We rode our bikes into town the other day and ended up with two flat tires. So I pulled the wheels, found the leaks, and patched them. When I came back to them in an hour, they were both flat again. Pretty frustrating. And I had used my last two tire patches. But I started investigating a little more, and noticed a leak in a valve stem, which I discovered could be removed or tightened. Tightening fixed that leak. Then, after a little research, I made a patch using a piece of old tube and glued it in place with Shoe Goo (great stuff). That seems to have worked too. So I came out of it having learned something useful, and with a new, inexpensive solution for future flats.

Not so significant, I suppose. But it did seem like a simple illustration about how having to struggle through problems can leave us with deeper understanding, and ultimately better off, than before. When I think about our recent struggles to have a child, or with the retreats, they seem similar. I've learned a lot, I think, about loss and failure, the value of trying (vs. accomplishment), and sorted through my desires about parenting. And I do believe these struggles will make us better parents and retreat hosts, and people.


the trying of the poor

In my recent thoughts on intention, I also noticed that valuing intention and "trying" over success or achievement, as I believe God does, has important implications especially for the lives of the poor. They are significantly disadvantaged when it comes to producing big results or achievements noticed in society. This is part of why the poor are usually ignored or dismissed. But it looks different if success is not our primary value.

In most cases, producing successful results in society requires not just effort but also resources. Money, property, education, but perhaps more importantly, access and connections to people with influence. When it comes to "getting things done," one of the most crucial ingredients is "who you know." And these are the kind of resources that poor people usually have no access to. So their efforts very rarely can produce the kind of results and achievements that are much easier for people with more social privileges.

The poor are thus seen as woefully disadvantaged, even in religious circles. How can they "produce fruit" or lead successful ministries when they don't have the resources required to even start to make those things happen?

But if the "fruit" that God desires of us is not religious institutions or influential charities or anything that requires start-up money or political influence, then it doesn't look so bad for the poor. I notice that the fruit of the Spirit that Paul wrote about—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.—is not bricks and mortar, or institutional, but acts of personal intention. This fruit appears in the nature of our personal choosing and acting, in our trying. It's not in the results, in the successful building of a ministry for example, but simply in the trying to do good, to love, to exercise generosity, or self-control. This is what God values and desires. And this is something the poor can do just as well as any of us, if not better.


It's supposed to be -2°F tonight. I only saw our cat come out of her house to be fed.


trying on my birthday

Today's my birthday. And it's not uncommon on birthdays, especially when you've had over forty of them, to reflect on how far you've gotten in life and how satisfied or unsatisfied you are with that.

I was thinking, though, that this is the focus on results or achievement that I've been resisting lately with my focus on intention. Recognizing our trying to do good as more important than our overall success, as I believe God sees it. Then it doesn't matter so much "how far I've gotten," or what I have or have accomplished in my life. What matters is where my heart is right now. Am I with God? In other words, am I willing what God is willing (which is to say am I loving)? Am I trying to do the good God has shown me, where I am and who I am right now? Am I willing to try?

The letting go of the accumulation of your past (whether that's something we look back at with pride or shame) seems to me much like the forgiveness Jesus offered. And the possibility of being "with God," having some grasp of God's intentions and being able to turn towards that—trying—that sounds like the gift of grace Jesus proclaimed. We may think it's impossible to know what God intends, but Jesus told us otherwise: "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father." It's not something we deserve, but the revelation that allows us to try.

If we choose to stand on our accomplishments, then we have little basis for hope. But if we trust instead the connection with God that Jesus offers, proclaiming that faith in our actual trying, then we have a powerful reason to hope.


trying with kids

I've been applying my recent thoughts on intention to some issues and concerns of parenting. From what I hear from friends who are parents, and from my own worries as I consider having a child, it seems that we tend to have a lot of concern about how our children "turn out." In other words, the results of our parenting efforts. I've heard friends worried that they're not doing a good job, because of the frustrating behavior of their children. And I find it daunting to think of putting so much time and energy into nurturing a child when I see what happens to so many of them when they take their lives into their own hands. The statistics are not encouraging. And then there's the overwhelming grief when a child dies, and it seems all the parents' efforts and hopes come to nothing.

Not that all this is the right way to think about parenting, it's just the way we often seem to think about it. It seems to me that the focus on intention, the focus on our trying to do well, and seeing value in the trying, even when we fail, is a much better approach. And also closer to how God sees it. Our attempts to try to respond well as a parent, for the good of the child, in themselves are valuable. Even if the child rejects those attempts. Even if we fail because of lack of resources or lack of ability. And even if we have not acted well towards our child so often in the past, so they have learned bad behaviors that won't be easily (or perhaps ever) corrected, it is still valuable to try to do better now or try to correct our previous faults. Because it's not the result that is primarily important, not "how the kid turns out," but that we're trying to love them, which is in fact loving them.

I think that's backed up psychologically as well. Children can recognize the love in a parent's trying to help, even when the trying is weak or mistaken or fails. And I think the child appreciates the trying most of all. What is worst is when the parent stops trying, gives up on the child, that is what is dreaded most deeply. If the parent is still trying, the children know the parent still loves them.

And as parents we can be sure that our trying will never come to nothing, no matter what happens to the child in the future. The goodness, the value, exists in the trying itself, in the love that connects us with God and with one another. And that love is never lost, because it is God, the Eternal. When we try to love our child, it is an act of faith by which we touch God and God touches us and our child.


We had a little, uh, drainage problem that looked like it would take some time to fix, so we were rationing our toilet and shower usage for a couple days. But yesterday some guys were able to clear the line (and I didn't have to do any digging this time!).

I was so happy, I...


still trying

I've been mulling over my recent thoughts on intention, and making an effort to put it into practice. "Just try," I keep telling myself. It seems like a very important insight.

Focusing on the intention rather than the results, the act itself rather than the eventual outcome, keeps us in the present. And that's where God is: in the present moment. We encounter God here and now, and we receive God's support to do good in the moment when we are called on to do it. We can't experience the living love of God in the past or the future but only in the present. And that's what we need to do good, the love of God inspiring and energizing us.

I also like that God's focus on intention, or our trying, places the value of our actions in the action itself. We don't have to wait to see if the act was worth anything, when we see how it turns out. The value doesn't depend on luck or the responses of other people. The value is in the trying. What God chooses to do with that is God's responsibility and God's gift, and we can try to understand and appreciate and praise God for that. But the worth of our own choices and actions is in the trying, in the moment of action. The more I can find satisfaction in that, the less I'll be frustrated or afraid of results out of my control.

And it is often that fear that tempts us to resort to human power to get the results we want. When that focus on results is taken away, when what matters for me is the faithful trying to act well rather than producing a certain result, then much of the source of temptation is removed.


"you endure"

I'm using these lines from Psalm 102 for a new year's prayer time with our small group tonight (it's going again!):

Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.

They will perish, but you endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.

You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
but you are the same, and your years have no end.