Imagine yourself standing against a wall, with both arms outstretched. You are on a cross, with one arm back trying to relive yesterday, called guilt, and the other trying to arrange to-morrow, called worry. This is where the Serenity Prayer comes in useful. The first part is " Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." There are two things in my life I cannot change. I cannot change yesterday. It went away at midnight, and will never return. The second thing I cannot change are the people in my life. I am powerless over persons, places, or things. The remainder of the prayer is "Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I cannot change yesterday, and I have no guarantee that I'll see tomorrow.
George Burns, the American comic, died over a year ago, aged 100. Towards the end of his life he used joke that the first thing he did every morning, when he woke up, was to pick up the newspaper, look down the death columns, and if his name was not there, he got up! When I wake up each morning, I accept from God the gift of today. It is total gift, and it is significant that we call it the present. It is a gift that not everybody received, as is witnessed by the same death columns. The important thing about the gift it that written all over the box are the words "batteries included".
With the day comes whatever I need to live today. Jesus calls this our daily bread, and it is included with the tickets, as it were. The secret of sanity is to keep life within the day, to live my life, one day at a time. I know a recovering alcoholic who, when he gets out of bed in the morning, goes on his knees, thanks God for the gift of today, and then hands it back to him, asking him to take care of it for him. He tells God that his life was in a mess when he was in charge, and he doesn't want to do that again. Therefore, he trusts God to run things for him today.
At the end of the day, before getting into bed, he goes on his knees again, to thank God for taking good care of his day for him. It is important to slow life down, to deal with it in twenty-four hour segments. I sometimes think of my friend, who hands each day into God's care ; one of those days is going to be his last, and what a wonderful way to prepare. He is not waiting till he dies to hand his life over to God. As someone said "Live each day as if it was your last, and one day you will be right."
I saw a poster somewhere, and the general drift of it went something like this :"I was regretting the past, and fearing the future. Suddenly my Lord was speaking :'My name is I AM'. He paused. I waited. He continued, "When you live in the past, with its mistakes, and regrets, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not 'I WAS'. When you live in the future, with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not 'I WILL BE'. When you live in this moment, it is NOT hard. I am here. My name is 'I AM'." God is totally a God of NOW. If I can become a person of now, I will meet God.
I could well imagine that most people meet God for the first time at the moment of death, when the running is finished, the worrying is ended, and the game is over. Sometimes we hear the following expressions about people, "He's all over the place........She's awfully scattered..............He badly needs to get himself together." The opposite to that is togetherness, wholeness, wholesomeness, or holiness. It is about dropping both arms, and meeting God today.
The telephone rang in this house, and it was answered in a whisper by a tiny voice, that was obviously that of a child. "Hello." "Is you father there?" "No, I'm sorry he's busy." "Well, can I speak to your mother?" "No," came back the whisper, "I'm sorry, she's busy." "Is there anyone else I can talk to? Is there anyone else there?" "There's the fire brigade, the ambulance, and the police," was the whispered reply. "Can I speak to one of the men from the fire brigade?" "No, I'm sorry, they're busy." "Well, can I speak to the driver of the ambulance?" asked the man, with heightened voice, and impatient tone. "No," came the whispered reply, "I'm sorry, he's busy." "Well, then," asked our friend, running out of patience, and getting more agitated, "Can I speak to one of the policemen?" "No," came the reply. "I'm sorry, they're busy." "What's happening there?" roared our friend, "What are they all doing there?" "They're looking for me," came the whispered reply. I tell that story, because that's how it must look to Jesus looking on, as people are running in all directions, looking for something that is right there within their own hearts, should they choose to stop long enough to look.
I met a missioner home from Kenya some time ago, and I was really impressed as he spoke about the people among whom he had worked for the previous thirty years. It was obvious that he had a great love and respect for them. He admired their native wisdom, and their own special brand of theology. He was convinced they had a lot to teach us Europeans. This is one of many stories he told me.
