Yesterday there was a dragon in the sky. Seriously. It was up there, right next to the fluffy white flying pig with the small bum. Just ask my daughters, they’ll tell you. We all saw it as we sat on a park bench munching potato chips and getting brain freeze from our Slurpees. We also spied a mermaid, two dancing insects and a replica of our little dog Jack.
You have to spend a little time if you want to see dragons, what with them being shy, secretive creatures. Pigs with tiny heinies are rarer still.
Lately I haven’t had room in my schedule for dragon hunting, but then neither have you, I suppose. The theory is that the same hours are given to each of us, daily. Given that truth, it would be more accurate to say that I haven’t spent much of my time looking up. Sometimes life dictates the direction of our attention. Recent events such as funerals, board meetings, friends’ health concerns and career changes have set my eyes more or less horizontally. Some details have absolutely demanded my involvement, and for the most part I’ve been glad to be included.
But horizontal vision too long held becomes short-sighted, and to find magical beasts you have to look to the distance, and up.
Some people would say that it wasn’t a dragon that I saw, but a simple cloud. Perhaps they are correct, but it’s a rare cloud that produces wonder and joy just by the seeing of it. As I sat there yesterday looking up, I was reminded that the cares that burden my soul and bend my shoulders are not worrisome to dragons or gods. They carry on regardless.
Gods, you say?
Well, says I, actually “God”, singular. I’m a monotheist, which means while my imagination can conjure scaly winged beasts, my worldview holds that there is one God who is over all. He is full of mystery, but not secretive. Transcendent, and closer than a heartbeat.
Seeing the dragon was nice. Reclaiming the perspective that God is not far off? That he is willing to share my burdens, and still has time to tame dragons? That was priceless.
Even as I write this I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted, but there are clouds in the sky and I may be able to carve out a moment to look heavenward. There’s no telling what I’ll see, if I’ve got the heart-eyes for it.
“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the skvy above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1 ESV
There are nights when you lay your head to rest, feeling like you’ve held your breath all day. Without being cognizant of it, you’ve subjected yourself to a slow emotional and spiritual suffocation – your soul choked off by the cares that come from simply existing.
So much time is spent critiquing your own worth. Have you sucked all the nectar out of this day? Were you a good enough husband, an employee that contributed well to the project and the team, a benevolent and patient father? What if you weren’t a good enough Christian today? Did you fail to communicate grace?
People are watching. Others are succeeding, and you feel that you should be able to as well. You need to do more. Achieve more. Be more.
Consistent, purposeful breathing is essential for life, both physically and spiritually. It seems obvious, right? But I wonder if perhaps you’re not spiritually asthmatic. While the oxygen you need to sustain your soul is all around you, at times I feel as though you’ve been trying to suck it through a stir stick.
So here is my advice to you, self, when you start to turn blue.
First of all, don’t panic. Don’t fret. Running around like a caffeinated squirrel is not going to help. Stop for a second. (If you’re on the freeway, use an off ramp first, then stop for a second.) Seriously, physically, stop.
Now pray. Say something like, “Hi, God. I was just wondering if you’ve got the Earth spinning faster than normal?” His answer will probably be along the lines of, “Hi back! I love you. The Earth is just fine, thanks for asking.” It’s good to be reminded that everything doesn’t go atomic if you take a moment to get your poop in a group. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in the city of Philippi, saying “…Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…”
Doing this often has saved your sanity in the past, remember? It has opened your eyes to the ways that God’s patience and love is manifested all around you. Remember when God spoke to you as you took a moment to seek him during church today? He didn’t ask anything of you at all. He just wanted to remind you that he loves you! And then he helped you enjoy the rumble of that v-twin engine, good conversation, artery-clogging Mexican food, a playground filled with kids, buddies to chuck around a football (even though football has always intimidated you). You got wrapped up in your wife’s smile and the knowledge that your children feel safe and loved in your presence. And you had a nap.
…Each in its time…
I know that life isn’t easy, self, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, okay?
That first Easter morning, the only person able to remain calm was the guy who had been crucified and buried.
How is your psyche today? Time spent meditating on this weekend’s story of the Christ would be time well spent, I think. The stone wasn’t rolled away so that Jesus could leave his grave; it was set aside so that we could explore and believe, finding life and power and peace.
Friday the cross, Saturday the remnants of our old cold ways of worship, and Sunday the Unexpected – where do you find yourself?
Time is the leading cause of death. What the scientists say matters little – hot dogs might be a carcinogen and cutting down too many trees may eventually asphyxiate us all, but while we debate these things the clock remains relentless.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Enough years have passed in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to attend the funerals of a number of people that I’ve loved and admired. We celebrate their time and achievements, feeling the ache that their leaving has left. In life their very presence was catalytic, moving those around them to spaces of the heart and soul that would have otherwise remained unexplored.
