5 lbs. of Carrots

Do not be drunk with wine, which will ruin you, but be filled with the Spirit. ~Ephesians 5:18

I remember reading the above comic strip when I was about ten years old. Someone had bought several of the Garfield books for me, and this one in particular has always remained memorable for some reason. Perhaps it’s the vivid spiritual lesson that has drawn my mind back to this little strip again and again.

The more we fill ourselves with God, the less we want of anything else.

It’s a very wise diet.

I find that when my priority is to first ingest Christ, that there is automatically significantly less room for other much less meaningful thoughts and activities. Not only less room, but less desire. For example, this past week I’ve made a commitment to begin each day with 45 minutes of silent waiting upon, and listening to, God. I cannot adequately convey just how peacefully tone-setting this one simple non-negotiable practice has been for me. Another aspect of my “5 lbs. of carrots” is making sure to pray thoughtfully and specifically every day for about a dozen people close to me. Also writing down the three things I’m most thankful for. Making sure I eat these carrots first, or at least as soon as possible, I find that my perspective is shaped in a more appreciative, open, and clear-headed manner.

I really like how Matthew McConaughey said it in a podcast recently about the first thing you do in the morning:

“Check in with yourself before you check in with the world.”

Upon waking, check in with Jesus, with yourself, eat your 5 lbs. of carrots, whatever that is for you, and go to bed (hopefully after going over your day with God) giving so little room for anxious thoughts, cares of this life, and the worries of 2020, that you drift off quickly in heavenly peace.

Now I must confess that I’m not exactly sure of the spiritual significance of that third frame up there, other than maybe that’s how we treat God or holy messengers of divine wisdom.

Speculation(shun)s

Let’s talk about the other “Tion” our adversary uses to throw us off course that we would do well to shun–Speculation. This is something my friend Julie brought up some weeks back that I’ve been pondering a bit. We can what-if ourselves into oblivion, into insanity, can’t we? We have the ability, and even affinity, to give priority and importance to that which has not happened, to that which we do not even know. Talk about a colossal waste of energy and time.

We tend to fill in gaps with our imagination, which is not always positive or helpful. “So and so didn’t say ‘hi’ to me. They’re likely not happy with me.” “Mr. Dude is probably going to be elected president, then this and this and this will happen, and the country will look like hell.” Or what I tend to do these days: “My left ring finger feels a little tingly…I might be dead by morning.” All of these speculations knock us out of the present moment, increase fears of various kinds, and worst of all, take our minds off God. At a bare minimum, we can start by turning all of these speculations into conversations with God. This is a very good move. This is what I call “the mill house of prayer”–taking judgments, worries, and what-ifs and grinding them into dialogue with God, into prayers, something that is actually life-giving instead of soul-sucking. Also, we can check our faith to see if we believe Jesus really is the good Shepherd, ultimately in control, and always desiring what is absolutely best for us in all situations, as well as always instructing us through all situations.

A couple weeks ago I was watching The Village, one of my favorite movies, with our eldest daughter Gabriela, and was struck by this great exchange between the characters Ivy and Lucius sitting on the porch:

Ivy: “How is it you are brave when all the rest of us shake in our boots?” Lucius: “I do not worry about what will happen, only what needs to be done.”

BOOM.

There it is.

For our purposes here we could say, “I do not worry about what might happen” or “about what others might be thinking…”

Worrying about what might happen or what others are thinking serves only to distract us from whatever we need to be doing right now….which may be as simple as conversing with God.

Toxic Taxonomy

A couple of those “Tions” to shun, which I believe our adversary employs quite vigorously to throw us of course, are: classifications and speculations.

Today, we’ll discuss classifications. Or we might say categorizing. We can easily become entrenched in categorizing people, can’t we? When you take some time to critically think about this though, it’s rather ridiculous. We human beings are exquisitely complex creations. It hit me a couple of months ago how no one can possibly know 98.7% of the thoughts that go through my mind in the course of a single day, nor would you likely want to as they are so darn weird and awkward many of them. And it’s simply impossible to know any significant percentage of the memories and experiences I’ve accumulated in my forty-seven years and eight months.

I’ve always thought our culture conditions us to be judgmental and categorizing. With social media more than ever. Hey, here’s one sentence about one thing this person did/said, now start judging their entire life, GO! And we’re led to believe we can do this because we classify and categorize people so much that it then seems easy to know everything we need to know about them, right? I mean, we see somebody driving an old pickup truck with one bumper sticker and suddenly think we know half their life story.

