That Other Four-Letter Word

Four-letter words have a ….. reputation.  There’s %#!~ and @$*&, and others.  There are still others that enjoy a great reputation.  Love.  Care.  Hugs.

And then there is this other four-letter word that gets a mixed reaction.  Some cling to it because it sums up what motivates them day after day.  Others keep it at arm’s length, or even further, because it’s expectations and demands.

Why the difference? Why do some cherish it while others are repelled by it?

There are those who are uncomfortable with the word because it might cramp their style.  It would restrain their freedom to focus mostly on themselves.  They would have to set aside their own needs and desires in order to be a help to people close to them or even people they’ve never met.

We are told that in order to be happy and fulfilled we must do whatever it takes to be self-actualized.  It doesn’t much matter how it might affect the lives of others, as long as we are able to be free.

They may not acknowledge any power or authority higher than their own.  Having blinded themselves to the image of God within, they glide through life believing that they are accountable to no one, a deceit that keeps them blissfully selfish.

But others see the word differently.  They see it as a call to action.  They know that although they didn’t seek it, they have a responsibility for people around them.  They gain self-esteem by setting aside their own needs and desires in order to care for others.

There are a lot of things in life you can change.  Regret is not one of them.  They want to be able to know that they did their best to be helpful.

Some they help may never notice what has been done for them, or why.  But those who respect and cherish this other four-letter word know that regardless whether their efforts are recognized or not, they are compelled to make the effort.

They may or may not succeed, but they must try so that the threat of regret might not haunt them.

They know others don’t see it this way.  Yet knowing those others are repelled by this word, those who embrace it gain a level of pride the others may never know.

Whether they recognize it or not, they have learned the importance of this word from God himself.  God has given them the drive to push themselves, to set aside the satisfaction of self, and the will to look after the needs of others.  He leads the way.

They are determined to do whatever it takes to fulfill their voluntary obligations, summed up with that other four-letter word.

Duty.

——————————————–

Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Celebrating The Small Successes

It’s a weekend.  I look at my to-do list.  Because of weather, timing, or something necessary not yet in place, I can’t do this, or this, or this.  But I could finish that, and that, and that and enjoy the satisfaction of crossing it off the list.

We may have had grand ambitions to affect massive change, touch the hearts of millions, and accomplish the impossible.  That might work out for some and the world might be a better place because of their efforts.

But that’s not how the story works out for most of us.  We may not be able to cross off everything on our to-do list.  But we can celebrate what we have done.

When we touch a life in a positive way, we can have an enormous impact on someone who needed that show of kindness.  It might not have seemed like a big deal to us.  But it could have helped them manage another day, and encourage them to pass the kindness on to someone else we’ve never met.

We may never score the touchdown and hear the roar of the crowd as they cheer the victory.  But we can move the ball down the field.

That smaller accomplishment may not gain the acclaim given to the one who crossed the goal line, but it may have helped win the game.  You’ve made a difference whether in sports, or business, or with some community project.  You were part of the solution.

Several years ago, we all became aware of the meaning of the “bucket list”, things you want to experience before you pass.  The downside of such a list is that it can set up false expectations of what is realistic.  If we don’t check them all off our list have we failed?

No.  We can be grateful for what we can experience without setting ourselves up for disappointment.  Dreams are fine, but they are clouds not anchors.

Recently someone gave me a very nice compliment.  Actually, I was a bit shocked.

It was very affirming.   It doesn’t make up for decades of disappointments, and lost opportunities, and the realization that we never personally affected massive change.  Yet it was a reminder that we can have small successes that need to be celebrated.

We have made some difference, and the world and ourselves are better off because of what we’ve done.

We may never finish this, or this, or this.  But we can be a snowflake that nudges a clump of snow, that begins to slide down the mountain, starting an avalanche.

More likely, we may never know how our honorable efforts have helped others.  So, we remind ourselves that even without seismic changes, we have done something worthwhile, a victory we can celebrate.

Whether we see the results or not, the dream of having a positive legacy can continue to motivate us to do that, and that, and that.

Let’s celebrate.

