On Mowing and Marriage and Trying to Be Like Jesus

There’s very little in this life that I like less than mowing grass. Reasons? Oh yeah, I got plenty:

    What a waste of time — I could be gardening, reading, writing, washing dishes, mopping the kitchen floor…
    What a waste of gasoline and added pollution, when we could be growing food, or flowers, or sheep instead of grass…
    Grass has no value whatsoever, unless one is playing golf…
    Why would I want to push a horribly noisy smelly machine that could easily cut off my fingers, or my toes, or throw flying sticks or rocks at my head?

I could go on, but you get the idea.

iris

Usually mowing the grass is Mr. H.C.’s job and I don’t have to think about it. But he’s busy doing the roof while the sun shines. (July in Pennsylvania makes watching the Weather Channel unnecessary; we know what the forecast will be: 90 percent humidity and scattered thunderstorms.) And the grass has to be mowed when the sun is shining too. Plus, the tractor is broken. So I’m being the selfless servant and mowing the grass with the push mower.

Right. Not quite so selfless as one might think…

Today as I started mowing, silently congratulating myself on serving my busy husband, he came down off the roof and waved at me to stop. When I stopped, he bent down and raised the mower deck on me. “You’re cutting it too short,” he said. Then he disappeared back up onto the roof.

Excuse me? If I am cutting the grass I will blimey well cut it at the height I want. The shorter the grass, the less it has to be mowed. I’d just as soon kill the wretched grass anyway. That’s the trouble with it, grass doesn’t die. Its roots live forever and come back to haunt you next year after you’ve planted a lovely flower bed there. But I digress.

I confess to being sweaty, hot, and bothered. Muttering the whole time, two passes later, I stopped the mower and lowered the deck back to where it was. But that still didn’t make me feel any better. Here I was — unselfishly mowing the grass so he wouldn’t have to — and he comes to tell me I’m doing it wrong? What kind of ungrateful man is this anyway?

Oh wretch that I am…

I’ve heard enough sermons in my life to know that this is not what Jesus would do. And I’ve also heard enough John Dorean sermons to know that the goal of every Jesus lover is to grow and be more like him every day. Of course, we fail all the time, but that is the goal…

So when I stopped to take a break and get a cool drink of water, I sat down on  the couch and picked up the book I’ve been reading. Sacred Marriage. (If you know this book, please don’t laugh.)

I had a copy of this book once, but we were newly married and I ended up giving it away to someone before I read it, and I never got it back. Since then I’ve read sections of it, and heard sermons from it, and I know the subtitle by heart — What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy?; but I’ve never read it cover to cover.

Turns out, maybe I should have.

I always thought, yeah, yeah, I know what Gary Thomas is going to say. Die to your self. Respect your spouse. Love unconditionally.

And yes, that’s what he says. And yes, it’s hard. And as Thomas says — none of that comes naturally to us.

But as I sat there reading Chapter Six,  “The Cleansing of Marriage: How Marriage Exposes Our Sin” I knew. I knew that those words needed to penetrate my soul. Just as I need to die to my Self a hundred, no, a thousand times a day, I also need to desire humility a hundred, no, a thousand times a day.

Of course, we always see our spouse’s sin — it’s so much easier to see other’s sins, isn’t it? Yes, this specifically refers to taking the log out of our own eye before we take the speck out of someone else’s eye (Matthew  7:3-5). Listen to this:

View marriage as an entryway into sanctification — as a relationship that will reveal your sinful behaviors and attitudes and give you the opportunity to address them before the Lord. But here’s the challenge: Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. Correspondingly give them the freedom and acceptance they need in order to face their own weaknesses as well. In this way, we can use marriage as a leg up, a piercing spiritual mirror, designed for our sanctification and growth in holiness.

I needed to re-read that sentence Don’t give in to the temptation to resent your partner as your own weaknesses are revealed. There it is: the basic sin of all sins — Pride. Lack of humility. Thinking that I know best, yet knowing in my heart and soul that I do not. It’s ugly, pride is. Later Gary Thomas quotes François  Fenélon who wrote: “…all the saints are convinced that sincere humility is the foundation of all virtues.”

To grow in holiness marriage must be understood as a spiritual discipline, Thomas says. “To do this,” he writes, “we must not enter marriage predominantly to be fulfilled, emotionally satisfied, or romantically charged, but rather to become more like Jesus Christ.”

There it is again…to become more like Jesus; and to do that we must put on our robe of humility, and not throw it off each time we get hot and bothered. And not only do I agree with Fenélon that humility is the foundation of all virtues, but can I suggest that pride just might be the foundation of all sin?

