A Country Bumpkin Goes to the Big City

My first job after college was in a large Midwestern, metropolitan area. When I changed jobs and moved back to Indiana, I immediately recognized three differences: (1) less traffic, (2) a slower pace of living, and (3) that people would look you in the eye and say “hello.” This last quality was the most surprising. I had not realized how much I had habituated to others passing by without acknowledging my presence.

 

Normal Behavior

Years later, while attending a conference in a large city on the west coast, I would take the bus or walk to get places. As I made my way down the sidewalk, I often tried to make eye contact with people I passed, either offering a smile or a slight nod. I was usually ignored, or I might receive only a brief glance. The only exceptions were the panhandlers who would catch my eye and saw me as an opportunity to score some money. I decided that ignoring others was an adaptive response for those living in populated areas where most of the people you meet are strangers. Because everybody acts that way, it’s also considered “normal.”

 

Recognizing how things worked, on subsequent trips, I readied myself for the panhandlers. When approached, I would strike up a conversation and then offer to buy the man a meal. I found that the discomfort I initially felt was now suddenly reversed. At least in the situations I faced, the other person acted awkward and confused. I suspect they’re not used to people responding this way because the average person doesn’t want to be bothered.

 

I just returned from another trip to the west coast that included a lot of driving on the interstate and navigating my way through busy city streets. I don’t think I imagined that people actually sped up to prevent me from making a lane change after I turned on my signal. And could all those people who opened their driver’s door as I approached their parked vehicle have been that clueless or did they just expect drivers to stop or skirt around them? I’m sure we’ve all experienced aggressive drivers who cut us off and weave between vehicles on the road.

 

On one occasion, it took me nearly an hour to circle a city block. A primary reason for the painfully slow progress was that vehicles would advance in the left lane to get around the slow moving traffic in my path. A local told that that’s what I should have done.

 

Life in the Country is Better…Or Is It?

I  currently live in a rural area. I’m one of those annoying people who drive within the speed limit, and I frequently have people ride my bumper who probably wish I would either speed up or get out of the way.

 

It’s also not uncommon for me to brake at a stop sign only to find someone approaching from the right or left who rolls through the intersection without coming to a stop.

 

I don’t believe that people on the west coast or in big cities are inherently more rude and obnoxious than elsewhere, and I have found that folks are much the same wherever I go. They have the same emotional needs, desire meaning and purpose in life, the same tendency toward sin, and want to be valued and cared for by others. No matter where we live, we all have the same potential to act selfishly and show disregard for others. It’s just that in some places, the local environment and culture may create greater stress that calls forth an uncharitable response, and if everybody behaves that way, then it becomes typical or “normal” behavior, even if it’s not a healthy way to live. In just the short time I spent on my trip, I was tempted to act this way.

 

What’s My Point?

Christian disciples need to follow and imitate Christ everywhere they go. This means demonstrating kindness, generosity, equanimity, patience, gentleness, and respect. Behaving this way will cost us. It could mean that we’ll:

  • Get stuck in a lane that doesn’t move.
  • Become a target for others who consider us naïve and an easy mark.
  • Be misunderstood by others who think we’re up to something.
  • Take longer to get places.
  • Be inconvenienced.

 

Acting out of step with our surrounding culture is not easy. You have to be intentional. But there are some advantages, too. For example, we may meet people and discover opportunities we would otherwise have missed. It also will help us grow in peace, joy, freedom, gentleness, humility, and gratitude.

 

When others treat us poorly, as they surely will, we should pray for them and not become angry, because while they may think of themselves as assertive and free to do what they want, they are, in fact, imprisoned. They are trapped in a self-centered cultural pattern and unable to act charitably toward others, and that is a sad thing.

 

Be Exalted

Although I have done no wrong,

Trouble continues to pursue me.

It prepares itself for my demise;

Seeks to cast me into a pit,

Deep and dark,

From which there is no escape.

 

Surrounded,

I try to hide away

And elude

The afflictions and Enemy

That seek to bring me down.

 

At times I’m afraid;

My anger grows in frustration.

I’m unsure of what to do.

It is all too much to bear.

 

“Have mercy on me, Lord,”

I plead when alone at night.

