Thursday, September 13, 2012

Restless Heart, Prayerful Thanks

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” —Saint Augustine 

The silent phone and the silent home… the reminder, amid the aching, that my God is still here with me, even while in the moment I feel so deeply alone.

The tissue box beside the bed… the ever-faithful tear catchers.

The faithful stuffed blue bunny… the comforting presence of a childhood friend who revives cherished memories.

The restless turning… knowing that my heart is restless, and remembering that I will only find rest in Him.

The unanswered questions… because I am still actively seeking and haven’t given up; because I am human and finite, and I am forced to realize that I have no answers to what the future holds.

The calming spiritual music… the echoing of my thoughts, infusing my mind with reminders of all that I need to trust and believe, even when I don’t understand.

The candle light… banishing the deep darkness and the haunting nightmares behind by eyes.

The passing time… marking the approaching morning light as the moments trail by.

The praying lips… the outpouring of words, asking for wisdom to listen for His answers and seeking comfort for my troubled soul; always wishing I’d begun sooner.

The heavy eyes… the promise of sleep soon to come.

The long sigh… releasing the shame of squandered wishes, daily failures, and unfinished work, and leaving them in His most capable hands.

The final drifting thoughts… that the coming day is bright and new, to be lived fully; and that courageous love is possible, because of my Father’s everlasting love for me.
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep,If I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take,
And this I ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”

Monday, September 3, 2012

Turning Attention toward Matters of Faithfulness

"I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful.” —Mother Teresa
What does it mean to be faithful? 

I find this idea of faithfulness has been bantered around. We speak of it as showing loyalty to another person, idea, or cause. Our conversations revolve around a sense of being constant or being steadfast in what you believe. Perhaps it includes all these things. But I wonder: are we being too glib when we substitute faithfulness for some other adjective in order to understand it? Are we actually taking the time to stop and think about what “faithfulness” means in our lives?

How does this tie in with success? The two concepts seem to go hand in hand. Success is the hoped-for, positive result when you set out to accomplish a goal. Sometimes, our idea of complete success does not come to fruition with the goal is accomplished. Yet the only way to achieve the success you hope for is to be faithful to that task you’ve set out to accomplish.

The reason I bring up this idea of faithfulness is because I’ve heard it come up in talks about relationships and about work situations. Are you faithfully attending to your work? Are you faithfully attending an event or activity? Are you faithfully spending time with another person?

It starts to sound like you’re being nagged about something… all the time. And with this discussion, there’s always a sense of judgment with time. The amount of time I spend on something (or with someone) is invariably going to be different than how much time you believe should be spent in that same situation. 

Granted, those same standards, or judgments, are a necessary part to a relationship where one person is in a position of authority over another. Parents often need to keep track of their children in this manner – to ensure that they are faithfully studying in school, faithfully attending to chores or a job, faithfully treating their siblings with love and respect. Parents would not be faithfully raising their children if they were not faithful in this respect. The similar position of judgment also goes for an employer when evaluating an employee in the work he or she needs to accomplish. Judgments are appropriate, in certain situations.

For those relationships and situations where the “authority card” is not in play, faithfulness can’t really be measured according to standards that require one person to pass judgment over another. What happens when we try to make ourselves The Judge? 

What if we turn the tables? Can we look at ourselves and our own failure to be perfectly faithful, and can we honestly claim that we are worthy to judge and measure another’s faithfulness? Of course not. When we are in a position of authority, we take on this responsibility out of humility and in service, not because we believe we have a right to be a judge of faithfulness. 

My point in all this is to consider that, perhaps, we focus on the wrong aspect of determining faithfulness when we emphasize the role of judgment. Judgments like these serve more as a progress report, to see whether we are on track with our goals and on track with the ethical methodology to achieve them, and it usually involves a group effort. At this point, the end goal of success has not yet been achieved, though a successful method is in place and is being evaluated.

So coming back to the main question again: how do we determine a person’s faithfulness? What does it mean to be faithful?

Consider again the idea of judgment with time. I believe it is our stewardship of time where we have a real area of concern, because time gives us parameters in every aspect of our lives.

The easiest way to try measuring faithfulness by time is through the quantity of time we spend. It’s our most automatic reaction to justify time well spent. Yet we fall into a trap when we measure faithfulness according to quantity… as if the lack of time means we are less faithful or as if the greater amount of time means we are more faithful. Is this really the case? I'm sure you and I can easily thing of exceptions to this.

The other automatic measure of time well spent is through its quality. Quality of time seems to be the opposite of "time quantity", and we often tend to treat it as such. The two ideas are related, but they cannot be measured in the same way. Any CEO or business-owner will probably tell you that their company goals usually involve the desire to build quality relationships. Yet “time is money”, and the less time you can spend on any one thing, then the more time you will have available spend on a greater variety of things. In this way, you are being a good, faithful steward of time. Still others can argue that the only way to establish good quality relationships (or to fully accomplish a task) is to spend a greater quantity of time in them (or it). The reason for this is because it is sometimes the case that only through that greater length of time can you establish a firm and lasting relationship, or that only through that length of time can the successful results of a completed task be long lasting.

The truth is, neither of these measurements in terms of quality and quantity are completely wrong or right. Often it is each individual situation that helps determine which course is best to take. So how do we solve this dilemma of faithfulness through the lens of time stewardship?

I think that in this case, I’m reminded of a topic touched on by Simone Weil, an extraordinary woman philosopher who I have had the pleasure of studying this past year. She pays quite a bit of attention to the concept of attention, and I believe it’s worth looking into.

When we focus on attention as a standard for faithfulness, the aspects of quality and quantity both fall into place. Attention means that you are giving focus and energy to the goal, to the task, to the relationship. Attention ensures quality is good because you will not let distractions pull you away from being faithful. Attention means that the quantity of time you spend will be enough, and your focus will allow you to devote the right amount of energy… because you have the active desire to be faithful.

What is faithfulness? I propose this definition: it is the active, attentive effort to strive toward a good goal, toward completing a worthy task, toward establishing and maintaining worthwhile personal relationships.

Carrying out faithfulness as attention is daunting… and it is prone to moments of failure. But we are imperfect humans, after all. Sometimes we fail. And in the spirit of this, since when do moments of failure equal a complete end to our efforts? They don’t… not when the goal or task or relationship is more important than the hurdles that may come our way. 

If the goal requires faithfulness, then our striving for enduring attention is essential… and with it, God willing and with His blessing, our endeavors will become successful far beyond our dearest dreams.
“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul.” —Simone Weil