You are driving along one day and someone cuts you off, and in that moment, you get mad. You lay on the horn and yell a few words that you never would have said if you mother had been sitting in the car next to you. Then, when you realize that the other driver is looking at you through his rear view mirror, you show him the international symbol for, “I don’t appreciate what you just did.” A couple of miles later, as your anger level subsides, you say to yourself, “I shouldn’t have done that. I’m a Christian and I should not have reacted the way I did.” Over and over throughout the rest of the day you keep beating yourself up, saying, “I shouldn’t have done that.”
One day you are having a cup of coffee with a friend and you are telling her about the difficult time that you are going through in your life. Your friend nods as she is listening to you, an indication that she knows what you are talking about. When you finished she says to you, “What you need to do is just pray about it.” You take a deep breath and sigh a little bit because you knew she was going so say that. That’s when you admit, “Sometimes I feel like God is just not listening to me.” With a look of horror on her face, your friend says to you, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” For the rest of the day, her words of indictment keep pounding their way into your thoughts.
I am guessing that we all know what it is like when either our own conscience, or a well-meaning friend, tries to convince us of what we should and shouldn’t be doing or should and shouldn’t be feeling, especially since we are Christians. On the surface there is nothing really wrong with being reminded of the implications that come with living out our Christian lives. The problem is that such reminders simply miss the point.
Telling myself that I shouldn’t have gotten angry on the road isn’t helpful. The fact is, I did get angry on the road. So, the question is, “Why did I get angry on the road?” Being told that I shouldn’t feel as though God is not listening is not helpful. The fact is, I do feel as though God is not listening. So, the question is, “Why do I feel as though God is not listening?” Should or shouldn’t statements simply scratch the surface of our lives. Asking the harder questions forces us to go deeper.
When we take a more honest look at our thoughts and actions and ask the harder questions we find new opportunities to reflect upon our lives, to think more deeply about what it means to be a child of God. Such reflections may reveal hurts from our past that are seeking to find healing, hurts that are causing us to act and think in ways that are contrary to how we want to live out our Christian faith. When we reflect deeply on our lives, we often discover hidden assumptions and expectations about God and ourselves that can skew our interpretation of Scripture and can actually lead us further away from God. Such deep reflections can result in the changes that we seek to implement in our lives.
Prior to his ascension Jesus gave us some wonderful gifts to help us with our deeper reflections. One is the Holy Spirit who is our counselor and friend, who is present in our lives to help lead us into truth. Another gift that Jesus gave us is each other, sisters and brothers of faith. When we invite the Holy Spirit and when we invite a friend of faith to be part of our honest reflections, we discover new possibilities of healing, and new possibilities of thinking and acting that are consistent with being the child of God that we want to be.