Saturday, October 11, 2008

Problems Aren't Curses

This morning, driving back from the emergency vet where I just signed a $1,000 estimate for Elliott's possble immediate care expenses, I asked God to help me see this overwhelming and scary situation in the right light. In the midst of a world pitching and swaying in financial crisis, I am working for a nonprofit organization and trying to weather in my own small business the belt tightening many of my clients have undergone. I don't know what else to do but pray, love, work with integrity, and do my best to honor my commitments. And my commitments are promises of love--promises to care tenderly for all life, promises to honor my word, promises to do my best to be honest with myself and engaged with my world, trusting God and others and myself to bring forth, sooner or later, the harmony that is the ground of all being.

As I prayed for calm and light, it occurred to me that problems, when they open up in our lives like huge potholes, do not mean we aren't blessed. It's a very human thing--the mark of a rational mind--to look for cause and effect, to wonder why something is happening, and to investigate the how so that we can perhaps make ourselves safer in the future and avoid it happening again. On one level this is practical and understandable. On another level, it can be self-negating and dangerous. If I interpret problems as signs that I have done something wrong, that I have fallen from God's favor, that I've had too many blessings and now have to take some bad stuff on the chin, what does that say about my thoughts of God? Is God love or not? Is God all-powerful, all-capable, all-present, or not? Does God send us challenges and problems and scary situations to test our mettle, to "teach us a lesson," or to otherwise stir up our lives so we have to turn to God more fully?

This is not the God I know--it may be a fearful mask lurking in my own subconscious that I sometimes attribute to "fate" or "chance" or "misfortune," but it is not God. It is not the face of a loving God that constricts Elliott's heart or causes him to labor for breath. It is not the face of a loving God that causes circumstances that threaten my family's financial security. It is not the face of a loving God that brings unhappy events, scary situations, or wounds that take years to heal.

Where they come from or why they come I do not know. But both from my time as a chaplain and from my own experience of tragedy in my own life, I do know this: God is present in the midst of any circumstance in our lives. God is accessible, reachable, now. When Jesus and the disciples encountered the blind man and they asked, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus took the question out of the realm of cause and effect, moving it completely away from the why and the how, and put it fully in the square of the what: Now the glory of God can be known.

So Elliott's heart began to fail this morning--my sweet, tender, loving Elliott who still curls up purring beside me in the chair at night (he's the kitty in my profile photo)--and God is with us both. Good people at two vets helped; timing worked so we could get him in; I noticed early signs; and now he's stable and resting quietly, getting great care and under observation all day. There's a lot of Providence at work in that situation. I trust God to handle the finances too. In this moment, I don't know how it will all work out, but I do know there's a harmony at work here somewhere. God's glory will show up.

In chaplaincy training, I learned that "crisis" means literally, "danger" plus "opportunity." Our problems--financial, health, relationship, work, emotional--can be scary and panic-inducing, taking us to the edge of our resources and leaving us wondering how to cope. But rather than interpreting problems as signs that we've done something wrong or have fallen from God's favor, we can hold the space for faith and watch carefully for God to show up. God will, because that's God's nature--to never leave us comfortless.

Peace to you, to Elliott, and to me, and may we individually and collectively feel the presence of God today in very real and transforming ways.

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