I recently participated in a marathon! Well, truth be told, I didn’t run the race but stood on the sidelines in a number of places to cheer on the runners. 26.2 miles is quite a trek so I felt it was the least I could do. But it turned out to be more of a gift to me than I could ever have imagined.
Right in front of me at mile 5 was a seven year old girl. With a cowbell in hand, she was cheering in earnest and thrilled as throngs of people ran by already red-faced but still fresh enough to smile and wave to the crowd of onlookers. It didn’t take long before she realized that if she held out her hand into the street, several runners would give her a high five.
I watched this for quite a while. She gave up the cowbell to a cheerleader near her and began a ministry of hand slaps. In fact, she stopped encouraging the runners with her mouth and let her small hand speak for itself. And it was amazing!
Not every runner was willing to accept or even noticed her gesture but many of the 15,000 participants did. A healthy number of runners who were right along that side of the street gave her a slap as they came by, some even a little too hard. But it was the runners who crossed from the middle of the street to get to that hand with whom I was the most intrigued.
Since I’m not a runner, I don’t know more about the phenomena -- there were many bystanders along the route who were also offering their hands -- but I began to wonder what it was that caused this participation from those who clearly had a goal in mind. Is it appreciation for those cheering you on? Another, more clearly defined, dose of encouragement? Or is it the need for community and human touch in the midst of a challenging and exhausting time?
Whatever the reason, it was clear that human contact was important. As we run our race, either literally or figuratively, connection with others is important. We need to cheer each other on; to encourage and inspire each other; to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
I’ll take my lesson from the second grader and offer a hand while also noticing those who’ve stuck out their hand to me.
How have you held out a hand to another runner along the race?
What are the events in your own life when others have shown up just to help you along?
How has God’s presence been realized in those moments?
“Again! Again! Again!” Anyone who has had the opportunity to interact with a child for very long is, no doubt, all too familiar with this phrase. When I was young, this phrase was heard immediately following the reading of The Poky Little Puppy. I loved that book! Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very short one, so the adults in my world were stuck for evenings on end as it was read over and over.
Stories are powerful. They take us in and teach us aspects of emotions, worlds beyond our own, or neighborhoods just like ours. They introduce us to characters that are extremely different from our familiar or those to whom we can relate all too closely. Stories have the power to transform us.
And it isn’t just the published stories that have this ability. It’s also the stories that are a part of us; the stories of our lives, the experiences that help us grow, the encounters that we have with God and with each other. Stories can be holy.
After all, as Christians, we are story people! It is the great story that helps us to learn and claim whose we are and, eventually, who we are. Through the stories of faith we learn about our connections to creation and to our neighbors. We explore God’s plan and seek to find our place in God’s story.
As we journey into Holy Week, we encounter the story that impacts us the most; the story that has changed our lives more than any other. So, take some time to listen to the story, to share the story, to live the story. It is one to which we can all certainly continue to say, “Again! Again! Again!”
Take some time to truly listen to the story of a neighbor. What are you hearing about how God is living through him or her? How does your own story resonate or connect?
Listen to the stories of Holy Week and Easter with new ears. What are these stories saying to you today? How might God be giving you new life this Easter season?
My family recently went to see a local version of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. In this Broadway-adapted stage show, the last week of Jesus’ life is relived but with some “modern” (if you call 1971 modern, that is) interpretations and language.
As we were leaving, we heard someone comment that the show was really more about Judas. It wasn’t until then I realized this was true. To someone who knew nothing about Jesus, the show would not have particularly helped shape their view of God’s son. There was not much reflection on the parts of his ministry other than the events of his last week. Instead, the focus was on the struggle of faith and belief. Judas was unhappy about how Jesus was getting his message out.
With all of the pieces of Jesus’ life and ministry that were not portrayed in this loose interpretation of the gospel, though, it was amazing to me that a major scene took place in the Garden of Gethsamene; that time following the last supper and before the arrest when Jesus prayed. He talks with God. He calls out to God. He renews his relationship with God. What a reminder about the value and importance of prayer life.
The season of Lent, the forty days before Easter, begins this Wednesday. Many Christians around the world will give something up during this season. I encourage you, instead, to add something. Add more intentional prayer in your days.
During Lent, spend time reflecting on what the life and death of Christ means to us as Christians; what it means for you.
