When hope Disappoints?

Today is Palm Sunday. Hopefully you will all have the chance to declare “Hosanna, in the Highest” if you attend church today. I remember as a teen going to church with my grandma. On Palm Sunday we would all get a small cross made from a piece of palm. The vicar would lead his small congregation in a procession around the outside of the church. As we marched, every now and then we would hold our palms up high and proclaim “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. This is definitely one of the most intriguing memories I have from my early search for God.

Palm Sunday is such an exciting tradition, we get to join the crowds that met Jesus as he prepared to enter Jerusalem before Passover. He was there out of obedience to his Father, knowing that there was nothing but trouble awaiting him once he entered the city. I wonder how it felt for him to look at the cheering crowds – those enthusiastic men, women, and children lavishing him with a king’s welcome. The hope-ometer was very high. They had seen miraculous healings, signs, and wonders. Jesus had stood up to demons for them – casting them out in the same way that an older brother might roll up his sleeves and knock-down a neighborhood bully. Jesus preached the presence of the Kingdom of God in their midst… it was theirs for the taking. Being so conscious of all the messianic prophecies, Jesus must have known (even as he received their praise) they would all fall away.

Learning not to Hope

To be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure I would have been a part of the crowd that day. I suffer from… disappointment. Without getting too personal, we’ll just say that my early childhood taught me the lesson that it’s easier on the heart not to let my hopes get too high. Tempering hope is one way to battle against the extreme pain of disappointment. Hopes dashed. Love lost. The constant reminder that if anything good was going to happen, it was going to be the fruit of my own effort. I could trust no one else to look out for my tender heart. This, of course, is how over-achievers are made.

There are, however, some good things about this coping method. Because hope and expectations are often linked, I’m fairly easy to please. I have no illusion that life is going to be perfect. My husband can attest to the fact that if there is a “worst-case scenario”, I’ve already predicted and planned for it. Of course, the down-side is that I miss out on some of the joy that comes with anticipation. For example, when we took our boys to Disneyland a couple of years ago, I didn’t crack a smile until we were actually in the air flying to California. I wasn’t going to let some last minute travel glitch dash the little bit of hope I had for my boys’ and my first trip to the Magic Kingdom. I calmly figured I’d celebrate when I could see the whites of Mickey’s eyes.

After many years of counseling and the healing love of my very dear husband, I guess I can say I’m in recovery. And because I’m recovering from disappointment, when I read the Holy Week/Passion accounts in the gospels I find them particularly uncomfortable. You see, I’m anticipating the extreme disappointment of the people. On Sunday, they thought a new era was on the horizon. Yet, by Friday afternoon, the King of the Jews was nailed to a tree. Cursed of men. Rejected.

Defending the Heart

One of my biggest sources of disappointment was waiting for my dad to come visit me on “his” weekend. I was ten years old and living with my grandparents at the time. My dad had actually fought for custody rights for the first time in 7 years. He did not win custody, but was granted weekend visitation rights twice a month. It seemed to me that a whole new era of paternal relationship was on the horizon and my hopes were very high. Then, sadly, every other Saturday morning I would stare out the window. I would spend hours looking down the long country road that passed in front of my grandmother’s house, waiting to see my father’s car on the horizon. For some reason, though he fought the battle to be in my life, he had a hard time actually bringing me into his. Even with phone call reminders and promises made, I think he only came to see me once or twice. Eventually I grew embarrassed with myself that I even expected him to come. I stopped waiting, only indulging my hope every now and then with a quick glance up the road. I adopted the attitude that he was missing out, not me. I had other things to do with my time. My grandma couldn’t stand to watch my heart break and called the whole thing off. My father didn’t turn out to be the person I had hoped he would be.

I have a feeling that the crowds of people calling out Jesus’ name must have felt the same pain. They waved branches to a triumphant Messiah, only to find out that he was just another man by the end of the week. Maybe the defiant mutterings of the teachers of the law were right. How could he let us treat him like a king? How cruel. How deflating. I’ll never hope again.

Seems to me, that if a person is going to put up a fight for someone else, they should have the guts to see it through to the end. What gives, Jesus? Why go to the trouble if you just plan on leaving our hearts in our hands? What about you, Dad?