Now there’s something in the meditation world called “Beginner’s Mind”. Have you heard of this? It’s quite lovely. It’s the idea of purposefully encountering everything and everyone you meet each day as if for the first time, because in reality, you are. For example, I saw my friend Jon on Labor Day. A week and a half later he stopped by my house. He was not the same person he was on Labor Day because he had experiences, learning, growth, and change since then. So I truly was encountering him as he was on that day for the very first time.

It is so good to be lovingly curious about who the person is in front of you right now. Think of the great gift this kind of presence can be for someone. Bringing no judgement of their past and no prediction for their future with you, only loving attentiveness to who they are right now this moment. This is most difficult of course with those closest to you, who you’ve known the longest, especially family. This is why we pray–for help doing that which we cannot do on our own. It also takes training, typically in the form of meditative prayer, which I believe God is more than happy to honor. I believe Jesus loves to heal and reverse our subconscious sinful tendencies, but first asks that we grant Him access.

One other thought my friend Jon brought up at the end of our walk: “What if I treated myself this way??

Good question.

One of the greatest gifts we can give or receive as human beings is listening without judgment.

Obstructions

note the reflection of the lawn chair

Yesterday at the gym Ana (mi esposa) got done before me, and said she’d be waiting out front, no rush. I finished up, walked outside, looked left, looked right–no Ana to be seen. “Where the heck did she go off to?” I wondered. Car was locked and I had the key, so she wasn’t in there. Then suddenly I heard her voice very close to me: “Hey there, how was your workout?” Still not seeing her, the audio seemed to be coming from the potted shrub about eight inches away to my left. Was I having a burning bush experience?? Does Yahweh sound just like my wife?? I then took a half step forward and saw Ana, clearly, sitting in a lawn chair directly behind the shielding greenery. She was two feet away from me the whole time and I didn’t even realize it.

A significant portion of the spiritual life/journey/battle is the removal of obstacles. Jesus is always right there next to you. Even closer than right next to you.

What is in the way?

What’s blocking your view?

It could be a mind filled with worries, what-ifs, and the cares of this world.

Maybe it’s the “Weapons of Mass Distraction“–Facebook, YouTube, & Netflix.

Some obsess over work, or give too much attention to politics.

Is it an inordinate pursuit of comfort?

You could be a “What’s next?” person instead of a “What’s now?” person, missing the present moment.

Perhaps you don’t need to do more, but rather need to remove whatever inhibitors are shielding your view of God with you right now.

Divine taproom

there was no place for them in the inn. ~Luke 2:7

Looking for a place for the Son of God to be birthed. Would you believe there were no rooms available? Joseph and Mary don’t yell at anyone, or force their way in. They simply move on to wherever there was room for them.

And this is still how it is for Jesus today. It’s been said that we can have as much of His Spirit as we want or will allow. It depends on how much space we make available. Jesus typically doesn’t barge in and start moving your stuff out of the way. He politely asks and waits. Do we make space for Him? A mind filled with worry or what’s next or what people think leaves no room for the Son of God to come in, let alone have a place to sit and actually stay a while. He doesn’t yell, or force His way in. He simply lodges where He’s welcomed, where there is a vacancy.

The room we allow for the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to tap into the spiritual power and energy of Jesus, thus the “Divine Taproom”. Without divine power, this world will crush you. Do you have any vacancies? Or are all your rooms booked up with human ideas and influences? It is imperative, and extremely challenging today, to make space for Jesus to fill us with His mind, with Himself. To do this, we must have times of evacuation. Some people call this a “brain dump”. The only way I have found to do this is to be still and silent, to let all thoughts settle and drift away, then simply listen to what the Lord may want to say to me or show me. This can be done with Scripture of course (lectio divina), a prayer word (centering prayer), while taking a walk, staring at a tree, or just sitting in a silent room. It’s difficult to overstate the peace, refreshment, guidance, and energy I gain from this oh so simple practice that anyone can do. To clear out a space for Jesus to come in and sit and talk–there’s nothing better, for there is no better house guest.

God is easy to please

My yoke is easy to wear; my load is easy to bear.” ~Jesus

God is easier to please than humans.

