God Calls Us to a Higher Standard – that of Loving Our Neighbor as Ourselves

Hobson’s Resort Lake Jefferson MN 1950’s

My brother was eleven and I was nine, the hot sticky Sunday afternoon, when we decided to run away. Our plan was never to be gone long. Just long enough for the cabin we were suppose to clean to be cleaned without us. Life on a small mom and pop fishing resort demanded that each of us, from the time we were quite young, would be doing our part. My parents grew up in the era when a family would work together in a small business, whether it was the farm of my mother’s heritage or the hotel of my dads. Throughout the afternoon, we had waited for that cabin to be emptied. All plans for the afternoon were on hold until we were done with our jobs. While we sat outside waiting for it to empty. we stewed. The later it got the more we complained.

About five P.M,  we saw the people who had rented the cabin were packing up. By then, our steaming had reached its limit. We decided to take off. We ran along the lakeshore planning to hide in some nearby woods. But first, we needed to get past our neighbor’s home and the corn field between us and the woods. I don’t know that we ever thought about what might happen when our parents discovered we were not around. We simply figured that our mother would clean the cabin without us. When we got back, the work would be done. The plan might have succeeded  if someone hadn’t spotted us running along the shoreline. We were about half way to our goal when we could hear the distinctive sounds of our dad’s ancient muffler-less pickup truck. We watched in dismay as he backed up through the dirt road in the middle of the corn field. We knew we were doomed.

Most of all I remember my mother’s anger that day. It was a hot muggy and long day for her too. The help she had anticipated had disappeared. Expectations of children have changed a lot since my growing up years. What I think of today is how our running away created more work for my mother, who was already tired and worn out herself. She wasn’t any happier than we were with that very late check out time. For her, there was another cabin that needed cleaning and more wash to be done. I think how disappointed she must have been in us.

I don’t know that my parents ever thought about the appropriateness of the tasks they gave us  or the ages we started them. I do know, I learned to value teamwork and working together for a common goal. Often, the resort schedule interfered with what I wanted to do. Most often my parents made sure I was able to participate in school and 4H activities throughout the summer. There were the less busy days when we went fishing or swimming. I wouldn’t have changed where I grew up. I treasure the memories of working together and having a share in the success of my parents business. Working together for the common good became not only a family value, but one carried into life.

Isn’t that what we need more of in our country today? Working together for the common good . . . Not beating each other up over who we voted or didn’t vote for, but finding common solutions that work for everyone. Isn’t that what our nation’s founders dreamed of when they created this country? It will take all of us, working together to heal the wounds and division  that  separate us.

We moved on from that moment at the resort. I carry with me memories of my father’s hidden laughter as he yelled at us to get into the truck. I think of my mother’s genuine anger and something of remorse that we caused a difficult day for her to get worse. We tend toward self-centeredness. We ask ourselves what is best for me and mine, forgetting how our wants can impact others. God calls us to a higher standard – that of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Families – Hanging on to the Precious

Just like there are no perfect people, there are no perfect families.  Even the best of families have their moments of insensitivity,  missed cues,  self-absorption and blind spots.    Each of us, goes through this life making mistakes, wishing we could change things in our past, feeling regret for words said or not said. At times we are wrong. We do and say what we will later wish we had not. Disagreements flare up.  People who should know better hurt us. What we do with those moments of hurting and of being hurt can shape the rest of our lives. Our response can turn a life around, or bury one in resentment.

One of the saddest stories I hear as a pastor, are stories of adult siblings who simply do not and will not try to get along with each other. In one of the first churches I served there was a woman in her mid seventies who continued to hang on to a grudge against a brother that started when they were teens. Worst of all, her anger was based on a simple misunderstanding. Her children and her other siblings begged her to see her brother. The brother so wanted to make peace with his sister. No appeal could reach her stubborn heart. Her grudge and the anger she carried had become a way of life.

In another church there was a man who refused to see his very ill mother, not because he was mad at her . . . No, that wasn’t the problem. He was angry at his brother. Harsh words had been spoken by both. After the argument, he had decided he would stay away from his family. When his mother because seriously ill, he refused to visit her, lest his brother be there.  I spent forty-five minutes one day  pleading with him  to visit his mom, who had only been given days to live.   Still her son refused.  But, sometimes God gives us the gift of extra time. His mother rallied. Then three months later, she was once again near death. I never knew just how God got through to her son. A  couple of days before his mother died, he came to see her that one last time.   Still simmering with anger towards his brother though, he would not attend his mother’s funeral.

One of the joys in my life is to have siblings who know and understand my growing up years. Shared memories bring peals of laughter and nods of understanding as a story begins. I think siblings are the only people who can fully appreciate your childhood. The know both the gifts and the flaws of your parents. There is a shared memory of what it was like to live in a particular family in  a specific time of  life. I know families that are terribly dysfunctional with a legacy of trauma, abuse and heartache.  It can be necessary to leave the family of origin behind for one’s emotional health. But, the families I’ve mentioned here were not ripped apart by addiction or dysfunction. They were just ordinary people who made a couple of mistakes.

