A real-life adventure story about putting one's faith into practice.
told by Deborah
Jesus told them another parable:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away.
So when the plants began to sprout up, then weeds appeared as well. The fieldworkers came to the farmer and said, “Sir, you sowed good seed in your field; so where did these weeds come from?”
He replied, “An enemy has done this.”
“Then do you want us to pull them up?” the fieldworkers asked.
“No,” he replied, “Because in pulling up the weeds you would uproot the wheat as well. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but bring the wheat into my barn.’ ”
It’s interesting, having what is called a “public presence” through the inklings website; it means that anyone with an internet connection has access to my thoughts, opinions, prayers, and advice. Hopefully, for most readers, this connection brings blessings; strengthens, encourages, entertains, amuses, and perhaps even inspires. But there are those who seem to consider it their life’s purpose to snoop, sneer, mock, and condemn.
And that’s nasty. And it can be alarming.
It’s tempting to just walk away; to leave the fray, to hide in obscurity. I’ve thought about it, talked about it, prayed about it, and meditated on it. It was during one of these “dark nights of the soul” that I was given the Scripture that begins this reflection, and which I interpreted as a call to continue this ministry. In short: Weeds happen.
At around the same time a couple of friends came to my aid, offering support, encouragement, suggestions — and, perhaps most helpful — engaging in the age-old tradition of roundly condemning the villains. Although we Christians are taught to pray for those who hate us, and nice people aren’t supposed to speak ill of others…. sometimes it feels awfully good to just pull out the stops and talk trash about our enemies.
When I was in training they called it “getting in touch with your feelings.”
The problem arises when we get a little too in touch with our feelings. It’s easy to get swept away in the adrenalin-intoxication induced by snipping and snapping and free-flowing venom. It’s exciting, energizing, and it feels empowering after the shock of the initial assault or attack, but at a certain point the thrill fades. We are agreed that the person is horrible, despicable, a blight upon the earth… but now what?
A little community of shared scorn and condemnation can almost convince us that we are safe; almost as if the wicked have been judged and locked away. But that is an illusion. Those who wish us harm are not vanquished by words or wishes. We should not be naive about our safety, but take all necessary precautions, and be alert and aware of our surroundings. As the Lord said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” But he also clearly stated that he is sending us out — cowering under our beds is not an option.
There are times when we have to be courageous. Even when we don’t want to be. Even when we’re frightened or tired or sick or grieving and ready to give up. Sometimes we have to pick up our cross and carry on, despite whatever enemies we may face.
Including enemies within.
Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in the Valley of Darkness.
~ Matthew 10:28
Fear/avoidance of physical harm is a strong motivation for human beings; it is built into our system: staying alive is Job One. That’s why threats and intimidation are so effective; and why they can so readily influence our thinking and our behavior, tempting us to strike out, to hate, kill, and destroy: to do unto others before they do unto us. And that is precisely what Jesus warned us about; the Ultimate danger: the risk of injury to our souls.
Bullies and villains can do more than threaten our physical safety; they can poison our spirits, cloud our thinking, and sicken our souls IF WE LET THEM.
If we aren’t careful and mindful and prayerful in the face of an attack, we can end up “collaborating with the enemy.” If we allow harmful emotions to take root in us — staying “in touch” with those ugly feelings, we grow comfortable with the constant presence of anger or hatred or fear; it becomes our normal, natural mode of being: our fount of life is tainted, our souls are polluted. And we end up doing far more harm to ourselves than our enemy can ever dream of doing — without lifting a finger.
So what can we do? What ought we to do?
We know how it begins. It starts with a shock or alarming discovery that sets our minds spinning and mobilizes our fight or flight response. Each of us has an inclination toward one or the other reactions to a crisis: either running like a rabbit or strapping on our battle armor.
If we react impulsively, anything can happen. One thing, though, is certain: it won’t be a reasoned decision, it won’t be grounded in prayer and reflection. Chances are that the result will leave us unsettled, uneasy, disoriented — and still on the run, whether away from the conflict or toward it. Nothing will be resolved.
It helps to recognize exactly what it is we are feeling: Name that Emotion. Can you describe it? Do you know what’s really stirring? Take a moment to experience the feeling without trying to respond to it, or justify it; and watch to see if it changes. Fear may turn into pity; sorrow may transform into rage.
