All things work together

lightbulbI had an epiphany this week.

Oddly enough, it was while listening to a podcast recorded on Epiphany, the day on which the liturgical church celebrates the appearance (unveiling, revealing) of Christ to humankind.

My light-bulb moment, however, wasn’t in any way related to the magi visiting baby Jesus nor was it inspired by the words found in the gospel text about the precious gifts they presented to him.

But it was about a gift: life. And it’s a precious gift that we often take for granted. Or we get side-tracked from living it because we’re caught up in trying to work out all the bad things that happen.

A loved one receives a terminal diagnosis.

A marriage breaks down.

A “sure thing” bet on the stock market collapses.

A house burns down.

A business fails.

In all these circumstances, we, as Christians, have had a terrible track record of glibly offering platitudes and cliché-ridden comfort to one another.

“God has a plan.”

“God is trying to teach you something.”

“All things work together for good.”

That last one really hits me because I’ve used it and heard it used so many times, thinking it was a simple affirmation that meant all would be well, or that this too will work out for the best in my life.

Then the light switch was turned on.

All things work together.

Good things. Bad things. Health. Sickness. Happy times. Sad times. Life. Death.

All things work together.

Those life events that stress us, debilitate us, humiliate us, frustrate us, weaken us, work together with those circumstances that encourage us, heal us, empower us, bring us joy and strength.

All things work together.

And this statement that we can find in Romans 8, verse 28, does not mean that all will work out well in the end. Nor does it mean that everything we experience results in what is best for us. It simply means that all things we experience work together and, for us, this is good.

That loved one with the cancer dies.

That divorce still happens.

Our credit record may never recover.

We may find ourselves living in poverty.

This verse is not a cure-all, grief-healing, success-guaranteeing platitude. It is s statement of fact.

Life is a gift. We may choose to focus on the bad or, like Pollyanna, be happily optimistic about everything we face. This does not alter the truth that life is still a gift.

And whether it be good or bad, happy or sad, it is still a precious gift.

And like the gift of all of God’s creation, it is good.

The Power of a Smile

I came across this post on Forbes recently and thought it was well worth sharing. It’s written by Ron Gutman and is taken from his fascinating TED talk (To view the talk, click here.)

Recently I made an interesting discovery while running – a simple act that made a dramatic difference and helped carry me through the most challenging segments of long distance runs: smiling. This inspired me to embark on a journey that took me through neuroscience, anthropology, sociality and psychology to uncover the untapped powers of the smile.

I started my exploratory journey in California, with an intriguing UC Berkeley 30-year longitudinal study that examined the smiles of students in an old yearbook, and measured their well-being and success throughout their lives. By measuring the smiles in the photographs the researchers were able to predict: how fulfilling and long lasting their marriages would be, how highly they would score on standardized tests of well-being and general happiness, and how inspiring they would be to others. The widest smilers consistently ranked highest in all of the above.

Even more surprising was a 2010 Wayne State University research project that examined the baseball cards photos of Major League players in 1952. The study found that the span of a player’s smile could actually predict the span of his life! Players who didn’t smile in their pictures lived an average of only 72.9 years, while players with beaming smiles lived an average of 79.9 years.. . .

. . . British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.The same study found that smiling is as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 pounds Sterling in cash.That’s like 25 grand a smile.It’s not bad.And think about it this way:25,000 times 400 –quite a few kids out there feel like Mark Zuckerberg every day. (Read the full post here.)

More evidence that, “A cheerful heart is like good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).  Better get my smiling muscles busy!

Letting Go

We don’t come to God (or truth or love) by insisting on some ideal worldly order or so-called perfection, but in fact we come “to knowledge of salvation by the experience of forgiveness” (Luke 1:77)—of reality, of others, of ourselves. One reason why I am so attracted to Jesus and then to [St] Francis is that they found God in disorder, in imperfection, in the ordinary, and in the real world—not in any idealised concepts. They were more into losing than winning. But the ego does not like that, so we rearranged much of Christianity to fit our egoic pattern of achievement and climbing.

Isn’t it strange that Christians worship a God figure, Jesus, who appears to be clearly losing by every criterion imaginable? And then we spend so much time trying to “win,” succeed, and perform. We even call Jesus’ very “losing” the redemption of the world. I think Christians have yet to take that message seriously. Religion has largely become “holding on” instead of letting go. God, it seems to me, does the holding on (to us!), and we must learn the letting go.

Adapted from The Art of Letting Go (Richard Rohr)