Thursday, May 24, 2012

Having What You Don't Want or Wanting What You Don't Have

"Having what you don't want or wanting what you don't have." I once heard this offered as a definition of suffering. Sound kind of trite? Does it mean more when I tell you that the woman offering the definition had, at that point in her life, outlived two husbands? The second she lost to cancer. The first had died with four others, a missionary to Ecuador murdered by the very tribe they had come to reach. Her name is Elisabeth Elliot. This was a woman who understood deep suffering and yet offered a definition that was intended to include every person listening. Why would she do that? Her intention was to offer an approach to suffering that every person listening could apply no matter what the degree of their suffering, and because she had lived it, what she had to say would grab the attention of her listeners. She definitely grabbed mine!

At the time, I definitely had what I didn't want and wanted what I didn't have. I was a young mom with two small children and I wanted my own home. Instead, I was living in my parents' downstairs family room, with only one car in our family, while my husband had gone back to school to finish a degree. I was spending long days alone with two small children in a situation that I had very little control over. By Elisabeth Elliot's definition I was suffering and I didn't like it! But, what I learned most through that experience was that the only thing I really have control over in situations of suffering is my response. Elisabeth Elliot's words helped me a great deal.

I remember very clearly listening to her message on cassette tape with a Walkman (remember those?) after my children had gone to bed. Within the first few moments she had shared her definition and she had my attention. I also remember very clearly the two aspects of response that she shared with a group of Christian women. Worship and offering. From a Christian perspective, what I understand that to mean is to first recognize that God is God and is somehow a part of whatever my situation of suffering entails and then giving the situation back to Him in trust that somehow He's going to use it for good, either for me or someone else, usually both. In that response is the acceptance of not being in control and then the willingness to relinquish the control to someone else.

Simple, but not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, as I began to apply that response to my situation I found myself less often unhappy and more able to enjoy life as it was. It has become my overall response to life.

Let's face it, we all often have what we don't want and want what we don't have. When that occurs, not if, the only thing you or I can really do is to admit that Someone else is in control and trust Him to make something good of it. Whatever your degree of suffering at the moment, Dear One, I wish you peace.

If you'd like to learn a bit more about Elisabeth Elliot you can click here to visit her website. She is currently 85 years old and suffering from the health issues that come with advanced age. From what her husband posts, since she is no longer able to do this for herself, it seems clear that she has continued to follow her own advice in her current suffering.

This link will take you to a transcript of Elisabeth's past radio program, Gateway to Joy, where she discussed suffering using this definition.  Defining Suffering

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My Life, My Fortune and My Sacred Honor

FloydHow many people do you know who can say "We have a signer in the family"? By a "signer" I mean someone who actually signed the Declaration of Independence. Any signers in your family? No? A co-worker casually made this statement the other day. I was flabbergasted that she couldn't remember the name of the ancestor who had actually signed the document that made our country a reality. To her it's just a part of her family's history. I guess I can understand that.

Being somewhat interested in history, I was very interested in the name of her signer, and being that I work in a library I immediately found a book on our shelves that gives a biographical sketch of each signer. My friend recognized the name of her ancestor and our conversation moved on to other things. Since then I have been reading through the book about the signers of the Declaration.

What has impressed me most is that the historical movies I am most familiar with, those that have sparked my interest in and respect for the signers, do not accurately portray these brave, committed men. Historical accuracy has often been sacrificed for the sake of entertainment value. Conflicts seem to have been blown out of proportion, lampooned almost. As I read each brief sketch I am presented with a man who, in many cases, gave exactly what he pledged when he signed. The closing statement of the declaration says this: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

These men counted the cost and had decided ahead of time that they were willing to pay it if necessary. Many spent  their fortunes to fund the war effort. Several had their properties destroyed. Several died having lost everything as a result of their support for the Revolutionary cause. Several became so physically weakened because of their untiring efforts to secure an independent America that their health deteriorated to the point of death before, or shortly after, the successful completion of the war.  Several actually participated in the battles, leading others and suffering all the consequences of war. Few had the chance to fully enjoy the freedom that they had fought for and left to us. Few of us fully understand the cost of that freedom, though some of us say that we do.

If we truly understood the cost, then we would be willing to make the same pledge. How many people do you know that would be willing to make such a pledge for any cause? "Our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." And of those you know willing to make such a pledge, how many do you believe would actually carry it out if necessary? As I contemplate the sacrifice of the signers in order to secure the independence of my country, I am challenged. What cause am I truly passionate about? And if I am passionate, then am I demonstrating that passion by complete commitment? Am I willing to pledge my life, my fortune and my sacred honor?

You and I could probably think of a handful of people who have actually lived their lives with passion and commitment similar to those of the signers. Their lives serve as examples to inspire us that there are still causes worth pledging our lives to with a "firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence".  Without that reliance no cause is worthy or will be successful.

Won't you consider joining me as I endeavor to make such a pledge? I have not yet made it, but I trust that as I count the cost, my reliance on God for strength will enable me to not only make a pledge, but to carry it out if necessary.  A pledge of my life, my fortune and my sacred honor.

Click here to read the Declaration of Independence and learn a little more about the signers by clicking on their names at the end.