My soul is at home in the Mountain and Desert Western United States. It may very well be this way because I was born along the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains. It could also be due to the fact that many of my best childhood memories happened in a place where the air is dry, the sky is blue, and humidity is a foreign concept. But perhaps the West is my spiritual ally because of the wide open spaces.
There is something unique about driving along a dusty back road where mountain peaks 90 miles away are visible. And for me, there is nothing like standing on one of those peaks looking out over miles and miles and miles of creation. When you get down to it, I feel the way I do about the mountain and desert West because of the space. The scenery is just so vast.
Space enables perspective. Space facilitates inspiration. Space creates awe, renders silence, enhances the sense of how small we are, and allows us to see things in ways we otherwise would not be able to perceive.
It is only on a mountain top we gain a sense of what a valley is and it is by standing on a desert floor we begin to understand height. Space highlights opposites and exposes differences. Beauty happens because of space.
As I reflect upon geographical space, it occurs to me that space is something that happens within human relationships as well. While space can mean a relationship is strained or that people within a relationship are unhappy, space can also represent a basic truth that all human beings are different from one another. And perhaps rather that seeing such differences as a negative, we should view others who are vastly different from who we are in the same way we view the space of the West.
People from whom we differ offer us perspective, a different way of viewing things, and hopefully enables us to see things in new and varying ways. Topographical space offers us vistas and propels us to ponder and wonder. Wouldn’t a similar reaction to those with whom we differ be just as wonderful and impactful?
If everyone around us thought, believed, and expressed themselves as we do, if would be like living in a cave, a cave in which all people would be the same and life’s beauty and spectacular nuances would disappear. Imagine if the West was flat. Do we want life to be like that?
- A teacher (either your teacher or one of your children’s teachers)
- Your pastor or spiritual mentor
- A service industry worker (Servers, Nurses, Mechanics, Check-out Clerks, Firefighters, Policemen, Military, etc.)
- A family member (Spouse, Child, Parent, Sibling, etc.)
- Somebody who has inspired you through their example or by something they said
- A coworker
- Somebody who you haven’t spoken with in years
- A person with whom you have had a difficult relationship
- A random person who you meet in public
- An animal that you love
Recently someone sent me a fascinating article based on some research that has been done at Northwestern University. Apparently, the people we choose to spend time with affects us dramatically. The article notes that “choosing the right friends is important because it causes our brain waves to resemble those of the people we spend the most time with. This means we start becoming alike, and pick up their desirable behaviors and ways of seeing the world without being conscious of it.”
The research suggests that choosing people is more important than choosing what to eat, what to wear, where to go, what to do, or what to order. One person states, “the more important decision we have when going to a restaurant, for example, is who to go with. That is far more important and impactful than the choices on the menu.”
The same person says, “we get on the same wavelength with those we spend the most time with. If people want to make life improvements, such as reading more or getting better at something, then they should spend their time with someone who has those desirable traits and they will naturally pick them up.”
While I find this research fascinating and valid, what if we become more and more like, more and more in alignment with, not just those we spend the most time with, but with whom or what we choose to serve as well.
And the choices of whom or what we serve each day are limitless, both good and bad. We can choose to serve God, assets, an identity, family, our egos, an image, a profession, a political party, or a specific role we have in life, just to name a few. And whom or what we choose to serve impacts everything.
All of this causes me to wonder what might happen if you and I choose moment to moment to serve Christ. What if by choosing to serve Christ our minds get on the same wavelength with Jesus. What if by choosing to serve Christ, our days begin to reflect who God is.
And how might we see the challenges, joys, heartaches, struggles, fears, hopes, dreams, and let downs imbedded within each day if our minds were on the same wavelength as God’s? What might happen if during discussions, meetings, meals, random happenings, and events that occur
I have come to understand that if we want to change our lives for the better, the best place to start is not on the outside, but on the inside. The more we spend time with God, the more we make serving Christ our priority, the more we will find changes happening on the outside. The important thing about all of this is to make daily conscious choices, not only about the people we spend the most time with, but whom or what we are serving. Such decisions will dramatically affect the course of each moment.
The events of last Sunday afternoon have sent a shock wave around communities of faith. It is an event whose horror and resultant despair is beyond description. As news outlets and others write and speak about the event, words from the 2nd Chapter of the Book of Job came to mind.
11 When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.12 When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.
As I reflect upon the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, like Job’s friends, few if any words come to my mind, just silence. I remain speechless and at the moment I find the suffering there too great for words. Instead of words entering my mind, I have been overwhelmed with two images.
The first is of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. The second, which I gain only glimpses of, has to do with what Jesus must have seen as he gazed out upon the crowds as he hung dying. And for the moment I am simply sitting in silence with both images.
Rather than offer empty words this week, I invite you to spend some time in quiet prayer with God, knowing that in the months ahead, another story like this one will be repeated, but in another setting. So I prayerfully ask, “How does God want me to respond?” And as we journey following Jesus, I invite you to do the same.
Words are powerful stuff as we all know. And I’ve learned a helpful new bit of information — sometimes they don’t scrub off.
Last weekend at our Fall Family Retreat we had all the participants write a word on their right hand that describes how they show up in the world; one word that best sums them up. On the left hand, participants were then asked to write a word that describes who they want to be, or a characteristic they want to improve upon. As one of the facilitators, I joined in and wrote “Caring” on one of my hands, and “Bold” on the other (I’ll leave you to guess which word went with which hand!).
Later that night, I noticed the red Sharpie ink was difficult to get off my skin but it was late on a Sunday evening and I wasn’t about to argue with the pillow, so I headed to bed. Imagine my surprise when I looked in the mirror the next morning and had the words “Caring” and “Bold” tattooed on my CHEEKS! Apparently I have a habit of sleeping on my side, one hand under my cheek. Precious, I know.
What isn’t always precious is the words we use to describe ourselves. How many of us would actually want to broadcast to the world the way we think of ourselves sometimes? Today, for instance, my words might be “Old” and “Insecure.” Not sure I’d want to wake up to THAT in the mirror tomorrow morning!
Nevertheless, I kind of like the idea of people walking around with their words emblazoned on their cheeks this way. “Strong,” “Disciplined,” “Centered,” “Zany,” “Laid-Back,” “Reliable,” “Hot Mess.” Ok, that last one was two words, but imagine the instant camaraderie, favor, and grace that it would elicit from others if you just owned it: You’d be like, “My left cheek says I am rockin’ the chaos in my life right now, but not to worry, my right cheek says Imma be centered soon.” It’s a beautiful balance that is honest, raw, and real. Just like life. One word speaks the truth about the way we show up in the world. The other offers hope for transformation and change.
Words have power. Words create worlds. When we focus on what we want more of, we begin to create more of that thing. Keeping our words positive and grounded in hope becomes imperative, lest we bind ourselves up in negativity and despair. Proverbs 16:34 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
Be gracious with the words you place on yourselves and others, my friends. They can be very hard to scrub off.