There are other wakes, though, that haunt me. These are the moments when we remember people who shrivelled into themselves long before their passing. A positive spin is put on everything, propriety bestowing a last dignity upon a life that could have been more.
The question is, more what? Was something missing? Or perhaps emptiness wasn’t the problem, and their souls were actually too cluttered? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but there is no denying that some people’s eyes glaze over long before their plot is purchased.
To glean some answers I went to went to the field of wisdom known as Facebook, and asked some of you how our time on this spinning rock is best spent. Here is what you said, with a couple of my suggestions thrown in:
7 Essentials To Guarantee You’ll Be Alive When You Die
1. Be teachable. This is difficult when you presume to know everything. Too often we take our own opinions as facts, worship some fancy paper on the wall, or box ourselves in with our own notions of how the universe should be run and which direction the neighbour should be cutting his lawn. Being teachable allows us to walk through time without being overly sensitive and easily offended.
2. Smoke a cigar. Not literally, of course, unless you want you. The writer of Ecclesiastes said that “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes,” and counselled that it is best to not be over righteous or too wicked. That’s not to say that one of my goals each day is to be a little bit wicked, but sometimes it’s as though I can’t help myself. Knowing that my character and my lungs are not yet totally pure keeps me humble before my Creator.
3. Be authentic. One of my most annoying acquaintances is unapologetically Calvinistic, which I define as unteachable, dogmatic, unshaven and fundamentalist, with all the baggage that usually accompanies such labels. He, on the other hand, has big words which he uses to describe my liberal tendencies. One thing I grudgingly admire about him is his authenticity. He is a true believer. Unshakeable.
The most intriguing people in my life are ridiculously passionate. Some talk about theology; others champion the right of women to wear functional and pretty sporting attire. Whatever you do, do it from the heart.
4. Risk. Some mothers scold their youngsters with, “Just because your friends jump off a bridge doesn’t mean you should too.” My mom, on the other hand, is usually the first to take the plunge. I can’t imagine a life without some risk. You can’t love without it. Steak is best served with it (at least a little pink, please). It isn’t an end in itself, mind you. Which brings us to number five.
5. Invest in Others. Authenticity, risk, humility, and balance are of very little benefit if they are employed to serve only yourself. You want people to weep tears of sadness instead of joy when you kick the bucket? Invest in them.
6. Practise dying. When we are placed in coffins it becomes clear that the value of our lives is measured in those who come to say goodbye. The problem is the extent of the sacrifice it took to get them all showing up on the same day. The good news is that we can train ourselves to die. Little choices every day add up, and when we choose others before ourselves, forgiveness before bitterness, and the difficult good over the expedient less-than we get better at dying.
7. Slow down. You. Are. Going. Too. Fast. How do I know this? There is a 95% chance that you came across this blog post via Facebook, which is what we do when we could just be sitting still or gently kissing someone.
Which are you good at? What did I leave out? Do you sense that you are truly alive? If not, are you missing something, or is it soul-clutter that’s getting in the way?
There are times when I lie awake at night. Though my lovely wife rests peacefully within arms’ reach, I am alone there in the dark.
Ghosts rise up then through the floor. I thought I had put these ones to rest long ago, but here they come again. Pale, tenuous spectres reach out to me with clammy hands of uncertainty. I lay there and let them come.
At first I am emotionally stunned, but as they hover closer I begin to feel the cold breath of anxiety and confusion upon my mind. The sensation provides the briefest moment of clarity and in that eternal heartbeat I have one solid realization:
“I am not afraid.”
There was a time I’d whisper that phrase over and over with quivering lips, willing myself to believe it. I was a child then, believing that fearlessness was its own virtue. In the midst of bewilderment and anxiety I’d think, “If I just have enough faith.” As if faith was the religious holy grail we all needed to drink from, in order to have eternal life. We all had some growing up to do, back in the day. I don’t judge my younger self.
I no longer worry about being afraid. It is of no concern to me whether or not I have the capacity to be fearless. When life creeps up on me and won’t let me sleep, I look to something more steadfast than my own courage.
I fix my eyes on Jesus.
What bottomless black hole has he not descended into, only to come out again? If a crucified thief can find peace while hanging in the shadow of the dying Messiah, what exactly is it that threatens to overwhelm me?
The spikes that once suspended Emmanuel between heaven and earth are by now rusted and gone. His promises aren’t. His promises walked out of the tomb with him three days later, while the lies of the Enemy stayed behind with the neatly folded grave clothes.
There are nights when I lay my head on a pillow of uncertainty, and mornings that illuminate the fact that I am in control of very little. That’s okay, because I am a ward of the Grave Tamer.
A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121 New International Version (NIV)