Monday, January 28, 2013

Catching Monkeys

I heard a very neat story at church yesterday in a sermon titled "What Christians Can Learn from Monkeys."  Yes, monkeys.  You might be surprised at the comparison, but I assure you it's a good one. 
The story goes:
There’s an oft repeated tale about how certain hunters in Africa catch monkeys. It can be very difficult to corral these intelligent creatures, so hunters have used a more inventive method…trapping a monkey by enticing him. A small jar is placed at the base of a tree with nuts or other items which may attract the monkey’s curiosity.
The opening of the jar allows the monkey to place his hand in, but when he tries to withdraw it, he is unable to do so without letting go of the contents of the jar. Believe it or not, some monkeys will stay there with their hand in the jar until the hunter comes back to trap them! They are trapped because they are unwilling to let go of something they are doing which is working against them.
There was obviously more to the sermon than this story, but I was intrigued by the idea behind this little tale.  It made me wonder how often I am like the monkey, unwilling to let go of the juicy tidbits in that jar and trapped in a bad situation because of it.  Why are we so resistant and stubborn?  Intellectually I know that God will take my burdens from me and handle them better than I ever could.  Emotionally it's a lot harder to give him those things.  If I "let go and let God" what will I control?  How will I determine the outcome I need if it's not in my hands anymore? 
I think we really like playing tug-of-war with God.  How many times do you give Him a burden just to reach out and snatch it back minutes later?  What do you gain from holding on to it?  Nothing - in fact, you set yourself up to be trapped by the "hunter" every time you snatch a burden back from God.  I am convinced that Satan uses any little morsel he can get to entice you into his trap.  When we struggle with giving God control we open ourselves up to Satan and he's waiting with his net to catch us and keep us snared forever. 
Fortunately for us, God has given us everything we need to avoid the trap.  Throughout the Bible are verses that tell us what He has in store for us if we will just trust in Him.  I will share some of my favorites with you and I challenge you to find some favorites of your own to use when you feel the trap closing in. 
Matthew 6:31-33
So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
I remember when I first realized what this passage was talking about.  As a champion worrier I was stunned and comforted at the same time.  I don't have to worry - it's a choice I make.  I continue to work on giving God my worry and letting tomorrow worry about itself. 
Luke 12:22-34
Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This is Luke's version of the same parable shared in Matthew.  Jesus is quite clear about what He wants from us.  He wants us to let Him do the worrying for us so that we can be about His business here on Earth. 
I hope to someday outsmart the hunter and get my hand out of the jar.  As I mature in my Christian walk I am able to leave more and more behind, but there's always something in that jar that I just can't resist holding on to.  I am determined that those things, too, will soon be left in the jar and Satan will have to stand back and let me go.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Celebration of Marriage

Today Charles and I celebrate 13 years of marriage.  Wow!  According to several online sites, the average marriage that ends in divorce in the US lasts 8 years.  That's pretty sobering, isn't it?  When Charles and I celebrated our 8 year anniversary we had three young children, had recently moved into our home, and were experiencing some rough financial times.  We were on a very strict budget, and I don't think we went anywhere to celebrate.  Each year since has brought something different - sometimes better, sometimes worse.  Last year I was just 9 days out of back surgery, so we postponed any celebration until I was mobile.  But whether we do it up big or just spend some special time together, I am a big believer in acknowledging the importance of every anniversary.

Marriage is not a popular topic in our society.  Don't get me wrong - we LOVE weddings and romance, and we love to be in love, but marriage is not nearly as cool.  Marriage requires sacrifice and unselfishness; it's taking a spouse to the hospital when they're sick, holding them when they cry, and letting them vent when they really need it.  It's bills and paychecks and more bills.  It's raising children and pets and learning to make time for yourselves as a couple when you're pulled in about 500 different directions every week.  That's marriage - is it any wonder so many people give up when it gets hard? 

What's the benefit to working your way through all the hard stuff?  You end up with a lifelong companion, a person who is so close to you they see you down to your soul.  Yes, that means the ugly parts too, but they don't care!  I can be myself with Charles, warts and all, and I can trust him to hold me accountable when those warts start showing through!  Conversely, I can also hold him accountable when his less desirable traits make a showing.  

I can honestly say that marriage is not what I expected it to be 13 years later, but it's better than what I ever envisioned for myself.  Our marriage isn't perfect, and it wouldn't work for anyone else, but it works for us.  Why?  I think because we made a decision long ago to put God in charge of our relationship.   Our home is built on a firm foundation of Jesus Christ and He influences every decision we make.  Times we don't see eye to eye there's often a disconnect somewhere between us and God.  We aren't perfect, and our marriage isn't perfect, but it's blessed by God and He holds us in the palm of His hand.  That's comforting to me, and makes me firmly believe that I will be writing on my marriage in another 13 years, and 13 years after that!