Rattle not OK

When I was young, my parents had bought something for me for Christmas that had a sign on the outside of the box saying “Rattle OK”, meaning that if you shook the box and heard loose pieces rattling about, that it was normal – nothing was broken. But for us, a “rattle” is not a good sign. If we are scattered – if pieces of our selves, our souls, are loose, it is a sign that we need help.
Think of God as the good parent that God is. If you are carrying a heavy burden (of worry, stress, fear, anxiety…) hand it over to God to take care of it. It is too heavy for you alone, you cannot bear it. But God, the kind and capable parent, can carry whatever is weighing you down and knows what to do with it.
We are trained by the world to be independent, to bear up under incredible stress, to solve our own problems. However, Jesus teaches us that God is more than willing and able to help us if only we ask. We are not made to be alone, to do everything ourselves. To rely solely on your own ability is to put yourself in God’s place. This is a form of idolatry – it is to say that you do not need God, because you are enough. Instead, give your burdens and brokenness to God, the faithful and capable parent, to take care of.

Melissa’s story

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Melissa knew it was time to leave her job when her boss sent her that email. Nearly 20 years with the same firm and it all came down to one thing – trust. She simply didn’t trust him to be honest. Or fair. Or rational. He was her third boss, but they were all the same. All toed the party line, all had degrees in “CYA”. Normally, she would have put her head down, not drawn any attention, and soon things would blow over or the manager would retire or get transferred.

It took her six years to realize that her job, while saying that it cared for its employees, didn’t back that up with real action. The bullies and incompetents got the management positions. They wrote the performance reviews too, and they were all one-way. All the reviews were top-down, so the subordinates never had a say in how they were being managed. This was the norm all over, so it never occurred to her that it was wrong, never occurred to her that it was possible to change it.

Her friend Bobby had died because of it. He’d drunk himself to death over anxiety and fear, too much stress and a job he had to have to pay his mortgage and his alimony. He managed to work up the momentum to leave the sinking ship of his marriage, but his job was another matter. He was dead three days before he was found. In many ways it was three years.

Melissa wasn’t going to go out like that. She wasn’t going to give her boss the pleasure of knowing he’d won with his squirrely ways. She ran over Paul Simon’s song in her head for options. Hop on the bus? Make a new plan? Drop off the keys? Well, she wasn’t leaving a lover, but it still sounded like a good exit strategy. And, after all, she had been screwed.

The email that morning said it all without saying anything. She’d asked for some time off. Her only joy now was looking forward to vacations, yet she was told, in writing, that her request did not meet his guidelines. There was also a mention that this was her second attempt to violate this policy. The only problem was that it wasn’t written policy. It certainly wasn’t corporate policy. And he did not say at the time that it was his policy, but just a guideline. She had no way of knowing that she’d stepped over some line into dangerous territory.

He told her more with that email than simply “no”. By putting it in writing, his not-so-veiled threat was made clear. Two violations, without the first one even being intentional, meant that three and you’re out. What nonsense. How could she have known she broke a rule the first time she did it when he hadn’t told her the guidelines? Heck, he hadn’t even given her a list of her job duties. Suddenly she was one step away from trouble. It was like driving on a road that had dangerous curves and no guard rails and no warning signs.

He was a squirrel.  That was certain. Everybody knew that he was a manager in title only. The problem was that nobody bothered to tell him. So he sent passive aggressive emails rather than confronting people directly. He didn’t manage. There was no plan or direction. He didn’t lead. Well, he led by negatives. Don’t do what he does. He didn’t even know what people did for their jobs, so how could he manage them?

Melissa took a breath in and reminded herself that Jesus said only God is above us. Don’t follow people. If you do, you are saying that they are more important than God is. To follow a person, no matter who they are – brother, father, aunt, boss, teacher, minister, spouse, governor, president, – anybody – was to make them into an idol.

She often wondered why she had so many bad bosses, so many who let the power go to their heads and quit working. It wasn’t fair that they got paid four times what so she did yet did a fourth of the work. It’s like they forgot what it was like to be a subordinate.

Perhaps that was the problem. Where could she work with there were no was no hierarchy? She left the social group she was in because of that kind of bullying. She left the church too for the very same reason, among many others. Over and over again she kept hitting that wall. The lesson wasn’t learned yet, apparently.

She’d waited out bad bosses before. How long until he retired? But deep down, she knew that if she didn’t learn the lesson with this one, it would resurface with another one.

