Thursday, January 2, 2014

No Rules, No Promises, No Happy Ending

"A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead."
Luke 10:30

Have you ever noticed that not many of Jesus' parables have an ending? We don't know what ultimately happened to the good Samaritan. Was he rewarded for his deed? Did the wounded man heal? What about the five virgins who were turned away? And the man with the one talent? Did he learn from his mistake?

Contrasted with the stories we tend to tell each other today, where sacrifice is rewarded and sorrow is always temporary, we are left wanting to know what's next. There is some primal part of us, deep in our psyches, that yearns to know that the good guys "lived happily ever after." Walt Disney built an empire on it.

My life isn't an "okay in the end" kind of life right now. I'm being held in a liminal state, where I know where I want to be, I think I know where God wants me to be, but I have no idea how to get there. It is sheer agony for someone who has always worked for a goal, tried to become something.

That happy ending seems impossible from this end of the very long, dark tunnel. So I've been digging deeply into my heart, learning to let go of tomorrow's ending so that I can dive into today's opportunities to minister. I'm not very good at it yet, but the seeds of true charity are starting to sprout.

Letting go of that happy ending is a scary place to be, in a lot of ways. It requires ignoring what other people think of you and your choices. It requires ignoring what YOU think of you and your choices. It means taking your fears and handing them over to God. "I don't know what to do with this, you figure it out," and He does. I don't know it because I've experienced it, but I know it because I know my God. I've "proved Him in days that are past." Hymn #19

Why do we need this feeling that things will be okay in the end? Why do we all want answers?

"To me, the fear is that God can change the rules at any time."
—a blog comment about polygamy

The Gospel is as full of ambiguity as life is. Do we follow the prophets, or rely on the Spirit? Are we equal partners in marriage, or does the husband preside? Is the priesthood a setting apart, or a servant leadership? Was the pre-1979 restriction on the priesthood of God, or wasn't it? Polygamy? Which God is the true God, the angry one of the Old Testament, or the turn-the-other-cheek teachings of the Savior in the New Testament? Are we to be self-reliant or interconnected? What about chastity and purity? How far is too far?

Give me the rules, the lines in the sand!

When a horse whisperer approaches a wild mustang, the first part of training is to teach the horse to not be afraid. Over and over and over again, day in and day out, you expose the skittish half-ton animal to stimuli of fear until it learns that doing what you want makes the scary things go away. They learn to no longer be afraid, because they learn to trust you. They learn the rules, and when they follow the rules, they are safe.

But we are not mustangs. We are children of God. Have you ever stopped to wonder what that means?

Think about it for a moment. Death of loved ones, being vulnerable, rejected, a failure....What do you fear? I have feared them all at one time. I used to fear failure above all else. And guess what? I've been exposed to failure again and again and again, but not because I turned away from God, because I turned to Him. My hardships aren't punishment, they are exactly what I asked for: a chance to become like Him.

Right now, I'm not sure I really believe in the marriage part of the gospel. And that worries me, because a happy marriage—an eternal marriage—is the pinnacle of our covenants. But even though I don't see any evidence that relationships or marriage can be a positive thing for me, I trust Him enough to continue to wrestle with it, to fling myself against the pain again and again until I can learn from it.

I think maybe it's working. Because I have noticed something over the past year or so. I'm becoming still. Not just "I'm being patient, God, don't you notice? Can't you see how well I'm doing? Now where's the reward?!" kind of way, but truly still. I've learned to forgive myself for my imperfections to the point where they no longer obsess me. I'm crabby sometimes, and that sucks, but it doesn't suck me in the way it used to.

I forget things, make mistakes. But I no longer panic about it. And being free from the fear of imperfection has freed me to love other imperfect people. Not just feel great about them, but to truly love them. To see outside of my narrow little needs and dive into their needs, knowing that mine will be taken care of one way or another.

I need to trust my God that life doesn't have to be about endings. It's not about where we end up, it's about being here, NOW. We don't wait for heaven, it's here. There's no need to worry about a system of rewards for good behavior, not even a need to worry about good behavior at all. Heaven isn't about rest. It's not about a crown of glory and praise. The glory of heaven IS the working of "the immortality and eternal life of man."

It's about being involved. It's about binding up the wounds of the broken man on the side of the road. Not because he's a good man, or because he will survive, but simply because he is there and we are there, and binding up his wounds is who we are. There doesn't have to be a moral or an end. Just an act.

"There are no happy endings, because nothing ends."
—Schmendrick the Magician, the Last Unicorn

I tend to agree with Schmendrick. There is something liberating when we realize that we aren't safe. Life isn't safe. There is no happy ending, but there is endless joy.

What are the tensions you have come up against in the Gospel? How have you navigated them?

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