March 18 Use Your Will

Rimbey United Church

Rev. Deborah Laing

March 18, 2018

Use your Will


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Luke 9:51-62

51 Not long before it was time for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind to go to Jerusalem. 52 He sent some messengers on ahead to a Samaritan village to get things ready for him. 53 But he was on his way to Jerusalem, so the people there refused to welcome him. 54 When the disciples James and John saw what was happening, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy these people?”[h]

55 But Jesus turned and corrected them for what they had said.[i] 56 Then they all went on to another village.

57 Along the way someone said to Jesus, “I’ll go anywhere with you!”

58 Jesus said, “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to call his own.”

59 Jesus told someone else to come with him. But the man said, “Lord, let me wait until I bury my father.”[j]

60 Jesus answered, “Let the dead take care of the dead, while you go and tell about God’s kingdom.”

61 Then someone said to Jesus, “I want to go with you, Lord, but first let me go back and take care of things at home.”

62 Jesus answered, “Anyone who starts plowing and keeps looking back isn’t worth a thing to God’s kingdom!”

 

Romans 12:6-11

6 God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have. 7 If we can serve others, we should serve. If we can teach, we should teach. 8 If we can encourage others, we should encourage them. If we can give, we should be generous. If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully.

9 Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. 10 Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. 11 Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. 

 

A number of years ago, I attended a four-day Ignatian prayer retreat in Pincher Creek. It was intended not only to be a retreat for those four days, but something that would propel us out into life to change something and make a difference in the next 100 days.

 

We were asked on the first day to think about something we wanted to change in our lives.  Something that was causing us distress.

 

Most of us have patterns that we don’t particularly like.  Patterns that make our own lives hard, that make work or relationships strained.  Patterns that are hard on our health.

 

It can be procrastination, or living too sedentary a life.  It can be not taking care of ourselves and our health properly, or feeling isolated and lonely.

 

For me, one of the patterns that I had was that I had a hard time detaching myself from things.  From carrying the sadness from other people’s lives and my own.  Detaching myself from problems and worries that might have not been mine to start with.  But when you carry around all that stuff, it’s hard to get out from under it.

 

So we had to start with a prayer that went something like this:  God give me the gift or the grace to (fill in the blank.) 

 

To take care of myself better.

To get more engaged in life

To move more

To have a little fun

To find new things to think about.

 

For me, my prayer was give me the grace to let things go.

 

And then you were supposed to make a plan to do that in one small step every day for a hundred days.

 

And the leader of the retreat said, you don’t start with the hardest thing.  You work your way up.  Start small.

 

So as I was learning to let go of things that weighed me down, the first thing I did on day 1 was gather up the recycling and take it to the depot.  Let go.

Day 2 I called up the satellite people and cancelled my television subscription.  TV was too distracting.  Let go.

 

Day 3 I threw out magazines that I had been saving for 20 years, sure that I would want to reuse a recipe or an article.  Let go.

 

And so it continued for days, l learned to let go of things that weighed me down.  And every day I felt better.  It felt like the prayer was being answered one small step at a time.  God was giving me the grace to let go.

 

About 30 days in I was able to sit down with boxes of things I had brought home with me after my mother had died.  Boxes that had been untouched for years.  And I opened them and went through them with the purpose and the grace to let go.

 

And found that out of 6 or 7 big boxes, I only really wanted to keep a few items, which I immediately put to use.  Some of the rest of the stuff, I wondered what on earth I was thinking when I made the decision to hold on to it .  Letting go helped me make better decisions.  And eventually helped me let go of other people’s problems that I was putting more effort into than they were.

 

It was an exercise in relying on the grace of God, but also doing one thing every day consciously, actively, to make God’s grace real.

We don’t just rely on God to swoop down and save us from ourselves, from our problems, from our worlds’ needs.  We need to take concrete action every day to make things happen.  And to keep at it.

 

In the scripture reading from today…the gospel, talks about Jesus heading to Jerusalem.

 

In the King James version of the Bible, they wrote it like this:

And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,

 

We’re coming up to Holy Week and Easter.  The time when Jesus enters Jerusalem knowing that the authorities are closing in on him and conspiring to arrest him.

 

He was close to danger.  Close to death.  To being “received up.” To God.

 

And yet knowing that, he set his face to Jerusalem.  He didn’t turn away and go the other direction.  It was an act of will.

 

And the next few lines in the scripture tell you how hard it was.  They came to a Samaritan village.  Jesus had been good to Samaritans, but no one there would extend hospitality to him and his disciples.  They wouldn’t let them stay and wouldn’t feed them.  It says, “Because they were on their way to Jerusalem.”

 

The Samaritans believed that the center of worship to God was on Mount Gerazim.  The Jews believed it was in Jerusalem.  So Jesus and his followers were off to journey to Jerusalem.  The old religious rivalries reared their heads and the Samaritans wouldn’t help the Jews.

 

James and John, quick to get angry and vengeful said, “Lord do you want us to call down fire from heaven and destroy these people?”  Jesus had to tamp down their nasty response.  Then led them to the next village.

 

There are three little vignettes meeting people.

 

One said he’d go anywhere with Jesus.  And Jesus said he had nowhere to stay.  Foxes have dens, birds have nests, but he has nowhere to sleep.

 

Then someone said I’ll go with you but I have to bury my father first.  It didn’t actually indicate whether his father was dead yet or whether it would take a few more years, but he’d get around to dedicating himself to the project. 

 

Then someone else said “I’ll go with you but I have a few things to wrap up at home. “ and Jesus said “you can’t plough by looking backwards all the time.”  You have to see what is ahead of you.

 

All through Jesus’ ministry, he was gathering people together, feeding them stories and bread, feeding them hope and opportunity.

 

But now that his face was set for Jerusalem, the faint-hearted, the busy and marginally supportive people fell away.  Only those who were committed were going.

 

You start to figure out who is with you when the going gets hard.

 

That is when you have to use your will.  To keep taking those small steps because you know it is a good purpose.

 

In our study book One Small Step, the practice this week is to use your will. To make something happen through your own effort and commitment.

 

It means to push through difficulties.  To stretch for other people.  To make use of your positive attributes and try to restrain your negative ones.  To do a good thing even when it’s hard.

 

That is using your will.

 

Jesus’ path was not an easy one.  Not only the end, which brought him through arrest, trial, crucifixion and death.  But his daily work was demanding.  He had people who tried to trap him, slow him, turn him from what he needed to do.  He had people who received good things from him but couldn’t give good things back.

 

In other words, he lived like we do.  When sometimes, life is hard slogging.  It is then that you use your will. 

 

The author of the book, Rick Hanson says that using your will consists of four qualities:

1.      Be ardent.  Which means wholehearted, enthusiastic and eager.  Think why this thing matters to you.

2.      .  Be Resolute.   Which means wholly committed and unwavering.  Learning to say no to things that distract you from your goal and yes to things that help.

3.        Be Diligent.  Which means your are conscientious and thorough.  You do it not because it’s a slog and a grind, but because you feel right doing it right.

4.      Be mindful.  Pay attention to how you are progressing.

 

Using your will is a way of practicing life knowing that the things you value are important to you…important enough to put in effort to make it good.

 

When Margie read the chapter on using your will, she thought of a young man she’d heard of and I asked if she’d tell the congregation the story.  Because people who use their will well not only reward themselves, but others.  As Paul said to the Romans…”never give up.”

 

Ryan Hreljac. At age 6 he learnt that not everyone in the world had clean drinking water so doing extra chores around the house he earned $70.00 , which he thought would be enough. However he didn't stop and 20 years later he has changed the lives of over 1 million people in 16 countries . Ryan's Well Foundation has coupled with Matt Daymon's H2o foundation, as well as many others, to prove that one person can make difference.

He is a real example of will power. oh did I mention he is a Canadian).

 

Homework this week:

1.  Think of a goal you want to attain.  Break it down into doable steps.

2.  Take one step per day.

 

 

 

 

“Being defiant is a two-year-old who doesn't want to go to bed when he's tired. Being resolute is standing one's ground even in the face of opposition. It's a man's virtue, not a toddler's vice.” 
― MinisinooFINDING HIMSELF

 

“A person who finds grace never lacks the courage to endure, remain resolute in principles and action in the face of an easy collapse into anger, insanity, and self-destruction when living in an increasing chaotic world filled with armed conflict, terrorism, and cultural discord.” 
― Kilroy J. OldsterDead Toad Scrolls

 

“Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 
― Chuck Close

 

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” 
― Roald DahlMy Uncle Oswald

 

 

 

March 11 Enjoy Humility

Rimbey United Church

Rev. Deborah Laing

March 11, 2018

Enjoy humility


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Luke 14:7-11

7 Jesus saw how the guests had tried to take the best seats. So he told them:

8 When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the best place. Someone more important may have been invited. 9 Then the one who invited you will come and say, “Give your place to this other guest!” You will be embarrassed and will have to sit in the worst place.

10 When you are invited to be a guest, go and sit in the worst place. Then the one who invited you may come and say, “My friend, take a better seat!” You will then be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.

 

 

 

Ephesians 4:1-4

 

As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. 3 Try your best to let God’s Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. 4 All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God’s people.

 

 

 

 

One of the interesting conversations we had this week in our course on death and dying was:  who should write your eulogy?

 

We talked about how our friends’ perception of us is so different than our family’s.  And for some people family was a lot closer to us…spent more time with us.  But for others, family got together occasionally, but friends were with us in the day to day.  So it’s hard to know who knew us better.

 

Then we talked about writing our own eulogy.  Who knows us better than our self?  But that’s not really true either.  Some of us don’t know what kind of an impact we’ve made on others.  We downplay the gifts we have to pass on…our legacy.

 

In the end, the morning group liked the idea of gathering friends and family together  with you and having a eulogy party, just so you could get a well-rounded picture of a life.

 

The practice we’re looking at this week is to Enjoy Humility.  Not only to be humble, but enjoy it.

 

While I was thinking about this, I read an article called How Humility Will Make You the Greatest Person Ever by Vicki Zakrezewski

 

That’s the irony of humility.  If you pay attention to how you’re progressing you’ve already wrecked it.

 

 

We don’t want people to negate what is good about them.

What gifts they offer, what value they hold.

But there are some really great things that can happen in our lives if we practice humility and learn to enjoy it.

 

Our culture tends to reward the biographies of those with great accomplishments, awards, adventures…people who live a big life.

 

Humility alongside that can seem like weakness…that you have nothing to offer…nothing of note to add.

 

But humility has some subtle gifts that are quite deep.  One of the real values of humble people is that they draw others to them.

 

Those who list off their accomplishments, their successes, their enviable lives can make others feel somewhat smaller, duller, almost inadequate.  There have been studies on Facebook that suggest that if people spend a lot of time looking at where their friends are travelling, what they are eating, who they are with, that it makes them sadder.  That their life by comparison is dull.

 

But that exact competition is part of the problem.  Our sense of life being a competition is one of the things that causes us the most stress.

 

But the author of the article on humility says:

 

 

When I meet someone who radiates humility, my shoulders relax, my heart beats a little more quietly, and something inside me lets go.

