Question is, will we let our lives speak and what will they say?
Leave It Better Than You Found It
Growing up, I participated in Girl Scouts for a few years. Somewhere along the line, I remember learning this Girl Scouts mantra: "Leave it better than you found it." That meant that, if we were doing an activity at a picnic table, we cleaned up our own mess that we made but we also cleaned up any other messes in the surrounding area and improved or beautified that space to the extent that we could.
Even as a child, this made so much sense to me, and the ethos has stuck with me as an adult. Cleaning up the mess you've made is a basic responsibility - that's a given. Bringing beauty and order into messes left by other people is a whole other realm of awesome privilege.
This mantra - "Leave it better than you found it" - now carries over into my thinking about the world and our generation's role in it. Will we leave the earth better than we found it? Not because we have to or even because it's necessarily our responsibility to do so, but because it's within our power and we can.
We get to collectively decide: What kind of world will we live in? What type of generation will we be? For those of you who have children, what global landscape are we shaping for them and so many generations after them to inherit? Have you ever asked yourself: "Self, if every person on earth made this choice that I'm about to make, what kind of world would that create?"
Will we live in a world where decades- or centuries- long sworn enemies can find a viable path to peace-making?
Will we live in a world where celebrities' latest plastic surgery updates receive more attention than loss of human life on a massive scale?
Will we live in a world where corruption prospers because no "whistleblowers" take courage and suffer personal cost in order to redress a wrong?
Will we live in a world where people can creatively and wisely leverage technology and social media for the betterment of humanity? Can we engage with technology in a way that amplifies the best of our humanness rather than the worst? Can we use it in a self-controlled way to better other people rather than distract or anesthetize ourselves? Or will we just look at technology and social media and flatly conclude, "No good can come from this"? (You can probably tell that this one is a particular passion of mine.)
Not On My Watch
We have our say in this world, and we vote with our lives - our choices, our feet, our hands, our relationships. We can't control what other people do, what they say, how they respond - we can only control what we create and how we choose to respond. Each of us as human beings is designed to be a bringer of light. It will look differently for each person based on the "music" they hear, the causes that ignite them - gender issues, racism, technology, education, business, family life, music/film/writing/comedy, specific nations, human trafficking, poverty, scientific research, world hunger, etc.
I once listened to a podcast by a speaker from Outreach Red Bank, and something he said has always stuck with me. He said that he asks people what makes it difficult for them to believe in a God who cares intimately for us. He then interpreted their answer as indicative of how God might want to express Himself through their life. For example, if it deeply grieves you that children die from cancer and that's a primary reason it's difficult for you to believe in an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-loving God, is it possible that He has designed you to carry that burden and fill that gap, to be someone whose life ministers to pediatric cancer patients?
Of course, there will be many things that bother us, and we're not meant to step into each and every one. I'm talking about discerning your weightiest sense of burden, your most consuming places of passion. Is there something that outrages you? Arm yourself with the attitude, "Not on my watch." Even if it's not my responsibility or my duty, I can leverage my choices, my specific circle of power, to serve in this way and effect this change. We can drive a sword into the ground in our generation, in our time.
If you have something on your heart that you cannot shake, that infuses you with ideas and direction, then it might be the case that you are supposed to lead the charge on that, even if no one ever follows suit. What is it for you?
That there are socioeconomic disparities in access to education?
That some elderly people fade into a lonely death, without visitors or remembrance of the life they lived?
That we are corroding the majesty and grandeur of creation through our collective choices--the very creation we were given as a gift, to steward and enjoy?
That so many children live without families and die for lack of food, while other children grow sick from obesity-related illnesses?
That films could be so much more creative, music so much more sublime, education so much more empowering?
On Earth As It Is In Heaven
God has dignified us with free will and choices, and His sovereignty interacts with these in a beautifully mysterious way that transcends space and time (I love the mysterious, don't you!?). We live in an age where the highest heavens belong to Him, but He has also given people a circumscribed dominion over the earth and what happens here (Psalm 115:16). This is why, when we look at global poverty and world hunger, as an example, instead of asking, "God, how could you allow this to happen?" we need to say, "People, how could WE allow this to happen?"