Back to Jesus. What does he say? First, give thanks for the situation because it reminded her to pray and seek his help. Sometimes that was as far she got in her prayer, but now she knew there was more.

Jesus said that before you take your offerings to the Temple that if you have issue with anyone, you must leave your offering and go make things right. But how was she to do that? She was starting out in the negative. And she wasn’t even the one who had caused the problem.  Her boss was in the wrong.  This was backwards.

She remembered that story in the Bible when David was small and had no armor. With God’s power he killed Goliath with just one stone. Not even a sword. Anything was possible with God on your side.

Would talking with him make him feel threatened and thus worsen her standing? She knew she’d get no backup from higher up in the corporation. She’s gone that route before with an even worse manager. She still had unresolved trauma from that time. There’d be no help from her husband, either. He was even more bullied in his past. He couldn’t be objective.

So she was alone, again. Sure she had Jesus, and God, and the Holy Spirit. That had to count for something, right? But they weren’t physically here. They couldn’t go talk to him for her, or find her another job, or kill him off, or magically change everything. Perhaps that was the point too.

Perhaps Jesus came and said all that he did to tell her to not even have him above her, but within her, to give her the strength to do it herself. She wasn’t alone, then. She was doubled. Enhanced. There was a synergy, more than the sum of the parts.

But she still didn’t know what to do. Wait, and seem passive? Or wait until there is a clear path, a plan, and instruction from God? In the past, she always found herself doing the right thing, like a puppet, motivated by God. This current problem was a jigsaw puzzle and she didn’t have all the pieces yet, but God always does.

Was this event shifting her away from this job? Was it right to stay in a place, work 40 hours, and not feel like she fit? Had she outgrown it? It isn’t like she married this job. It wasn’t “till death do you part”. It certainly wasn’t for richer.

She prayed some more, and then she knew what to do. She was grateful that even though God doesn’t provide a map for life, God most certainly provided a compass.  With her heart focused on God, she knew she could walk through any situation, knowing that it would come out the way it was supposed to be.

The Chanukkah gift

Chanukah1 (the lights from the first night of Chanukah)

I learned something on the second night of Chanukah.
I learned to trust that God will provide.

I have a small box of Chanukah candles that I bought last year on clearance. That was the first year that I have lit Chanukah candles. If I did it the normal way, by the time the whole thing is done the entire box would have been used. That is 44 candles. That seemed really wasteful.

What I did instead that first year was to light them and say the prayers, let them burn for maybe ten minutes and then I’d blow them out. I’d use the same candles over and over, so over the course of the holiday this meant that the candles were different heights and looked very odd. There was a definite slope downward to the right where the first night’s candle was, which had been burned the most.

This year I learned that not only are the candles supposed to burn for at least 30 minutes, but the woman of the house is not supposed to work for those 30 minutes. I’m not one for sitting still, so I decided to dedicate that time to making 4 x 6 collages.

I’d started making these this year and posted some here, but got out of the habit of assembling them. I’d taken the time to cut out and sort words and pictures already, so I really have no excuse. The funny thing is that so many of my craft projects are like “There’s a hole in the bucket” song – where in order to do one part, I have to do another part, and I have to do yet another part to get to that part. So sometimes I don’t do anything at all. I’m learning to break up the projects into small bits so that I feel that I’ve gotten something done. Since I already have all the pieces, it is easy to do at least two of these while the candles burn.

This year, while making the collages, I looked at the candles on the second night and saw how lopsided they looked already after letting them burn the longer time the first night. I got up and blew them out.

And then I thought about it. Part of what is celebrated in Chanukah is the miracle that the oil that was supposed to only last for one day lasted for eight. They needed to rededicate the Temple after it had been desecrated, and didn’t want to wait. It took eight days to make more oil, but they knew that it was too important to delay. They lit the light anyway, and God made it last long enough until the new oil was ready.

It is about trusting that God will provide for our needs.

Why was I being so guarded about these candles, only letting them burn for a little bit? I got them on sale, after all. Even before that, they cost $7. I can buy another set next year. They’ll make more.

Things are tight right now, with my husband out of a job, but even before that I’ve lived like a pauper most of my life. I was raised poor. Not having much is my normal. Worrying about future finances was part of my training.

We are comfortable, but not set by any means.

But God is using these candles to teach me something important.

I relit the candles and watched them, delighting in their cheery light.

I don’t think God wants us to be wasteful – certainly not. I think that God wants us to be good stewards of what we are given.