 

Why? Because I know that I’m being fully seen, heard, and accepted for who I am, warts and all—a precious and rare gift that allows our protective walls to come down.

 

 

Humble people don’t get defensive or competitive or protective of their image.  They know their own strengths and their limitations.

 

They know it’s okay to have both.  Humble people know that they are still learning from life and others.  They don’t have to pretend to have it all together.

 

If we still think we have things to learn, we find a way to quiet our own ego.  And if we can quiet our own striving to be noticed, she writes:

 

we become less likely to act aggressively, manipulate others, express dishonesty, and destroy resources. Instead, we take responsibility for and correct our mistakes, listen to others’ ideas, and keep our abilities in humble perspective.

Who wouldn’t want that kind of leadership for our country—and the world?

 

But humility is not just for our leaders.  It’s actually good for us in our own lives and relationships.  Humble people don’t take offense easily, don’t sweat the small stuff. 

 

The story of Jesus looking at a banquet is an interesting story.  It starts off saying he noticed how guests tried to take the best seats at the wedding banquet.  So he said to his followers, don’t take the best seat for yourself.  You might be embarrassed and be asked to move down.  Instead, take a lowly seat.  It’s possible you can move up, but you won’t have to worry about it.

 

Trying to get the best seats cause stress in people.  If there aren’t nameplates, or numbered tickets.  It makes us fret.  Will we see and hear well enough?  Can we get out easily?  And if you are thinking concerts or plays, the best seats are more expensive.

 

Sometimes letting go of needing the best allows you to enjoy sitting with others who also don’t expect the best.  Others who are just glad to be there.

 

The author of the article How Humility will make you the Greatest Person ever!  Suggests three ways to cultivate humility.

 

First, embrace your humanness.  Humans are fallible. We make mistakes, get sick, embarrass ourselves, miss opportunities, blurt things out without thinking, get fired, lose things.  For some people those can lead to a sense of failure, lack of self-worth.  But with humble people, they give themselves as much space to mess up as they give others.  So when they don’t live up to expectations, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them…it just means they’re human.  What a relief.  It often stems from others in our lives giving us space to learn from mistakes.  Not rescuing us and not criticizing us.  Just helping us learn.

 

Second, practice mindfulness and self-compassion.  You’ll find in these weekly practices that they work together.  Mindfulness grows our self-awareness by giving us permission to stop and just notice our thoughts and emotions without judgment.  We accept ourselves rather than beating ourselves up.  I went to a prayer retreat once for a week.  They asked us to look at a place in our lives that we weren’t happy with.  Somewhere we were stuck in unhealthy or unhappy patterns.  And instead of saying “I can’t do this, I always do that.  I hate myself.”  To replace it with the words, “Isn’t it interesting?”  Isn’t it interesting that I procrastinate when others are waiting for me.  Isn’t it interesting that I allow people to say negative things about me without challenging them.  Isn’t it interesting that when this person talks, I stop listening.  Instead of beating yourself up about doing things you know isn’t a healthy thing to do, that little phrase allows you to be curious about how you’re behaving.  And instead of shutting the door with shame or anger, it opens a door to discovery.  I wonder what that is about?  Once you start to get curious about the things that block you from living a good life, you are less stressed about it.

 

Think about Jesus and the disciples watching everyone run for the good seats at the wedding.  You could think “They don’t belong there…they aren’t even family.” Or “Look who butted into the front of the food line.  How rude.”  It starts to get your tension rising.  But if you said,

Isn’t it interesting that when I see people being selfish or competitive, I get angry.  When I see people who don’t follow rules and common courtesy, I get tense.  Isn’t that interesting what kind of person I am.  I wonder why I want to police other people’s behaviour?  There is a lot to learn from ourselves, and we have a whole lifetime to learn it.

 

Third,  in order to cultivate humility, learn to express gratitude.

 

Saying thank you might seem just like social politeness, but in fact it recognizes that the gifts other people give us make our lives better. Gratitude can make us less self-focused and more focused on those around us—a hallmark of humble people.  Expressing gratitude makes you more humble.  You are more aware of how much other people’s actions improve your life or your day, or your comfort.  And the more humble you are, the more grateful you are for others.  It’s like a growing circle.  Being grateful makes you humble.  Being humble makes you grateful.

 

 

To be humble can have some excellent benefits.  But to enjoy humility does take practice.  We aren’t naturally good at it.  We need to look at ourselves and our behaviour regularly and find opportunities for improvement.

 

I found a prayer written by a German author who entitled it:

 

“Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess: (an abbess is like the head nun in a convent.)  It really is a prayer to help someone remember the gift of humility and the practice it requires.

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples' affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains -- they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn't agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint -- it is so hard to live with some of them -- but a harsh old person is one of the devil's masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

Amen” 

― Margot Benary-Isbert

 

 A man named Dave Anderson wrote a piece for an article on leadership.  Six reasons I like Humble people:

1.     Humble people are rare.

2.     The Humble are selfless. And he notes: Being selfless doesn’t mean you think less of yourself.  It just means you think of yourself less.

3.     The Humble are Confident.  They know what they are capable of.

4.     The Humble admit mistakes.  They’re not fearful of not being perfect.

5.     The Humble show maturity. They don’t have to point out others’ flaws.

6.     The Humble are good listeners.  They can learn from and enjoy others.

 

The apostle Paul wrote often about the need for communities of faith to be humble….to acknowledge that we need one another.  That we recognize how connected and reliant we are on each other. 

 

He wrote to the Ephesians:

, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. 3 Try your best to let God’s Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. 

 

Living at peace.  That sounds like a valid reason to enjoy the practice of being humble.

 

Humility allows us to live without competitive striving, without needing to be best, be first, be noticed, be elevated.  It just allows us to be.

 

To be human.

To be caring

To be fully alive.

 

May we be that.  And enjoy this life we share.

 

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, "He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.” 
― Epictetus

 

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” 
― Abraham Lincoln

 

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.” 
― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

 

February 18 Finding Strength

Rimbey United Church - Rev. Deborah Laing

Finding Strength
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Luke 4:1-13  The temptations of Jesus

 

Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, 2 where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over.

3 The Devil said to him, “If you are God's Son, order this stone to turn into bread.”

4 But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone.’”

5 Then the Devil took him up and showed him in a second all the kingdoms of the world. 6 “I will give you all this power and all this wealth,” the Devil told him. “It has all been handed over to me, and I can give it to anyone I choose. 7 All this will be yours, then, if you worship me.”

8 Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’”

9 Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God's Son, throw yourself down from here. 10 For the scripture says, ‘God will order his angels to take good care of you.’ 11 It also says, ‘They will hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’”

12 But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the Devil finished tempting Jesus in every way, he left him for a while.

 

 

As we begin the season of Lent, the gospel of Luke tells a story of Jesus facing a trio of famous temptations.

In the story, right after his baptism, Jesus is driven by the Holy Spirit to wander into the wilderness. 

 

The wilderness was the place of Israel’s ancient journey from slavery to freedom…a holy place.  But the it was also a place of great danger. A place of fear and the unknown.  A place that calls for physical endurance as well as mental and spiritual strength.  In the wilderness you are alone with your thoughts, your doubts, your desires and worries.

For forty days, in that place, Jesus fasts, depriving his body of sustenance, giving up something vital and necessary. Which is why, in the time of Lent, we talk about giving up something necessary and vital for 40 days.

It is in this time, when Jesus is at his weakest, that the devil approaches.  With three seductive opportunities…

First, the devil invites Jesus to turn stones into bread, to concoct food in the midst of a barren desert. It is possible that Jesus can make bread appear and feed himself.  In fact, later in Luke’s story, Jesus will feed not only himself but a crowd of 5,000. Jesus responds that we do not live by bread alone. That is, in all times and in all places, we rely on God and God alone for what we most need.

Second, the devil evokes a panoramic display of all the kingdoms of the world, telling Jesus that the one who has power over the world is the devil and he will hand it over to Jesus in exchange for his worship.

And quite frankly if you look at the news most days, lots of people would not be surprised that the devil is in charge.

You hear people talking about the school shooting in Florida as “pure evil”  Of the obscene gap between the rich and the poor as “sinful”  Of the lack of care for human life among fanatics as “depraved.” 

What wouldn’t you do if you were given power to fix the world?  Would you sell your soul?  There are lots of books and movies made when people make a bargain like that with the devil.

When the writers of the gospel of Luke look at their world  they see a massive empire capable of monstrous warfare and oppression with the devil at its reigns.

But Jesus knows that the empire will not fall by the exertion of military might…it will take the path of service and sacrifice that Jesus embraces. The same is true for the troubles of our modern world.  It will take character, sacrifice, engagement and wisdom to tackle the problems we have.

Jesus responds to this great temptation by noting that we ought only to serve God. That is, in all times and in all places, only God is worthy of our worship. Not military might. Not more guns.  Jesus’ call is to exercise power through vulnerability, and reliance on God.

Last, the devil leads Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, inviting him to cast himself down in a deadly fall. After all, the devil reasons, God won’t let you die, right? The angels will catch you.

Ironically, of course, we know the end of the story.

Jesus would later return to this city and die.  Die a painful martyr’s death; he would suffer the cruelty and humiliation of an unjust public execution. But not yet.  That will be later.

Jesus believes, and trusts in God, but knows that the miracles and blessings of God are not for show.  Do not put the Lord your God to the test.  This is not a game.  There is time to offer your life, and doing it for some spectacular show is not one.

If you look at some of the art depicting the temptations of Jesus, you will often see the picture of the devil in very familiar and sinister ways.  Sometimes a hooded figure, or Shiny-skinned, cloven hooves, tail and horns.  Black ragged wings, or leathery wings.

Pictures painted of the devil tempting Jesus are often of a demon…but the greater temptations are seductive ones.  The temptations that tell us that we can take the quick way.  The easy way.  The pleasant way.

But most of the ways that we are required to strengthen ourselves take a lot of slogging, hard work done without the knowledge of most people around.

 Strength comes from small decisions and activities when no one is looking.

Ailen showed me a video from the time of the Rio Olympic games about Michael Phelps and his training to become a gold medal swimmer.  It showed weight training and pool laps, and resistance training and flexibility training and the incredible exertion it takes to become strong and at the top of your game.

And much of that is done on your own when no one is looking…no crowds cheering you on…just hard work.

The caption for the ad was  It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.

The practice we are looking at this week is about finding strength Where do we look when we need to be strong?

Sometimes we look to ourselves and to hard work.

Sometimes we look to others who have weathered many storms and have given us courage by a word or an action or just the way they live their lives.

Sometimes to strengthen ourselves, we pray, we meditate, we ask for the strength we need to face what is upon us.  What is before us.

And sometimes a story is the thing that strengthens us.

I remember preparing for a difficult funeral here one day a number of years ago.  I was at my desk typing and crying. And one of the women who was bringing food for the reception saw me.  She came upstairs, burst into tears, threw her arms around me and said “You’re going to be alright.  You always find the right things to say.”  We talked for a couple of minutes, dried our eyes and carried on.  And I WAS OK.

I got strength from that confidence from someone else.  But years later, I can just remember that story of how she came in, and it gives me strength again.

That’s how scripture works.  And how people in our past work.  What has been good for us in the past becomes strength for us today.  Just the story of it.  The memory of it.

