Friday, June 18, 2010

Natural Openness

We've all received one word answers to questions before. We've asked, "How was school today?" and gotten, "good" as a response. I've talked with more than a few parents and students frustrated with the stone walls their kids or friends are throwing up at them. How do we get past those barriers to good conversation?

Some kids are naturally talkative, others seem like they could be content never saying another word in their lives.   Friends can be the same way. Carrying all the conversation can become wearisome after a string of monosyllabic responses. I'm no James Dobson, but I've observed that we tend to want to have conversation on our own terms. We want our kids to be open when it's convenient for us and to go somewhere and be quiet when we have a tight schedule. Also, we are too half-hearted in many of our attempts and we're as easy to read as the newspaper. "He's saying he wants to talk to me, but his body language tells a different story. He doesn't really want to know what's going on in my world."

Jesus was such a good conversational example. Think of his interaction with the disciples. Isn't it possible they were so forthright due to the fact that they spent time together walking, working, eating and talking?*

A couple of days ago I was trying to make sense of the mess the well driller left in my front yard. Large piles of clay and dirt needed to be broken up and carted off of what used to be grass. Andrew was inside reading and I poked my head in the door and said, "Wanna help me?" He threw his book down like he thought I'd never ask and grabbed his shovel from the garage. We spent the next hour and a half talking the best way the male gender knows how--while doing something kinesthetic. After a half an hour of small talk he dropped a bomb on me and we spent the next twenty minutes hashing out a problem he had been having. It was incredibly meaningful time that developed very naturally. 

Girls are different. The other day Anna and I were sitting at the dinner table after everyone else had moved on to other things. We had been joking about a few recent events and before I knew it I was in a conversation that blew me away. I could hardly get a word in as she opened up about the boys in her class and the drama on the playground between her friends. I literally had to hold back tears and thought, "Can this really be happening to me? How is my daughter old enough to talk like this? Amazing!" 

It occurs to me that impatient people will rarely get to enjoy good conversation, for it cannot be forced. If you desire openness in your relationships, whether with children, teens or friends, you must learn to be like the sun. Each morning the sun gently warms the pedals of the rose and slowly the pedals unfold revealing the wonder within. Impatient people try to force open the rose because they don't want to take the time to let things happen naturally. Here is an axiom for the garden: Forced open roses break. The same is true of people and conversation. 

If you want to gain the hearts of your friends and family there's nothing like the patience of warm sunshine. Good conversation doesn't happen on command. 

*Luke 8:1-3; 9:28,57; 10:38-42

Monday, June 07, 2010

Pascal's Wager

Psalm 37:23

My dad encouraged me with the words of this psalm in a birthday card yesterday.

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.

I want this to be true of me, and saying so puts me in a category of people the world finds strange. Some may look on me with pity, "How sad that someone would waste their life living by rules in a book (the Bible) he can't prove is true." Some others may scoff, "He needs his head examined! We've got to look out for #1. If we don't, who will? God? I don't think so."

But, I see things differently. I like the argument of Blaise Pascal, the great philosopher, who wagered his life for the Lord and thought it worth the risk. Here is my paraphrase of his argument.

Every person must decide to take a risk. We must decide to live for eternity or the present. Either God exists or he does not. There is an afterlife or there is not. Which will you choose? For those (like Pascal) who risk all on the belief in Christ, eternal life and judgment, must choose to allow their steps to be "ordered by the Lord." If right, then eternal wonder and joy await. If wrong, they will never know it. If nothing follows death, then what regret will they suffer? None.

However, the risk is much different for the non-believer. Whoever wagers that this life is all there is chooses to live by two creeds. The first is the famous, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." The second is articulated by Dostoevsky's atheistic character, Ivan, in The Brothers Karamazov, "Everything is lawful for me." If right, they have done their best to bring as much happiness to themselves as possible in this life for there is no other. If wrong, the wager goes bad on a scale that is unimaginable, for hell awaits all those who reject their Maker.

Pascal's view of the Christian life caused him to call the choice an easy one. For him, no amount of selfish living could deliver the happiness that living for the Lord could bring IN THIS LIFE. He was convinced that on his deathbed that it would never enter his mind that his choice to follow Christ would only be worth it if there was a huge payoff after death. He believed living for the Lord here and now is a great reward in itself. It reminds me of Jesus words, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."* The life he was speaking of was this temporal one.

So, in the end, those who risk their lives for God have nothing to fear. What risk are you taking?

*John 10:10
Note: Picture found on Wikipedia (Blaise Pascal)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Emmaus Road

So, what do you talk about when you are with your Christian friends? The world is full of gossip and bad news and much time is wasted on poor conversation. It seems simple enough to understand that we generally talk about what we have been filling our minds with. If a man spends large amounts of time pondering baseball statistics he will probably engage other men in his topic of interest. Women who watch "the soaps" will gravitate to conversing about daytime TV or celebrity gossip. For teens irresistible conversation is laced with breakups and hookups and fights after classes. I have not been a world traveler, but I am on friendly terms with men who speak with thick accents. They comment on American culture in ways that fascinate me. It seems that we are viewed as shallow people who care little for important matters, but waste inordinate amounts of oxygen on the weather, sports and media entertainment (music, movies, celebs, scandals, etc.).

It stands to reason that if we believe that God is real and all of life is colored by the light he shines in our lives, then the things of God would be on our lips with a little more regularity. I was reminded of this while reading from the final chapter of the book of Luke this morning. Two men were conversing about the wonderful things God was doing in the preceding weeks and months. I think it is worth pointing out that they were not sitting in pews or walking the grounds of a Christian camp, or in any other "Christian" setting for that matter. We expect those things. But, these men were merely walking down the road together (I am a big fan of walking conversations but that is a rabbit trail I'll have to avoid at present). I love how the story tells us that Jesus showed up right in the middle of their "Jesus" conversation. Coincidence? I cannot say for absolute certainty but doesn't it make sense to expect Jesus to show up when we're talking about something that relates to the faith? Also, should we fault him for seeming aloof when we have no sense of heavenly mindedness? I love the Boston Redsox but I've yet to get into an eternally significant dialogue with someone over who is pitching or hitting well at present.

So, here's the thought I want to leave with you today. It comes in the form of a question: How often does Jesus show up in your casual conversation? Remember, we talk about the things that matter to us. Let's redeem the time together.