“Save me from all of this.

Put an end to my misery;

Restore me with your peace.”

 

Our Lord has not called us to live a life of ease,

But one of heroic faithfulness and trust.

We are the heroes,

Not in a fairy tale,

But in an epic story

Of unimaginable proportions,

That will one day come to a decisive end.

 

For a time,

Those living in a sin-stained world

Will need to endure trial and sorrow.

During these hours,

It may sometimes seem

That the Light remains hidden

In cloud and mist.

 

But whether we find respite in this life,

Or we must wait until the next,

Deliverance is sure

For those He calls His own.

 

What say we, then, to our Lord,

Who gives us joy and peace

And the sure promise of life eternal,

In the presence of our God and King?

 

“My heart is steadfast, God,

my heart is steadfast.

I will sing and chant praise.

Awake, my soul;

awake, lyre and harp!

I will wake the dawn.

I will praise you among the peoples, LORD;

I will chant your praise among the

nations.

For your mercy towers to the heavens;

your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Exalt yourself over the heavens, God;

may your glory appear above all the

earth.” (Psalm 57:8-12)

 

Inspired by Psalm 57.

 

The scriptures cited in this poem are taken from The New American Bible Revised Edition.

Satan, the Holy Spirit, and Negative Self Talk

Many people are unwilling to admit that we have a spiritual adversary, Satan, whose will and efforts are set against us. He is an angel who chose to rebel against God, and now he wants to bring us down with him.

Satan doesn’t cause every evil act in the world, as there’s plenty of natural evil to go around. But when we’re down and weak, he often takes advantage of the situation to try to bury us so deep that we’ll never get out.

Mental health therapists speak of the destructive effects of negative self-talk, where we put ourselves down and replay self-defeating conversations in our head. It’s not unusual to have these kinds of thoughts pop into our mind, but we shouldn’t hang on to them and allow them to take control. When that happens, we can lose focus, motivation, hope, and the ability to effect needed change.

I believe that negative self-talk is one of Satan’s favorite weapons he uses against us. He gets away with it when we allow our attention to dwell on our problems, instead of focusing on the spiritual reality of God’s love.

One of the challenges facing therapists is how to find a way to help people break out of their defeatist thinking when the person’s experiences and the people in their lives have hammered them with so much negativity. We need the immensely healing and positive message and power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit to overcome this evil. Instead, secular culture seems determined to “protect us” from the very healing balm we need.

Please note: I’m not diminishing the role of physicians or mental health specialists or the benefit they provide. We need both physicians to prescribe medications and therapists to help patients get out of destructive behavior patterns. It seems to me, however, that it’s a grave mistake to focus only on the physical and psychological issues while ignoring the spiritual ones.

 

Below, you will find a brief, self-talk dialogue representing how Satan will tempt us through negative self-talk, while the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts with the words of Scripture. Notice how God’s Word speaks with such power and truth that can’t be found in positive thinking alone.

 

The Conversation

 

Satan: Nobody cares. Nobody wants you.

HOLY SPIRIT: I have called you by name: you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)

 

Satan: You’re trash. You’re stupid.

HOLY SPIRIT: You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14)

 

Satan: You’re worthless. You could leave, and no one would care.

HOLY SPIRIT: You are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you. (Isaiah 43:4)

 

Satan: You’re weak. You can’t do anything right.

HOLY SPIRIT: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. ”I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell within me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 

Satan: You’re ugly. Your friends have more than you do. Look at everything you’ve done, and you have nothing to show for it. You’re a failure. You haven’t made a bit of difference.

HOLY SPIRIT: Do not love this world or the things of this world…The world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.    (I John 2:15, 17)

 

Satan: You‘ve blown it. You’ve ruined your life. You’ve screwed up for good.

HOLY SPIRIT: So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8: 9-11)

 

Satan: You’re lost. There’s no way out. There’s no point to fighting any further or going on anymore.

HOLY SPIRIT: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

 

Satan: Life is hell. And what do you have to look forward to afterward? Nothing. Emptiness. So give in to despair.

HOLY SPIRIT: All who are called by my name I created for my glory. (Is. 43:7)        

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now, and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18-23) 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

 

Satan: You can’t be saved. You are doomed. You’re alone.

