Holy Week Part 2: Citizenship

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

My boys are 2, 5, 7 and 9, which means the days here are filled with a lot of whining and bickering. Even when they’re playing well together, because of their ages and maturity, it’s a fact that at some point people will end up in time out.  It’s one of the most difficult things for me to tolerate as a mother, I used to think Jesus was incredibly harsh when he said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?”(Matthew 17:17), but when all four of them are fighting over something as common as a single Lego piece, I totally get it.

It’s weird how the concept of time as a child is both fleeting and eternal. If I ask them to share a toy for 5 minutes they’ll pout and cry because it’s too long. It’s as if in 5 minutes, the whole world will have ended and their chance to play with it will be gone forever. But they also feel like they’ll be kids forever; they can’t imagine a day when they’ll be grown and fully responsible for themselves.  When the squabbling gets to the the point of parental intervention I try to explain to them how their perspective is too narrow; that in 10 years that Lego will be in the trash but their brother will still be here, so share…value the lasting relationship over the trash. They hear what I’m saying, and I think they even recognize it as truth, but their understanding of time won’t allow them to fully believe this wisdom.

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When I look at the kids, I see that they’re actually lucky to be fighting over something as unimportant as toys; I wish my conflicts were as petty as pee on the toilet seat or laundry on the floor.  As an adult,  I’m more capable to fulfill my desires, and far more severe to people who would stand in my way.  I can even make it look admirable, like if I’m fighting for something for my kids, or more time to pursue my dreams, or a fun vacation I worked hard for.  Armed with a good argument, I dare you to get in my way.

The constant debate throughout the whole country proves that no one is immune.  Between the political battles and the incessant media coverage, even the most peaceful people let somebody else piss them off last year.  Many people had excellent points, and were fighting for good things- high moral standards, peace, prosperity, justice, etc. Don’t we all desire these things? What sane person wouldn’t fight to make that happen? But through all the angry carnage, only stronger division was accomplished.

 

Today in the gospel reading (John 12:20-26) Jesus makes one of his harshest statements of all, but apparently of the greatest importance since he repeats it several times and all four gospel authors made note of it.  “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25) It’s verses like this that made a lot of people throughout history think Jesus was crazy.  It’s no wonder that by the time He got to the cross He was all alone.

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It has become so ingrained in our culture to love life, to seek the pleasure that it offers, that it’s become cliche- “live life to the fullest,” “seize the day,” “stop and smell the roses,” “live for the moment!”  It’s not that we should stop doing these things necessarily, I still believe time on earth shouldn’t be wasted. But maybe if we really understood how this world is not our citizenship, if we understood that we have an obligation to servant-hood and a life eternal, maybe we could rise above the petty conflict.

Like my kids, I know heaven is what the future promises, but I don’t understand it, nor can I fully imagine the promise that it brings.  When I deal with conflicts, I see them here and now, and if they don’t get solved I feel like I will surely die a miserable and unhappy death. Maybe even in the next 5 minutes.  And yet, at the same time, I also feel like I will be here on this earth forever and therefore ensuring my place in it must be a top priority.

People tell you all the time how fast parenting goes, and it’s true. When I look back to the beginning, I’m stunned that I’ve been at this for almost a whole decade. But the actual day in and day out feels like an eternity. Like they’re never going to grow up and be responsible and move out. Even though I’ve moved a lot, I still always have the feeling like these friends, these relatives, and this place will always be my home.  It’s this very human perspective of time that makes us cling so hard to the bits of joy when we find them and make us so ferocious toward anyone and anything that would try to rob us of it.  It’s hard to remember that there is joy eternal when your neighbor’s dog is barking outside your bedroom window all night long. Or that someday the dog will die, and there will just be you, not getting along with the person you were commanded to love.

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On this second day of Holy Week, remember your citizenship is in heaven, because too many people have lost their way to the cross by being caught in a petty argument over their citizenship here.   We’re following something eternal, and in ten years, or twenty, or once you’ve truly died and are hanging out with Jesus, will you still be glad that you fought so hard to get  your way? Maybe, in the light of what’s coming, it will be more important to be loving than to be right.  Maybe today it will be okay to lose out on the piece of this earth you’ve been clinging to, because He promised, whoever hates these things gets to keep following.