Whatever it is, the emotion is valid. It’s OK to feel whatever you feel. (It may not be OK to act on it, however!) Don’t concern yourself with how you think you “should” feel, and don’t go about trying to redirect or reframe it just yet. Right now it’s about discerning where you are. Note: it’s where you are; not where your enemy is, or what that person’s intentions may be. It’s all about you: your life, your spirit, your soul, your health.
We can start to gain control by recognizing where we are, discerning what it is we are feeling: knowing the emotions that are beginning to swirl. Greet them, call them by name if that’s helpful. Realize that those emotions aren’t who you are; they don’t define you: they’re visitors who are simply passing through. It is within your power to show them the door. Yes, it can seem overwhelming … but hang on; there’s more to the Story — and you already know how it goes.
Meister Eckhart said, “If your only prayer is ‘thank you,’ that is enough.” My version is a little different: If your only prayer is “Oh my God!” that is enough. There are times when our sense of loss or confusion or helplessness is so great that we are bereft of words, and calling out to God is all that we can do. And that, I believe, is enough. It is a lifeline, shooting out through eternity, intertwining with the unbreakable cord that holds us securely to the heart of God.
With that, we are safe, and we need not be afraid. Not of evildoers or their deeds, not of threats or dangers or gossip or slander, not of suffering nor sorrow, nor life nor death — nor anything else in all creation. We are safe in the heart of God.
That glorious knowledge should be our real starting point.
If God is for us, who can be against us — and who gives a hoot if they are?!
We are loved by God; all else is commentary. With that understanding, that faith, it becomes easier to develop a meaningful perspective on our lives and our world. It becomes easier to relax, to laugh, to see beauty, to find joy; to get on with abundant living, focusing on what Really Matters — free from the burden of others’ wicked deeds and dishonorable intentions.
We have been called to follow the Lord Jesus Christ; to show forth His truth in the living of our lives: sowing seeds of compassion, care, generosity, gentleness, and love in all that we do, wherever we are — and, in all things, joy; a confident belief in God’s love for us and for all creation.
That, I think, is the meaning of the Scripture that I “heard” in my meditation: we are called to continue planting Gospel seeds, knowing that evildoers will be out there tossing out weed seeds, too. And we are also to be careful to harvest only the good; taking in only what is produced by compassion, love, and mercy — leaving the weeds behind. Don’t collect the toxic harvest into your life; don’t let it poison your spirit. Leave the weed seeds and their sowers to the mercy of God; their “stuff” isn’t yours.
This last brings us to another issue, a spiritual practice perhaps best described by my friend Mike: “Pray for the <ahem> stinker.” (Mike uses a more succinct term.)
It is an aspect of our faith that God’s grace extends to all that is, to the ends of the earth, to the end of the age. In compassion and mercy we dare to hope for divine glory to triumph: that even the wicked may be redeemed, even the hateful may be reformed. This spiritual practice is an affirmation of that hope and belief. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most challenging practices to undertake.
This prayer can also help us to release the toxic emotions that might otherwise take root in us. A call for blessing — and not a curse — upon those who wish us ill can break the cycle of harm and hatred that our enemy delights in.
Resistance to this prayer is understandable: it can feel as if it might create an opening for the evildoer’s poison to infect us, as if our prayer is a form of agreement with or acceptance of what was done or said; as if we are saying that what happened is “all right.” This is the same danger that arises when our forgiveness is misinterpreted as approval or permission to continue doing harm. It takes some time and effort to comprehend this, for it to feel right within our spirit and our soul. And that is OK; we are not called to instant, perfected faith: it is a process — and it should not be rushed. This is especially true in cases where the harm has been severe and/or lasting. The first soul to comfort and heal is your own.
If you cannot (yet) pray for the “stinker,” pray for yourself: ask the Beloved for protection, for peace, for a healed and healing spirit. Hand over troubles that seem insurmountable to the One who can move mountains.
If we live our lives in response to God’s love for us (“Deep calls to deep,”), all will be well. That doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect, that our lives will be easy, that the sun will shine every day and flowers will bloom in profusion. There will still be struggles and sorrows (and “stinkers”), but they will not overwhelm us, they will not lead us into despair, they will not trouble our hearts.
Be brave and good, my friends; God loves you, and so do I.
Reflect on this passage from the Psalms:
Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls;
all of Your breakers and waves wash over me.
The Lord decrees His loving devotion by day;
and at night His song is with me —
a prayer to the God of my life.
~ Psalm 42:7-8