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Passiondeathresurrection: the Narrow Gate

Our human nature resists the whole concept of suffering. If there is a God worth calling God, why would the innocent and good have to suffer?
If this life is all there is, then there really doesn’t appear to be any reasonable answer to that.
And in my own experience, the more people I let myself care about, never-the-less love, the more I open myself to suffering. How much more would I suffer if I truly loved, or even just cared moderately about all humanity, all animals, perhaps even all creation?
Part of the mystery of suffering is that it seems to be part and parcel of loving. Loving involves being willing to suffer for another and others. Most of us have trouble loving even one person that we choose for a lifetime and  sure don’t want to even consider loving people that look or think very differently than we do.
The Jews longed for a Messiah, a Savior, for literally thousands of years. Have you ever wondered why a close friend, a follower who witnessed the miracles, the power, and the kindness of Jesus would betray him to the point of giving him over to suffer and die. What brought Judas to that kind of hatred?
The shattered expectation that the Messiah would save the Jews, God’s chosen people, from suffering.                                                         Judas witnessed the reality of the power Jesus had, but more and more he saw Jesus using it to save the enemy. And unlike optimistic Peter, he heard what Jesus was beginning to say about his own coming suffering, even dying, instead of freeing them from the tyranny of Rome , the impoverishment of Roman taxes, the constant threat of their children becoming random victims of a ruler’s whim. Judas wanted a triumphant King, not a suffering servant. Disillusionment turned hope into bitterness and hate.
What kind of love was choosing to die rather than to save God’s chosen people?
We still struggle with that question.
Without the resurrection, surely we would all endorse the survival of the fittest at the expense of the vulnerable. If we believed this life is all there is, would we respond to the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus? We saw where that led Jesus. It led him through the acceptance of the refining of suffering, the acceptance of  humbling helplessness and the crushing feeling of abandonment, even finally through the gate of death itself and only then to resurrection.
The reality is that life is made up of cycles of struggling with suffering until we can accept the deaths of our idols and illusions, the things we cling to out of fear, and only then can we be reborn freer to love each time. Only then do we grow better at loving other imperfect people up close and personal and to care about even the lepers, the hostile, the foreign, the frightening, and the lost.
Life’s natural process includes loss, helplessness, letting go, experiencing the peace of acceptance, then the rebirth of gratitude and humility that leads to love, joy and fruitfulness.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one process word.

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Unrealistic Expectations>Disillusionment> Bitterness> Hate

We all have wounds. It is a feeling of loneliness that lurks behind our successes, a feeling of uselessness that hides under the praise we receive ……that makes us grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give. If we want people to give us what only God can give, we become a heavy burden. Quote from Henri Nouwen’s “A Spirituality of Living.”
This has hit me where I live today. I have two daughter-in-laws and a daughter that have always seemed to be Super Women to me. When one daughter-in-law, who has spent most of the last 18 years being an awesome advocate and mother for her children with disabilities and a House Beautiful wife, recently reached the end of her endurance with her marriage, I found myself filled with raging anger at her. An anger that felt like hate. I didn’t understand where it was coming from. I have admired her and had complete faith that if anyone could find a way to make her children’s lives happy and productive, she could. Since divorce means she must work full time, it seemed like betrayal of her children and even of those that love them like we do. And when I found myself unable to help in any significant way because of health issues of aging, I hated myself also.
I know from study and many life experiences that unrealistic expectations of other people embitter those having them and destroy relationships.
None of us is God. We are not miracle workers. And we are not able to love unconditionally as long as we expect ourselves or others to walk on water. It’s an imperfect world filled with imperfect people.
To expect otherwise is to become both embittered and a burden to people already carrying as much as they can.
My most destructive trait is a blind idealism unfettered by reality that leads to disillusionment and hate. God knows our limits. Some are built in and others beaten into us. I must learn to live within human limits, my own and others’. And trust that God can and will accomplish His plans, not mine.

Peace and the Personal Commitment to Forgiveness

Once again, a miracle: I, of the erratic memory, did remember to join in praying for peace this Sunday evening. I am unexpectedly peaceful about being a part of this. I decided long ago that inner peace is quiet joy. And that is exactly the gift this experience brought me. I got so caught up in prayer and reflection that I lost track of time. Prayer for both my own and others’ broken relationships stretched out as I thought of more and more needing healing. When I reached the stage of praying for peace for all people, because of my own recent experience of reconciliation, I actually felt hopeful that events small or large would begin to happen in the lives of every person to help them become a tiny bit more peaceful. It made me want to not only persevere, but to gather more and more others to commit to praying for peace on a regular basis.

This year, when Kozo, through his ‘B4Peace’ blogging project, invited us all to begin blogging about peace at least once a month, it challenged me to become more open and committed to the healing of some broken personal relationships. My most serious alienation happened about two years ago and had not only gone unresolved, but had caused complications with other relationships. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but if I was going to write about peace, I needed to at least start dealing with my own conflicts.

As I began praying for the grace to let go of my bitterness and allow God to heal the hurts that fed it, I was invited by friends to participate in a Spiritual Growth Class based on the book, Soul Feast, by Marjorie Thompson. I read the book and found it challenging and exciting, but one of the two facilitators of this class would be the man whose words had both wounded me and set off the very painful chain of events that resulted in more broken relationships. It hit me that this might be the answer to my prayer for grace and healing, so I joined the class, but chose a seat safely far down the long table from my adversary.

For several months, we managed to interact civilly, but cautiously. We tiptoed around anything relating to our controversy, while finding shared ideas on spirituality. I could tell that both of us were truly trying to apply the insights in the book.

Out of the blue, a conflict developed between my male nemesis and the female co-facilitator. He quickly became so defensive and verbally combative, that she left in the middle of the class. No one knew what to do, but when he began to just go on with the class, as if nothing had happened, I asked if we could pray for our friend who was hurting. I said that I didn’t believe any of us really wanted to hurt each other, but Christians or not, conflicts happened, and we all needed grace for healing. We said a simple prayer for healing of hurt and then we went on with the class.

Within two days time they had reconciled completely. He had called her after class. Though she didn’t take his call while she was still furious, by the next day, she had prayed her way through to understanding and forgiveness, and so had he when she went to see him.

As I witnessed this, I immediately realized that I should have gone to him soon after being hurt, explained how I felt, and trusted God to give us the grace to overcome our differences. But, I also recognized that I hadn’t, because he had unwittingly blundered into my worst minefield of insecurity. Now, in praying about and coming to grips with that particular personal demon, I finally experienced a greatly needed new freedom. Then, I was not only able to reconcile with him, but to share with our class how powerful seeing the human frailty of our co-facilitators being healed by their commitment to love was.

I don’t think any words in a book or sermon could have had that power. We really are called to flesh out the gospel for others, not by pretending to be perfect, but by our commitment to forgiveness. I am now praying and working on reconciliation of the other broken relationships set off by this one. Thanks again, Kozo for challenging me to do this.