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The Purpose of this Journey

 

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

 

I explode off the starting blocks. My arms slice through the water, my legs create a rooster’s tail of frothy water behind me as I race for the other end of the pool. My turns and finishes are my strength, so I count on them to help me win this freestyle sprint.

Swimming is a sport where you compete against yourself as much as you compete against the person in lane next to you. Because each swimmer has strengths and weakness that are unique to them, our coaches told us to ‘swim your own race’. If you watched your opponent and tried to emulate her pace, you’d destroy your own. If she took the race out early and struggled to hold on at the end, while you were a strong finisher, you would have exhausted your reserves trying to keep up with her.

Yes, swimming is a lot like life.

When we go to college, we are advised to choose a major that is marketable, that will lead to many job offers and a steady income. This is excellent advice. And if our talents and interests align with those required to excel in those majors, we will be well on our way.

However, if we have neither aptitude nor interest in a popular career path, we might find ourselves gainfully employed in a job we loathe.

Ironically, even if we discover our career of choice early, two or three decades down the road it might suddenly occur to us that something has changed and we are no longer happy with this job, or this place.

The measure of one’s success, of a life well lived, should in my estimation change as we mature and begin to see the wider horizon of our lives drawing near. What seemed desperately important in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, changed with each decade and now in my 50’s seems frivolous.

“…one way or another the journey through time […] is a journey in search. Each must say for himself what he searches for, and there will be as many answers as there are searchers, but perhaps there are certain general answers that will do for us. We search for a self to be.” (Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life)

I believe the key is that our search for self never ends. That woman I was twenty years ago is of course not who I am today. But not only because of the aging process but because I have learned both from my successes, but more importantly, I have allowed my failures to be guideposts and perhaps change my path altogether.

It is only natural then, that the relationship we have with God today is different than the one we had when we were children singing Sunday school hymns, twenty-somethings with arms raised in a contemporary service, or ninety-years old and confronting what it means to walk with God in these final decades of our life.

The difference I’m describing isn’t one based on our age or knowledge. Instead, I want us to view our relationship with God the way we would consider a life-long relationship with a dear friend, a parent, a child, a husband, or wife. In each of these cases, I hope that there is at least one of these relationships which has grown stronger over the years, weathered storms, mended breaks, and as a result refined into a burnished golden love that is more meaningful than any other.

“We search for other selves to love. We search for work to do. And since even when to one degree or another we find these things, we find also that there is still something crucial missing which we have not found, we search for that unfound thing too, even though we do not know its name or where it is to be found or even if it is to be found at all.” (Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life)

I would argue that the ‘unfound’ thing which Buechner writes about is that thing which we often call the search for meaning, and which I suspect is the soul’s search for God. That is the relationship I hope we each experience not only with a loved one here on Earth, but also which we experience with God.

I believe the pursuit of a relationship with God of this depth and beauty is as essential to our purpose in life as anything, it is the best thing. As we embrace what it means to be loved unconditionally by God, we become brave enough to share our love with others. When we are honest enough with ourselves to stand before God and admit our failings, we become more forgiving of others, because we have been forgiven.

I have come to believe the search for a meaningful relationship with God is like the journey we take in the other areas of our life. We begin by looking around at how others are doing it, and are eager to follow a prescribed path. But as we have seen in our work lives, those who are most successful often had to forge their own way and encounter many setbacks. It was because they persevered that they reached the pinnacle.

A relationship with God can be the same. We begin on a path that emulates our parents or our community. If, however, we are to find true intimacy with God, eventually we must find a relationship with God that ours alone. Yes, of course, our churches guide and help us to grow. But in between services, we must speak with God one on one, seek his face, his voice, and find our own.

“Keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity” (Proverbs 3:1b-2 NIV).

 

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson is the author of “A Map of Heaven.” She lives in Breckenridge. Join her at www.Facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths or  www.suzanneelizabeths.co

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Often, when I’m speaking with someone who doesn’t agree with something I’ve said, especially with regard to my religious beliefs, I’m too quick to defend myself or take offense or worse yet, get angry out of frustration . . . or dare we say, insecurity.

This last chapter of Acts describes Paul’s journey from Malta, as a prisoner, to Rome where he defended his faith and became a free man.

These particular verses, which Paul uses to illustrate his inability to convince the elders of the Jewish church in Rome about Jesus as the Messiah, got me thinking . . .

My usual quick, gut reaction doesn’t help me, it simply shuts down communication.

Instead, I’m trying to learn to pause, take a step back, and try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Often, they’re not trying to be insulting, they’re defending a position that they believe is equally of merit.

What I am practicing is rather than react defensively, what if I simply “agree to disagree”? I maintain my beliefs, while keeping my relationship with the other person intact.

