Friday, April 29, 2011

There Is No In-Between

"You cannot be a half a saint. You must be a whole saint, or no saint at all." -St. Therese of Lisieux

When Jesus was crucified, the soldiers divided his garments, each taking a piece. But his coat was seamless, and rather than divide it, they cast lots to see who would get it. Kind of like having a dollar bill to split among two people. If you rip it in half to divide ("you get half, and you get half--it's the only fair way!"), it becomes worthless. It needs to go to either one or the other.

Ever since watching Francis Chan's sermon on being "Lukewarm and Loving It," I have been thinking about God's all-or-nothing attitude towards how we live. Chan's sermon focuses on what is written in Revelation 3:16: "So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth." When it comes to what God wants from us, it seems, it is all or nothing.

But how often we live in the in-between! The more God reveals himself to me, the more I see this is not a place to live. It seems our attitude is "I'll give God a little, and I'll get a little God. That should suffice." Anything else is seen as extremism.

Jesus, however, makes constant reference to this all-or-nothing attitude, and in a way that says "This is how I want you to live":

Matthew 5:13: "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men."

Luke 9:62: "But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

Matthew 13:46: "...and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it."

You're either salty, or you're not.
You're either plowing, or you're not.
You're either buying, or you're not.

You're either a disciple, or you're not.

This last one is the hardest for me, because I want to be a 'sometimes' disciple. I want to follow Jesus, but I also want to go where I want also. I don't want to be anyone's slave, doing what I don't want to be doing. I want to follow Jesus, but I don't necessarily want to die doing it.

One wouldn't call themselves a Marine unless they had been through everything to earn that title. But people call themselves "Christian" all the time without having gone through the dying to self that Christ calls us to--myself included. "Why do you call me Lord and do not do what I say?" Therefore it seems there is a difference between being a Christian and being a disciple. Christians profess Christ. Disciples follow Christ. There is no in between.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Reflection

A man was carrying his cross. He said to the Lord, "Lord, this cross is too big for me to carry. Please make it shorter." So the Lord obliged him, and sawed twelve inches off the bottom of the man's cross. When the man got to a great chasm, the others around him, who were also carrying their cross, laid them across the chasm and walked over it as if they were crossing on a bridge. But when the man laid his cross down to do the same, his came up a foot short. He could not cross.

Friday, April 8, 2011

My New Mistress

In Matthew 26:40 we see Jesus resisting temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the disciples falling headfirst into it. Jesus asked his friends to "keep watch" with him, and yet they were unable to do so. In this case, sleep was the siren temptress that got the better of them and kept them from doing what the Lord asked them to do.

Most people would not think of sleep as detrimental to one's spiritual life. It is a natural function. But in asking myself the question, "What is keeping me from communing with Jesus in prayer?" and the greater question, "What do I prefer to God?" during this time of Lent, I have found that sleep has become the biggest enemy to my spiritual life.

I love sleeping. I usually fall asleep on the couch after dinner, take naps on the weekend, and go to bed early and wake up late, sometimes logging ten or more hours a night. I am a glutton for sleep.

Don't be fooled; Satan uses whatever devices he can to keep us from prayer, to keep us lukewarm and apathetic towards our Creator, to keep us from having a loving relationship with Jesus. If it is something as innocent as sleep, so be it.

Now I am not talking about keeping all night vigils like St. Anthony, or anything so extreme. In my case, it is simply getting up an hour early to pray. We are fortunate enough to have a chapel of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament close by, and as a Lenten commitment to deepening my relationship with Jesus, I have been trying to spend an hour in Adoration before work, at least a few days a week. It is such a nice thought.

But when it comes time to get up at 6:30am to make it happen, it astounds me how resistant my flesh is to the prospect. In the same way I used to struggle with sexual temptation when I was younger, I am literally wrestling with my lazy flesh to get up and go pray.

Because I am half asleep, my will is weakened, and my natural inclination is to lie back down when the alarm goes off. And I have done so on many occasions during the past month. Rather than face discomfort and simply get up when the alarm goes off, ripping the flesh out by the root in one fell swoop, I give Mrs. Sandman permission to perform a strip-tease, tantalizing me with "10 more minutes" or "just rest your eyes for a minute" and "God will understand." 6:30 becomes 6:45, 6:45 becomes 7:15, and before I know it, I've lost my window of opportunity to be with Jesus for the morning. It seemed so innocent. But really, I let my guard down spiritually, and played right into the Devil's hand.

This battle with the flesh is not about sleep, or sex, or food, or this or that particular thing. It is, more generally, about comfort. Jonathan Robinson, in Spiritual Combat Revisited, puts it well:

"The analogy with physical training for a game is still an apt one. If we never exercise, our muscles go slack, our heart goes fatty, our breathing becomes erratic, and our reactions slow down.The desire of physical comfort leads us to underestimate the exercise that is really needed to play the particular game we want to play. The desire for comfort is the great obstacle to physical well-being, and the desire for comfort is one of the most dangerous enemies of spiritual health."

Sleeping in an hour may not seem like a big deal on the surface. But if it keeps me from spending time with God in prayer, then it actually becomes, spiritually, a very big deal. Lent is the perfect time to train spiritually, to work on what keeps us from being in right relationship with God. Jesus made deliberate time to get away and pray, even though he was communing with the Father 24/7. In our busy lives it can be difficult to find time to get away. But we will find a way to make time for what we love. We always do. The question is, what do you love?

Thursday, April 7, 2011


When I was on retreat at Suan Mokkh, Tan Medhi, one of the monks, pointed out in the tapestry of Dependent Origination a picture of a man and woman in a boat, representing the mind and the body afloat in the sea of samsara. Tan Medhi noted, "they are like man and woman, husband and wife, yes? Must work together. Sea is...very very hard. If no...crash! You know this one?"

The image of man and woman, husband and wife, together in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean trying to get to shore, has stuck with me over the years. Marriage, it seems to me, is less about happiness and more about survival. That is not to say I am not happy with my wife (I am), but only that happiness is not the end goal or purpose of our marriage. It is a pleasant byproduct.

People in every culture throughout history have 'teamed up' in order to better weather the storms of life. For God said, "it is not good for man to be alone." I think it is such a great description in Genesis 2:24, where it is written, "A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife." The word itself denotes that spirit of urgent cling to a life preserver when you are at risk of drowning if you didn't have it.

When two people are in a lifeboat together, they need to learn to work together--whether they love each other or hate each other, whether they disagree about this or that, whether they are happy together or not--to get to shore. Yes, sitting in a lifeboat with someone for ten, twenty, fifty years may get boring, you're going to run out of stuff to say to each other, the flame of love may die down to a flicker. But what are you going to do...jump out of the boat and into the ocean and swim to shore because you can't stand the person anymore? That seems crazy...but people do it all the time.

I find myself clinging to my wife not out of any neediness or panic, but because I love her and want to be with her; I want to rely on her and for her to rely on me. But even if I didn't, I would still cling to her because, let's face it, life is hard. To go it alone is even harder.

Don't be fooled...marriage--and staying married--is much more pragmatic than we might think.