You ever think of that?

For some, that may be difficult to grasp depending on one’s view of God, but I have come to realize that people expect more from us than God does–in a certain sense. And included in “people” is me. Sometimes I expect more of myself than God does. I tend to think I should do more than I’m capable of, but God knows intimately my limits and is like, “Slow down there, little camper.”

By “in a certain sense” I mean that though God desires to have all of me, which sounds daunting, He simply wants my heart–my trust, my sharing of experiences, my love, and yes, my obedience–but not a bunch of accomplishments or, thankfully, perfection. And when I think of how good, loving, powerful, wise, and sacrificial God is, as Jesus showed us, it’s a pleasure to give myself.

One day it hit me that doing my part, even in a worldly sense, is still only one seven billinonth of the total. Doesn’t sound so overwhelming when put like that. Heck, even if I’m really killing it for a whole week, I’m still probably only doing five seven billionths of the load. Problems seem to arise from the toxicity of comparison, and thinking we should do other people’s portions. We’re only called to do our own unique part, and that with God’s energy and assistance. Now for you ten-talent folks you’ve got a bit more responsibility than us two-talent friendos, but you’ve also been blessed with the ability to carry it out, so you don’t actually have more to do, per se, simply more to draw from that’s been gifted to you for Kingdom purposes.

Dallas Willard often said that God is more concerned about the person we’re becoming than in our accomplishments. That the gift God gets from our life is who we become. I couldn’t agree more. Now God can accomplish any task on His own (but apparently likes to work with us, which is cool). But you can almost say that God cannot make us become a certain kind of person, because then we would just be like a programmed device. Becoming a God loving person, more and more Spirit-filled, taking on the mind of Christ requires our choice and effort. I think this is done mostly by sitting at Jesus feet like Mary did, while her sister Martha was concerned about many things. Notice Jesus did not harshly reprimand Martha, for she was doing good things. I always envisioned Jesus smiling while he playfully told Martha, “You’re troubled about so many things. Just get over here and be with me already.” I believe all that we need to do and accomplish will, and indeed must, peacefully flow out of this feet-sitting.

The one thing

“…you are troubled and concerned about many things.” ~Luke 10:41

One of the very basic lies of the world is this:

You should really care about, and give lots of energy to, all these things that don’t have much, if any, relevance with your actual day to day life.

Now of course the lie isn’t packaged like that–all telegraphed and easy to sidestep, but that is the core of what’s going on.

We live in an age and culture of readily available information overload to a degree which we probably cannot even fathom. With this sensory assault tends to come a nonsensical pressure to care about more than we could ever have the capacity for in twenty lifetimes, let alone this one that we’re living now.

There’s only a relatively small amount of causes I can genuinely care about, indeed only a few I should care for, yea perhaps just one–according to Jesus–that I need to tend to, for it will take care of all the others.

When someone tells me, “Hey, three people were shot in Chicago!”, you know what the first thought I have is?

I need to go to Kroger today.

Because that’s my life and where I actually live. It’s not that I don’t care about the people up in Illinois, it’s just that I have quite a limited capacity, and most all of it, relationally speaking , is taken up already.

Funny, I was thinking through all of this at the laundromat about a week ago (story for another day), and I glance down at the newspaper beside me to see this headline: INDIANA BATS NEED SUMMER SAFE SPOT with the subheading of: GROWTH AROUND AIRPORT REDUCES ROOSTING SITES. Now, again, it’s not that I don’t care at all about the bats God made, but it just made me chuckle and wonder where I could possibly find the space to devote care to Indiana bats’ roosting sites.

For me, the priority every day is time with God, sitting at Jesus’s feet, listening to His Spirit. Then, I needs must work to be a decent husband, then a present father while our daughters are still in our home. After that, there’s a couple people we help who can’t help themselves. Also, a good practice I have found, is to pray for five or six of my closest people everyday, as well as a rotation of a few others. And of course there’s those many necessities like going to Kroger and doing laundry…All that to say, there’s not really quality space left over to devote to the plethora of things the world would have me devote myself to. My neurological reall estate is way too valuable to allow the world to manage it for me.

My encouragement to you today is to not allow the world to dictate what you devote your energy, especially your precious thought life, to. Always give God that wonderful privilege. If you listen, our Lord will direct your path, and it will always be in the way of righteousness.