For most of us, the arguments would have been over in a few days or we would have found a way to get around the disagreements. Someone would have apologized,  or made a phone call to break the ice.  But for others . . . Well grudges can lodge in the hearts of some very good people. This is what makes me the most sad. I see families where siblings are upset with  other siblings. Grudges are hung on to. Experiences which ought to have been left behind, forgiven or resolved years before have been carried into the present. I think of the joy that is being missed.  The shared journey which is unique to ones sibling. I listen to those who have never had a brother or a sister and how they envy those of us who do.  I think of how the person carrying a grudge is hurting themselves, denying themselves companionship, friendship and the joy of shared memories.

What I hope and pray for my children is that they always have each other and that they are wise enough to let go of the inconsequential to hang on to the precious  in their relationships with one another.  The psalmist says, “ How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head . . . It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life for evermore.” Psalm 133:1-2a & 3)

Difficult Relationships and the Four Minute Rule

I was visiting in a home one day when the six-year-old granddaughter who lived with her grandparents arrived home from school. Her mother had died when she was only three. It was a hard time for the child. I had gotten to know the grandma and really liked her, which was why I was so surprised when I saw her interaction with her granddaughter. From the moment the girl opened the door, her grandma was on her case. There was one put-down after another for this little girl. Before she knew what was happening, she was sent to her room to stay there the rest of the afternoon. I know the grandma loved her, but it must have been hard for her granddaughter to sense that at all. The little girl is all grown up now. I hope she has found better ways to parent her own children.

I once read that the first four minutes of every encounter are the most important. In those first four minutes the questions: “Do you still care about me? Do you accept me? Am I important to you?” find an answer in our words and expressions. What we do in those four minutes sets the tone of the remainder of our time together. It takes that long to reassure ourselves and the other that our relationship is still OK. This is even more important when the one we are greeting is going through a period of grief, loss, or an otherwise difficult time.

It is essential that during those four minutes that words that are affirming and encouraging are said, to avoid giving the wrong message. When the first words to a child are, “Did you get your chores done?” or “Take off that good shirt.” Or the first words to a spouse are. “You never . . . All you ever do is . . . ” your relationship suffers. Each of us needs to know that we are loved. Each of us craves affirmation . . . what otherwise has to be said, can wait four minutes.

Take a look at those troubled relationships. How often do you begin an encounter with, “Why didn’t you . . . ?” or “How come you . . . ?” Or, “I don’t like the way you . . .”  How many times  does that strained relationship become even more strained as blaming words are dumped on someone else? Do your words or actions indicate that you care about that someone?   We can never change other people.  What we can do is change ourselves.

Try out the four minute rule. See what it does in some overly stressed  relationships.  The mark of any true Christian community or Christian family is seen in the love and respect members have for one another.  The Biblical book of Acts tells us that the early Christians were known by their caring relationships. It was said of them, “See how they love one another.”

Waymarks on the Journey

In the summer 1987 my family took off from our home in Minnesota on a long awaited trip to Yellowstone National Park. The park is primarily located in Wyoming, and partially in Montana and Idaho. This unique national treasure sits on top of a volcanic system. All of which has made it the place to go if you want to see eruptions of lava, geysers and sulfuric springs. I had always wanted to visit the park. The intrigue of “Old Faithful” known for its regular display of water intrigued me. We would visit other sites along the way.

I suppose it would have been better if I had, had a better car. At the time money was scarce. We borrowed a tent from a friend and rented a camper trailer. Then we set out with one adult, and five children ages ten to seventeen. My almost 19 year old son had just joined the Navy and would miss the trip. Meanwhile, we would be meeting my oldest son at Yellowstone. I had an old, yellow station wagon with fake wood trim which had seen better days before I ever acquired it. The shock absorbers had worn out to the extent that at night there was a noticeable upward swing to the headlights. This made for a bit of an impediment with hundreds of miles of night driving ahead.

From the beginning of the trip we were plagued with car and trailer problems. The rented trailer hitch would regularly fall off the station wagon. As a family, we rapidly learned how to reattach the hitch. We had gone a couple of hundred miles when the station wagon stalled along highway 90 in South Dakota. Eventually, the highway patrol stopped and checked on me. I told them about my AAA travel coverage and they told me that there was no AAA travel coverage in that area of South Dakota. They also taught me a new term: “vapor lock.” I learned it was not uncommon and if I tried to start my station wagon, it just might start. We made it to our destination that night in fits and starts, resting the engine till it would work again. Near Wall Drug in South Dakota, I found a person who could help with the car. I felt better looking at the letters posted on their wall from people around the country and some overseas, who had stopped at their repair shop and gotten help. We were blessed with some honest people, who quickly took care of the problem at a minimal cost.