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Holy Week part 1: Learning to Follow

Eight years ago my family left DC. Not because we wanted to necessarily, but because we’d outgrown it. I moved into the city as a girl, but now that I was woman, wife and  mom I needed what the city couldn’t offer anymore. We had space in our apartment and it was quite affordable, but it was in a basement. And even though it was a decent part of town, there were rats. There were playgrounds we could walk to, but there was no yard to dig holes in, or safe places nearby to ride bikes.  No porch or patio to sit out and enjoy long summer nights.

We wanted a home, and with our income, that meant moving about an hour out of town. When we found a house we felt pure elation to have a space all our own. No more waking up to the sound of stomping of boots overhead. No one else’s shouting wafting through the cracks in the walls.  It didn’t matter that it was tiny, or on a busy road, or that the view was of a taco truck and a run down shopping center.  It was ours, and it was home.

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But four months after we had signed the lease, my husband lost his job.  The contract that brought in the money to pay for his position ended without a new one to take its place. Suddenly everything was in jeopardy- our lease, our newly established credit, our untarnished rental history. Then there would be no more dreams of barbeques in the backyard, or flower gardens, or watching Fourth of July fireworks from the back porch.

I also happened to be about four months pregnant at the time, but I wasn’t too worried about the baby, or how we would buy food, or gas, or our general survival.  I knew God would be faithful to help us find ways to provide for those things.  I was worried about the house, and that if we lost the house and our good rental history, it would be too long of a time before we would be able to move our new family into its own place again.

I prayed endlessly about it, “Please God, don’t take our house. Don’t make us leave.” The bible study I was in at the time was reading through the book of Matthew, and through that  study God led me to this answer. “ Then a certain scribe came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:19-20) I didn’t like this answer, why did the scribe have to give up the idea of home to follow Jesus? I was tired of the gypsy life. By that time I had already had 15 different addresses in 8 different cities, and that’s not even including the four years of college where everyone moves every year anyways. I was tired of packing up; I wanted to stay.

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I’m completely jealous of Jesus’ ability to speak so directly to the point.  When I correct my kids, or try to use a parable, I am so wordy. Usually when I finish and ask them what they’ve learned, they look at me like they didn’t even realize I was speaking.  Jesus is so precise with His words that He can pinpoint the problem and minister to the depths of the heart in a single sentence.  In the exact moment I read that, I knew beyond doubt that no dream, no vision of perfection or happiness could ever compare to following Him.  Even if it may seem impossible, how could I have the knowledge of his excellence and choose any other thing? It was hard to accept it, but that one single verse set me free from a huge amount of worry.

In the end we didn’t have to break our lease. Friends, family and strangers chipped in to help us cover the rent when we were short, and Adam was able to find a new job soon after.  I was relieved the lesson turned out not to be literal, but I was also glad to have faced the possibility and become resolved to it. I can sing, “I surrender all” on Sunday morning, but it only has meaning if I can see the things that bring my dreams security and then know that I don’t need them.

It’s a lesson that has come back around for a second time this lent, as home ownership becomes closer than ever.  As I think over the decision, I begin to imagine the barbeques, the gardens, and the memories to be made with the kids again. Or maybe even buying the dream place, an old farmhouse, with a few acres for chickens and goats, or whatever else we fancy. A place that we will never outgrow or have to leave again.  Since that first house we have moved three more times, and I’m so tired of packing. The thought of owning our own place is more attractive than ever.

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But over all of that I hear God whispering this verse again.  And expanding on it through Paul, “ But what things were gain to me (my security, a home, my visions of perfection), these I have counted loss for Christ… indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection… forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:7-14)

Holy week is a journey to the cross, that starts out with big crowds and parades, but by the end even the most devout followers are denying association.  It’s not that Jesus didn’t try to warn them, he said repeatedly the cost of following would be great.  Nobody wants to give up the things that seem important, the house, the job, the vacation, the position of power and respect. There may be literal sacrifices as we journey toward the cross this week, and there may not. But if you’re willing to follow, be willing to consider what it might be like, and how life would go on without them. That if He asked you to sacrifice these things it would be for good purpose. Because along the way we will see that there is excellence, power, and a magnificent prize far beyond our understanding or imagination. And when you see it from that perspective, the nest or the den is really the last place you’ll want to be stuck.

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