What does Jesus teach us?

Jesus tells us in the story of the loaves and fishes that God can make the little we have much more. We have to give thanks first, and we have to give what little we have away. This isn’t about making more money and hoarding it.

Jesus tells us in the story of the ten talents that we have to use what we are given. God gives us resources (as they said in my previous church – “time, talent, and treasure”) to use them for God’s glory, not our own, and not to hide away.

Jesus tells us to not worry about anything, that God provides for the least of the creatures, so surely God will take care of us.

So this was the gift that God gave to me – to trust, and not be afraid. To not think that I have to do it all. To remember that everything comes from God, and God can do anything.

Wrestling with the angel

Jacob wrestled with the angel all night long. (Genesis 32:22-31) They were alone on an island together. The text doesn’t state whether Jacob even called out for help while he was wrestling. He didn’t get a chance to sleep that night because all night long he and the angel were wrestling. Towards the end of the night the angel touched him on his hip to make the fight stop. While this may seem like an unfair thing for the angel to do, I wonder why he touched him on the hip, and not somewhere else?

If the angel had touched him on the arm, the fight would’ve been over just as soon as touching him on his hip. You can’t pin someone to the ground with only one arm, or at least not very easily. It’s impossible or very difficult to throw them to the ground and hold them there. So he could have touched him on his shoulder and it would have been over just the same. Therefore it is very relevant that he touched him on his hip.

I propose that he touched him on the hip because Jacob was getting his strength from his roots. Jacob was relying on his ancestors and their faith (not his own, yet) in order to give him strength for this battle. The angel needed him to not rely on his own strength or on the faith of his forefathers. The angel needed him to trust in something so much bigger than him, something that he didn’t even know about yet. The angel needed him to trust in what AA would say is his “higher power”. And the Higher Power that the angel wanted him to rely on was God. He had to break his connection with his roots – his strength that he was getting from the past and from the present. He needed to make him learn how to rely on something bigger than himself, that very something that his ancestor Abraham relied on.

Jacob was very strong in many ways, but he hadn’t yet come to understand how much stronger he could be if he connected his power with God’s power.

Gold as God? Good as Gold?

Many of us are familiar with the story of the golden calf. This is what some of the Israelites had talked Moses’ brother Aaron, the high priest, into making for them to worship. A lot of time had passed from when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to get the tablets from God, and they wanted something to worship.

But notice what happens when Moses comes down from the mountain. He doesn’t just get angry and smash the tablets.

Exodus 32:19-20 (HCSB)
19 As he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses became enraged and threw the tablets out of his hands, smashing them at the base of the mountain. 20 Then he took the calf they had made, burned it up, and ground it to powder. He scattered the powder over the surface of the water and forced the Israelites to drink the water.

He made them drink the gold. It became part of them. How long does that last? Does it pass on, from generation to generation? What does it mean to have this reminder of not having faith in God as part of you, in your body?

In what other ways have people in Biblical times not trusted in God?

What God says is going to happen always happens – but it rarely happens quickly. God’s timetable is not the same as ours. God told Abraham that he was going to be a father in his old age, and Abraham believed him for a while. Time passed, and still Sarah wasn’t pregnant. She gave him her handmaiden as a surrogate, and he got her pregnant. They took matters into their own hands, and trouble resulted. They didn’t have faith that God was going to do what God said. It was over 12 years later that Sarah got pregnant by Abraham and had Isaac.

King Saul didn’t wait for the prophet Samuel to make the proper offering, and did it himself. This caused God to get very angry and remove the mantle of kingship from him.

What ways do we not wait and trust in God? Is the gold in us? Is taking matters into our own hands just hardwired into our DNA?

This is a test. This is something we can overcome, but not on our own. If we give it to God and ask for the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome our basic tendency to rush things and do things on our own. We can overcome if we yoke ourselves to God.

My way or the High Way

Remember the phrase “My way or the highway?” What if the “highway” is really the High Way – the way of God? Let us consider these words from King Solomon’s book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 19:21
Many plans are in a man’s heart,
but the Lord’s decree will prevail.

Proverbs 20:22
Don’t say, “I will avenge this evil!”
Wait on the Lord, and He will rescue you.

Proverbs 21:31
A horse is prepared for the day of battle,
but victory comes from the Lord.

It isn’t what we want, it isn’t what we do. God is in charge. We can plan and prepare, but it is the Lord who delivers.