Our first big item on our trip was to go up Mount Rushmore to see the famous heads of presidents’ George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into the mountain stone. The journey up did not go at all as planned. We had to stop and let the car cool down several time when it overheated. After getting to the top, my sons aged 17, 13, 11 and my daughters ages 15 and 10 headed toward the monuments, while I turned toward the cool of the visitor center. I was trying to figure out if we could continue the trip, if we ought to continue it or if we could even get down off of Mt Rushmore. I was feeling alone, frustrated, worried, and wondering why on earth I had ever set out on that trip. Standing in line at the concession stand, hundreds of miles from home, I was feeling isolated and lost. Then I heard someone call my name. Behind me was a friend from seminary. I was worried about a car, but what I really needed at that moment was a friend. I thought I needed help, but what I needed was someone to listen.

God often operates that way in our lives. We venture out on faith. Answers don’t come the way we expect. When there is trouble, we’d like to see steps far down the road. We want assurance we will get to our destination and home safe again. God offers us a listening ear instead. When we travel in faith, we discover waymarks on our journey, places and signs of God’s presence – a certainty of God’s blessing. We face larger challenges than we signed up for, then discover God’s grace is more abundant than we thought.

Oh, we did get down off Mt Rushmore without the car falling apart. There was an hour stop to let the brakes cool down. Yes there were more problems. A blown tire here and there. We regularly stopped to get the trailer hitch back in place. As we traveled around the winding roads of Yellowstone at night, with lights pointed to the sky instead of the road, my then 13 year old kept asking, “Mom, if we fall into a hot spring, will the ice cubes melt before we hit the bottom?” The car made it and we made it. This troubled vacation with all of its problems and trials is a special blessing to us today. We remember it, not for the sights we saw at Yellowstone, but what it taught us about each other. I think that was part of what God had in mind when we set off on the journey.

It Really Does Take a Village

It was the custom in one of the churches I served for the parents of a child who was graduating from high school to make a few comments at a baccalaureate breakfast. I recall one parent who started by saying: “I once went to a church school teacher training event where the comment was made, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ and I said to myself…that’s not true. I’m the one who does the laundry, cooks the meals, cleans up after the messes, disciplines and corrects. I’m the one who chases around to lessons and school activities.”

But then she went on to say how her mind had changed over the years. She mentioned her son’s involvement in the church and the way the church had supported his fledgling efforts with a violin until he had become an accomplished violinist. She talked about the encouragement he received in the church fellowship that had impacted his life. As she thanked the people gathered that morning, she continued by saying, “Now I know, it really does take a village to raise a child.”

Most parents I meet are deeply concerned with their children. Today’s parents want to raise their children with a healthy sense of self-esteem, and the inner strength to resist negative behavior. A few years ago, the Search Institute began to ask a new question. In a time when everyone was wondering what families were doing wrong, the Search Institute asked,”What are families doing right?” and “What gives our children the resiliency to resist destructive outside pressures or to bounce back when they make a mistake?” Their discoveries included a list of Forty assets, which consistently were part of the life of a healthy child.

Among the assets named was regular involvement in a church or synagogue. The size of the church didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was the fact of a child’s regular involvement in it. I suspect that the impact of a church on a child’s life spills over into some of the other assets which were named. Children involved in churches are often involved in music ministries of the church. Youth groups provide structure, while religious classes reinforce values that are important for families. Those values are also included as assets, such as: “helping people,” a “concern about world hunger,” “caring about people’s feelings,” “valuing sexual restraint.” Both youth groups and religious classes provide other caring adults whom a child is able to relate to in a positive way. Even the smallest of churches offer many of those assets in one way or another.

One of the easiest, and the best things that you can do for your children, is to take your children to church with you. This is part of God’s plan for healthy families. You may be surprised. You may even find the experience meaningful and significant for yourself.

Revolving Doors and The Grace of Interruptions

I went through a period when my home became a constant revolving door. I moved to a new church the year my youngest son went off to college. With just one child left at home, I told my youngest daughter, how strange it was going to be with just the two of us. What I hadn’t expected, was a returning college graduate who couldn’t find a job, or a son taking time off from college.

Through the next eight years, I would be surprised by one or another of my young adult children returning. A divorce, a marriage, going back to school, getting out of the Navy, changing schools, another college graduate waiting on a job, were reasons to move in with mom. Stays might last a couple of months, or at other times a year or two or three. My friends would start conversations by asking how many children were with me on that day. Keeping track of my changing and evolving family life must have been a challenge for my neighbors. Cars would fill my driveway and spill into the street. For a brief period I had the house to myself. Yet, a mere two months later five kids were back home.

I understand this phenomenon started in the 90’s, but has become even more common among today’s parents. The high cost of housing has caused many young people to detour on the way out of the family home. This ebb and flow of returning family members demands from all a great deal of flexibility in dealing with one other. Along with revolving children, are the interruptions that accompany such movement. Oddly, it is in those interruptions to what has been planned, that real living gets done.

Interruptions cause us to reorient ourselves and our focus. They force us to determine what is valuable and what isn’t . . . what is necessary and what is simply excess. More often than not, interruptions give opportunity to work at relationships, lend support and encouragement, assist with a need or simply be the listening ear someone else needs. They can be blessings as we open ourselves to what God has to say to us through them.

Years have passed since the last child stayed for a time. Looking backwards, I see that era in my life as a gift, a grace. I would never have planned for myself.