There are lots of things that tear us down in this life…that weaken us.  Things that weaken us and make us want to curl up, disappear, surrender, back away.  But life and faith ask us to find strength.

Inner strength is not all or nothing  It’s not you have it or don’t  You can build it like a muscle.  And so the homework for the week is about noting your strengths and who helped, and what helped to make them stronger.

Call these to mind, because the stories and the memory will strengthen you.  And you can grow strong.

Strong enough for life.

The season of Lent is not only about deprivation.  It is about declaration.  It is about declaring who it is we trust, and who we follow, and where our strength comes from.

It is about knowing that in the fearful or dangerous paths we tread, God continues to be with us, to bring us to life and hope.

The author of the book writes:

“Tell yourself that you are strong.  That you can endure, persist, cope and prevail.  That you are strong enough to hold your experience in awareness without being overwhelmed.  That the winds of life can blow and blow hard, but you are a deeply rooted tree, and winds just make you even stronger.  And when they are done blowing… there you still stand.  Offering shade and shelter, flowers and fruit.  Strong and lasting.”

The end of the Bible passage is not a happily ever after ending.  It doesn’t say, “Jesus defeated the devil and the devil left him and never came back because he had proved his faith.”

Life is not like that.  The passage says, “After the devil had finished tested him in every way possible, he left him… for a while.”

And most of us know the truth =of these words.  We rarely fix a problem “once and for all”.  Usually we fix it for a while til the next chapter comes. Or a different challenge that we weren’t prepared for.

 Whether we’re dealing with kids, or friends, or work, or personal habits, or health or faith, we rarely get the opportunity to brush our hands together and say, “Well that’s settled.”  I’m strong for life!  Life brings new challenges all the time.

The story of Lent is the story of the path of life that goes through dangerous and troubling times, but one in which God goes with us every step of the way.  And if we  can lean on the strength that has come to us, and believe that strength will come to us we will be blessed.

(video) about strength.

“It's not always necessary to be strong, but to feel strong.” 
― 
Jon KrakauerInto the Wild

 

“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” 
― August Wilson

 

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” 
― 
Jane AustenPride and Prejudice

 

 

 

Homework this week:

1.  Make a list of  your strengths

2  Add to the list those life events that have made you stronger.

 

*  From “just one thing: developing a Buddha brain one simple practice at a time.”

February 11 Forgive Yourself

Forgive Yourself - Rev. Deborah Laing

Feb 11, 2017


 

Psalm 51 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

(For the music leader. A psalm by David when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had been with Bathsheba.)

 

A Prayer for Forgiveness

51 You are kind, God!  Please have pity on me.
    You are always merciful!  Please wipe away my sins.
2 Wash me clean from all of my sin and guilt.
3 I know about my sins, and I cannot forget my terrible guilt.
4 You are really the one I have sinned against;
    I have disobeyed you and have done wrong.
So it is right and fair for you to correct and punish me.

5 I have sinned and done wrong since the day I was born.
6 But you want complete honesty, so teach me true wisdom.
7 Wash me with hyssop[
a] until I am clean and whiter than snow.
8 Let me be happy and joyful! You crushed my bones, now let them celebrate.
9 Turn your eyes from my sin and cover my guilt.
10 Create pure thoughts in me and make me faithful again.
11 Don’t chase me away from you or take your Holy Spirit
    away from me.

12 Make me as happy as you did when you saved me;
    make me want to obey!
13 I will teach sinners your Law, and they will return to you.
14 Keep me from any deadly sin. Only you can save me!
    Then I will shout and sing about your power to save.

15 Help me to speak, and I will praise you, Lord.
16     Offerings and sacrifices are not what you want.
17 The way to please you is to feel sorrow deep in our hearts.
This is the kind of sacrifice you won’t refuse.

18 Please be willing, Lord to help the city of Zion and to rebuild its walls.
19 Then you will be pleased with the proper sacrifices,
    and we will offer bulls on your altar once again.

 

 

 

I’ve had a hard time taking myself away from watching the Olympics every chance I get in the first day or so of competition. 

I not only love to see the skill and athleticism of the participants, but it always seems to me that in the background stories of the athletes, their families and communities, there are great lessons to be learned about life in general.

 

Lessons about:

 

Determination

Focus

Teamwork

Sacrifice

Dedication

Hard work

Skill development

Sportsmanship

Fairplay

Setbacks and recovery

Attitude and outlook.

 

The list can go on an on.  Sport is a microcosm of life.

 

You can see it when little kids are just learning a sport, and soak in the messages of coaches and others around them.  And you see it on display when those kids become elite athletes at the top of their game. You see pretty interesting things in their values and perspectives.

 

But as much as the human story is lived out in the winner’s circle, it is also on display with those who lose.

 

Losing is hard. You go to Olympics picturing yourself on the podium, and most don’t get there.  Most lose. And it’s hard to know what kind of losing is the worst.

 

Maybe it’s the worst when you come in dead last in the standings.

 

Maybe it’s the worst when you miss first place by fractions of a second.

 

Maybe it’s the worst when you made a silly error that costs you the win:  the bobsledder with a spectacular crash, the ice skater who can’t land a jump.  The speed skater who tripped and fell straight out of the starting blocks in a sprint.

 

Those are horrible moments.  And they can be even worse if you are part of a team and your error causes all of them.

 

The hockey player or soccer player who shoots into the wrong goal. 

 

You see them going off the field or rink or pitch banging their head with their hands. Or covering their eyes. Shaking their heads. 

 

People literally want to beat themselves up.

 

And sometimes the fans want to do the same to them.  Because the fans feel part of the same team.

 

In every sport there are powerful stories of huge blunders that cost games, pennants, medals

In 1908 a young man not even 20 played for the Chicago Cubs.  His name was Fred Merkle.  He made a ridiculous error, the other team saw the mistake and took advantage of it making a game result in a tie rather than a win for the Cubs.  The error became known as the Merkle boner.  And he was called a bonehead throughout his career, which lasted another 18 years.  Once he left baseball, Fred Merkle stopped attending games at all. He hated the game for the error he had made.  He couldn’t shake the shame and notoriety of it.

 

The practice we’re looking at this week, as we look at making our brains better for our life…is learning to forgive yourself.

 

And it is a huge issue with people.  Whether it is people who thought they did their children wrong, to people who made bad financial decisions, people who let others down, people who fell asleep at the wheel, or people like Monica Lewinski and Bill Clinton whose bad decision became a very public nightmare.

 

Most of us have issues in our lives that we feel we need to forgive ourselves for.  Whether we got ahead by cheating someone, or we angrily put the cat outside and she got run over in the street.  We blame ourselves for pain that we’ve been part of creating…even if we weren’t directly to blame.

 

There is a doctor of Psychology at Stanford University in California who conducts workshops and studies on forgiveness. 

 

He suggests there are kind of four broad categories of things we beat ourselves up over.  Four ways to categorize our failings:

 

1.  we fail at some major life task:  raising our kids, keeping a job, finishing school, making a good marriage.  Some of us beat ourselves up because we can’t seem to do things that society expects us to do…we fail.

 

2.  we act in ways that hurt people.  Hurt their feelings, their reputations, hurt their chances, hurt their bodies.

 

3.  We hurt ourselves and wreck our lives and other people’s.  Like through drinking or gambling, spending the food budget on shoes, or engage in eating disorders, growing chronically overweight or underweight…  We need to forgive ourselves for becoming so out-of-control.

 

4.  We failed to do a good thing.  We beat ourselves up for the things we didn’t do.  Spent too much money and didn’t save enough, worked too hard and ignored the family, put off holidays and were too worn out and serious and grumpy, didn’t stand up for someone when they needed us.  Lots of us carry the burden of what we haven’t done.

 

All of these things can make us full of guilt, and make it hard to forgive ourselves.

 

And like other ways we don’t take care of ourselves, our inability to forgive ourselves is hard on our body and mind.

 

Those guilty feelings you're nurturing are generating chemicals that are headed straight for your vital organs. They increase your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, disrupt your digestion, tense your muscles, dump cholesterol into your bloodstream, and reduce your ability to think straight. And every time you remember what you did and wince, those bad feelings give you a fresh hit of corrosive chemicals.

 

It's no wonder that studies on forgiveness have led scientists to suspect that those who have difficulty forgiving others and themselves are robbing themselves of life

·          

The author of the book on spiritual practices for the brain that we’ve been looking at, says that we need to figure out which of our faults are moral failing and which are just about unskillfulness.

 

Because if we’re just bad at something, we simply need to learn to do better and correct it.  Not feel guilty about it.

 

But if we are bad people, and act badly, and cause pain then we need to figure out how to accept “proportional guilt” take responsibly, feel the pain we’ve caused And then try to repair and make amends if that is possible.

 

A couple of weeks back I talked about King David.  How he had stolen Bathsheba, the wife of one of his generals, and then arranged for that general to die in battle so that David’s adultery would not be found out.

 

 

 

And the psalm read today is considered a psalm of David…one written by him, or by someone else from his perspective.

 

And it says right at the beginning of the psalm in the directions to the music person who would lead this psalm: A psalm by David when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had been with Bathsheba.)

 

It is a psalm asking God to wipe away his sins and wash him clean.  To let him be happy again because he is living in misery for the act he has committed:  Adultery and something pretty close to an assassination…and lies and treachery.

 

And he acknowledges his wrongdoing  He is not covering it up.  He writes:

I know about my sins, and I cannot forget my terrible guilt.
4 You are really the one I have sinned against;
    I have disobeyed you and have done wrong.
So it is right and fair for you to correct and punish me.

 

David is not looking to escape responsibility for his wrongs.  He’s not looking for someone to say it doesn’t matter.  He takes his consequences.  He suffers his punishment.

 

And he asks God to create in him a clean heart.  And a pure spirit.  The one he has been using is damaged.  By hurting others, he has wounded himself.  And he wants to be different.  He wants new start. A better path.  And that is a healthy thing.

 

Dr Luskin found in his studies with people needing forgiveness that the biggest obstacle he's found to self-forgiveness may be the tendency, not to want to embrace change, but to wallow in our own guilt.

 

He writes:  "It's not just that we feel bad because we know we've done wrong," Everybody does that. But some of us actually draw those bad feelings around ourselves like a blanket, cover our heads, and refuse to stop the wailing.

 

He suggests that wailing should be reserved for the victim, but some of us revel in our bad feelings.

Instead of taking responsibility for what we've done by trying to repair the damage or make things right, or become different, many of us unconsciously decide—to punish ourselves by feeling miserable for the rest of our lives.

 

But that doesn’t change us.  It just makes us sick.  If we want transformation, we actually have to address our issues.

 

Hanson, in his little book of practices, says we need to look with clarity about the things we feel guilty about.  We need to decide

 

What parts of it we are really responsible for?

Learn from action

Repair what we can

Make amends.

 

Do something concrete to turn things around.

In Psalm 51, David made a deal with God:

 

13 I will teach sinners your Law, and they will return to you.
14 Keep me from any deadly sin. Only you can save me!
    Then I will shout and sing about your power to save.