Take time to find your own “garden”; a place that is just for you and God to be in conversation.
And while you are there, consider these ideas:
Use a news magazine or newspaper to find people or situations in need of prayer or use the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Studythrough podcast, email, RSS, Facebook, or the written word.
Read, reflect and pray using the devotions at d365, Journey to the Cross.
Finger sandwiches, No dust in site, Everything in its place, Dressed just so
This is what comes to mind when I think about being hospitable. Inviting others into my very tidy home where everything is arranged and all is provided. Sorry, but my life just isn’t that neat. But is this really what hospitality is all about?
The Bible offers many examples of providing space and a welcome for the stranger. It even calls us to be hospitable to the enemy. What it does not say, though, is anything about what appetizers need to be served and how “put together” that space needs to be. The importance, instead, is in the welcome. The practice of hospitality challenges us to accept others purely on the basis of all of us being children of God.
How do you welcome others?
How does your community welcome others?
To whom might God be calling you to welcome and offer hospitality?
Offer a prayer to God about what you identify and make a commitment to engage in unexpected acts of hospitality.
I was recently with a great group of adults who love young people. In the midst of our conversations we watched a YouTube video that a high school aged young man created and posted, showing “A Day in the Life of a Teen.” We were all intrigued with what he chose to show and what he seemed to neglect altogether. He is not someone any of us know so we couldn’t ask him questions but it sure got us talking and wondering.
So, the question is this: If you made a video of a typical day in your life what would you include? Who would be in it? What activities would you be doing and how busy would you be?
Regardless of what your video includes or doesn’t include, it’s a great way to think back on your priorities and how you spend your time. But let’s go a bit further. Beyond just thinking about the hours of the day, take some time to think about particular moments. This actually connects directly to a spiritual practice. That of the examen.
The examen is an ancient practice that gives the opportunity to notice God’s movement in your day and in your life. At the end of each day, take a portion of that video to ask yourself two simple questions. Then listen and pay attention. What is God saying to you about what gives you energy and life? How might God be opening doors for this energy? And what is sucking energy from you? What might you be best to avoid?
Take the time, engage in the questions and answers with another person or listen for God’s movement by yourself. Either way, God is moving. Can you feel it?
I am often unprepared for the beginning of Advent. This year, I figured out why.
Back in the middle of October I was shopping in a department store when I realized that the sickly sweet music playing from the speakers above me was Christmas music. In case you missed it, this was in the middle of October! I was horrified. I think I might have even been there to buy some piece of a Halloween costume. How dare they try to get me thinking about Christmas before we’d even lit the candle in our jack-o-lantern. As you can tell, I was still stewing about it much later. In fact, every time I saw a wreath on an office building or saw twinkle lights in a tree, I just shuddered. “It’s not Thanksgiving yet!” I’d say to anyone who would listen.
Unfortunately, I was a little too good at pushing off the Christmas season for a more appropriate time. Thanksgiving has come and gone and now I’m in shock. “It’s Advent already?!?” Yes, it is officially the beginning of a new church year. Our season of waiting has begun.
As you enter this holy season, you don’t have to rely on the Christmas songs in the stores or the inflatable lawn characters to remind you of Christ’s birth. Instead, when you turn on your computer each day, visit the online daily Advent devotional, “Following the Star.” Listen for the ways that God may be calling you.
I have two children. Recently they have both come home from school having talked about the ever-present “What I am going to be when I grow up?” topic. The oldest, who has just started middle school, took a test that evaluated her interests and gave suggestions about what occupations she might be best suited toward. When she reported what she had found out, the first question to her parents was, “Which do you think I’d be best at?” The second question, “Which makes more money?” Sigh. It wasn’t long after this that I came across a story that I was sure to share.
In July, a 78-year-old couple won the lottery in Canada. A cool $11.3 million was all theirs. Think of the things they could do with all of that money! One of them was undergoing chemotherapy so it isn’t like they didn’t have need of it. But, they didn’t. In fact, as of early November, they didn’t have any of it left. They had given it all away.
Rather than changing their lifestyle and living a life of pure luxury, they are living on the money they saved throughout their 35-year marriage while he worked as a welder and she was in retail sales. No new house. No luxury car. No extravagant trips. After making sure that family members had what they needed (notice the word was not “wanted” but “needed”), they made a long list of groups they had decided could benefit from the money; mostly organizations that help others including churches, hospitals and charitable organizations.