On the first Saturday of every month, he went into the bush with a jeep, and rounded up anybody needing to attend his clinic that day, when the flying doctors would pass through. Each month, there was a different kind of surgery offered, and this week it was hair lips, and cleft palates. One young lad had a hair lip, and, when the doctors were finished with him the priest was amazed at the excellent job they had done, leaving barely a sign of the hair lip. He brought the young lad out of the clinic, and over to his father, who was seated under a tree. The boy bowed to the father, who placed a hand of blessing on his head, as was the custom, and that was it. The father didn't seem to notice the improvement in the boy's appearance. Then the women, including his mother, came along, and there was great excitement. They hugged him, examined his lip close up, brought him out from under the trees to have a good look at the transformation, and there was a great buzz of excitement in the air. Meanwhile the father was still sitting under the trees. This puzzled the missioner, so he went over to him, and asked him, "Are you pleased with the job the doctors have done on your son?" "Oh, yes," he replied. "I am very pleased." "How come, then," asked the priest, "you didn't show any signs of being greatly pleased when your son came out to you from the clinic?" "I love my son," replied the father. "If I showed any great signs of delight, it would have shown him that I did not really love him when he had a hair lip. I still love him now the way I always did."
Once again, I use this story, because I believe it applies equally well to Jesus, who loves us just the way we are. He doesn't love me because I'm good. He loves me because he's good, and his love for me doesn't change. Guilt is not from God, and guilt can be very destructive. Jesus set a very high standard for how we are to love others. He asked us to love others as he loves us. Loving others includes loving myself, because if I do not have a healthy love for self, then God help my neighbour!
In recent years I spent some time living very near a harbour, and I was very conscious of the tide, as I looked out my window. At one time all the boats sat on the mud, as all the waters had left the harbour. Later, when I looked out, all the boats were afloat again. The rising tide had raised all the boats, the big ones as well as the small ones.
Once again, I can apply this to the Lord. His Spirit within can bring everything within me to the surface, where it can be named, claimed, and tamed. The journey towards wholeness, wholesomeness, and hope is one of continually opening out. Life has often been compared to an onion, which has many layers, and can cause a few tears. I have a direct choice between revelation or cover-up. To the extent that I tend to cover things over, to that extent, I am unredeemed, because hiding is a direct inheritance of original sin. Openness to things the way they are is a clear sign that the Holy Spirit is at work. Acknowledging areas in need of salvation is freedom, not guilt. Christianity and guilt are incompatible. Guilt is not from God, and can be very negative and pessimistic.
In the last book in the Bible, called the Book of Revelations, Satan is called the accuser of the brethern, because he accuses them day and night before God. It serves Satan's purpose that we should be burdened with guilt, and that such guilt might accumulate, to become such a heavy burden, that we lose hope, and despair. I believe that the only real sin a Christian can commit is to lose hope, and end up in despair. My reason for saying that, is because despair could prevent me bringing something to the Lord, something he would have no problem dealing with.
If Judas had not gone off on his own, he might have had a chance to see love and acceptance in the eyes of Jesus, just as Peter had. To believe that anything I have done is outside of his love and forgiveness, is to fly in the face of everything Jesus has told us. Once again, Jesus lays great stress on us believing his promises, and trusting him to deliver on them.
There is a vast difference between being helpless, and being hopeless. The difference is so great, that I might say experiencing and accepting helplessness can be a virtue, while admitting to hopelessness can be a sin! The whole Christian message is about God coming to us, in our helplessness, and making it possible for us to live by his power, with a whole new hope, offering us a life beyond our wildest dreams. The paradox of this is that, the more conscious I am of my own powerlessness, the more powerful the Lord can work in me. Like St. John the Baptist, the more I decrease, the more the Lord can increase. The more I get out of the way, the greater freedom the Lord has to work in me, and through me. I could easily fall into the trap of trying to have faith in my faith. I could easily over-emphasise my own contribution to all of this, and end up getting in the way of the Lord. My hope is based on Jesus, and on him only. It is based on his love and his promises, and not on anything I can do, or have done.