——————————————————–

Dave Soucie lives, serves, and writes in Indianapolis

 

Peace Beyond The Turmoil

What will life look like down the road?  The answer may depend on how willing we are to take a deep breath, reflect, and accept a broader and more seasoned perspective.

Ryan and Sierra sit on their back-patio swing and watch their three kids play.  Ages 3 to 8, they don’t seem to be bothered by the turmoil that has kept the family at home these past few months.  The oldest knows some things, but can’t understand the magnitude of the challenges.

Ryan and Sierra do understand, all too well.  Ryan has been furloughed from his job, but might soon be able to return part-time.  Sierra can work from home.  They are being careful, and have so far managed, grateful for her steady income.

But it is not just the pandemic that worries them.  The political hostility has divided the country in ways they couldn’t have imagined.  The social tension is disturbing, the worst they’ve ever seen.  Their parent’s retirement security may be threatened, and they can only partially disguise their worry.

It appears that part of the collateral damage of Covid 19 is that it has strained nerves to the breaking point.  Like with the medical and financial impact of Covid 19, it will take years to fully understand the social and emotional toll felt by all.  The last few years, and especially 2020, will be studied and analyzed for generations, and probably much longer.

Still watching the kids, Ryan broke the silence.  “Dad reminded me yesterday of the old proverb; ‘Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan.’  He wanted me to remember why there is so much finger pointing going on, with so many people blaming everything on each other.”

Sierra shook her head.  “You can see that both in the political landscape and the protests.  That and too much pent-up male testosterone which has made all of these problems so much worse.”

He shook his head and grinned.  “You do like bringing that up, don’t you?”  She turned to him and smiled.  “You know I’m right.”

They watch their kids for a while, grateful for the blissful days of childhood, the innocence that shields their kids from the anxiety that has stolen peaceful sleep from all others.

Sierra, still watching them, said.  “I have to wonder what unknown crises they will have to deal with years from now, especially when they’re looking after us.”

“You know it will be something” Ryan answered.  “Always something else.  I hope that by that time we’ll look back on these days and be satisfied that we did our best.  Some are handling things with calm knowing that they can get through it. ‘God works for the good…'”

“‘ …of those who love him'” she finished.  “I think some, and I hope including us, will be proud how we faced it all.  I’m afraid that others will look back and be sorry once they regret how they acted.  That will be embarrassing.  But not us.”

Without looking at her he reached down, held her hand, and repeated “But not us.  And we’re also so humble.”  She laughed.

In recent times they’ve had to be more intentional about finding the humor, appreciating the small pleasures, and reminding themselves of all the things that have worked well.  It’s those blessings that have helped them face the ongoing stresses of the time.  Although tempted to be overwhelmed, they have chosen to keep going for everyone’s sake.

He asked “So should we be optimistic pessimists, or pessimistic optimists?”  Her brow slowly creased, and she cocked her head.  “And what is the difference?”

“Maybe an optimistic pessimist would be someone who is cheerful now, but resigned to things ending badly.  Sort of being in denial as a coping mechanism.  And a pessimistic optimist will be someone who is certain we’ll have one challenge after another after another, a never-ending string of problems.  But in the end, well, it will turn out okay.”

They sat for a moment.  “With our faith, how can we not believe it will end well?” she answered.

He agreed.  “My thoughts exactly.  So we breathe deep, feel his peace ‘which transcends all understanding’, and just keep going.”

“Speaking of going, I just got bit” Sierra said as she slapped her ankle. “We need to go in.”

Ryan stood up and looked toward their kids.  “Who’s ready for some VeggieTales?”  The kids began to run to the patio door.

He reached out to help her up.  She smiled, squeezed his hand, and they walked back inside.

This family of faith knows that although they will always face tough times, they know they will never face them alone.  They have each other, and a loving God.

——————————————————–

Dave Soucie lives, serves, and writes in Indianapolis

 

 

 

 

Will We Finish Well?

You’re going to change the oil in your car.  You crawl underneath, unscrew the plug on the oil pan, and let all the old dirty oil drain.  While it’s draining you replace the filter.  When all the old oil has been drained, you replace the plug, and without adding new oil drive to Dayton.  Good idea?  Bad idea?  Is it important to finish what you started?