Allen, one member of the couple, was quoted as saying, “That money we won was nothing. We have each other.”
The mouth of the pre-teen gaped open upon hearing my version of the events. “Why did they even play the lottery if they didn’t want the money?” Good question. But think of all those who benefitted because they did.
God calls us to use our God-given gifts and abilities to honor and serve God. How are your decisions about occupation, lifestyle, or relationships a reflection of God’s call?
At the end of your life, what will people remember about you?
We may not all be called to give away all that we have but how are you living out the priorities and values of your faith?
So I here I sit as I do each year at this time. Yes, it’s almost Halloween but I’m not thinking about my costume. Those days are over for me, I’m afraid. Instead, I’m thinking more about the day after Halloween – All Saints Day.
All Saints Day, November 1, is a day is steeped in history dating back centuries and connected with an ancient feast. Now on this day each year, many western Christians spend time in prayer and worship, remembering “saints” who have been a part of this world. This is usually related to the church members who have died during the past year.
In addition to that tradition, All Saints Day has become a big day for me. It’s my annual opportunity to look over who I’ve become and who helped me get where I am. It’s time to think about the saints in my life; those who have been instrumental in my faith journey and in the formation of me! Before you begin to think that this is a selfish day when I max nostalgic about me, myself, and I, think again! All Saints Day is actually a chance to do just the opposite.
Consider engaging in this practice in your celebration of All Saints Day this year:
Think back on those who have served as a saint in your own life.
Who has been a source of support for your faith?
Who have been those people who have listened to your questions about God and the church?
Who has helped shape the “you” that you are today?
Who are the people who have tapped you on the shoulder and identified your gifts?
Once you’ve identified them, take some time on November 1 to write them a letter of thanks. If you’re really feeling up to it, use paper instead of email, text,or Facebook! Let them know about the impact they have had. Thank them for the gift they have given you. Let someone know about the difference they have made.
OK, I admit it. I’m not a fan of reality television. I truly thought the whole thing would blow over and fade out of existence before I’d ever actually have to watch it. I’ve been unwilling to give up my dramas and comedies to watch one man supposedly in love with a whole houseful of women or someone running into a series of foam paddles. So, imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a reality show that I think has some real value (certainly enough that I’m even blogging about it).
Undercover Boss. The premise is pretty simple. The head honcho of a corporation takes some time to experience some of the day-to-day jobs of the establishment while not revealing his or her true identity. Whether it’s working the assembly line, sucking out a port-a-potty, answering a customer service line, or waiting on a table, the big guys get a feel for the way that their own policies are lived out. In most cases, this leads to some significant changes within the business.
So from a business standpoint, it’s pretty amazing. But from a personnel standpoint it’s breathtaking. You see, not only are there lessons about policy and procedure, but there are also incredible relationships formed and cultivated. Many of these undercover bosses end up seeing those who work for them as people: people who feel called and passionate about what they do, people with struggles and tough decisions to make, and people who are real. They are no longer numbers on a spreadsheet or anonymous silhouettes on a chart. Their stories are known, their lives revealed.
And we aren’t called to live this same way, forming relationships and never forgetting that each of God’s people is valuable. We don’t have to be the CEO, the COO, or the CFO to be important. We are all called to greatness. We are called to amazing things. We’ve been given gifts to use.
After all, we don’t have to be the chief of anything to live out the chief end of all people: to glorify God and enjoy God forever.
How are you doing that today?
Where could you benefit from going undercover and remembering the value of all of God’s children? School? Home? Your sports team?
You may not have the power and money of an Undercover Boss but how can you use what you do have to remind another of their value and their call?
Martha Miller serves as the Associate for Certification and Christian Vocation and is a fellow traveler in navigating the waters.
Through the Waters is the blog of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Certification and Christian Vocation. Because the ministry of Christian vocation affirms the need for all baptized Christians – including Presbyterians - to identify and claim their call to discipleship in each decision and life choice, this blog is designed to serve as a resource for youth and young adults, as well as those in ministry with them, to assist the Holy Spirit in God’s movement in this journey through the waters.