God has already won complete and final victory - 100%+ - but it is being ushered onto the earth over time, at His initiation. The sweet and beautiful and funny thing is, though, He condescends to involve us. He is inviting us to His victory party. This often reminds me of someone who has won a lawsuit in court but not yet fully collected on the winnings owed to them on paper. God has already won the victory, but we live in an age where He is in the process of collecting. Our lives and the lives of everyone around us are being "recollected" in this process, this triumphant victory march.
When you look around at our world and what human beings experience here, where is the disconnect for you between what it looks like now compared to what it would look like if God reigned here on earth 100%+? Our choices are opportunities to usher in His reign with our lives. We do this when we stand in agreement with Him and what He has already made true - agreement in our thoughts, in our decisions, in our treatment of other people. In some instances, God is even waiting for our permission to act on earth, holding Himself back until our hearts are really with Him - to carry out what He has always longed for.
A Love That Lays Itself Down
Passion and burden and even outrage can be good, but ultimately we want our motive to be located in love. It's all that matters and all that will remain, in the end. This is also important because sometimes we try to motivate ourselves or other people through manipulation via guilt, shame, anger, or fear. It can work temporarily but won't sustain anything over time. It's like coasting on fumes - like pouring water into the gas tank of someone's car and then asking them to drive the extra mile. Love is our motive.
The year and generation you were born into is not happenstance or coincidence. You were born for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). You carry blueprints inside of you for destiny and meaning and purpose. It will thrill you beyond imagination when you step into them. It will also cost you. Jesus taught us that the greatest love is to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13), which is what He has done for us. Although we "die daily" to ourselves, I'm not being metaphorical. I'm talking about literally dying, loving so much that you would be willing to lose your own life.
One of my heroes is Corrie ten Boom, whose family hid Jews in their home during WWII. They were followers of Jesus who consciously risked their own lives to save someone else's. I love this excerpt from her book, The Hiding Place. She is running out of space to hide Jews in her home (which doubles as a watch repair shop), so she asks a pastor for help.
"I looked at the watch he had brought in for repair. It required a very hard-to-find spare part. 'But for you, Pastor, we will do our very best. And now I have something I want to confess.'
The pastor's eyes clouded. 'Confess?'
I drew him out of the back door of the shop and up the stairs to the dining room.
'I confess that I too am searching for something.' The pastor's face was now wrinkled with a frown. 'Would you be willing to take a Jewish mother and her baby into your home? They will almost certainly be arrested otherwise.'
Color drained from the man's face. He took a step back from me. 'Miss ten Boom! I do hope you're not involved with any of this illegal concealment and undercover business. It's just not safe! Think of your father! And your sister--she's never been strong!'
On impulse I told the pastor to wait and ran upstairs... I asked the mother's permission to borrow the infant: the little thing weighed hardly anything in my arms. Back in the dining room, I pulled the coverlet from the baby's face.
There was a long silence. The man bent forward, his hand in spite of himself reaching for the tiny fist curled around the blanket. For a moment I saw compassion and fear struggle in his face. Then he straightened. 'No. Definitely not. We could lose our lives for that Jewish child!'
Unseen by either of us, Father had appeared in the doorway. 'Give the child to me, Corrie,' he said.
Father held the baby close, his white beard brushed its cheek, looking into the little face with eyes as blue and innocent as the baby's own. At last he looked up at the pastor. 'You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.'
The pastor turned sharply on his heels and walked out of the room." (The Hiding Place, p. 114-115)
The Fruit of Our Womb
There is a sweetness that comes from laying down one's life, risking literal death, for the benefit of other people. There is an exhilarating joy and freedom that come from dancing in the face of death because you realize he has no victory over you, no say in your life (1 Corinthians 15:55). By the way, spoiler alert... Corrie ten Boom's father did end up losing his life, in a concentration camp.
We also taste things worse than death, namely the fruit of our own poor choices: bitterness, pride, anger, envy, self-focus, hardness of heart, indifference, cowardice, materialism, complacency, compromise, wasted time, missed opportunity, lack of love--the list goes on and on. We are all going to die someday; that is a given. There are worse things in life than death.
If these are the colors of death, activated in the fruit of our lives, how will we bear fruit that is colored by life (James 3:18)? The choice is ours.
Dr. Parke is a licensed clinical psychologist located in southern California. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Vanguard University, and she also provides therapy to children, teenagers, and college-aged young adults in her private practice.
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