Breakfast time.  Scrambled eggs.  Pan is heating up on the stove with a bit of olive oil.  You crack two eggs into a cup and whisk them with a fork.  But instead of pouring the eggs into the skillet, you just pick up the cup and drink the raw eggs.  Good idea?  Bad idea?  Yah think it might be important to finish what you started?

You’re going skydiving.  You strap on your parachute and climb into the plane.  After you get up several thousand feet you jump out the door and plunge to the earth.  About halfway down you begin to wonder if you have forgotten something.  It seems like there’s something else you’re supposed to do.   Maybe pull a strap or a string or a cord or something.   What was that?  Raise your hand if you think that it’s important to finish what you’ve started.

If we understand the importance of finishing what we have started, you know that God knows it as well.

Since before time began God intended to create a family of faith who would live with him forever.  He experienced the heartache of Adam and Eve’s fall, the sin that was rampant throughout the Old Testament era, the suffering of his prophets when their message was ignored and they were persecuted and some martyred.  There was the tremendous effort and sacrifice Jesus endured during his ministry.  God wept when people who claimed to accept Jesus as the Messiah, changed their minds and rejected him, turning on him.

But God knows that it’s important to finish what you started.  If any of us had been in God’s shoes, most if not all would have washed their hands of the pathetic human race.  Not God.  Not a loving Lord.  Not a father who has sacrificed so much for those who he has called to be his children.  Not then.  Not now.  Not ever.

He has remembered his faithfulness, all because of his love for you.  Psalm 108 reminds us

           Psalm 108:3-5   I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.  For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!

If God knows the importance of finishing what he has started, and we’re called to become more like him, then we’re to know the importance of finishing what we have started.

Too often people mean well when they begin accepting the gracious generosity of God, but don’t finish what they started.

They become comfortable in their relationship with him, get slack, lose their first love, and then to go into some sort of spiritual hibernation.  They end up just as detached from God as they were before they met him.

They won’t see it this way of course.  They’ll claim they believe.  But for all practical purposes they have become de facto atheists because the will of God no longer plays a role in their daily lives.  They will likely be worse off than they were before.

If we have accepted the truth, the grace, the peace, that only God can provide, then we, like him, have to remain faithful.

God’s presence in our hearts is the greatest of gifts.  If someone you care about gives you a gift, you are duty bound to care for the gift.  Anything less is an insult, that can ruin the relationship.  That’s always regrettable.  But in this case …

————————————-

Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

 

Maybe God Doesn’t Need To Punish Us

When I was a child and did something wrong, I got spanked.  When I was a teen, I got grounded.  When I became an adult, my dad didn’t bother punishing me at all.

It wasn’t necessary because I was learning to live with the consequences of my mistakes.  As an adult I was to take responsibility for myself.

I believe that is why we see such a huge difference between how God responded to sin before the life of Jesus, and how he responds now.

I’m not saying that humankind was completely childish in the Old Testament.  There were honorable spiritual giants back then, as there are now.  And people today can be just as rebellious before God as they ever were.

Yet there is the stark contrast between how God reacts to human sin in the Old Testament era, in New Testament times, and now today.

Why?

To help us understand and appreciate our potential relationship with him, God has given us human family structures.  We have parents so that we can better understand God’s intent with us.

When kids are young, they need far more supervision.  They may need stern measures to make an impression.  My wife and I didn’t spank our kids when they were little, we found other means to get our point across.  But I don’t fault parents who do spank.  [BTW; our kids turned out great.]

I wonder if perhaps God gave ancient Israel a basic faith, because that was all that was realistic at the time.  It was heavy on rules, with hefty physical punishment when they failed.  Although the seeds of a deeper faith were there, the time wasn’t yet right for them to thrive and blossom.

When a child hits the teen years, they have the capacity to understand far more.  They may still be punished for their mistakes, but it’s unlikely to be with a spanking.  They will lose privileges and opportunities.  They will also begin to see how they have hurt themselves by their own actions.