15 Help me to speak, and I will praise you, Lord.
16     Offerings and sacrifices are not what you want.
17 The way to please you is to feel sorrow deep in our hearts.

 

 

He wanted to become an example of a changed man to others so that they could also change and come back to God.  He wanted to be able to sing God’s praises.

 

And he said the way to please God…is to feel the sorrow deep in our hearts.

 

One of the things about our guilt, is that we don’t want to feel it.  Because it causes us pain.  If we have hurt others, ignored them, endangered them, it causes us pain to think about it and so most of us choose to avoid feeling that pain.  But allowing ourselves to feel it, can be a springboard to making things different in the future.

 

The homework this week is about honest self-reflection.  Taking responsibility for what we legitimately own…and refusing to wallow in misery, but in strength and humility chart a better path forward.

 

May God bless us and may we bless ourselves with a path to life in all its fullness.

 

 

 

“God in Heaven, you have helped my life to grow like a tree.  Now something has happened.  Satan, like a bird, has carried in one twig of his own choosing after another.  Before I knew it he had built a dwelling place and was living in it.  Tonight, my Father, I am throwing out both the bird and the nest.

                Prayer of a Nigerian Christian.

 

“Bring it up, make amends, forgive yourself. It sounds simple, but don’t think for a second that it is easy. Getting free from the tyranny of past mistakes can be hard work, but definitely worth the effort. And the payoff is health, wholeness and inner peace. In other words, you get your life back.” 
― Steve Goodier

 

“Forgiveness does not relieve someone of responsibility for what they have done. Forgiveness does not erase accountability. It is not about turning a blind eye or even turning the other cheek. It is not about letting someone off the hook or saying it is okay to do something monstrous. Forgiveness is simply about understanding that every one of us is both inherently good and inherently flawed. Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation.” 
― Desmond TutuThe Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World

 

Homework this week:

1.  think about things you have done that weigh you down.  Moral faults (things that CALL for guilt and shame) and unskillfulness. (things that were mistakes that can be corrected.)

2.  In an honest way, make a list of what YOU are responsible for.  Make a list of what you are NOT responsible for.

3.  List things that you have learned and changed and become aware of because of this.

4. Try out the words, “I forgive myself”.  Note your response.  Repeat.

 

February 4 Slow Down

Rimbey United Church - Rev. Deborah Laing

1 Kings 19

Ahab told his wife Jezebel what Elijah had done and that he had killed the prophets. 2 She sent a message to Elijah: “You killed my prophets. Now I’m going to kill you! I pray that the gods will punish me even more severely if I don’t do it by this time tomorrow.”

3 Elijah was afraid when he got her message, and he ran to the town of Beersheba in Judah. He left his servant there, 4 then walked another whole day into the desert. Finally, he came to a large bush and sat down in its shade. He begged the Lord, “I’ve had enough. Just let me die! I’m no better off than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down in the shade and fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel woke him up and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 Elijah looked around, and by his head was a jar of water and some baked bread. He sat up, ate and drank, then lay down and went back to sleep.

7 Soon the Lord’s angel woke him again and said, “Get up and eat, or else you’ll get too tired to travel.” 8 So Elijah sat up and ate and drank.

The food and water made him strong enough to walk forty more days. At last, he reached Mount Sinai,[a] the mountain of God, 9 and he spent the night there in a cave.

The Lord Appears to Elijah

While Elijah was on Mount Sinai, the Lord asked, “Elijah, why are you here?”

10 He answered, “Lord God All-Powerful, I’ve always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!”

11 “Go out and stand on the mountain,” the Lord replied. “I want you to see me when I pass by.”

All at once, a strong wind shook the mountain and shattered the rocks. But the Lord was not in the wind. Next, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 Then there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

Finally, there was a gentle breeze,[b] 13 and when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat. He went out and stood at the entrance to the cave.

The Lord[c] asked, “Elijah, why are you here?”

14 Elijah answered, “Lord God All-Powerful, I’ve always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!”

15 The Lord said:

Elijah, you can go back to the desert near Damascus. And when you get there, appoint[d] Hazael to be king of Syria. 16 Then appoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat[e] to take your place as my prophet.

 

180 miles away.

 

Mark 630 After the apostles returned to Jesus,[i] they told him everything they had done and taught. 31 But so many people were coming and going that Jesus and the apostles did not even have a chance to eat. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go to a place[j]where we can be alone and get some rest.” 32 They left in a boat for a place where they could be alone. 33 But many people saw them leave and figured out where they were going. So people from every town ran on ahead and got there first.

34 When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw the large crowd that was like sheep without a shepherd. He felt sorry for the people and started teaching them many things.

 

 

 

So this week, we continue to follow along in some simple practices that are good for the brain, and can assist the brain in helping the body heal.

 

The practice is SLOW DOWN.

 

We live in a pretty hectic society…and actually, we here in Rimbey are luckier than many when it comes to pressures and the need for speed.  You spend a day in Edmonton, or even Red Deer trying to do a number of things and you can feel the stress rising.  I talked to some people from Grande Prairie who moved down here to the lake and they were so grateful to get out the hectic competitive fast lane that Grande Prairie and other oil towns have become.

 

Young parents are among the most stressed people I see, juggling jobs, errands, school, children’s activities, a social life…they are wild and tired and stressed and fast.

 

I see them on the roads especially in the summer and long weekends, with huge trailers burdened down with bicycles and quads and gear, and they are racing each other to the mountains to start relaxing.  And I’m always shocked to see them heading back home by mid-afternoon on the Monday of a long weekend.  You know they had to get up early and pack the camper and dress the kids and get on the road to beat all the other traffic on the way back home to get unpacked, bathed, ready for bed and another day of work the next day.  I see them race by me coming and going on the highway, and they exhaust me.  And themselves.

 

Speed is a high value.  People take speed reading classes, we need high-speed internet because “snail mail” is a thing of the past.  I remember when McDonalds came to Canada in the 70’s and coined the word “Fast food”.  You no longer went to the A&W to order a mama burger and had to wait out in the car for them to throw one on the grill and get it ready.  Instead, there were lines of burgers already in the shoot ready to grab and go.

 

And it wasn’t too many years later before they started the drive-through window so you didn’t even have to step out of the car and lose those precious seconds walking.  Just pull up and go. 

 

When I was looking in the Bible for passages that talked about speed, and slowing down, it was interesting what caused people to speed up.

 

Genesis 19:  Hurry and get out of Sodom and Gomorrah before God destroys it

Genesis 45:  Hurry and bring my father here to Egypt where there is food…there is a famine coming

Ex. 32:  Hurry and get out of Egypt or everyone will die…the Pharaoh is chasing us.

Ex 45:  Hurry and do the ritual of purification…God is going to destroy everyone with an epidemic

Judges 18:  Hurry into battle

2 Samuel 15:  David ran out of  the city when Absalom was going to attack

psalm 71:  I am weak and poor.  Don’t stand so far away…hurry to my aid

Matthew 28:  hurry to get to Lazarus when he is dying

 

There are times in life we need to hurry. Situations of danger coming, danger to avoid, births and deaths to attend. Literally we need speed in life and death situations.

 

And human beings are made so that when we are put under stress in those situations, we get extra energy and response from the body to move faster.  Our adrenal glands, just at the top of the kidneys produce adrenaline and cortisol.  They give us power to move faster be stronger, feel alert and alive.  Get the blood circulating.

 

In 1936 a Canadian biochemist working at McGill University published a short paper on two kinds of stress:  good stress (Eustress) and bad stress (distress).

 

Both release cortisol into the body. Good stress gives us an invigorating sense of life where we want to go out and do something…seize the day. And when we’ve done that thing, cortisol returns to normal levels.

 

But with bad stress, or free-floating anxiety, cortisol floods into the system, but we have no outlet, no purpose for it.  And then it kind of backfires on us.

 

Elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease... The list goes on and on.  If it’s chronic….too much stress and no relief, higher cortisol  levels can also lead to depression and headaches.

 

So the exercise this week is to slow down.  To decrease the speed of our activity.

 

In the gospel reading from Mark, we see Jesus healing the crowds, and the people are pressing in on him.  They were looking for teaching and healing.  And he and the disciples were attending to so many needs that they didn’t even have time to eat.  at some point, Jesus said,  let’s get a boat and get some time to be alone.  Let’s slow down.  You can’t just pour and pour and pour yourself out. 

 

But the scripture says that at this particular time, it didn’t work.  It says the people figured out where they were going in the boat and ran around the lake and met them when they came to dock.  And the last line said “Jesus felt sorry for the people and started teaching them many things.”

 

So he started healing and teaching again.  The truth is, you can’t always avoid pressures that come at you one after another…  Sometimes periods of life are filled with ongoing stressful activity.  But it is important to slow down even for a few minutes.  That is the purpose of a cup of tea!  Sit down…sip…relax and revive.

 

The story of Elijah is a great one.  It begins as a story of extreme pressure on a prophet who is fighting with the King and queen of Israel.  Elijah is in a power struggle with Queen Jezebel.  A struggle over whose God is greater.  She came from a religious tradition that worshipped Baal rather than the God of Israel.  They have a contest about whose prophets can light a bigger fire, and Elijah wins.  After that, he killed all her prophets that lost the challenge.  Jezebel was enraged and threatened that she would do to him what he had done to her prophets.

So he got his stress hormones in good working order and ran for the desert.  There he fell under a tree exhausted and willed himself to die.  But some angel came along and gave him food and drink and told him to keep going.

 

He went up a mountain and there wild things were going on.  Earthquakes and wind and fire.  All the power and force of nature swirling around him. More adrenaline, more excitement, more turbulence.   But the story says God was not in the Earthquake or Wind or Fire.

 

And then it says, there was a still small voice.  This translation calls it a gentle breeze.  And that’s where Elijah found God.  In the quiet.  When other things had ended.

 

He complained to God about all the trouble he was in and how alone he felt.  And that quiet voice of God told him to go to Damascus, and there were people there who would help and support him.

 

God didn’t send him back to Jezebel and danger, back into the fight, back into the stress. God sent him in the other direction on a hundred and eighty mile long trip.  It would have taken him a week or two to make that journey.  But it would have been a more peaceful one. Sometime you have to slow down and reassess.  Get more help.  Solve the problem without all the wildness of your emotions leading the way.

 

Elijah didn’t need to end his life.  He wasn’t all alone.  He just needed to stop and take stock before he went the next step.  Slow down.

 

I drove once with one man and he said when we comes to a stop sign, he counts 3 seconds before he starts again.  It’s not a lot in the course of the day…seems like an eternity if you’re behind someone like that and you’re in a hurry.  But I tried it, and it’s calming.  Beat beat beat, and go.

 

Most of us know that accidents tend to happen more often when we are in a rush.  We burn something on the stove, drop and break something, trip over something…  When we’re pushing our bodies unnecessarily, there are consequences.

 

But we also ask our minds to move quickly.  And although sometimes, you need quick decision-makers…like emergency room doctors, military leaders under fire, a restaurant chef who has a table of 20 show up for dinner.  You need someone  to be able to say, “You do this, you do that.  Go here, get that, start this…”   But once the work starts being carried out, you let it go.

