Monday, September 17, 2007

Being Open

Communication is not necessarily one of my strongest gifts.

For a long time I struggled with empathy. My own selfishness and attitudes made it hard for me to set aside my personal agenda and take time to listen to others. If you want to speak well, you must first learn to listen well. I can hear alright, but listening is something I have always had to work at.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist teacher who wrote the book, Creating True Peace. In it he proposes that we are only able to listen to someone else when we are clear in our reason for doing so. To truly listen we must seek only to offer the opportunity to open their heart.
If you can keep that awareness and compassion alive in you, then you can sit and listen for one hour even if the other person expresses wrong perceptions, condemnation, and bitterness. You can continue to listen because you are protected by the nectar of compassion in your own heart.
-- Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
It is interesting that Buddhist speaks of the aspects of listening as it relates to the effort required of you, and your ability to perform the activity of listening. What do you do if, like me, you are just sometimes deaf and dumb? For me the ability to listen is many times a factor of the situations I find myself in or the circumstances of the conversation. My petty ego, temper, and ignorance means I blunder around like a blind man, even when my intentions and my heart are in the right place.
He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!" ). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
-- Mark 7:34-35
It is those days when nothing I do is working out and when all my attempts to speak plainly result in unintelligible mumbo-jumbo; those are the days I need my Savior to act on my behalf. I must fall upon His mercy and await His favor. Only then will my ears truly be opened.

It amazes how non-obvious the connection between these behaviors can be. If you want to be able to speak plainly, you must first open your ears. And in the case of this man, much like mine, only the Word is enough to open the ears and thereby loosen the tongue.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Newly New Day

Forgiveness is hard. Looking for forgiveness that will never come is excruciating.

There are things in my life I will never be forgiven for and offenses that no one on earth will ever free me from. Which is why I lean so heavily on my Heavenly Father for His forgiveness.

On earth, we hold things over each other for years on end. We carry grudges and we tend the fires of our hatred. Once divided, we rarely seek reconciliation. Our nature as humans to tear down and destroy stands in conflict with our desire for reparation and restoration. I know how hard I have struggled to forgive, but that doesn't stop me from hoping others have an easier time of it and forgive me!
"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?"
"The first," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you."
-- Matthew 21:28-31
At first blush this isn't so much about our earthly forgiveness as about our ultimate judgment. He makes it clear that we are judged not by how we answer, but by how we actually respond with our actions. It is whether we show up when requested; the RSVP alone doesn't count.

This assurance of salvation is a huge deal for helping me move forward but doesn't really speak to how to apply this when dealing with people here on earth. How do we handle the disparity between what I want to do and what I actually do? How am I to respond to my own failures? How am I to respond when my failures aren't forgiven on earth?

If you read closely the first request you see an interesting qualifier on the request from the father in the story. He says go and work TODAY. Not go and work this week, or for a while. In this one word, He sets the expectation that the request is for the present and is limited. He lets us know that tomorrow will be a new day, with possibly a different request. Fulfilling this one request will only take a day. You don't have to swallow a lengthy commitment. You don't have to decide your whole future in the next 5 minutes. You don't have to get it right for years on end. Just actually do the one thing He is asking of you TODAY.

As I struggle with knowing that earthly forgiveness is out my reach, I am reminded that tomorrow is a new day. There will be a new invitation to work. Not just for me, but for each of us. It is okay to wait and see what tomorrow brings. My invitation will come and so will yours. Who will I be working side-by-side with tomorrow? Will it be you?