If you asked me, “what is your favorite bible verse?”, without thinking I would say: 1 Peter 5: 7. It is the verse that comes to mind instantaneously. After some thought, I could, of course, come up with many other verses, but this one simply leaps up in my mind.
This is what it says – according to most translations: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you”. Some versions expand “anxiety” to include worries, concerns, cares, and even fears. And that is true because anxiety can stretch very long.
But the point is: Is there any use actually, being anxious? Anxiety, worry, care, fear and the like are negative emotions. They stir up endless hypothetical questions which further raise the level of the emotion, worry breading more worry and fear, more fear and ultimately paralysis.
Worries and anxiety are borne of unexpected situations. Yet, nothing happens without reason or purpose – even the unexpected. The reason or purpose for the circumstance is what matters. Circumstances and situations are there to inform us; to teach and enlighten. In short, to transform us.
So, instead of praying to have a situation or circumstance removed, pray to be transformed by it.
I have affirmed elsewhere in this blog what the late Prof. Shemaryahu Talmon (1920-2010) suggested: that Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan could actually have been a parable of the Good Jew. My own convictions are prompted by the fact that Jesus’ call to action inevitably shakes and startles those he calls. He challenges us to move from a world of comfort to one of perplexity, from certainty to doubt, from safety to risk and even danger.
Here is a contemporary illustration: Over the past two or three months three or four congregations have been working and planning on receiving and resettling a refugee family from the Middle East. One family, but four interfaith congregations. Obviously there are complex cultural, social, and educational dimensions as well as legal processes. If you pause to think of the magnitude of human suffering anywhere – including at home – what emerges in this picture is a pursuit for efficiency rather than expediency. Certainty and the least – if any – risk!
The temple priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable subordinated human life to ritual expediency and we see Jesus challenging that mindset in his ministry and teaching. Be it Sabbath, dietary rituals or a man writing a “get” to divorce his wife, Jesus’ challenges his followers on a road not yet traveled.
That is the road a Jew would have traveled in the parable.
Here is another quote from Helen Keller: “Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties”. This is in alignment with another truth she pointed out, that “all that we love deeply becomes part of us”.
This is a continuation of the conversation started yesterday that we must have a vision, concrete imagination of what we want. (We’ll refine “what we want” later). And we are using Helen Keller as a fitting example of thousands of people who get to realize that creative imagination is power enough to conquer any adversity.
We pointed out yesterday too that we need to believe: Believe what? First that it is not impossible. Many times we talk ourselves out of our dreams because we either tell ourselves or believe others who tell us, “No! That’s not for you”; “It’s beyond your reach”; and so on. Either because of some present adversity or past setback, we convince ourselves to not pursue a dream.
Second, we need to believe in the vision. We are all endowed with a dream for something beyond ourselves – that is the passion without which we cannot find peace or joy. So, what is your dream? What is your passion? Think about this quote from Nelson Mandela: “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”. That is a good summary of vision, of dreams, of imagination.
When asked what could be worse than blindness – if anything – Helen Keller gave this enduring response: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”. How many of us could be going through life with full sight but no vision?
Vision is future-oriented. Indeed, vision creates what does not yet exist. You are probably familiar with Robert Kennedy’s often-repeated quote, “some people see things as they are and why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”, a paraphrase of George Bernard Shaw’s original from his 1921 play, “Back to Methuselah” (You see things; and you say why? But I dream things that never were; and I say, why not?)
Vision is the first step to creating the life and world we desire. It does not come about simply by hard work and achievement. It is first and foremost imagined, given form, then birthed. The other necessary ingredients are passion (a strong desire for the vision), faith (a strong belief in the vision) and action.
More on this later.
I arrived at 9 am for my scheduled physical therapy. The first thing my therapist did was to take measurements of my ailing shoulder’s flexibility. (It was pain and stiffness in the shoulder that prompted my referral to physical therapy). My therapist was not happy with the results; neither was I. They showed that I had regressed to the pre-therapy readings.
I did the prescribed stretch exercises for 45 minutes then we took measurements again. Excellent! I was back where I was the last session last week.
