Imagine that you are a five-year-old child. In the course of a week, six things happen that affect your perception of who your father is:
- he surprises you with a shiny bike on your birthday,
- he takes you to breakfast on his day off,
- he says you are beautiful and he loves you,
- he refuses to get you a dog,
- he tells you that your mother has left and she may not be coming back, and
- he says he has to leave you in the care of relatives for a while so he can take care of important business.
How would you deal with receiving three good things from your father’s hand and three bad things? Would you accept both the positive and the negative as coming from a father who can always be trusted, or would you let the bad things overshadow the good, making you feel abandoned and unprotected?
Now think about how you might feel if you were fifteen and the same things happened. By now you realize that your mother cares for no one but herself, and despite your father’s pleading, she has run off with another man. You also know your dad is going away for a few days so he can make a last-ditch effort to get your mother back. You realize, too, that he is right about the dog. Even being near a dog tends to throw you into an asthma attack.
At fifteen you understand circumstances that would have baffled your five-year-old brain.
What’s the point of this little exercise? Merely to get you to think about how easy it is for us to misjudge God simply because we are human beings who are unable to comprehend all God’s motives. As his children, we are called to grow in trust and confidence, knowing that whether life pays us back in positives or negatives, we can be confident we are being cared for by a Father who is always worthy of our trust.
Most of us find it relaxing to spend a few minutes soaking in a bath or a hot tub. But have you ever tried submersing your body in fifty-degree water for any length of time? It feels like being encased in a giant ice pack. Though this kind of therapy is popular in Europe and goes back to ancient Roman times, Americans have been slow to catch on. But the pleasure of soaking in a cold plunge doesn’t just come from the relief you feel once you’re out of it. Patients who use this therapy report decreased pain, even several hours later.
A recent convert to cold plunge therapy, I have learned about some of its touted benefits, which include improved circulation, less inflammation, a strengthened immune system, and a better mood. Though not recommended for pregnant women or people with heart conditions, cold plunge therapy is a natural way to get healthy and stay healthy. But if you’re anything like me, you have to try it before you believe it.
Something similar happens when it comes to spiritual disciplines like fasting. Abstaining from food for any length of time can seem like torture, especially if you are just beginning. But if you make fasting a regular part of your life, you will find that it can increase your spiritual awareness, underlining the seriousness of your prayers and helping you develop more self-control.
But don’t do it to impress God or others. That’s a downward path. Do it because you love the Lord and because you want him to know how hungry you are for the peace he promises.
Today as you prepare for the greatest celebration of the Christian year, take some time to reflect on the fact that Easter commemorates the most revolutionary event in the history of the world. Jesus defeated death by submitting to it, overthrowing its hold on every human being who believes in him. If that's not cause for celebration, I don't know what is. Here is a remarkable poem by John Updike that brings the truth home.
Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to distract a toddler by handing him a toy in exchange for the dog bone he just picked up? Distraction is a time-honored parenting technique—one that works so well we really ought to try it on ourselves, especially when we start becoming frustrated and irritable.
Say, for instance, that you are feeling energetic enough to tackle your monthly bill-paying responsibilities. (That would be me a while back.) But before you begin, you remember the TV is on the blink. You fiddle with it for five minutes, concluding that you need to call your service provider. You hold the phone for five more minutes until a lovely, lilting voice comes on the line with the promise of help.
Over the next forty-five minutes, you do everything she tells you to, answering questions, pushing buttons, checking connections, and observing blinking lights on modems while she tries to find a fix from eight thousand miles away. Then you’re put on hold. You glance at your watch to discover that fifteen more minutes have elapsed. Then the woman comes on the line again, telling you she may need to schedule a technician. She asks if it would be okay if she sent you a new receiver. You say yes, and it takes a mere ten minutes to arrange. By now you know that with everything else you still have to do, there is no way you are going to get those bills paid tonight.
Normally I find situations like this frustrating. But that night I was able to distract myself by asking the woman where she was located. Her answer: the Philippines. I expressed concern about recent flooding there. She told me it was still raining hard and a few of her coworkers hadn’t been able to get to work. Then it occurred to me that I am fortunate to have a phone, a TV, and a dry roof over my head. When we finally hung up, I felt at peace, though the bills hadn’t been paid and the TV hadn’t been fixed.
We all face unexpected problems that eat away at our precious time and energy. If we want to remain peaceful at such times, we can do so by distracting ourselves with gratitude. Positive distractions can prevent negative thoughts from growing and festering. Feeling edgy? Go ahead, distract yourself!