 

But some of us get in the habit of keeping our brains on highspeed all the time.  It’s one of the problems they’ve noticed with social media like facebook.  There is no downtime.  No slowing of the pace of putting things in your head.

A man named Carl Honore wrote a book called “In praise of slowness: Challenging the cult of speed”

 

In it he wrote,

Like a bee in a flower bed, the human brain naturally flits from one thought to the next. In the high-speed workplace, where data and headlines come thick and fast, we are all under pressure to think quickly. Reaction, rather than reflection, is the order of the day. To make the most of our time, and to avoid boredom, we fill up every spare moment with mental stimulation…Keeping the mind active makes poor use of our most precious resource. True, the brain can work wonders in high gear. But it will do so much more if given the chance to slow down from time to time. Shifting the mind into lower gear can bring better health, inner calm, enhanced concentration and the ability to think more creatively.” 
 

 

Sometimes we only slow down when we’re forced to.

Illness or injury or surgery or supporting someone who experiences these things has a way of slowing us down…making sure we allow the body to heal.

 

Having little children slows you down.  Because sometimes they are not ready to go.  They chase butterflies and follow the path of slugs and explore snow caves.  Rushing them is an invitation to a meltdown.

 

Part of allowing ourselves to lead a creative calm gentle life, is to slow down and listen for that still small voice. 

The voice that is not in the whirlwind, but in a moment of peace.  The voice that gives us permission to take a break and slow the pace.

 

Today after church, we have soup and sandwiches.  And I think that is appropriate.  Because when you think about slowing down, good soup and good bread are two things that take time. You can’t rush them. Enjoy and savour the moments you have, and share them with others.

 

 “For fast acting relief, try slowing down.” 
― Lily Tomlin

 

 “That's the funny thing about old people: they never seem in a hurry. I think old people have figured out that being five minutes late really doesn't matter much.” 
― Shannon WiersbitzkyWhat Flowers Remember

 

 “...we fail to live in the moment. We miss the laughter, beauty and joy in our midst, trading them for stress, frustration, anxiety and anger. We forge ahead consumed with the destination while missing the journey. In a sense, we're taking God's precious gift of presence and time and telling Him it isn't what we want, that we don't have the time.” 
― Cindee Snider ReFinding Purpose: Rediscovering Meaning in a Life with Chronic Illness

 

 “It is refreshing, and salutary, to study the poise and quietness of Christ. His task and responsibility might well have driven a man out of his mind. But He was never in a hurry, never impressed by numbers, never a slave of the clock.” 
― J.B. Phillips

 

 

Homework this week:

1.  do a few things more slowly than usual…leisurely lift the cup to your lips, don’t rush through a meal, let others finish talking before you start.

2.  Back off the gas pedal.

 

January 28 Compassion For Yourself

Rimbey United Church - Rev. Deborah Laing

 

2 Samuel 12:1-9 &13

The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to David. Nathan went to him and said, “There were two men who lived in the same town; one was rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had many cattle and sheep, 3 while the poor man had only one lamb, which he had bought. He took care of it, and it grew up in his home with his children. He would feed it some of his own food, let it drink from his cup, and hold it in his lap. The lamb was like a daughter to him. 4 One day a visitor arrived at the rich man's home. The rich man didn't want to kill one of his own animals to fix a meal for him; instead, he took the poor man's lamb and prepared a meal for his guest.”

5 David became very angry at the rich man and said, “I swear by the living Lord that the man who did this ought to die! 6 For having done such a cruel thing, he must pay back four times as much as he took.”

 

7 “You are that man,” Nathan said to David. “And this is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘I made you king of Israel and rescued you from Saul. 8 I gave you his kingdom and his wives; I made you king over Israel and Judah. If this had not been enough, I would have given you twice as much. 9 Why, then, have you disobeyed my commands? Why did you do this evil thing? You had Uriah killed in battle; you let the Ammonites kill him, and then you took his wife! 

13 “I have sinned against the Lord,” David said.

 

 

Luke 18:9-14

9 Jesus also told this parable to people who were sure of their own goodness and despised everybody else. 10 “Once there were two men who went up to the Temple to pray: one was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood apart by himself and prayed,[a] ‘I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or an adulterer, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there. 12 I fast two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even raise his face to heaven, but beat on his breast and said, ‘God, have pity on me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you,” said Jesus, “the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, was in the right with God when he went home. For those who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great.”

 

 

The theme for today is to have compassion for yourself.  To learn to treat yourself kindly, and think of yourself well.

 

But so many of us have a hard time thinking well of ourselves.

 

What would you think if you told someone they played the piano beautifully, and then someone listening stepped in and said, “Well, not bad, but certainly not like a really well-trained person could do.”

 

What would you think of that person who butted in?

 

Or if you said “What a nice crisp shirt you’re wearing!” and someone on the sideline said, “Nice shirt, but

you can tell he’s gained a few pounds over the winter.”

 

After a delicious meal you thank the cook and tell her how much you enjoyed it.  And another guest at the table said, “sure it was a good meal, but I really think she just threw things together…didn’t really think much about it.”

 

Those are incredibly hurtful things to say about someone else. But the truth is most of us say those things about ourselves all the time.

 

I’m not a that smart,…most of it was just luck.

I’m not that good, but I do what I can.

It was really nothing at all.  No trouble.

 

We take our efforts, our talents, our gifts, and if someone else suggests that they were helpful, useful, inspirational, we minimize, denigrate and  fluff it off.

 

We don’t speak that way about our neighbours and our friends.  We don’t criticize or diminish them when someone says something nice about them.

 

So why do we do it for ourselves?

 

Why when someone thanks us for a kindness, do we say it was nothing.

 

When someone tells us it’s a good thing we’ve done, we point out the flaws or are quick to say someone…anyone could have done it better.

 

When someone compliments us we say, “oh no….I’m not worth that.”

 

The second part of the great commandment is to love your neighbour as yourself.  But maybe it should have read:  to love yourself as much as your neighbour.

What would it take to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others?  Not to deflect someone else’s kindnesses, but let them soak in.

 

Having compassion for yourself is to look at yourself clearly as someone you know well, and you accept.

 

Author Karen Armstrong talks about a friend of hers who taught her about this.  She writes:

 

The late Rabbi Albert Friedlander grew up in Nazi Germany and as a child was bewildered and distressed by the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda that assailed him on all sides.  One night, when he was about eight years old, he deliberately lay awake and made a list of all his good qualities.  He told himself firmly that he was NOT what the Nazis said; that he had talents and special gifts of heart and mind, which he enumerated to himself one by one.  Finally he vowed that if he survived, he would use those qualities to build a better world.  This was an extraordinary insight for a child in such circumstances.  Albert was one of the kindest people I have ever met; he was almost pathologically gentle, and must have brought help and counsel to thousands.  But he always said that he could have done no good at all unless he had learned at that terrible moment of history , to love himself.

 

We have a biological need to care for others and be cared for. But we often are not good at caring for ourselves.

 

I watched an interview a while back with a  woman who was 101 years old.  She was talking to the reporter and laughed when she said, “You should write my life story and I should write yours.  We’re too humble if we write our own.  We don’t think we’re very good or very interesting.  But others do.”

 

It’s so true.  We don’t treat ourselves often as well as we treat our friends or family.  We are more inclined to castigate ourselves for our shortcomings and become cast down by any failure to achieve our potential. We know we are not perfect. 

 

A phrase that rattles around in the heads of many of us is…if you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me so much.

 

Our sense of not being worthy of care or love can come from all kinds of places.  Sometimes it was in our families where brothers or sisters…or even parents put us down, insulted us, laughed at us, teased us to the point where we didn’t think we were worth much.

 

For others, it might have happened with school relationships…getting teased for who we were or what we looked like, what we ate, how we were different from others.

 

I had my hair cut a couple of years back by a young woman in her 20’s. I may have told you the story.  She had brilliant red hair like my son does.  I asked her if she got singled out and bullied because of it, because he got a lot of negative attention for his hair.

 

She said, “Oh yeah.  I moved to Provost Alberta with my parents when I was in grade 2.  I had red hair, buck teeth, a lisp, and I came from Dildo Newfoundland.  Talk to me about teasing!”

 

She had to move away from her tormentors after highschool before she could start living a life where she liked herself.

 

So we all have personal experiences…some peoples’ are more devastating than others, and some people are more sensitive to how they are perceived than others. 

We carry those messages with us.

 

And sometimes, self-hatred can manifest itself on a whole culture.

 

When your nation has been taken over by a more powerful nation, and they are seeking to destroy your culture, it results in incredible sense of self-loathing.  Colonized people feel incredible shame about being who they are.  They have often accepted and internalized messages of their inadequacy from the people who have taken over their lives.

 

The experience of children in Residential Schools in Canada is one where the food budget was less than could satisfy hunger.  The clothing was ugly, badly fitting, and not warm enough for winter.  The education they were provided was inferior to other Canadian children…they were meant to be trained as a working class of people, not an educated class.  And their own families, stories, languages, customs and traditions were thrown away.

 

What all of this said on a daily basis to those children was that they were worth-less.  They were worthless.

 

In the generations since, that has been accepted and passed down too frequently.

 

And it destroys a person and it destroys a culture until we start to teach compassion and live compassionately for ourselves.

 

 

It’s not just situations of bullying, or others hurting us that make us unsympathetic to ourselves.

 

It is often something that is buried deep within us.  We tell ourselves in lots of circumstances that we don’t deserve a good life.

 

·        We don’t deserve to be happy when someone we love is miserable

·        We don’t deserve to find love again when we have lost another that we love.

·        We don’t deserve to laugh and enjoy ourselves when we have gone through a great loss, or others around us are sad.

·        We don’t deserve to relax and enjoy a night out when someone we care about can’t do that anymore.

·        Kids feel guilty about being able to run and play when a brother or sister is in hospital and can’t play.

·        Some of us even feel guilty about having friends when someone else is lonely.

There are a thousand ways in which we feel guilty for taking care of ourselves.  For enjoying music or good food, good company or a laugh.

 

But if we don’t allow ourselves these pleasures,  these kindnesses…how do we strengthen and relax ourselves enough to care for those who are suffering?

 

In the gospel reading this morning, Jesus painted a picture for the disciples of someone coming to pray.  Someone who was full of remorse and misery and self-hatred and guilt. He couldn’t even raise his face up to heaven. 

 

He worked for the enemy…he was a tax-collector taking money from the people to pay for the occupying army of the Romans.  The Romans not only bullied and abused the people, but they made them pay for the privilege.  And they got local people to collect the money for them.  And the collectors made their own living by adding a little fee on the top.

 

They were hated…had no friends.  The Romans despised them but hired them.  And the people despised them and stayed away.

 

Jesus in this scenario he painted, had compassion for that hated tax-collector who could only turn to God in his pain.  Someone whose compromised life made him miserable.  Jesus had compassion for that life, when most of his followers would not.

 

And then we have the story of the prophet Nathan coming to King David.  David had seen a beautiful woman Bathsheba, bathing on the roof next door one morning and he had to have her, even though she was married to one of his generals.  So as king, he sent for her, and got her pregnant.  And then he realized he had to cover up the evidence of his adultery.  His betrayal of a man under his commands.  He quickly brought his general Uriah back from the battlefield, hoping that he would sleep with his wife, and then assume the child was his. 