This is the enduring lesson: To maintain my shoulder flexibility, hence functionality, I must continually do stretch exercises as prescribed (or something similar). When I don’t do them I relegate myself to the category of disability.
It is equally important to similarly bear in mind that the even more important area of life – the spiritual – requires continual nurturing. It does not serve our well-being when we are so caught up with pursuit of everything external – wealth, success, achievement etc – that we neglect the soul.
Spiritual well-being is the beginning of the happy life.
Like me, you have probably been asked: “In hindsight, or knowing what you know now, would you have done differently?” Or, we may have mused in our thoughts what actions different circumstances would have prompted. And in some cases the answer has been affirmative, that we would have acted differently..That is because we have been informed by results or outcomes, and so our perspectives have changed.
What we need to bear in mind is the premise of the query, i.e “hindsight”.There is no hindsight until it is hindsight. At the time of decision-making there were only the circumstances then. We would have been informed by available knowledge, reason and intuition. We certainly don’t want to be reckless – or too risky – nor indecisive. And often while being cautious we may prove to be over-cautious. (Apart from politics, the now too familiar Clinton e-mail practices were probably borne of uber caution).
Since we will never have foreknowledge of the future we marshall courage to decide and act with honesty, integrity, good will and humility and be ready to accept and learn from the results, knowing that even if we would have done differently there is no guarantee that we will know a hundred percent, the outcome.
Don’t be paralyzed by indecision, act in good faith.
When interviewed on NBC’s Today Show after ending up with a silver medal when she could have won the gold, Olympic champion Allyson Felix gave this wonderful advice regarding setbacks. She said, “I hope that I just can get across that you’re going to have obstacles, there’s going to be adversity, but let your spirit shine through, keep fighting no matter how the cards are stacked against you, don’t let it keep you down”.
Indeed, that’s always our motto in this blog. It is not about the circumstances, setbacks or adversity. It is all about your attitude – the decision you make. Always choose to “let your spirit shine through”; consciously acknowledging that it is for you to make the choice.
That is a sign I saw on a storefront yesterday. Simple and eloquent: Every day should be this happy. No reasons given; no why’s or if’s. Yet, because of our own narratives we are quite often skeptical of such affirmations. We seek to find reasons as if we have no right to be happy. Or we want to dig out reasons we should not be happy – circumstances and situations and things that might go wrong, and so forth. The truth is: it is in the mind. Choose to be happy today and every day.
Consider the two recently concluded national conventions of the two major U.S political parties. This is not politics, but they highlight what we have presented in this blog, again and again, that reality is a creation of the mind.
One convention presented a picture of a nation under siege from within and without; at the brink of economic and financial demise and a future threatened by world events. One candidate referred to a picture away from “morning in America” to “midnight in America”. The other convention portrayed a picture of possibility even in trying circumstances; a nation used to and able to face challenges, and marching on the road of accomplishments.
James Allen published a booklet in 1903 under the title: “As a man thinketh” (and today it would have been “as a man or woman thinketh”). Allen stated his purpose as to demonstrate the power of thought, particularly its application in joy and peaceful outcomes. The bible also states in Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinks in his heart, so he is…” – (and this too applies to both man and woman)
So, what is your reality today? This goes beyond our fears and anxieties; past failures or accomplishments and even present circumstances. You can have peace and joy now or work and plan for them to appear in the future.
In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl shares his discovery from his experience in a Nazi concentration camp, that the main force behind those who survived was a strong sense or a vision of a future beyond the suffering. They envisioned a purpose for life not yet attained but meaningful beyond, and in spite of the present circumstances. The vision is the mission in life and the will to survive.
The scripted life we live has been handed down by family, school, society, friends and even enemies. We have been programmed in certain specific patterns with the notion that the result will be achievement, success, fulfillment and peace. And even as the results become illusive we continue with the same mindset.
The life principle at play here is that of life beyond oneself – the purpose of life for something higher than oneself. That is where joy and peace will be found, despite any circumstances, including the threat of death. Obviously this life purpose, or mission, is future oriented, it is not what lies in the past. It is creative imagination, not memory.