And so, we wait for an answer.

Palm Cross photo by Colin Patterson on Flick’r. http://flic.kr/p/4yvGHH

NFL Playoffs build Character?

I’m going out on a limb with this post, I know. But, I can’t help it. I’ve been thinking about the Seattle Seahawks wildcard victory over the New Orleans Saints the past few days. I just can’t get over the 67 yard run by Marshawn Lynch that ushered the Seahawks into the play-offs. S0, you ask, what could we possibly learn from watching NFL football? I submit to you that watching football (and hockey for that matter) is a perfectly acceptable recreational activity. At the very least you can get a few high-cardio work-outs when your team makes a touchdown or receives an unfair penalty. The standing, jumping, and fist-pumping most certainly will boost heart rates. I also hope to convince you that supporting your local team can be a pursuit of leisure – meditation on the struggle of humanity.

Surrounded and Entangled

At the beginning of the play, it seemed like it would be just another run into the mob at the line of scrimmage. I’ve often been impatient with the typical 1 or 2 yard running play. It just seems like such a waste to run straight at those snarling defenders. But one day my husband told me that the offense is hoping to poke a hole in the line of defense so that the running back can slide through. So, as I watched Lynch begin his run, I wasn’t surprised that he ran smack into what seemed to be a brick wall of linemen. The interesting thing is that he just kind of slid off their backs, finding the path of least resistance until he finally made it through the line. At this point a whole new play began. Lynch was no longer rushing for a first down, the goal line was in view.

[I apologize, my imbedded video was disabled by YouTube. I recommend http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBHk9rc4hHc]

This is also where I think we would benefit from pairing our video with Paul’s letter to the Romans. Take a look at chapter 12, verse 1: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”. Indeed Lynch was surrounded and you can see he is shaking Saint defenders off, like a dog who has just come out of the water. I love it!

Just when Lynch has made it through the crowd, we see a lone cornerback, Tracy Porter, come into view. Isn’t that just the way of life? You’ve made it through some struggle – marriage problems, financial stress, career dissatisfaction, illness… and just when you think you are in the clear it comes back into view. Here is where we need to take a lesson from Marshawn Lynch.

How to Throw a Stiff-Arm

Please rewind and watch the video at least a few times to get this down.

1) Check your peripheral vision every now and then.

2) Take the threat seriously.

3) Get mad!

4) Throw out your arm fiercely until the disturbance is flat on it’s back and in your dust.

I think the pivotal moment in our hero’s scenario is #3. He got mad! Let’s just imagine the words that were going through Lynch’s head at this moment…

“Nope. Denied. Sorry, I’ve got an appointment with the end zone. This is not going to happen.”

Okay, I admit, there are plenty of scenarios in our lives where a stiff arm will not solve our problems. I also think there are plenty of problems we allow to side-track us, all because of a lack of determination. Most of these problems have to do with our lack of self-discipline. Here are a few examples from my own life: weight-gain, debt, and unhealthy relationships due to lack of boundaries. Just when I was making progress in my life, one of these would rear it’s head and try to knock me out of the game. Usually I would have forgotten to check my peripherals – am I heading the right direction, is there trouble on the horizon?

But then, I got mad. Just like the voice of the NFL announcer, I said “Get off Me!’ That’s right, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and out went my arm. This is how a person grows to maturity. We learn how to identify those things that have a tendency to trip us, we deal with them, and then move toward the goal.

Overcoming a Losing Record

Maybe a losing record isn’t such a bad thing. Most of the nation was laughing at the Seahawks because they entered the playoffs with a less than stellar record.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

That’s right, we can be thankful for all the crud we have mucked through in our lives. If we have experienced trials and then taken the time to work through them, we should be able to see little seasons of growth and maturity in our lives. Not only that, mix that growth and maturity with some hope and you have a ravenously hungry football team on your hands.

So, with that I charge the Seahawks and Hawk fans everywhere:

Have Hope! We’ve made it through the playoffs before! We can do it again! Go Team!

For those of you more interested in the struggle of humanity:

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but wealso rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:2-5)