We can see a similar shift take place in the New Testament.  Jesus did not spank anyone.  He did call out his people for their failures.  He taught them how their actions sabotaged their relationship with God and with each other.

There are occasional instances when severe punishment happens. Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 come to mind.  But those episodes are rare.

And today?  God has purposely guided and shaped his people through the centuries.  We are no longer the children of Israel.  We are something more.

1 Peter 2:9 [NIV]  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

In Ephesians 2:19-22 Paul writes how the Church is a holy [dedicated] temple [where God lives] built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.  We have come a long way from the days when God needed to exercise a firm hand.  We have grown in our understanding not just of the commands of God, but the why.  We can appreciate the spirit of the law, not just the letter.  We can now be guided by the will of God, not because we fear retribution [although he reserves that right] but because we want to honor him and make him proud.

It’s no longer about fear.  It’s all about strengthening and honoring the relationship.

1 John 4:18 [NIV] There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

I don’t believe God needs to punish us.  I think we do a great job of punishing ourselves all on our own.  He doesn’t need to lift a finger.  We suffer when we fail because we have to live in the mess we have created, or because of the failures of others.

What if humanity digresses to the point where childishness is the norm?  There are days when I think we’ve been there for a very long time, maybe always.  Reviewing history gives us plenty of examples of humanity plunging headlong into irresponsibility.

God knew all of that would happen.  He appears to have chosen to allow us to punish ourselves for now.  However, the day will come when he will conclude the human story, separate those who have respected and chosen him from those who have disrespected and ignored him, and wrap things up.

For now, he is allowing us a great amount of freedom to choose our own path.  He will honor our choices.  All of us will then live with the consequences of our decisions and actions, forever.

———————————-

Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

 

Don’t Tell Me What To Do!

Angry crowds demonstrate in front of state capitals, demanding their governor open up their communities and allow everyone to go back to work.  A pedestrian agrees that they’re not supposed to be out shopping, but admits they’re going out anyway.  Arguments break out between those wearing masks and those who won’t.  Defiant citizens push back when ordered to stay at home, stay away from their jobs, and stay off the beach.

What is going on?

At first it seemed as if most people were willing to accept government guidelines during a global Covid pandemic.  For the general good, they were willing to set aside some personal freedoms for the sake of their communities.  But at some point, many said “enough.”  Right or wrong, they were tired of the restrictions, and wanted to reclaim all their personal freedoms.

Every nationality has unique characteristics that set them apart from others.  You can see these personality traits everywhere, but some are more common in some places.

A fundamental part of American culture is our absolute and fierce independence.  Even back during the Colonial days Americans pushed back when told what they could and could not do.  There were loyalists who are routinely written out of the revolutionary narrative, but the drive for independence dominated.

Millions arrived as voluntary immigrants who fled oppressive cultures seeking freedom.  Millions of others were forced to come, losing what freedoms they had enjoyed, so that others could impose their own “freedom” to oppress.

There are other cultures around the world with an equal or more fierce disposition to be independent.  Some Americans are more naturally inclined to be submissive.  But overall, we can see how most Americans live by one far-reaching rule: Don’t tell me what to do!

This may be the number one hurdle that Americans face when it comes to God.

Every culture has its own inherent weaknesses when it comes to Christian discipleship.  For the U.S., I believe our top challenge is our resistance to following the will of God.

Some nations have a long tradition of submission to a strong man, or a king, or an emperor.

We don’t.  Instead we question.  We debate.  We push back.  We resist.  We demand our rights.

When up against our government, some of that is fine, and sometimes necessary.  It’s needed because our government is full of imperfect people, people like me and like you.

But God is not imperfect.

Since such perfection is outside of our day-to-day experience, it can be hard to imagine someone who is completely trustworthy.

That is where so many Americans have such a hard time accepting the commands of God.

“Commands” might not be the perfect word here.  God gave us free will, the ability to choose whether to trust and follow him or not.  But once someone accepts him into their lives, and he becomes Lord, then the relationship changes.  What he says are not just useful suggestions by someone who is smarter.  They become commands that all believers imperfectly obey.

Some swallow their fierce independence and welcome the leadership of a loving God because they know that in the long run this is best.

