Wednesday, June 02, 2010

When is enough?

After this morning's early meeting with our deacon, I find myself wondering about when is enough, enough? For most, when you read these words, you find yourself reflecting on a question of your own endurance. How much (more) can I take? What is my limit, and learning that limit-how can I live within that set of parameters so my life can be as peaceful as it can be? Or, perhaps, you are a person who like to push yourself past your limits. You like to find the edge of your own person and then, just beyond those boundaries, perhaps discover more about yourself, and perhaps others, along the way.

I have a friend who loves to cycle. He is a serious rider, clocking more miles on his bike, sometimes, than I manage in my car on a given day. Performance, and maintaining performance in the face of personal limits, is a serious topic among people like him. He wonders how to push past his fatigue and the physical stress that riding can place on do others in his avocation. How can I do more? When I hit my limit, what will carry me past that moment when I hit the proverbial wall, so I can continue on doing what I want to do?

Oddly enough, one of the answers (after lengthy clinical studies) that allows people to push past their physical limits is....wait for it....pickle juice!

Turns out, pickle juice is so foul (vinegar, pickling spices, salt, etc.) that a good dose literally shocks the body out of its desire to shut things down and get you to STOP doing the things that cause it stress. You jump start your metabolism, because your system is screaming, "DEAL WITH THIS JUNK!" and suddenly the "I'm tired, why can we just sit down for a while" impulse is dead on arrival.

Intriguing concept, but not what I am aiming at, today. When I need that proverbial dose of pickle juice in my life, I know how to obtain it. I rely on some people close to me to jolt me out of my torpor...most importantly, I turn to God. Some of the most powerful prayers I have discovered in the past few years are simple in that regard, "Jesus, get me through this....Jesus, speak through me...Jesus, I can't, but you can through me....etc" Still, this is not a post about that sort of "enough." I am on another tack right now....

How do I know when I am going down a path of distraction? When is enough for me in the sense of being able to stop consuming and start being? To stop doing and instead dwell honestly within my self and in God? This morning's conversation centered on that concept. Changes are always looming for us in life, and for all of us here in this parish at this moment, reality is truly in flux. Dealing with that and the busyness it can trigger is not easy. Prayer and quiet awareness are healthy responses; but they are not always the default-either in ministry or in life. Those responses require a conscious discernment: I will do this instead of that.

For both of us, that idea came to maturity in reflecting on how we distract ourselves with consumption. For her, often, it is information. For me, at least for the past couple of years, it has been food. In any event, the consumption of reality allows us to distract ourselves, both from what God is asking of us and in what reality is offering. She will browse the Internet, clicking from favorite site to favorite site, but really is not studying/doing/acting in any intentional way. I can, easily, eat my way from one end of the pantry to the other. Do I taste and savor the food I am eating...or am I just looking beyond that bite to the next one? The answer to "when is enough" gets lost in the "I wonder what's next" just too often. It is, at least for me, the threshold to sin. Sin is a willing heart to seek distraction from God...and wondering, perhaps even obsessing, about what comes next keeps us from being wholly, and holy, in the present-where God dwells with us.

When transition and change looms, and frankly it is always looming, we are confronted with two things: the first is a heightened awareness of the heavy stream of life in and around us; the second is the need to release our expectations that we can keep things as they are now when we arrive at some point in the future that is "then." Things are getting done and need to get done, people need to be visited with and spoken to, tasks and initiatives need to be managed and deliverables need to be delivered...and suddenly, as moments of ending impose themselves on our being, we see time growing too short to get it all done. Our expectations of ourselves, or of others, can too easily exceed our ability to make things happen as we impose that they are supposed to happen.

So, perhaps, managing the question of "when is enough?" really boils down to being willing to do two things: unplug our selves from the input onslaught that we use to distract ourselves from our present stressors; and to also release our tendency to ramp up expectations of ourselves, of others, of outcome and of God so that we can just BE in the here and now.

Taking in, or on, too much might sound like just another day of all of us living in a type-a society...but as I reflect and pray on that deep question of "when is enough?" I realize that God is not the one pushing us past our limits...we are. God is actually asking of us to choose life, to choose joy and peace in Christ, to (even in the most dire places of despair and conflict) see the Spirit at work in us and in those around us. The greatest sins that unhinge God's dream for us to be mindful of the divine will for us in the present moment? Distraction and worry. Both put us outside the lines of the path God intends to guide us into what will be, next. Jesus counsels again and again..."why do you worry?" "why are you afraid?" "why can't you just be here and now with me? (and watch for just one hour?" Let go of wanting/worrying/seeking the next thing. The future will take care of itself. For now, pray and be, and be aware that at least at this moment if we are breathing, loving and striving for the inbreaking kingdom of God...well, then, we have enough.....

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