Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hole-y Lives

Idol worship is a thing of the past, right? I mean who bows down to Baal these days? Who thinks the president is divine? All that Old Testament stuff about worshipping statues and other gods isn't for us. Or is it? 

While times have changed, some things about human nature have not. We still worship idols today, the just aren't the same ones listed in the Bible. The danger of our idol worship is that we may not see it because it is more cultural than religious. Just like the people in the Bible, we worry about being fed, being loved and being fulfilled. And we still try to take control of those worries and fix them ourselves.  To discover our idols, we have to explore our worries. 

The way to discover the idols we worship is to be idle. What happens when we are not running here or there? What pops into our heads when the TV isn’t on and there is nobody around? What do we think about when the computer is shut down and our minds are idle? What wakes us up at 3AM in a panic?

Oftentimes, what comes into our minds at the idle times are our longings, fears, or deep needs. That's why we keep busy or distracted. These needs may be material—wondering how we will pay for heat and groceries. They may be emotional—maybe we are lonely or desperately need the approval of others. The may be identity issues—maybe we have recently retired or gone to college or had a baby. They may be about power—our culture is changing and we just can’t seem to understand the new world that is coming. 

My own anxiety wakes me up at 3AM. I panic that I should be somewhere other than my bed performing some religious ritual and all the people are waiting. I find myself sitting up in the dark, heart pounding while my rational brain tries to convince me that nobody is expecting anything from me at that moment. Your idling brain may come up with something similar or completely different. 

We all have anxieties or longings or fears within us that we need help dealing with. Maybe you’ve heard of the God-shaped hole. It’s that emptiness within us that only God can fill. A longing for something that only God can supply. A fear that only God can relieve. But a lot of us try to fill that hole of longing or fear with something other than God—those things can become our idols. An idol can be clothes or "likes" on Facebook or pats on the back or retweets or an ice-cream sundae or a new, "better" doctor or the latest iPhone or a politician or a drug or whatever. Idols are what we use to fill that hole, to relieve our anxiety, quiet that fear and put us back to sleep in the middle of the night.

Sometimes we aren't even aware of what this hole is. It just feels like emptiness or a tightening in the pit of our stomach and so we start shoving potato chips or parties or shoes in to fill the hole only to discover it feels empty the next day. 

Prayer can be our invitation God to let us see into the hole and face our fear or anxiety head on, knowing that God is by our side. We can explore that hole with someone who is bigger and stronger than we are. Someone who has seen lots of holes. 

In prayer we can invite God into that hole instead of trying to fill it ourselves with things that don't work. When we name our fears we can begin to feel some power over them. When we explore our holes our idols begin to fall away—maybe not easily, maybe not gently and maybe not gracefully. I know that for me it's when I make the effort to remember that I am loved and forgiven as I am that my gaping need for approval begins to shrink and my idols of work and perfectionism cease to have power over me. Occasionally, I can even experience that peace that passes all understanding and glimpse that life of godliness and dignity we read about in First Timothy.

The peace that passes all understanding is unique because it doesn't make sense. It "passes all understanding" and doesn't insist that everything be rainbows and roses. It doesn't romanticize life and assume no holes. It's a peace that says, yes, life can be heartbreakingly difficult. But, it's a peace that can look our fears and anxieties straight in the eye and name them in prayer. It's a peace that allows me to recognize that not everyone will approve of me and still get some sleep. Out of this peace we can we can find resurrected lives in this life.  It's not a peace of denial or weakness, but strength. It doesn't stand idly by but invites God into our hole-y lives and allows us to live as beloved people instead of anxious people. It a way of being that sees the darkness in and around us and claims kingdom of God is at hand. Right here. Right now.   

1 Timothy 2:1-7
1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6who gave himself a ransom for all-this was attested at the right time.7For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
18My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. 19Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: "Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?" ("Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?") 20"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." 21For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 22Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?
1O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!