HOLY SPIRIT: Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:5)

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35, 38-39)

 

Peace be with you!

 

 

Scripture quotations are from the New American Bible Revised Edition.

Where Is God?

Have you ever wondered, “Where is God right now when I need Him?”

Perhaps you:

  • Lost a job.
  • Had a child who died or developed a chronic illness.
  • Had your marriage end in divorce after your spouse had an affair.
  • Have an addiction, and you can’t break it.
  • Pray and do everything you’re supposed to do as a Christian, and it still seems God is a thousand miles away.

 

I could keep going. Some of us have gone from feeling that God is close to us and answers all our prayers, to one where it seems the door has been shut in our face, and we’re left standing outside asking, “Where is God?”

 

No Easy Path

After a conversion experience in high school, I had a remarkable period of peace and discovery as I grew in my relationship with Christ and the Church.

 

But as time went on, I ran into some tough situations that didn’t come equipped with quick and miraculous solutions. I struggled, mostly because I had a lot of growing to do, and God used these occasions to help me stretch. When I finished college, I still had a sense that God was near, and that I was growing spiritually.

 

A couple of years later, however, I hit a spiritual dry spell that lasted nearly twelve years. Most people who talk about their desert experiences speak or them in terms of weeks. I guess I was an especially tough case.

 

When I emerged from that spiritual wasteland, the Lord gave me a sense of His continual presence that has never left me. I was stronger and eager to serve. I thought I was finally starting to “arrive.” Not really.

 

The following years included some particularly difficult times of trial and suffering. Fortunately, as some people do, I was never tempted to turn my back on God. But the Lord took down the protecting hedge that had kept Satan from pressing attacks.

 

A God That’s Too Small

I learned a lot of lessons along the way—far too many to talk about here. But I would like to touch on three of them.

 

First, I started with a concept of God that was way too small. At different times, I thought of God as operating on a simple reward-and-punishment system; or as though he behaved like a vending machine where I could drop my prayer in and the expected answer would fall out. Fortunately, God is much bigger than those false gods, but when my expectations were screwed up, it made it seem as though God was not doing his part.

 

Second, there were all the times I prayed, went to retreats, attended Mass, read the Bible, etc.—all things that in the past helped me get in touch with God and feel close to Him. But now, none of these approaches seemed to work the same way. Unconsciously, I was expecting a static God who would work around my ego needs. Instead, I learned that while God remains the same, the way He relates to me is dynamic and changes over time so that I could grow and live by faith instead of using God as a way to me feel good.

 

Third, with all the difficulties and resistance I experienced, surely God could have made things easier for me, right? Yes, but instead, I learned that for those He loves, He allows the crucible of suffering to burn away the dross surrounding our hearts so that we could become more like his Son.

 

A Few Answers

 So, where is God?

He’s with us right now, and He never leaves us. So, if we don’t feel or see Him, there must be another explanation. I think that when we first come into a relationship with Jesus, the Lord grants us the grace of a “honeymoon” period, where we receive blessings, answered prayer, and other powerful experiences that help to sustain us. But there comes a time we need to move out of the nest, and He pulls back so we can grow in faith.

 

What is God doing?

Much of the time we don’t know what He’s doing unless he shows us. He is the infinite God, after all. We may be able to look back over time and understand His methods, or we may never know. As it turns out, providing magical protection from the evils of this world is not part of His plan. If we’re ready, he’ll continue to challenge us to push up against our comfort zone and boundaries.

 

Isn’t God taking quite a risk on us?

That is, isn’t making us go through spiritual deserts, persecution, and all sorts of trouble in life putting us at risk of calling it quits and walking away from Him? Once we came to place our faith in Him, shouldn’t that be enough until it’s time for Him to take us to heaven?

 

That would be true, except that a relationship with God is more than making a decision for Christ. It’s also about God loving us with the passionate love of the Father. He desires for us to share in His divine life and to become like His Son. He won’t let us stay little kids spiritually if we show any sign that we’re ready to grow up. We may not like the path we have to walk to get there, but every day, I’m learning more about how to appreciate the result.