Tuesday, November 22, 2011


“Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21

2011 is a year of many firsts in my life.  We celebrated the first birthday of our child in July.  We’ve made it through our first year on one income.  I tried my first case all the way to a jury verdict (& won!).  I bought a Jeep.  I started this blog.

But 2011 is also the year I lost my dad.  So it was my first birthday without talking to him, my first moments of joy without being able to share them with him, my first moments of doubt and concern that I could not talk about with him.  And this will be my first Thanksgiving without him. 

Life has come at me full throttle in 2011.  And in all of it, Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  So here’s what I’ve learned lately about thanksgiving and singing “hallelujah” in all circumstances.

First, there is little to no room for “hallelujah” in a heart and head that hasn’t accepted life exactly as it is.  God is, was, and always will be found in life where we are.  Listen to Moses asking God to define God:  But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.’”  So to Moses’ question of, “What is your identity?” God answers, “I am.”  It is a cryptic and at first blush utterly unsatisfying answer to the question of the character of God, but it is also the secret hidden in plain sight for where we are to meet God.  We meet the “I am” when we accept life where “we are.” 

Acceptance isn’t resignation.  It isn’t numbness or turning off your feelings.  And it isn’t apathy or indifference toward wrong and injustice.  Acceptance is honest acknowledgment of where we are in life.  It is overcoming the fear of what it will feel like to really know who we are and the state in which we find ourselves. Acceptance is an invitation to feel.   

And equally important, it is acknowledgment without judgment or excuse.  Let them go.  Just simply be where you are.  I’m hurting.  I’m lost.  I’m fretful.  I’m tired.  I’m anxious.  Wherever you are, this is where God wants to meet you.  Paul can say “rejoice in all things,” because Paul has ridden life’s rollercoaster all the way, including the scariest parts.  “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”  It took Paul a long time to accept a part of his life, but when he did, when he stopped trying to make it something it was not, when he allowed himself to embrace his weakness, he found God there saying, “My grace is sufficient for where you are right now.  My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Hopefully acceptance and its invitation to feel will do what it is intended to do - to wake us up to being fully present to our lives as they are.  So much of life is lived on auto-pilot with us looking forward to some better day in the future, backward to some better day in the past, or out the side window at someone else’s life or how we want ours to be.  But in doing so, we miss out on our own present life.  And we miss God.  As Richard Rohr so eloquently says, “God comes to us disguised as our life.”  If we are paying attention, if we are allowing ourselves to unplug, turn down, slow down, and see the people and things right in front of us, we will experience God.  For me personally, this is hard.  With so much access to so much information and entertainment, it’s as hard as it’s ever been to turn it all off and just be with those around you. And even scarier, to just be with yourself. 

A Sunday School lesson we’re doing right now on “attentiveness” makes this point wonderfully by contrasting living in the world we’re born into versus living in the world we're baptized into.  It is a different lens through which to see life, and it illuminates everything and everyone around you when you have the belief that God comes disguised as your life.  And my, how we all do shimmer in the light when we see God among us.

Out of this acceptance and present-ness flows a general approach to life grounded in gratitude.  A thankful heart is your hometown from which you go out and experience life.  And it’s entirely appropriate (and inevitable) to visit other places like sadness and grief.  It’s even perfectly OK to visit anger, anxiety, and other dark and lowly places.  Because you always remember where you’re from. You take home with you everywhere you go. 

Gratitude goes with you because you know God is going to be wherever you go, waiting with grace sufficient and power to meet any weakness.  This promise is fulfilled in so many ways, but most especially through the kindness of others.  And along the way you’ll start looking for every opportunity you can to pay that kindness forward, because you’ll never in a million years be able to pay it all back.
So wherever you go and however deep you go, you know that you’re just visiting, even if it’s a long visit, but that one day you’ll return home when you are ready.  You’ll probably come back with scars, but you always want to come home to a heart of gratitude. 

And don’t the scars make us wise? 

Of course, Mary Oliver can say all this in 13 lines so much better than I can in 200.

Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Hallelujah, anyway I'm not where I started!

And have you been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you too decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years?

Hallelujah, I'm sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.*

So in all things, hallelujah.  Hallelujah for our clamoring.  Hallelujah for the comfort in hard times and the joy in the so, so many good.  Hallelujah for kindness and the epiphany that it is upon us to spread.  Hallelujah for the chance to be fully alive at this very moment.  Hallelujah for the chance at this life and the God who we constantly meet in its disguise.  

* (Mary Oliver, "Hallelujah," Evidence, Beacon Press: Boston, 2009, p. 19)


Christy said...

Nathan, I've been thinking about you and your family so much over the last week. I know the holidays are going to be especially hard this year but please know we all love you and are here for you. Thank you for making us all more aware of ourselves and God's love for us where we are.

Anonymous said...

You are in our thoughts and prayers this Thanksgiving.
Much love,