Last spring a friend of mine was going through a tough time. So she asked some of her friends to pray, throwing in the request that perhaps we could also pray for a neighbor whose house and yard were an ever-present eyesore. One week later, when I asked how she was doing, she said that the gorgeous spring weather was lifting her mood. Then she added this comment:
I asked for prayers that our crazy neighbor would clean up her trashed house and yard. This, after almost thirty years of frustration. Well, the day after I asked for prayers, this very neighbor started to rake, trim, and plant new bushes in her yard. It was so unbelievable that my husband and I reasoned she was getting ready to sell. That’s when I remembered my prayer request. Wow!
Yesterday my friend’s nonbelieving husband remarked, “I don’t know what you did to Janine [not her real name], but now she’s outside painting her rusty railing!”
Chuckling, my friend told me her neighbor has been up at the crack of dawn every day working on her yard. “I laughed,” she said, “as I confessed to my husband that our group has been praying for Janine to clean up her act.”
Though my dear friend still struggles with various challenges, it seemed as though God was saying, “Hey, if I can work through your neighbor, I can do anything. Don’t give up.” I think she got the message.
A friend of mine enjoys being with elderly people. It’s a good thing, because she spends several hours a week working in a nursing home. One of her favorite people there is a woman by the name of Mabel. Recently Mabel was sitting across the table from someone who suffers from dementia. The poor woman was perseverating, going over and over incidents from the past that still bothered her. Though her conversation was garbled and hard to follow, she seemed tormented by her thoughts.
So Mabel went into action. Looking the woman straight in the eye, and with all the force of her personality, she offered the best advice she could give: “Just let it go! Let it go!” A little confused herself, Mabel didn’t realize the woman she was talking to no longer had the mental capacity to follow her sage advice.
But Mabel’s words still found their mark. In the days and weeks that followed, my friend kept remembering the scene. Whenever she faced circumstances she couldn’t control, she could almost hear Mabel exhorting her, “Just let it go! Let it go!”
What is it that you are having trouble letting go of? Is it a situation with your family? Is it a comment your friend made? Is it a frustrating coworker? Is it a nagging memory that has you in its grasp? Whatever it is, it’s time to hand it over to God.
Today, let’s praise God and thank him that we are still in our right minds. And let us also ask him to send us his Spirit so we can let go of the things we cannot control in order to take hold of the help he gives.
(Image courtesy of leocub at freeimages.com)
I noted something similar when I saw the movie Babies, a delightful film capturing the first year in the life of four adorable babies on four different continents—Ponijao from Namibia, Mari from Japan, Bayar from Mongolia, and Hattie from the United States. While the babies have many things in common, like their penchant for sucking on toes, in many respects their lives are strikingly different. Ponijao, for instance, is literally “dirt poor,” wearing next to nothing and playing happily with rocks, empty cans, and refuse. Mari, on the other hand, enjoys the obvious advantages of being born into a prosperous and sophisticated Japanese family. Despite the fact that these children are at opposite ends of the material spectrum, both seemed reasonably happy.
Of course, temperament can have a significant impact on our sense of happiness. But perhaps there’s more to it than that. Robert Sapolsky points out that once you have the basics covered, such as food and shelter, being poor isn’t as bad for you as feeling poor. The trouble is, many people feel poor. “Thanks to urbanization, mobility, and the media,” he points out, “something absolutely unprecedented can now occur—we can now be made to feel poor, or poorly about ourselves, by people we don’t even know. You can feel impoverished . . . by Bill Gates on the evening news, even by a fictional character in a movie.”(1)
Though Ponijao and Mari are too young to be affected by this dynamic, it may be that Ponijao will grow up in his isolated village a happy man, unaware of his relative poverty, while Mari will unhappily realize some are better off than she is. When it comes to the Ponijaos and Maris of the world, most of us fit into the Mari category. Knowing that, let’s be on guard against comparing ourselves to movie stars and moguls, choosing instead to be content with what we have.
(1.) Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (New York: Henry Holt, 2004), 376–77.
(Image courtesy of sumi at freeimages.com).
Many years ago a friend of mine lost her husband. He didn’t die from an illness or an accident. He wasn’t a casualty of war or self-inflicted violence. In fact, he didn’t die at all. Nor did she lose him to another woman or to drugs. Her husband just closed up inside, spending more and more time on the Internet, searching for God knows what, until he finally vanished from her life, demanding a divorce. My friend was bewildered and hurt, unable to rescue her marriage because she didn’t even know what was wrong. She suspected an addiction to pornography, but she couldn’t prove it. Her husband wouldn’t say. Not a word.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of the isolating effects of sin and the power of confession to break that isolation: “In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light.”(1)
But as soon as the sin is confessed, its grip is broken. As Bonhoeffer says of the repentant sinner, “He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God.”(2)
Psalm 139 speaks of God’s ability to see through our darkness. Confessing our sins to a trusted sister or brother in Christ can help us enter that place of safety, right in the middle of God’s people.
(1). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 112.
(2). Ibid., 113.
(Image courtesy of hoefi at freeimages.com)