Friday, September 21, 2012


My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.  If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you.  But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind....  -- James 1:2-6

Last week had me saying to myself, "What is going on!?" My usual crazy life seemed to have just gotten exponentially crazier.  For the second time in two weeks, a copper pipe burst in our house, this time under the foundation of our house, causing more water damage in the same area that was repaired before, and more upheaval of furniture to make room for the plumber's jackhammer and the blowers.  Then a few days later, a good friend got very angry with me about things she mistakenly thought I was doing, and said some hurtful things via email.  Then, my kids got lice.  Then, when I needed to wash their towels and bed linens, my washing machine stopped working.  So, as I headed to Bible study last Wednesday evening, I asked aloud in complete exasperation, "What is going on!?" 

Well, I managed to make it to Bible study in one piece, and we began to read the Letter of James.  The above passage resonated with me, though I questioned the word "joy."  I wasn't feeling anywhere close to "joy."   But as I went home that evening to finish the lice treatment on my two older boys, and remake their beds, I thought of the other words in the passage above.  "Yes," I thought.  "I know God will help me through this.  I have no doubt of that.  I just need to wait for his guidance." 

And I felt God's guidance through the most crucial of these problems:  the upset with my friend.  For in my head, initially, I could only think of angry replies -- replies that would only make the situation worse.  However, the advice of James against speaking in anger echoed in my head.  I thought of my anger, but I also thought of my friend's anger.  Then I read the daily lectionary, and found in Judges 15:9 - 20, an example of what happens when we do to others what they have done to us -- just more of the same.  So the next day, I was able to respond to my friend calmly but directly, not shying away from the problems between us, but trying not to inflame them either.  Thank God.

I also read "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, which helped me understand my friend and myself a little better.  "Blink" describes through many fascinating examples how we unconsciously make snap decisions in the "blink" of an eye.  Sometimes these unconscious and instinctual responses are spot on, and we need to trust them more than our methodical conscious processing.  But sometimes we are led astray by our fast unconscious responses, and need to proceed more carefully and thoughtfully.  Gladwell writes that our unconscious instincts "go awry for a very specific and consistent set of reasons, and those reasons can be identified and understood."(pg.15)   He describes how we all have unique patterns of behavior.  Even our unconscious has a "signature", and we can learn to recognize when these patterns serve us well and when they do not.  Very often the same specific emotions, sentiments, and/or prejudices cause us to make errors in judgment over and over again. 

I wrote last week that I often make the same mistakes.  Like Paul, I know what is right but I don't always do it.  This is true for many of us.  Our unconscious often dictates our actions.  Malcolm Gladwell writes at one point that because of this we don't really have free will.  I disagree.  I believe that it is possible to learn from our mistakes and to consciously make better choices.  I believe as Gladwell writes in another place, "It is possible to learn when to listen to that powerful onboard computer [our unconscious] and when to be wary of it." (pg.15)  We just need to develop a greater awareness of our emotions and prejudices.  In addition, I would say, we need a moral compass.

For example, my first instinct towards my friend was to retaliate in anger.  But I also realized that this would do more harm than good, so I stopped myself from doing so.  I chose to listen to other thoughts, to words telling me to be silent, to not speak in anger, and to wait for God to guide me.  This was my free will working in full force.  My instincts and unconscious patterns do not have to dictate what I say or do.  I have the freedom to take a different path.  In this instance, I chose to ignore the path of anger and follow the path of love.  I wish I could say I always make such a choice.

I had another choice to make later on.  After the breach was healed, with apologies and forgiveness given back and forth, my friend expressed a desire to go back to the way things were before.  I wondered to myself, "Would that be wise?  What if the same thing happened again?  Wouldn't I be just as vulnerable as I had been this time?  Wouldn't it be better to put some distance between us?"  But God showed me a different way to view the situation.

The next morning, I read in one of my devotionals the following story:  "The Roman annals say such discord existed between two brothers that one of them maliciously laid waste the lands of the other.  The emperor Julius, having heard of this, determined to punish the offender capitally.  The latter, therefore, understanding what was meditated, went to the brother whom he had injured and besought forgiveness, at the same time requesting that he would screen him from the emperor's vengeance.  But they who were present at the interview rebuked him and declared that he deserved punishment, not pardon.  To which he made the following reply, "That prince is not worthy who in war assumes the gentleness of a lamb, but in peace puts on the ferocity of a lion.  Although my brother should not incline toward me, yet I will endeavor to conciliate him.  For the injury I did him is sufficiently avenged in my repentance and bitterness of heart."  This view of the case appeased the emperor and restored peace between himself and his brother." ("Classical Christian Tales," from The Soul's Almanac:  a year of interfaith stories, prayers, and wisdom," Sept. 18, ed. by Aaron Zerah)

I know the pain and "bitterness of heart" that comes when we understand how much we have hurt another person.  Didn't I just write about this very thing in my last posting?  Did I not ask God to keep me mindful of such pain?  So now, I knew that I could and would treat my friend, who was experiencing this same painful regret, with all the love and compassion I had always felt for her. Thank God for that, as well.

This past week was a time of significant learning for me.  But, thankfully, one in which I did not have to make a series of mistakes first.  I know that this only happened because I was willing to let God take the lead, however.  I wonder how well my life and relationships would be if I always let God take the lead?

Dear God, wonderful guide that you are for me, thank you for the many blessings of this week.  I know now that there can be great joy even in the most difficult trials.  Love always, Pam

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