 

 

 

But when Uriah came home, he didn’t sleep with his wife.  He slept on the stone floor in the main entrance of the palace where everyone could see him.  Because he didn’t think it was fair that he had the comforts of home while his soldiers were still out suffering on the battlefields.

 

David realized that his plan wasn’t going to work so he devised a worse one.  He sent Uriah back to the battlefield and told those going with him to make sure he was at the front in the heaviest part of the fighting where he would get killed.  And it happened just like that.  And David brought dead Uriah’s wife into his palace.

And she had his baby.

 

But then Nathan the prophet came to talk to the king about how corrupt he was.  It’s not a conversation any king wants to hear.  So Nathan did it by telling him a story.

 

The story of a rich man and a poor man.  The rich man had many sheep and cows and the poor man had only a lamb.  The rich man wanted a feast, and instead of having one of his own animals slaughtered, he took the poor man’s lamb and had it prepared to eat.

 

David was incensed.  Who was this rich man?  That man ought to die!  Nathan said, “You are that man.” And told him what he knew about Bathsheba and Uriah and David.

 

And David realized what a horrible thing he had done.

 

 

It’s hard enough to like ourselves and have compassion for ourselves because we’re not perfect.  But it’s even harder to have compassion for ourselves when we’ve really hurt someone else.  When we’ve done something that is devastating.

 

And lots of us carry those stories too…stories of betrayals that we have done to others.  Stories of confidences and trust that we have broken.  Stories of hurt and cruelty and pain that we have inflicted with words or actions.  How do we have compassion for ourselves then?

 

We need to take ownership of what psychologist Carl Jung called  our own shadow side…the side we don’t like others to see.

 

The side that we barely acknowledge.

 

One of the things I can’t stand is when someone is caught doing a cruel and hateful thing, they and those who protect them say, “They’re not perfect…we acknowledge that.”

 

The side that doesn’t honestly address the truth of our lives.  In such cases, in order to have real compassion for ourselves, we need to be able to say the real exact nature of our wrongs… I’ve been cruel.  I’ve been mean-spirited.  I’ve been abusing my position and I’ve hurt people.

 

 

 

 

We’re seeing a lot of that these days with the number of powerful men whose actions have been exposed to the light of day…actions of unwanted sexual attention, activity, threats and coercion.  We have seen it in politicians and professors, actors and directors, doctors and coaches.  And we know it happens with church leaders and teachers.

 

And when these actions come to light,  is not enough to say I’m not perfect.  It is important to say “This is how I have wronged others.”  Because unless we are honest about our failings, we have no capacity for caring for ourselves or those we’ve hurt.  Unless we are clear and honest about our real transgressions we cannot find a way to care for ourselves in ways that will heal.  You have to expose the wound and clean it out.

 

And we do need to heal.  To become better.  In the Bible, David was punished.  He didn’t get off without that.  And we need some punishment, some accountability for the wrongs we commit.  But David remained beloved of God, and continued to be so until his dying day.  God knew and still loved him.  And that can and must be true for us.  We can know ourselves honestly and still have compassion for ourselves.  Still love ourselves and want the best for us.

 

If we don’t recognize our own broken humanityhow can we  have compassion for anyone else who went off the rails.  So us not dealing with our own real offenses, makes us lack compassion for others who can’t hide theirs as well.  It makes us hard-hearted.

 

There is a TV show on the National Geographic channel called Pit bulls and Parolees.  It matches up people getting out of prison who have done some horrible things, with dogs who have been in the life of fighting, and there is nowhere for them to go but death.  They are seen as too dangerous to live.  The show follows how broken people and broken animals help each other become better at life.  When men on parole see that with a little consistency, care and discipline, a dog can turn its life around, and be useful and forgiving and open and happy, they start to have a little compassion for themselves.  If a dog deserves compassion, and a second chance, why not me?  If a dog can learn to trust and be trustworthy, why not me?

 

Compassion is to say to yourself  There is good in me.  I am  Loveable, capable, worthy, strong, decent, intelligent.

 

Yes, I have these other parts of my person…some are bad, and others are not yet great… but they’re part of me, and I’m working on it.

 

You are like everyone else.

·        You have failings, like everyone else

·        You have talents and gifts.  So does everyone.

·        You are worthy of love.  So is everyone.

 

Compassion for self is not about denying the negatives of ourselves, but accepting self, and putting self on the same level as others.  Worthy of love.

 

Someone in the church read me an affirmation from their fridge.  It says:  I’m not saying it’s going to be easy.  I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.

 

 “It’s common to reject or punish yourself when you’ve been rejected by others. When you experience disappointment from the way your family or others treat you, that’s the time to take special care of yourself. What are you doing to nurture yourself? What are you doing to protect yourself? Find a healthy way to express your pain.” 
― Christina Enevoldsen

 

“Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.” 
― Parker J. PalmerLet Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

 

“I lied and said I was busy.
I was busy;
but not in a way most people understand.

I was busy taking deeper breaths.
I was busy silencing irrational thoughts.
I was busy calming a racing heart.
I was busy telling myself I am okay.

Sometimes, this is my busy -
and I will not apologize for it.” 
― 
Brittin Oakman

 

Homework this week:

1.  take a moment to acknowledge your difficulties, your challenges and your suffering.

2.  Bring to mind someone you KNOW cares for you…a person, a spirit, God, even your pet.

3.  Imagine what they would say to you in your trouble.  Let words like these rest in your mind:  may this pain pass…may thing improve for me…may I feel less upset over time.

January 21 Relax

Rimbey United Church- Rev. Deborah Laing

 

1 Samuel 16:14-23  Saul needs soothing

 

14 The Lord's spirit left Saul, and an evil spirit sent by the Lord tormented him. 15 His servants said to him, “We know that an evil spirit sent by God is tormenting you. 16 So give us the order, sir, and we will look for a man who knows how to play the harp. Then when the evil spirit comes on you, the man can play his harp, and you will be all right again.”

17 Saul ordered them, “Find me a man who plays well and bring him to me.”

18 One of his attendants said, “Jesse of the town of Bethlehem has a son who is a good musician. He is also a brave and handsome man, a good soldier, and an able speaker. The Lord is with him.”

19 So Saul sent messengers to Jesse to say, “Send me your son David, the one who takes care of the sheep.” 20 Jesse sent David to Saul with a young goat, a donkey loaded with bread, and a leather bag full of wine. 21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much and chose him as the man to carry his weapons. 22 Then Saul sent a message to Jesse: “I like David. Let him stay here in my service.” 23 From then on, whenever the evil spirit sent by God came on Saul, David would get his harp and play it. The evil spirit would leave, and Saul would feel better and be all right again.

 

 

 

 

Matthew 26:1-13  A Woman comforts Jesus

 

When Jesus had finished teaching all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “In two days, as you know, it will be the Passover Festival, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

3 Then the chief priests and the elders met together in the palace of Caiaphas, the High Priest, 4 and made plans to arrest Jesus secretly and put him to death. 5 “We must not do it during the festival,” they said, “or the people will riot.”

6 Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon, a man who had suffered from a dreaded skin disease. 7 While Jesus was eating, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar filled with an expensive perfume, which she poured on his head. 8 The disciples saw this and became angry. “Why all this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold for a large amount and the money given to the poor!”

10 Jesus knew what they were saying, and so he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? It is a fine and beautiful thing that she has done for me. 11 You will always have poor people with you, but you will not always have me. 12 What she did was to pour this perfume on my body to get me ready for burial. 13 Now, I assure you that wherever this gospel is preached all over the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

 

 

People are anxious today.  Life is going fast and the pace of change is only speeding up.  Population pressures put us in each others’ way more than ever before.  I feel this all the time in cities …in traffic and malls…especially at Christmas time, I feel the anxiety of so many people.  and yet and Canada is one of the least populated countries.(230/241 countries. With 3.4 people per km2.  Macau, a region on the south coast of China has 18 ½ thousand people per sq. km.)

 

But there are tons of pressures:

 

Pressures of finding jobs.

Paying for things

Working the jobs we have

Worries about family, health, too much work, too little work.

Politics, news

You name it, we have anxieties.

 

It is hard to turn them off.  One of the things that changed our ability to relax was electricity.  Before then, when it got dark, you lit a dim lamp or turned in.  Now, you can be under bright lights and wide awake all day and all night.

 

TV stations used to sign off at the end of the day and go to a still pattern until morning.  Now I hear of people who have televisions in their rooms and they go all night long.

 

We have electronic devices that stimulate our minds anytime we look at them.

 

Anxieties are on the rise.

  When you get stressed or upset, your body tenses up to fight, flee or freeze.

 

We pay a high long-term price for daily tension.  Heart disease, poor digestion backaches and headaches, broken teeth from grinding, anxiety irritability and depression. 

The author of the life practices book for brain heal offers us weekly practices to help us get a better sense of the life we are living and to live a more peaceful and productive life.

 

This week’s practice is simply:  RELAX.  Learn to relax and practice it regularly.

 

Now there are practices you can do anytime, and two of them are written on the back of the bulletin today:  Inhale and exhale slowly to the count of five each way.  You can do that anytime, whether you are with people or alone, driving or waiting at the doctor’s office.  That kind of regular breathing, as simple as it sounds can help to reduce anxiety.

 

Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the body’s natural relaxation response, which promotes a state of calmness. Practiced regularly for a number of minutes can help reduce muscle tension, lower blood-pressure, slow your heart rate.

 

Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body—it brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind.  So breathing is good and always available to you.  It’s just up to you to pay attention to it. 

 

The second suggested practice for relaxing is simply to open your lips slightly.  It relaxes the tightness in your jaw, but he said it also helps with “sub vocalizations”  If you have a conversation going on like a hamster wheel in your head…and usually they are not good conversations…just the simple act of reminding yourself to open your lips reduces that ongoing chatter.

 

 Even if you are not consciously aware of this active talking in your mind, your body is.  Especially your tongue. It will tense up when you are thinking, ready for action.

 

If you remind yourself to open your mouth and relax your tongue a little bit, there is less tension.  Now, we don’t want to do it to the point of drooling, but I bet a few of you are trying it right now.

 

And relaxing the tongue makes your thinking slow down.  It stills the mind. 

 

So if I hear around town that United Church people are being seen in the grocery store with their mouths open and their tongues out, looking unperturbed, I’ll know you’ve been paying attention.

 

Breathing and relaxing your jaw are just two things that we do to relax.

 

What are some of the other things that people find relaxing? (Describe it)

 

Relaxing:

·        Sitting in the sun

·        Reading a book

·        Massage

·        Hot shave

·        Music

·        Aromatherapy

·        Hot bath

·        Camping, sitting by a fire

·        Going by the water

·        Going for a drive in the country

·        Petting a dog/cat watching fish

 

So we do have some ways of relaxing.  That’s good to know.  How many of you feel guilty when someone hears or sees that you’ve been relaxing?  How many feel that you’re unnecessarily spoiling yourself and should get back to productive work?

 

 

It actually wasn’t hard to find Biblical stories of the importance of relaxing.  People of Biblical times lived a quieter life than we do.  Maybe not less stressful.  Much of the Bible is written by communities of people who were facing great stresses in their political and social lives.