Others refuse.  That might be temporarily satisfying, and it definitely strokes the ego.

Yet without the guidance and care of someone above and beyond the limitations of humanity, we are left on our own devices to manage life.  Human history is full of glaring examples of how badly that can turn out when we are blindly addicted to our own independence.

——————————————–

Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Original version and title of my article printed in the Indianapolis Star Faith+Values feature 5.31.20

 

I Belong To You

And you belong to me.

There is a group of people, unlike any the world had ever seen, that stretches back through time.

It includes people who have led rather quiet lives, and others who once caused scandal and heartache and turmoil.  There is young and old, rich and poor, introverts and extroverts.  You’ll find people who have vastly different interests and pastimes. It has the widest variety of personalities.

Normally, normal people prefer to stick with their own.  “Birds of a feather flock together.”  But these people I’m telling you about are not normal.  They have no intention of being normal.  They go out of their way to meet and appreciate and enjoy people who are very different from them.

I speak of the Church.

Romans 12 is one of those New Testament passages that talks about the Church being the Body of Christ.  While Christ is the head, believers form the rest of the body.  Different people have different roles within the body.  We are not all supposed to be the same.

Within the church we celebrate those differences.  They help us appreciate how all are valued and make a contribution to the whole.  Romans 5:12 says that within the body each member belongs to one another.

I belong to you and hope and pray I’m paying attention when you have a need where I might help.  I pray that I’m not so self-absorbed that I ignore your silent or open plea for help.

And you belong to me.  I no doubt need help in ways I don’t realize.  I have other needs of which I am more aware.  If you try to help me, and I don’t realize it, sorry.

But I need you and you need me.  We are stronger, healthier, calmer together.  We are more resilient, more encouraged, more apt to remain faithful to God because we stand together.

And that is yet one more reason the Church has survived for 2000 years, and will until the end of time.

————————–

Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Live Longer In This Life

Well, sort of.

We’ve all heard the old observation that time seems to go faster as you age.  I had always assumed that this was in large part because when you are 10, a year is 10% of your life.  When you are 60, a year is … ah … a smaller percentage and may not seem as significant.

Recently I read some interesting articles on this mystery.  Some mentioned my previous assumption.  But they all seem to mostly agree on the primary reason time seems to speed up.

When an experience is new, something we’ve never done before, it’s an adventure that takes up a larger part of our memory.  When we are in a routine, those events are not as memorable and tend to fade away, merging into each other.

When we are young life gives us one new experience after another.  They take up a chunk of our memory.  As we age, we have fewer of those new experiences, and one day can blend in with the next.  Before you know it, it’s another weekend.  Not necessarily a bad thing.

Yet within this mystery there is a paradox.  We say time seems to go faster as we age.  We also say that time goes faster when we are having fun.  If most of my fun new experiences as a young adult take up a larger part of my memory, that’s supposed to seem like a longer period of my life.  So how come months and years of routine life can I go by swiftly, even when I may not think I’m having as much fun?  “Where did the time go?”  I don’t get it.

On top of that my life in my 20s seems like several lifetimes ago.

And on top of that the normal flow of time as been disrupted these days by an unprecedented situation.  Is time going faster, slower, or just differently?  It adds to the puzzling mystery, and I’m still trying to figure out how it impacts us all.

Three observations.

1. As I am writing this we are still in the COVID pandemic. Unless you are 110 and have a clear memory of the 1918 flu pandemic this is a completely new experience.  I don’t think I’m the only one who feels time has really slowed down.  We will get through this but boy does it seem like time is creeping along like a tortoise before he’s had his morning coffee.

2. One possible response to regular age-related accelerating time is to break out of your routine. Launch some new experiences.  Fill your life with new adventures, stretching yourself in new ways, creating a bundle of new memories that you’ll be able to cherish.

Perhaps you could start some new traditions with your family.  You can learn a new skill, take up a musical instrument, learn a second language.

You may tell yourself that you don’t have time for extra things like this.  But we can all make a little time here and there that will make a difference.  Perhaps some of your normal routines just aren’t worth continuing, leaving you extra time that will open up new opportunities.

