Socks for Christmas


It’s a cliché to say that one of the benefits of aging is wisdom, but the older I get, the more I realize that being clichéd doesn’t make something less true.

One of the things I’m slowly learning is that God uses even that group of people who drives you nuts. You know, the ones who are doing it wrong in your estimation, whatever the it might be. Their way is not your way, so they naturally irritate you.

The Church of Jesus is overrun with people who give advice. They seem to be the mature ones who have it going on. They always have a sure word in season and out. Problem is, most of the time it’s out of season, especially when you’re in the middle of the worst battle of your life and they come around with their Scripture hammer and whack you upside the noggin.

Do these folks ever lend a hand to help you? No. Do they let you cry on their shoulder? No. Don’t they just really hack you off? Heck, yeah.

What we don’t seem to have enough of in the Church are people who DO lend you a hand and let you cry on their shoulder. They’re the compassionate ones. Their eyes mist up when you tell your story. They’re the first ones on the phone to you when the grapevine distributes your bad news.

Everybody should be in that compassionate second group, right?

Well, you would think so.

But what I seem to be finding out is that while the compassionate group is nice, folks in that category aren’t always the best at helping you get out of your rut. A shoulder to cry on is swell, but it may not be enough a few months down the road. Odd as it may seem, the advice-givers may have the advantage here. You know, the one’s who you were about to strangle when they brought their aloof “I’ve got the answer to everything” attitude into the midst of your agony. Truth is, they may actually have something worth hearing. The other truth is that you may not have been in a place to hear it when they first dumped it on you. You needed compassion more than advice. Compassion has its limits, though. Cutting to the heart of the matter, it may also be true that the cause of your pain is your own stupidity, and while a shoulder to cry on is nice to have, sometimes a brain is really what’s needed.

Ideally, the Church would be filled with people who are both advice-filled AND compassi0nate. But if my own experience bears witness to what is normal, I’d say those rare people are just that—exceedingly rare. Most of us are going to run into an advice-giver or a compassion-giver but almost never both in one person.

So the next time you feel like the world is ending and some advice-filled sage comes up to you, drops his load of wisdom on you, and bolts, don’t get riled up because he didn’t hold your hand and say, “There, there, call me anytime, even 3 a.m. Better yet, I’ll come over tomorrow.” Uh, Mom...not what I had on my list...And if you do find compassion with those who will weep with you, don’t expect that they’ll have answers to your dilemma or a good word in season. They may not. Your personal diamond may be the rough-looking rock, and you don’t see it for what it’s worth.

And if you do stumble across person number three, who has both realities going on, recognize that you received a rare gift in the midst of tough times, that highly sculpted and polished stone

In other words, whichever kind of person God sends your way, be appreciative of the gift, even if it’s not exactly what you asked for. Remember, when you were young and green, Aunt Ida’s handknit wool socks seemed like a lousy gift Christmas morning, but when your feet were cold, they were exactly what you needed.

Lessons Learned…Or Not


We talked about the lack of discernment in some parts of the Church earlier this week. Right now, I’d like to discuss the other side of that discernment issue.

One of the tendencies some people in the Church have is an overwhelming need to condense all of life into lessons. As if each day has some life-altering factoid ready to uncover if we just live the right way. Now that right way varies depending on whom you talk to, but it usually involves plenty of prayer and lots of musing on the issue.

Whenever someone says, “Sounds like God’s trying to teach you something,” you’re having one of those “better figure out what you’re bein’ taught there, son” conversations. A lot of times that conversation gets tied into Romans 8:28 (and we, of course, all know what THAT verse says), so the person who’s supposed to be learning a lesson gets the double whammy of not only having to scry the necessary lesson to be learned, but also that the lesson will have clearly positive outcomes that even an amoeba could see.

Now I recently turned 45, which, while not ancient, finds me on the back side of the  mountain. I’ve got enough life experience to be able to comment on this thing or that, and when it comes to this issue of lessons learned amid life’s experiences, I gotta say this:

I dunno.

I’ve seen people drive themselves nuts trying to figure out what the lesson is amid some trial. And many times that’s because they’ve got these spiritual advisors telling them they need to fast and pray and put on sackcloth and sit in ashes and take on the attitude of the oracle at Delphi in order to find out just what it is that’s supposed to be learned. And the tea leaves say...?Because spiritual advisors are sayin’ something’s supposed to be learned here, aren’t they? Funny that they never know what that lesson’s supposed to be (because each lesson seems only for the person supposed to be learning it, you know, and the advisors aren’t THAT wise to know someone else’s lesson).

Several years ago, my brand new bride and I departed the homeland and sojourned in California. Looked like God setup the whole thing, too. All the prayers for us came down on the side of “Go!” The timing was perfect, the job was perfect, and we were deliriously happy at the thought of it.

And yet six months later, it all fell apart. Never got better, either. In fact, in a lot of ways it got worse to the point that we still struggle with the situations that sojourn created for us.

Yes, at least one person we know came to Christ out of that time. I comfort myself with that thought, though I’m just as likely to wonder if that couldn’t have happened some other way. But you don’t know.

As for the lesson? You’ve got me.

Truthfully, “You’ve got me” is what comes out of most of the trials I’ve faced in life. If you had to rank my ability to discern lessons and their spiritual import, I’d have to say that Balaam’s ass ranks about a hundred times higher on that chart than yours truly.

It just may be that I’m a thicker brick than some folks, but I gotta say that whatever lessons I’m supposed to be learning, especially amid trials, they don’t vary much off the same old lesson I learned a long, long time ago: Repent and have faith in God.

So why do we make such a production out of that one, simple truth? Why do spiritual advisors hang huge millstones around people’s necks (especially when those people are suffering amid trials), warning them that they better discover the lesson or else?

Some people came to Jesus trying to scry lessons out of some difficult circumstances. They were probably self-righteous people, you know, “spiritual advisors” and such. They came to Jesus trying to get Him to tell them the lesson, but He he turned the tables on them:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
—Luke 13:1-5

You and I may never know the reasoning behind a “lesson.” Sometimes life happens and there may not be any lesson to be learned than to repent and have faith in God.

So if you’re one of those people in a tough spot, especially if you’re plagued by a need to discover the lesson you should be learning, let me spare you the agony of scrying out an answer. Put down the tea leaves and goat entrails.

Because the lesson’s always the same, no matter the situation.

Repent and have faith in God.