Today as I was reading an article about the need for us to feel awe before our holy God, I came across the term self-forgetfulness. How I longed for it. The author, Jen Wilkin, cited research that suggests when humans feel awe they are better able to forget themselves and reach out to other people. And I started wondering — what else makes me put on self-forgetfulness?
Blue sky behind gray cloudsDoing something for someone else with no expectations. (Remember mowing the lawn? It went wrong because of my own expectations.)
Praying — talking to the Holy God of the Universe — yes, that’s one that definitely gets the mind off oneself.
Thinking about Jesus — whether it is reading the Bible, listening to worship music, or just meditating on how weak and incompetent I am, and how strong and competent Jesus is for me.
So here we have: Go watch a sunset or the clouds or stand on a beach or a mountain; Make dinner for your neighbor; Read your favorite passage in God’s word and thank Him for it; Meditate on the strength of Jesus and your own shortcomings and feel awe that you are so loved.

As I read further in Sacred Marriage, this paragraph jumped out at me:

Don’t run from the struggles of marriage. Embrace them. Grow in them. Draw near to God because of them. Through them you will reflect more of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And thank God that he has placed you in a situation where your spirit can be perfected.

And today, in the sermon I heard this: He loves us where we are at any given moment. Certainly He invites, encourages, challenges us to become more like Christ, but that becoming is not a prerequisite of His love. Can I get an Amen?

It’s time to mow the grass again…

white clover

The tractor is fixed. As Mr. H.C. took it for a mowing spin to see how it was running, he said, “I’m not going to mow the grass very short, because there are lots of bees on the clover, and I don’t want to mow the flowers away.” Yeah, he knows how much I like bees and clover…

I smiled to myself. Thank you God that you have placed me in a situation where my spirit can be perfected.

And thank you God, that the tractor is fixed.

119. Refraction

Refraction —

the change of direction
of a ray of light
or sound,
in passing obliquely
from one medium into another
in which
wave velocity
is
different.
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I pray for refraction.

God’s light to shine through
the curtains,
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the leaves,
fall leaves
the shadows,
Porch shadows
the water,
icicles

the air I breathe in —
Ruah
–passing obliquely
from one medium through another.

Change my wave velocity,
refract
remake
redeem me
to reflect Christ.
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This was inspired by the word for the weekly photo challenge — Refraction.

89. Plain, Mundane, and Common

My inbox is filling up with Christmas ideas:

The emotions are mixed on this folks, because I’m just not there…

Perhaps I could put our three trees in this corner?corner of living room

And hang the gigantic glitter snowflakes right here in the middle of these new windows where all cars passing by can see them?

New insulation surround new living room windows

Maybe we could decorate the ladder with pretty white lights?

Alas, instead of putting up Christmas trees, we are putting up pink fluffy stuff in the walls; instead of squirting cans of snow on the tree, we are squirting cans of foam around cracks and holes; instead of plugging in gigantic glittery snowflakes we are adding electrical outlets to the walls — every six feet, of course, to meet code…

Our twenty foot living room wall has gone from shivering, bare studs

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to a warm blanket of pink

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to a coordinating crazy quilt coverlet of pink and green.

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You’ll also notice two of the four new outlets — for future gigantic glittery snowflakes, no doubt. (Actually my taste runs more to stars than flakes, but that’s another post…)

No glitter this year — just the plain, the mundane, and the common stuff of ordinary life.

Like one simple candle in the window instead of strings of lights; like quiet time spent reading Isaiah instead of Pinterest; like consciously focusing thought on the Savior in the ordinary manger, not Christmas wrappings and trappings; like looking very hard to find the UNordinary in the mundane happenings of everyday.

Snow clouds and blue sky

The God who came as a poor common man instead of the expected king turned the world upside down in part because of his humble origins, in part because he turned the common into uncommon: Water into wine, sin into forgiveness, dark into light, the cross — a horrible symbol of death — into the ultimate symbol of life.

I’m memorizing Isaiah 53:1-7 for the Christmas worship at our church. Every day I say it a dozen times or more, so I can know it. Say it with no mistakes. And at least once a day it moves me to tears of gratitude and remorse for what one common uncommon man-God did for me. For you.  

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him; nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering… but he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…

the people who walked in darkness...May you we take time for quiet reflection in the midst of this busy season. May you we find the blessings in that mundane uneventful day, and may you we find the uncommon light of the Savior in the dark of December.