3.  You can become a part of some local group that benefits your community. My prejudice [of course] would be a healthy family of faith where you can grow closer to God, to the others, while doing some good.  Our current COVID crisis is an excellent opportunity to find new ways to serve.

In the future it will give you a sense of pride as you reflect on how you reached out to help others.  Although time may seem to have temporarily slowed down, create memories of how you made a difference, memories that will help sustain you later in life.

If we do this, our time will feel more memorable.  That will make the days more significant, and thereby our lives.

————————————–

Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

A Trapdoor Surprise

Trapdoor Cave is a small, wet cave in southern Indiana.  Others would describe it as a worthless hole.

When I was in high school our Explorer Scout Post specialized in cave exploring.  I realize that to many people this sounds rather exotic and outrageous.  But since Indiana is the fifth-ranked cave state in the nation, caving was a common sport there, and still is.

Trapdoor was not one of our regulars, because it was indeed a fairly worthless hole.  Compared to the other caves we frequented, Trapdoor was too small and unspectacular.  But the mystery and adventure were still there.  That’s what got me into trouble.

Billy and I had led a small group to the lower level.  We found ourselves in a wet room about 3½  feet high and about 10 feet wide.  Some of the others were working their way down the passage to find out how far back it went.

While they were struggling with 6 inches of sticky mud that covered the floor, I noticed a side passage behind me.  Curious, I decided to take a peek.

It was at this point that I broke the number one rule of caving: Never Cave Alone.  It’s not as if I were in the cave all by myself but I did leave the group and go off on my own.  “I’ll just look around a bit” I told myself.  Wrong.

After duck walking for about 15 feet, I found myself standing at the bottom of a dome.  This is a feature you will see occasionally, caused by water dripping from the surface and eroding an opening from the top to bottom.  Most cave passages are eroded sideways, not vertically.  It was small, only about 15 feet high, but I loved it.

I noticed a small opening on my right, a little higher than my head.  A caver’s instincts tell him or her to find out where all those ugly little holes lead.  Climbing up the wall I squeezed into the opening, 18 inches high and 3 feet wide.  I pushed myself along for about 10 feet, until the crawlway turned down.

“Down?  This is pretty odd” I thought.  But as I shown my light down into it, it seemed to twist again, level out and continue on.

“All right!”  I headed down and it became even tighter.  We weren’t used to crawling headfirst straight down.  But I knew it could only last for a few more feet.  I was right.  It was a dead end.

Standing on your head in a tight crawl has a marvelous way of helping you remember certain priorities, things like Never Cave Alone.

When you are involved in any risky business, it’s best not to go in by yourself.  We all know this. Visiting a bad neighborhood?  Entering an unsure business opportunity?  When we face a hospital procedure or even a visit to the doctor’s office for something serious, we would rather have the support of family or friends before, during or after.  No one really wants to face the unknown alone.

I’ll bet you know where I’m going with this don’t you?  If we go through life without a relationship with God, we face many of the traumas of life alone.  Even if we have close family and friends, this is no substitute for a caring Creator who knows us better than we know ourselves.  We can sort of muddle through life, but that has never been good enough.

Well, back to our little adventure.  Standing on my head, in a tight passage, I realized that I was in a bit of trouble.  Luckily, I was very skinny back then.  The end of this dead-end opened up slightly.  I was able to take off my helmet and beltpack, curl up in a ball, and turn around.  Standing up, I shoved my equipment back into the upper crawlway.  With the addition of a few more scrapes, I was able to get up in the crawl and head back.

When I returned to the dome, I realized that I was backwards.  Only my head was sticking out of the hole and I was looking six feet straight down.  What I needed out there were my feet, so I could climb out.

That’s when Billy came in.  “Cool dome” he said.  “What are you doing up there?”  I mumbled something about my being an idiot.  Curling up again, I turned around, blindly searched for foot holes, and returned to the base of the dome.  When Billy heard about what happened, he agreed.  I had been an idiot.

There are other lessons about real life that happen to all of us, all the time.  This was one of them.

——————

Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis.

First published in my column in an Illinois newspaper in July, 1991.