 

The first reading was about Saul, the first King of Israel. 

He had inherited a territory that was violent and troubled.  He had to raise an army, equip and train them, strengthen the economy of the kingdom , tax the people and deal with the blowback from that, and deal with enemies from neighbouring clans all the time.  Particularly the Philistines.  They were a people who inhabited the area of Israel that borders on the Mediterranean sea.  They had highly developed weapons and militaries and when Moses led the people out of Egypt to the promised land, they avoided the land where the Philistines were.

 

King Saul had to take them on militarily a number of times.  He weakened them occasionally.  But you’ll remember that the story of the one who chased them out was David, a shepherd boy who came up against their great warrior Goliath.

 

But David came into Saul’s life before that.  Saul had lost the confidence of God.  He had disobeyed God. And then everything started to go wrong.  He fell into melancholy and misery.

 

And his servants recognized it.  They saw it descend on him like an evil spirit from God, and their remedy was music.  They wanted to help King Saul relax.  So they found a shepherd boy who could play the harp.

 

And When  Saul fell into his bleak and downward moods, David would be summoned to play for him and it would help lift his spirits.

 

Relaxing the King was a deliberate act to keep him healthy.  To focus him and prevent him from falling into a spiral of misery.

 

His servants were smart.

 

In the other reading, from the gospel of Matthew, we have a story of people plotting to kill Jesus.

 

He had come to the attention of religious leaders, and they were working out how they could set him up to get rid of him.  And then on the outskirts of town, a woman comes to see Jesus in someone else’s home.  She carries a jar made of alabaster…a white translucent stone.  And opens the jar and pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ head.

 

Scented oils and perfumes were a gift of hospitality and welcome when you were a guest in a home.  Maybe it’s aromatherapy.  Maybe it’s the healing feeling of oil on your head when the sun has been scorching your scalp all day.  But it was a comforting lovely thing to do.

 

And Jesus’ disciples pounced on it.  Why the waste.  Could have used the money for the poor.  Could have spent our resources better.

 

Which is a little like you getting chewed out for “doing nothing” when you are relaxing to music, or sitting in the sun with your eyes closed, or staring into a campfire.  You are not doing nothing.  It is not a waste.

 

And Jesus pushed back against the disciples and said “It is a fine and beautiful thing she has done for me.”  What she did for him was comfort him.  Pamper him.  Uplift him.  Soothe him.  And who needed it more?  His life was in danger.

 

He said she had come to anoint him, like a blessing on a king, or a blessing on the sick or one who is dying.  And Jesus said “Wherever the good news of the gospel is preached, the story of what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

 

Someone facing death needs soothing.

Someone with a difficult decision to make needs to relax.

Someone who is worn out needs an activity to release the tension of the day.

 

King Saul and the people around him knew that relaxing activities are essential for life.

 

Jesus knew that taking time to drench yourself in calming beautiful activities is not a waste.  It is a beautiful thing.  Especially when life is really hard.

 

This week, I hope that you allow yourself time to practice relaxing.

 

And if you are out of practice, just breathe, open your lips and allow it to happen.

 

 

 

 

 “There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book, and a tired man who wants a book to read.” 
― G.K. Chesterton

 

“Relaxation is… a state between waking and sleeping, where the body is completely still and the mind is allowed to flow freely from one thought to another, or alternately, a state in which the mind becomes inadvertently calm.” 
― Gudjon BergmannBaby Steps to Meditation

 

 

“Action done totally brings relaxation; relaxation done totally brings more action.” 
― Bhagwan Shree RajneeshWhen the Shoe Fits: Stories of the Taoist Mystic Chuang Tzu

 

Homework this week:

1.  Breathe:  for a minute or more, breathe in such as way that your inhalation and exhalation are equally long;   count to five breathing in.  count to five breathing out.

2.  Open your lips slightly.  It helps relax the jaw that holds tension.  It also can ease stressful thinking from dialogues going on in your head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 14 Take In The Good

Rimbey United Church- Rev. Deborah Laing

Psalm 8

O Lord, our Lord,
    your greatness is seen in all the world!
Your praise reaches up to the heavens;
2 it is sung by children and babies.
You are safe and secure from all your enemies;
    you stop anyone who opposes you.

3 When I look at the sky, which you have made,
    at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—
4 what are human beings, that you think of them;
    mere mortals, that you care for them?

5 Yet you made them inferior only to yourself;[b]
    you crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You appointed them rulers over everything you made;
    you placed them over all creation:
7     sheep and cattle, and the wild animals too;
8     the birds and the fish
    and the creatures in the seas.

9 O Lord, our Lord,
    your greatness is seen in all the world!

 

 

Romans 12:1-2

 

So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.

 

When we had the ladies’ Christmas lunch in December put on by the UCW for the community, I told them a story about a Quaker boy going over for lunch at an Anglican friend’s place.

 

Quakers come from a tradition of silence.  They gather together in a meetinghouse and if anyone feels moved by the spirit to speak, they speak.  So a meeting can have many people speaking, or they can sit in silence for a long time and go home.

 

So in the story, the Quaker boy goes to an Anglican friend’s place and before the meal, they bow their heads and say grace.

 

After a bit, he said to his hosts,” in our house, we just sit in silence for a minute and smell the food.”

 

So I want you to sit in silence for about half a minute, and take in what it is to be here.  Just think for a minute about what being here feels like.

 

………

 

I’m going to remind you of some things about being here.

 

Some of you might remember being here on a day when the furnace was not operating, and we were cold and uncomfortable.

 

Some of you might remember being here on a day when we had no musician, or no PowerPoint.

 

Some of you might remember back to the days a few years ago that you sat on shiny hard wooden pews, and not nice padded ones.

 

Doesn’t it feel good to be here in comfort?  Take that in.

Our practice for brain and spiritual health this week is to take in the good.  To notice and really let ourselves feel the good that is going on in our lives.

 

And that practice actually takes some conscious adjustment.  Because scientists believe that our brains have a built-in negativity bias.  That over years of evolution as the human species has grown, it was more important to be aware of the bad things around us than the good…we had to be mindful of danger.  Watch the sticks before you go looking for carrots.

 

Science has found that:

·  The brain generally reacts more to a negative stimulus than to an equally intense positive one.

·  Animals-including us-typically learn faster from pain than from pleasure.

·  That painful experiences are more memorable than pleasurable ones.

·  That lasting good relationships typically need a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback.  (It takes five “Atta boys” for every “idjit” you utter.)

 

Most of us know that we are drawn to the negative.  If a bunch of people tell you you did a good job at something, but someone complains to you or about you…that’s the voice you remember at the end of the day.

 

If you did 100 things right in a day, but forgot to check if you had enough gas to get to town, and you’re stuck out on the highway, you kick yourself for being an idiot.

 

Traffic can be smooth and trouble-free, but if one driver cuts you off, or honks at you, or shows you one of their choice fingers on their way by, you can think about them all the way home.

 

Our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences.  Even though on any given day, we have way more positive experiences than negative ones.  Or at least neutral experiences.

 

So the fact that we are overly attentive to the negative experiences in our lives, means that we are regularly pulled in a negative direction.  We become more anxious, irritable and blue.  It makes it harder to be patient and giving toward others.

 

But we have some control over our brains.  We have some ability to tilt toward the good.  Paul said this when he was talking to the people in Rome who were very down about how badly they were being treated.  He wrote:

 

Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.

 

We have the ability to direct our minds to place that are positive. If you remind yourself of the good things that are around you a number of times a day, you’ll start to move your brain to collect more positive experiences and remember them.

 

Positive experiences tend to be mild.  So mild that we don’t notice them all the time.  Like the nice feeling of a cushion on the pews.

 

Now, Glen and I had two pretty negative experiences with these pew cushions, because after 2 years of fundraising, they arrived in the truck damaged, filthy with boot prints all over them, looking like a heap of garbage.  They arrived twice in that condition, so the company had to make these pew cushions 3 times for us.  And people loved them when we first got them in.

 

But then we got used to them.  The good things in our lives that we are used to…are still good things.  We’d notice if they were gone.  It’s a mild good thing…not a wildly good thing.  But if you bring it to mind for 10 or 20 seconds and say…”that’s nice”.  It’s going to stay with you.

 

Or if you sit down and finish paying all your bills for the month…take a half a minute to  think how good that feels…to have a telephone that works, to have heat and light in your home, to have running water and someone picking up the garbage,   That’s a good thing.  Take it in.

 

I saw someone put out  bunches of flowers for sale at the grocery store.  Beautiful colours of tiny perfect roses.  And I had just read this practice about taking it in.  So while I was leaving the store, I smelled them, and looked at the beautiful colours.  I can still see them.  20 seconds is all it takes to lift your spirits.  To take in a good thing.

 

The longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together and the stronger the trace in implicit memory.*

 

In other words, the more you take in good things and just pause and enjoy them, the more your brain gets used to having paths that lead to positive feelings.  It really matters to stop and smell the roses.  Not just metaphorically, but literally.

 

People get teased for being too positive.  There are lots of people who want to bring you down.

 

I remember listening to a comedian talk about marriage and family.  And he was saying it is so much easier to be single.  When you’re single, you can be as happy as you choose.  As happy as you feel.  But when you’re in a family, you can only allowed to be as happy as the least happy person there.  Because you’ll come in with your happiness up here, and their mood will pound you down to their level.

 

And there is lots in the culture that has more respect for moody cynics than for happy idealists.  But there are also lots of people who wish they felt better.

 

In the psalm…I love psalm 8.

When I look at the sky, which you have made,
    at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—
4 what are human beings, that you think of them;
    mere mortals, that you care for them?

5 Yet you made them inferior only to yourself;[b]
    you crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You appointed them rulers over everything you made;
    you placed them over all creation:
7     sheep and cattle, and the wild animals too;
8     the birds and the fish
    and the creatures in the seas.

9 O Lord, our Lord,
    your greatness is seen in all the world!

 

I think I love it because I grew up in Saskatchewan looking at the sky.  It has an unobstructed view of the sky…no trees or mountains getting in the way of the view.

 

I grew up watching shooting stars, and the milky way and sunsets and sunrises and thunderstorms forming, and rainstorms in the distance, and tornados and harvest moons, and the northern lights.  My parents used to get us up to watch a good thunderstorm or the northern lights.  And I did the same with my kids.  Just stand out on the step and watch in silence and take it in.

 

Aylish said she never thought much of it until she went to Scotland.  Dundee Scotland is almost as far north as Fort McMurray.  But no one there she talked to had ever seen the northern lights because there is too much light from the cities close together, and too many cloudy and overcast nights.  She suddenly felt grateful for the gift of living in Alberta and just walking out on the streets of Rimbey at night and  taking it in.

 

You can do that with the amazing creation around us.  The writer of the psalm, thought that the world was such a miracle when you just stop to take it in…consider it.

 

I read a poem this week by Walt Whitman.  He’s an American poet who lived in the mid-1800’s.  It is a huge long poem called Song of Myself and starts with the words, “I celebrate myself and sing myself”.  And then he goes on forever about all the things in life he finds full of joy and promise and delight.

