Throughout the night, the rain soaked us here on the Peninsula in Washington. My second grader Peter and I shot out to the bus stop this morning equipped with our big umbrella and hunkered down. Usually Peter is a bit reluctant to stand near me. He's already getting tool 'cool' for his dad, but today he stood close as the rain pattered overhead. Sometimes other kids try to squish under our umbrella to keep dry as we wait for the yellow school bus with the flying wipers. Sometimes, I forget the umbrella on rainy days. On those days, it doesn't do me, Peter or anyone else any good. With what kind of umbrella has God equipped you to deal the difficulties the day?
As I search for the meaning of holiness this Lenten season, I can't hide from the fact that all I really am is the dust of the earth gathered together in this body. What makes me, me is truly a mystery with which even a young child grapples when he realize how he came to be and asks himself, "What if Mommy and Daddy didn't get married, would I still be me?" Long ago, we find this same question posed by Job, in what some scholars consider to be the oldest book in the Bible.
In my search for the meaning of holiness, I find the Apostle Peter's words in his first letter encouraging. He speaks of our Christian existence as a "living hope." These words remind me of a time when I was a youth just out of college starting off on a mountain expedition. My carefree confidence in my body's strength and endurance seemed to have no limit and could take me anywhere. Setting off alone to climb Mount Rainier with no mountain experience, I started down the trail bursting with excitement to climb my first glacial peak. I carried my sleeping bag and gear in a jury-rigged backpack. I had a couple of days worth of food, an ice axe and clunky old crampons. I was blind to failure. As a dreamy youth all I could see was ice, snow, rocks, sky, sun and freedom at the top of the mountain.
Tonight we were reading the daily scripture together from Matthew 5 and my seven-year-old son commented, "But, Dad, we can't be perfect. That doesn't make any sense." In the passage from Matthew, Jesus tells us, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Can we really be perfect? This is one of the great mysteries of Christianity. How can we be perfect, yet still be a sinner?
Autism is such a strange disease. In the work I do I have the great fortune and joy to work with a number of autistic children a few times a month. In the severely autistic children I meet, there's a clear inward thrust to their personalities. Because of that, I call it the Turtle Disease. Part of me wonders if autism has become more prevalent because our society has become so inward focused. We have become the Me Generation. I just wonder if autism is a societal response to the inward-focused, self-oriented effects of our highly industrialized society. Do our technologies, media and consumer-based society make children with a particular type of mind draw inward rather than outward. Are they all just trying to hide as they peer out into our hyper-stimulated landscape?
Have you ever been in a deep, prolonged sadness? How did you feel when someone said, "Don't worry, you'll feel better soon"? Were those words comforting or did they feel callous and insensitive? Though we know in our mind there probably will be a light at the end of the tunnel, recognizing the distant light in the middle of a crisis can take every ounce of mental strength—and may not even be possible. It's easy for Paul to say to the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" But how can we be joyful in the midst of despair?
I so often make mistakes with my parenting. As hard as I try, I'm too impatient, too quick to criticize, too harsh and too preoccupied. It's only by the grace of God that my children will survive my parenthood. Have you used that phrase before: "It's only by the grace of God..."? It implies our complete reliance on God to make us fit amid a life of blunder. As cliché as it may be, those words do exhibit true humility. But grace is one of those words that we use so often that its meaning has become obscured. When I first embraced Christianity in my late twenties, a non-Christian friend once asked me, "So now that you're a Christian, tell me what grace means." At the time I thought my answer was pathetic.