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.

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.”

The Gift of Setting Boundaries

Vinyl-Fence-Picket-5-lgPokemon Go has raced around the globe since it was launched in July. My daughter tells me, not only is it a great way to get exercise, it’s also a way to meet people who are visiting the same Pokemon Go hot spots. Churches, parks, monuments, gyms, Senior centers, overlooks, beaches, museums, national memorials are all places’ one can find a Pokemon character. But, like all good things, there are limits to be learned. Preoccupied players have crossed barriers they ought not to have crossed. Some have walked into police cars, fallen off cliffs, wandered into ponds, irritated Veterans at memorial parks and forgotten to be attentive to sacred space.

Boundaries exist for a reason. Boundaries define what is ours and what is someone else’s. The Bible warns, “Do not move the ancient boundary stone.” (Proverbs 22:28NIV) Boundary lines keep peace between nations and neighbors. Boundaries in relationships create space which is essential to healthy relationships. We may not name them as such, but we know when a boundary has been crossed.

I grew up on a small fishing resort in Southern Minnesota which included cabins, boats, and a restaurant. The restaurant was a gathering place for the neighborhood. Our business was only a few years old as I grew up, started shortly after my birth. From the beginning, even as a small child, I learned from my dad that when it came to boundaries, “The customer is always right.” While I loved my father that was not a good means to learn about healthy boundaries. The way that played out in my childhood was a boy named Gary. Gary would come out each Sunday afternoon with his grandpa. His grandpa would be playing cards in the restaurant area and Gary would be back in our living quarters playing with us. I use that term loosely. What Gary would really do, is dig into the toy chest and pull out every toy, spreading small toys over the entire house. Inevitably, he would head home and we were left with the mess. We groaned whenever we saw him walk through the door. Not only did he make a mess, he was also a bully. If we complained to my mom and dad about Gary, we would be reminded that Gary and his grandpa were customers. There appeared no boundary Gary could not cross. My parents never set limits on his behavior. Nor did his grandfather. One Sunday Gary started a fight with my brother. When the fight was over, Gary had broken my brother’s collar bone. I remember my brother in pain, nursing his shoulder, and my upset parents as they headed off to get medical care. I don’t know what was said, between my parents and Gary’s Grandpa. Some new limit was made. A boundary was set. His grandpa continued to come out every Sunday afternoon, but Gary was rarely seen after that

There is a place and a time to set limits on what we will allow. The apostle Paul, writing to the people in the area of Ephesus, used the term “Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) He knew that no one can live in community, without speaking truth, setting boundaries and respecting the physical and emotional space of another.

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.