 

It’s a little much to read the whole poem, but I wanted to read a little bit of it for you and Margie spent some time this week finding spectacular pictures to put with these few lines.

 

I have to give a wee explanation of one word though because it’s not a word anyone uses anymore.

 

Pismire:  it is an archaic word for “ant”.  These poets…they have to find all the best words. 

 

So I’m going to read these few lines slowly, and invite you to take them in:

 

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars,

And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,

And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest, 

And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,

And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,

And the cow crunching with depressed head surpasses any statue,

And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels,

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not hard to find things to take in that give you pleasure: 

·  the air warmed up 30 degrees from 2 days ago

·  the music of piano and violin here this afternoon.

·  A piece of birthday cake shared with the Palm family for Ruth’s birthday.

 

Paul said to the Romans, “Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good.”

 

We have the capacity to set our minds on things that are good…to take them in…to see them and hear them and feel and smell and taste them.  To let our minds be transformed by the miracles of God all around us.  Take it in this week, practice  taking in the good…and notice if you don’t start to feel better day by day.


 

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Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 

 The Bible:  Romans 12:9

 

 “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” 
― Marcus AureliusMeditations

 

“In a half-empty-glass sort of world, I’m the little girl whose cup runneth over.” 
― Sheila C. Johnson

 

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” 
― Herman MelvilleMoby-Dick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 7 Be For Yourself

Rimbey United Church - Rev. Deborah Laing

 

Philippians 4:1-13

Dear friends, I love you and long to see you. Please keep on being faithful to the Lord. You are my pride and joy.

 

2 Euodia and Syntyche, you belong to the Lord, so I beg you to stop arguing with each other. 3 And, my true partner,[a] I ask you to help them. These women have worked together with me and with Clement and with the others in spreading the good news. Their names are now written in the book of life.[b]

4 Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad. 5 Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. 7 Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.

8 Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise. 9 You know the teachings I gave you, and you know what you heard me say and saw me do. So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you. 10 The Lord has made me very grateful that at last you have thought about me once again. Actually, you were thinking about me all along, but you didn’t have any chance to show it. 11 I am not complaining about having too little. I have learned to be satisfied with[c] whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little. 13 Christ gives me the strength to face anything.

 

 

Isaiah 43

Israel, the Lord who created you says,

    “Do not be afraid—I will save you.
    I have called you by name—you are mine.
2 When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you;
    your troubles will not overwhelm you.
When you pass through fire, you will not be burned;
    the hard trials that come will not hurt you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
    the holy God of Israel, who saves you.
I will give up Egypt to set you free;
    I will give up Ethiopia[
a] and Seba.
4 I will give up whole nations to save your life,
    because you are precious to me
    and because I love you and give you honor.
5 Do not be afraid—I am with you!

 

Matthew 5: 13-14

“You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it.

14 “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. 16 In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

 

 

 

A month or so ago, someone in the congregation who was seeking to make some changes in life, showed me a book of spiritual practices.  It was called Just One Thing:  Developing a buddha brain one simple practice at a time.

 

When I opened the book, I saw that each practice was indeed simple:  be grateful, get excited, smile, slow down….

 

It was a book of practices to help train your mind to help you to have a good life.  The author talks about developing a “buddha brain.” .  The word “buddha”  simply means “to know, or to awake”.  A teacher of wisdom in India 4-5 hundred years before Jesus was born was called the Buddha because he seemed to be the awakened one, the knowing one. The one who had some good teachings about a good life.

 

But a lot of practices in the book are not unique to Buddhism.  They reverberate from teachings of all religious traditions.  Teachings about being strengthened in order to have a meaningful life.

 

The author not only looks at things from a spiritual perspective, but also incorporates some of the things we know scientifically about how the brain works.  The practices are designed to awaken the brain, so that the brain can better support good life.

 

And as I glanced through the book, I noticed that there were conveniently 52 practices, which is the number of weeks we have in a year.  So I wanted to do a New Years project and look into a Christian perspective on practices that are good for our brains.  How we can be more content, peaceful, loving and clear in our lives.

 

I had been listening to another book about the brain over the holidays, and that author talks about “neural pathways”.   These are paths that travel across the brain  connecting one part of the brain to another.  The hearing part of the brain hears music that connects with a memory part of the brain that heard it at a funeral, that connects with the emotional part of the brain that triggers love or sadness or emotions something like that.

 

And these pathways that get traveled across our brains get deeper with use.  They actually change the shape of the brain.  The things we do and think about regularly in the same way dig deeper and deeper trenches in our brain matter.  It’s a little bit like a path carved out by wagon wheels.  The more we travel the path, the deeper the ruts that hold us there.

 

So, if you learned how to drive a car with a standard stick shift, it took a lot of travel from one part of the brain to another to coordinate all the things that this entailed.  But with practice, over the years, it becomes second nature.  You don’t even think about.  You just drive automatically because you’re in a comfortable deep brain rut.

 

The same is true for learning to cook.  You see experienced people able to throw things together out of the cupboards and make a great meal at the drop of a hat, because they have done things so often, their brains know what goes together well and what steps to take, what time to start one part of the meal and what time to start the next part.  It’s just easy.   Whereas if you asked a new cook to throw together a meal for 5 people, there could be panic.

 

There are helpful brain pathways to have: knowing how to cook, drive, play an instrument, use a computer.  But we also dig paths in our brains that aren’t that helpful. 

 

If we’re faced with something difficult or hurtful or challenging, we may have developed a neural path that leads to anger, or resentment, helplessness or self-loathing.  If we started doing that early in life and haven’t changed our patterns, our brains are deeply etched in a rapid and unconscious path to those negative things that in turn hurt our bodies and our lives.  We get stuck in bad patterns. Someone says something or looks at us oddly, and we go to that place:  I’m inadequate, useless, I hate you, I’m going to hurt you back.

 

I was thinking about this kind of thinking as I was preparing the funeral service for Catherine Hughes this last week. 

 

The scripture reading from Philippians told the church people in Philippi to put their minds on positive things.  On what was  true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise. 

 

And even though Catherine weathered many difficult things in her life, she kept her mind on positive things and

genuinely had a path that led her to some peace.  It didn’t seem to be an effort for her, because she had carved those paths over a lifetime of practice until it came naturally.

 

And that takes practice. If you’re used to responding with anger and fighting, it’s hard to train yourself to reacting more positively.  Paul writes to the two women in Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, and tells them to stop arguing. He encourages them to put their minds on better things.

 

Some of us get used to arguing relationships. It’s easy, familiar.  Some of us get used to being quietly resentful or to feeling guilty or unappreciated.  It takes practice to change how we think and how we respond.

 

Think about that picture of deep wagon ruts.  Going to a negative place.  If you want to turn to a difference place, it’s going to take a lot of energy to get yourself out of deep ruts.  And it will be bumpy and difficult to carve out a new path.  But the more you travel the new path, the smoother it will get.  And the less you use the old path, it will fill in.

 

So the first practice we’re looking at this year is called “Be for Yourself”.  You have to be on your own side, cheering for your own life.

It sounds obvious, but in fact, lots of us line up on the side of people who might pick on us. 

 

Lots of us look in the mirror and don’t like what we see.  We look at things we’re doing and get critical of them.  We think our lives don’t measure up…not to other people’s standards, not to our own standards, or certainly not God’s standards.

 

When I look at Hannah and Ben and their young family, I think of all the ways that parenting makes you doubt yourself.  There are so many parents who think they are doing things wrong, poorly, they feel inadequate.  They feel they don’t measure up to what the experts write in books,  aren’t as good as their parents were, or aren’t even doing things as well as their friends who have children are doing.

 

I remember always watching what other families did with their kids and thinking…I don’t that…I must not be a very good mom.  We measure ourselves by impossible standards, and we are our own worst critics.

 

So the first practice says, “be for yourself”.  Treat yourself like you would treat a friend that you like.  Wish yourself well.  Defend yourself like you would defend a friend from criticism from others.  Be for yourself.

 

Now lots of people raised in the Christian church will not like that because we were raised on humility and being for others.  Don’t worry.  We’ll get to those practices too.  But the first one is to celebrate you.  And Jesus spoke of that very thing.

In the Sermon on the mount, Jesus said to the people,  you are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  You are a city on a hill.  Something people look at and go, “Wow!”  And when he said that, he wasn’t talking to the elites.  He was talking to ordinary people.  Reminding them how valuable they are….like salt for people who live in the desert, it is life.  Roman troops used to get paid in salt…it was their wages.  That’s where the saying came from….is he worth his salt?  Is he worth his day’s wage. 

 

It is not just people of our time who think we aren’t worth much.  In Jesus’ time, there were lots of people labeled “unclean”.  Customs that lowered the worth of widowed women or childless couples.  It was a rigid society that told people very clearly when they were unacceptable.

 

And into that society, Jesus came telling people, you are salt.  You are a shining city.  You are light.   And no one lights a lamp to hide it.  You’re meant to be out there in the world offering what you are.

 

Be for yourself.  Bring your shine.  Bring your flavour.  Show people what’s in you.

 

And Jesus wasn’t the only one who sought to build people up by showing them how valuable they were.

 

In the book of Isaiah, which was written another 300 years before the Buddha… the prophet saw people beaten down by life…they had been captured, taken out  of their country and lived without a homeland, without their history.  They thought God hated them.  Thought God had rejected them.

 

And the prophet heard the word from God and it was anything but hate.  He starts off in this reading hearing the voice of God say this to the people:

 

    I have called you by name—you are mine.
2 When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you;
    your troubles will not overwhelm you…. because you are precious to me
    and because I love you and give you honor.

 

For some of the people of Israel they had lived a lifetime feeling rejected by God.  The pathways in their brains deeply etched with pain, sorrow, loss, guilt, victimization, humiliation.

 

And the prophet had a new path for them to consider.  You are claimed.  You are mine.  You are precious.  You are protected.  I love you.

 

To be on your own side is to claim the gifts that are in you and to let them shine.

 

When we baptize a baby, it is a celebration of the reality of God’s blessing that is already present in that child.  Baptism is not a thing that gets “done” to you.  It is an acknowledgement of what is in you.  And for the rest of your life, you get to live out your baptism.

 

Nel gets to discover the gifts of God that are in her, and how they can come to life…how they can shine.  Her parents and extended family and church is there to encourage her and love her and teach her.  So that she will take opportunities in life to show the world what’s in her.

And not only her. Each of us is gifted, and invited to shine.

 

Thanks be to God who calls us by our name and loves us.

 

 

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“Beware trying to iron out all your quirks, perceived flaws and doubts. It's often these things that help you find strength, compassion, empathy for others
and heart.” 

― Rasheed Ogunlaru

 

“Genuine self-love is the most profound experience in the universe. However, it usually takes time, sincere dedication, and discipline to develop. We are surrounded by so many images, beliefs, and behaviors that reinforce the idea of self-hatred every day that it can be extremely difficult for us to connect to the love inside of us.” 
― Mateo SolAwakened Empath: The Ultimate Guide to Emotional, Psychological and Spiritual Healing

“You don’t have to stop fighting for others, you just have to remember to fight for yourself too.” 
― Liz Newman

 

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” 

--Minnie Louise Haskins