Get Outside of the Box
After a busy April led into a May full of surprises, I am finally able to catch up in posting. Thank you for your patience. -Rev. Brian
Our reading for this Sunday came to us from the poet Noel Coward, titled, “Nothing is Lost.” The sermon also began with a retelling of a fable by Edwin Friedman, titled, “The Power of Belief.”
When have you been the man insisting he was dead when all evidence was to the contrary? When have you thought one thing so assuredly in your life despite what those around you were saying, what the world was showing you, and what life was presenting to you no matter where you turned?
I know many of us have been there. So sure of one thing, so sure of what our reality must be, that we have shackled our thoughts and buried the longings of our heart. I’ve been there. I’ve been there for the big moments of my life and I’ve been there for the smaller unnoticeable ones. My journey to ministry is one of the prime examples.
It’s such a standard experience for us ministers, we learn to tell it over and over again. But my own journey was primarily one of resistance. Again and again the call came and again and again I fled.
But unlike many of my colleagues, I did not flee for a lifetime, only a small portion of one. How about you? What callings, what beliefs, what states of being have you either fled or clung to? What are the ones you can think of this very moment?
This month we’ve explored various forms of liberation. The liberation that allows us to bridge the divided between ourselves and our neighbors and the liberation that leads us to commit to justice.
While I feel those topics could be exhausted Sunday after Sunday, and Unitarian Universalist congregations do indeed love a good helping of liberation and justice, there is one liberation that we must be mindful of before any of that work is accomplishable – the liberation of ourselves, the liberation of our hearts and minds and passions.
We are, of course, talking about discernment – the exploring of that indwelling call that pulls us to unexpected moments, or, as is the case for many of us, the call that we ignore and fight and bury deep within.
We are also talking about, by way of discernment, the maturing of our own spiritual and philosophical lives – by our discernment, by the liberation of ourselves from being stuck – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – we assuredly grow. Important things to consider for any community of faith, and, really, any community at all with a common purpose.
So, where are we, where are you in your own life of discernment, your life of finding a way forward? We all have those moments. They can be small and most of them are. But many of you are facing grand life changes that will take you somewhere new, reshape how you live, or drastically alter some other aspect of your life.
If you have embraced these things that await, either with joy or with dread or a mix of both, that is good news. But I know some of us here may be fighting the callings of our life. You know what I’m talking about. Those calls to transform, reevaluate, change, pick up and go, settle down, what have you – those urgings that you’ve buried deep and have, perhaps, tried to forget for years.
While I truly hope none of us have or are carrying on in such a way as the man in the story we heard, it is inevitable for us to find ourselves trapped in a rut. Trapped in a way of thinking that used to serve us well that we don’t want to give up.
Perhaps we don’t even realize we are there yet. I say that not because I’m here to enlighten you in your unhealthy ways of thinking, time will, one can hope, do that for you. But I want to affirm and acknowledge that sometimes we might go about life living in a way that is at odds with reality, inauthentic, or simply not working –
And to say CHANGE and be done with it is not how this works. I wish it worked that way. But discernment along with liberating ourselves from old patterns is an ongoing process. It does, first, require realization.
And if realizing that we need to change is something we’d rather ignore, you’re not alone. We are hard-wired to avoid changes that might cause us some distress. And let’s be honest, a lot of changes in life are distressing! Even the ones that are supposed to make us happy!
We’re pursuing our life’s calling, and…what about the student loan debt, what about leaving our current jobs, what about finding a new job, what about being accepted by our families and friends, what about what about what about! Rinse and repeat those ruminations on any way forward – including the admission that we might need to think about the world differently.
It’s uncomfortable. And we make excuses for it. I’m too young for that. I’m too old for that. I have this background so I can’t do that. I’m afraid of this or that. And so on and so forth.
It’s as if our brains our hard-wired to develop Stockholm syndrome to the patterns of living we know deep down have got to go. Our brains avoid that which is distressing.
We seek out that which will make us feel good, even if it keeps us in a rut and at the expense of greater good for ourselves. The pain and anxiety can seem too much to endure. Forget the inevitable better outcome. Let’s keep things as they are.
I believe in a better way. Not just for myself but for communities of faith as well. I want us all to choose what is most life-affirming for us, even if it means a period of distress in our lives that will lead to that new and joyful beginning.
And it all begins with discernment and mindfulness. It begins with identifying the thoughts that are holding us back whenever those callings start to surface in our heart again. Are the thoughts that arise when possibility presents itself ones of worry, of guilt, regret, self-criticism, or, even perhaps, always thinking you don’t have enough?
If you can single out those thoughts and continue to recognize them, then you are in a good place. You can become a watcher of your thoughts, someone that lets your thoughts come and go and simply observes them.
And from that observation you can start to see that that worry or guilt or other nagging sabotages are rooted either in a fear of the past or a fear of the future. You might wonder why on earth you would make this change in your life because you hear someone’s voice in your head telling you you’re still not good enough. Or perhaps you’re aging and think it’s too late.
The doorway to possibility is in observing these thoughts and not allowing them to take hold – so that you can more readily turn your attention to what is accomplishable in your life in the present – in this moment. Who cares if you’re too old to pursue something new? Who cares if you hear that nagging voice from the past telling you that you are not worthy?
Why should those fears keep you from something that could be lifegiving, life affirming, and lead to a personal liberation? The growth of the spirit, the self, is only possible when we allow ourselves to be anchored in the only moment we have – now.
Looking back to that parable from Friedman about the man walking around insisting he was dead, I realize now it’s not because he was mentally unstable. These things are, of course, parables. But instead I look to that man now and realize that he was indeed dead. He was no longer alive to the possibilities of the present moment. He gave up.
The poet William Stafford once wrote:
Some time when the river is ice ask me
Mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
What I have done is my life. Others
Have come in their slow way into
My thought, and some have tried to help
Or to hurt: ask me what difference
Their strongest love or hate has made.
Ask yourself, you, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington: members, visitors, friends, beloved people that have come together and created the possibility of church this morning, dwell in this thought, this question: Are you choosing what is life-affirming and life-giving for you in every present moment?