrew has registered with AmazonSmile. Amazon donates 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the charitable organization of your choice. AmazonSmile is the same Amazon you know—same products, same prices, same service. You can support St. Andrew by using the following link when you begin your shopping: http://smile.amazon.com/ch/51-0158108 . Thank you for supporting St. Andrew!
CHRISTMAS EVE VOLUNTEERS – We are looking for a few additional volunteers to complete our team who would be willing to help on Christmas Eve—specifically in Parking Patrol. Parking lot patrol (one-hour shifts) involve walking around both street level and lower parking lots, making ourselves “visible” to prevent car break-ins—which has happened in years past. We need volunteers for the 6:00 PM service and the 7:30 PM service.
PLEASE MARK YOUR COMMUNICATION CARD ON SUNDAY IF YOU WANT TO BE A PART OF THIS TEAM. THANK YOU!
HOME HAPPENINGS IS COMING SOON… WHAT IS HOME HAPPENINGS?
A place to enjoy Christian fellowship with other families at St. Andrew in an informal setting.
A place to know and become known by others
Fun! And includes the whole family and a meal!
Six “family units” (singles, families, couples—intergenerational) will be assigned to each group.
Beginning January 29th, groups will meet at member homes from 5-7 pm on Sunday evenings for six weeks. Each family will have an opportunity to host Home Happenings in their home.
The groups have a Happenings guide, with discussion starters, short bible study, and a potluck menu. It’s super simple, super fun, and a great way to make new friends. SIGN UP ON THE COMMUNICATION CARD THIS SUNDAY.