Saturday, March 19, 2011

The try

My sister, the Dump, called me yesterday and, as usual, our conversation was a long and windy road. Along with talking about our children, her 'boyfriend' (which is a very strange thing to call a man in his fifties), you know, the usual, we also spoke of such esoteric matters as how we don't actually think of ourselves in terms of our own names.  I realize there are people in the world who use the third person to think of themselves and, presumably, they refer to themselves as Snoop Dog, Ali, or whoever.  But we ordinary people simply live inside our own heads and think of ourselves without a name whatsoever.  This may or may not make sense to you, depending on what kind of person you are, but it's the kind of thing the Dump and I talk about about.  We've been known to have long conversations about the gender of numbers as well.  This assigning gender to numbers is part of synesthesia, which means the personification of numbers, days, months, and letters.  For the record, the for me, 1,2,3, and 7 are female, though 1 might be as close to neuter as there is.  4,5,6,8,9 are definitely male. And, come to think of it, I know the genders of all of days and months as well. Apparently it's something a person has or doesn't.

All of these kind of strange conversations are interesting to us, but have absolutely no value other than that.  However, almost always, something comes up that really makes me think.  Yesterday she told me she'd been thinking of a partial quote--'lives of quiet desparation', which was so familiar to me I kept wanting to reach out and catch the rest of it, but couldn't quite.  I hate that feeling.  It's right there, I knew it and knew I knew it but couldn't put my brain on it.  Then finally, there it was.

From Walden by Henry David Thoreau: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their deaths with their song still in them."

It takes one's breath away, doesn't it?  I thought about the truth of this sentence the rest of the day, of the things people do to keep this desperation at bay--self-medicate, over-achieve, live on the edge, play it safe, think out of the box, and all the other hackneyed phrases that mean not facing what is empty at the center of their very souls.  Because I write in a journal and also blog, I can't quite remember where I wrote this, so forgive me if I am redundant, but the word people most often use about their life and change and becoming better, having more, etc. is "TRY."  We spend so much on the 'try', so to speak. People try to lose weight, change their attitudes, love their spouses, kids and parents; try to be better employees or save more or...well, you get the idea.  Yesterday as I thought about this idea of lives of quiet desperation, I thought of the word TRY. 

And I'm not merely talking about non-believers.  There's no question that those who are not His must expend their own effort to change their lives.  They are all they have, if you know what I mean.  But the whole point of the Incarnation is that human effort is useless.  We can try and try and try and still 'fall short of the glory of God,' as Romans puts it.  If our effort was enough, if the 'try' could do it, He wouldn't have had to come.  But try fails.  Because there is sin in it.  However, until a person has been redeemed, transformed, and indwelt by God Himself, personal effort is all there is.  It's why it's so essential to extend the Kingdom to those around us.  That's the only hope our fellows have.

However, what is more troubling--for myself as well--is that those of us who are His continue to expend our own effort in life. We have the Holy Spirit of God Himself within us, but live as though we do not.  There is no reason we should live lives of quiet desperation.  The verse that kept going around inside my head in contrast to this Walden quote is from Ephesians 1: 18-20.  Paul prays that "the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at the right hand in the heavenly realms."

Think about this idea for a moment. The power that is not simply available but IS ours is the SAME as the power that conquered death, destroyed Satan's hold over us, and made Jesus ascend into the heavens.  Why would we EVER simply try to do something when we have this power not just possible but within us in the Holy Spirit?  Is our 'try'--our effort--a form of unbelief and therefore a sin?  It does appear so. Philippians 2 tells us to "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose."  We tend to focus on the first half of this sentence to the exclusion of the second.  But the only way to work out our salvation is to trust in and give over to--yes, surrender to!--God who works within us.

Then going to our death with our song still in us?  By no means.  His song can't be contained.  "Let the message of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms and hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."  Colossians 3: 16-17

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