I’m not denying my beliefs; they’re as strong as ever. However, I’ll accept that not everyone has to believe what I do in order for me to be right or for me to believe what I believe.

I truly believe that we will each eventually come into a relationship with God.

However, it must be on our own terms, not someone else’s . . . which makes perfect sense because we are each individuals. My relationship with my mother is different than my siblings’ relationships with her, because we are each different people. That doesn’t make any of those relationships less loving or enduring, simply different in their perspective.

I believe it’s the same in our relationship with God. He loves each of us equally—yes, even those of us who don’t acknowledge His existence. And if we believe that God is in control, can we also believe that He will eventually bring each of us into a relationship with Him?

If we can embrace that idea, we can live our faith, share it with others, and not be insulted or intimidated when we are rejected. We can respect the beliefs (or atheism) of others with the knowledge that everyone is on a different path to God.

Do you have a family member, close friend, or co-worker whose differing beliefs cause conflict in your relationship? How can you extend Jesus’ commandment that “we love one another”, even though you don’t share the same beliefs?

This essay was originally published in God Loves Your Dream, a book of inspirational essays. Get your copy on Amazon.com.

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This was a big week. The house I rent went under contract. I have two months to find another dog-friendly home. Then I caught pneumonia, and spent five days in bed.

I wish I could tell you that I met both events with raised hands and a confident, “God’s got this!” But that wouldn’t be truthful.

To be honest, during the days in bed with fever and cough, I spent most of my time talking with God. Not in a calm, adult manner, but more like a very insecure child.

Where will I move? What will I do? Dear God, I trust you, but I don’t know what to do. In my mind, I know I can trust God, he has never failed me. The answers to my prayers may not have been ones I understood in the moment, but in every case I now understand God’s choice was better than mine.

Still. Once again, I am anxious, because I love my beautiful adopted hometown of Breckenridge.

After my fever dissipated, and my dear friend Pat got me to my doctor and a prescription for antibiotics, I felt well enough to start reading in small bites in between naps. I chose a little book, Precious Bible Promises, and began reading verses:

“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)

“Therefore, do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)

“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14)

After I’d read several pages of verses, the weight began to lift. My spirit was replenished, and my anxieties returned to a manageable level. Reading the Bible always helps.

Father Joe often sang a contemporary Christian worship song called, “You’re a Good, Good Father” by Chris Tomlin, before the start of Thursday evening Adoration at St. Mary’s. At first it was difficult for me to embrace the intimate, familiar, idea of God expressed in the lyrics. However, after hearing it numerous times, I found myself singing the chorus at odd times:

You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

 

As I searched the pages of my Bible this week, it was God, Our Father, that became most clear.

When the disciples of Jesus asked him how to pray, he said this:

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. So this is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,
we pray that your name will always be kept holy.
10 We pray that your kingdom will come—
that what you want will be done here on earth, the same as in heaven.
11 Give us the food we need for today.
12 Forgive our sins,
just as we have forgiven those who did wrong to us.
13 Don’t let us be tempted,
but save us from the Evil One.’ (Matthew 6:7-12, ERV)

 

Jesus specifically directed us to address God, the Creator of the Universe, as our Father. Consider what this invitation means: we are not subjects or servants, but children of God. He loves us so dearly, that when we speak to him, he asks us to call him, ‘Father’.

As I skim down the rest of the prayer, I consider what it says about God’s concern for us.

God not only wants us to come to him when we are in need of great things, but also, for our daily bread, he reminds us to forgive others because he has forgiven us, and that because we trust our Father wants what is best for us, that his will be accomplished in our lives.

Later in the same chapter of Matthew, Jesus directs us again to call on our Father for our most essential needs: “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving…Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:30-34, MSG)

Yes, I still need to find a home for myself and my two very large and gentle Newfoundland dogs. And I am still weak from pneumonia. But I am reminded that I am not alone. I have a good, good father who hears my prayer and knows my needs and I am dearly loved. I call him my Father and he calls me his beloved child.

 

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Here’s the thing that makes forgiving others difficult: to do so may require that we re-visit whatever painful event that caused the need for forgiveness in the first place.

More often than not, we find it easier to brush the event under the carpet, keeping it safely in the past, so we don’t have to confront our feelings or the other person’s.

However, while we pretend the event is over, it remains standing in the shadows, ever present.

When we forgive ourselves and others, we free ourselves to move forward.

We no longer live in the present looking backward.

We free ourselves to create lives we value, no longer allowing our time to be consumed with anger or regret.

“Keep your thoughts right—for as you think, so you are.

Thoughts are things; therefore, think only the things that will make the world better and you unashamed.”

~Henry H. Buckley

Who do you need to forgive? Do you feel God calling you to forgive that person now?

This essay was originally published in God Loves Your Dream, a book of inspirational essays. Get your copy on Amazon.com.