Life can be difficult, and there are times when it's not easy to retain hope and optimism. I am only human, and it is quite normal to have my good days, and my bad days. The hope I speak of, however, is part of the work of the Holy Spirit in my soul, and is total gift, that rises above all my human weakness, and is in me, rather than of me. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit, or the results of the Spirit living in me. If I see a tree with apples on it, I will rightly conclude that it is an apple tree. If I see the fruits of the Spirit in your life, I will rightly conclude that you have the Spirit within you. "You will receive power from on high," Jesus promised his apostles, "and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." In other words, you will receive the power, but you must also accept the responsibility that goes with such power.
A very positive witness is, in the words of St. Peter, to always have a reason to give those who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. It is a long journey from the Fall until now, and throughout that time, there is constant proof of the Lord's care and concern for his people. Even within the relatively short span of my own life, I must be able to recognise many signs of his care and concern for me. To think of what time may be left, and to leave that to him, is not a great deal to ask for. I can continue to worry, of course, but, as Jesus said, "Will all this worry add one minute to your life?" In fact, with the rise of heart attacks, heart failures, and other coronary problems, it is accepted that worrying and good health do not go together at all. Worry could well be defined as not having enough faith and trust in God. "All will be well, and all manner of things will be well" is a saying attributed to St. Julian of Norwich. What a wonderful Christian motto that would make! I could do with a large poster at all points of my daily work, which proclaims again and again "All will be well, and all manner of things will be well."
I heard of something that happened to a friend of mine one time. She began her day in a vile humour. She looked like the weather forecast, when there is a low coming in over for the day. Anyhow, whatever her husband said, he shouldn't have said it, because he got a telling off. He knew it was going to be one of those days, so he grabbed his lunch-box and left for work earlier than usual. The children however, were not so smart. One was doing his homework in the middle of the cornflakes, another couldn't find her socks, and a third was looking for money for copies. The tension in the kitchen was rising by the minute, and, eventually, all were turfed out the door, without a parting hug. They brought a lot of the tension with them, and, as they met their friends, they ignored them, which caused further annoyance.
Later, in school, one was still so upset that, not only did he not know the answer, he hadn't even heard the question! He got thrown out of the class. By midday, the disquiet of this morning's kitchen had begun to spread around the parish! Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, at eleven o' clock, the mother was still in her dressing-gown, and ten cups of tea later, the day wasn't getting any better! Then it hit her like a bolt of lightening. "My God," she said, "nothing that happened in this house this morning came from God." This shocked her, because she was a good Christian woman. She reached for the bottle of holy water, sprinkled it all over the place, and told Satan to clear off, and leave her alone. (Satan is the only one you can tell to go to hell!). Immediately, the cloud lifted, as it always will, when we use the power and authority Jesus has given us. She then phoned her husband, and told him it was OK to come home!
Jesus says "I have given you full authority over all the power of the evil one ; nothing will harm you." If she had continued to forget that she had that authority, a week later she would probably be on valium, and a few weeks later on the booze. I've seen a lot of people going down the tube, because they either did not know they had this authority, or they neglected to use it. Let me put it this way. Suppose you are working for a man who bullies you, scolds you, humiliates you in front of the customers in his shop. He pays you a mere pittance, and treats you like dirt.
One day a gentleman comes into the shop, and is shocked at what he sees and hears, so he calls you aside, and offers you a job with him. You accept the job, where you are completely in charge, where you have dignity, and respect, and you are well paid. Then one day, who enters that shop but your boss from your last job. Straightaway, he begins to order you around, to bully you, and to belittle you in front of the customers. What would you do? I hope you would get rid of him, and tell him that he no longer has any authority over you, and that you owe him nothing. You let him know who is boss around here!
That is exactly our situation because of what Jesus has done for us. We are free, and we are nobody's slave, to be bullied and burdened, as if we had no rights. Jesus even went so far as to say that our names are registered as citizens of heaven. In other words, we are saved, we are on our way to heaven, and the onus is on us to look saved, and to look like people who know where we're going.