Getting ready to head back to school, LB wanted to get a few items to replenish his apartment before senior year begins. “Let’s go to the warehouse club…I have coupons!” With that we were off, deliberating through the long isles of bulk grocery and home items, only to find at check out that our coupons weren’t valid until Thursday. “I will go back and get these”, I assured him as I placed his items aside temporarily.
I returned a few days later, only to find that all of humanity came back to use their coupons as well. With gas lines wrapped around the parking lot, a few of us were stuck in a line that backed into the street, blocking traffic on a service road that is unusually active most hours of the day. After two employees worked to orchestrate the line into a fashion that relieved the congestion a bit, I moved deeper into the parking lot only to see the scowling faces and furrowed brows of angry drivers and offended pedestrians with their car-sized grocery carts, trying to maneuver through more chaos.
Managing to get nearly all the items we originally needed for school, I did my best to offer space on the register belt to the woman in line behind me. She smiled brightly and seemed genuinely surprised by any kindness. Shortly after that, she and the jovial clerk laughed about lifting the heavy items in the store and how he got paid to be a member at this “club”, but he had to pay for membership at a gym; so this worked out better for him because he got paid to “work out”. With a lighter heart I head to the car only to be met with more jeers, stares and obscene hand movements in the parking lot; tensions seemed to be increasing. My normal hope in humanity was declining a bit just before I pushed my gigantic cart around a vehicle with a bumper sticker that said “Commit a RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS” in a bright happy orange color. Oh good, I thought, this person is gonna spread some love. One second later, she screeched her tires around another vehicle and into a spot where she quickly exited her car and slammed the door, grumbling and shaking her head. Oh well. I thought, sadly. She probably forgot she had that bumper sticker on her car. She’s only human too.
As I sat waiting to leave the parking lot, hoping to escape any more drama, I remembered something from a book by Pope John Paul II (now John Paul the Great) I read many years ago, in which he discussed being yoked in Christ. We wear that yoke everywhere, in all of our dealings with everyone. We don’t take it off like an uncomfortable pair of shoes at the end of the day. We drape it figuratively over our shoulders and remember–proudly–that it is forever a part of us, and people can notice it. Once we have embraced our Christianity and understand this, we have membership in the love that Christ has for humanity. He died for all of us, and none of us earned that membership; it was an invitation we were all offered; and should be honored to receive. I was a youth minister at the time I found this idea of being “yoked in Christ” and I took my title and position very seriously in my “public” life. What took me longer to spiritually digest, is we wear our “yoke” as Christians every minute of every day before Christ; not just as Christians employed to teach Christianity, and not just when we are hired for speaking engagements; not just in our public actions, but in our thoughts and words behind closed doors as well.
“Stop murmuring among yourselves”…(John 6:41-51)
Thank God that He made it possible for me to get to my prayer group before my shopping trip, for some meditation on the upcoming Sunday’s gospel, John 6:41-51, in which Jesus is trying to teach the murmuring and complaining crowds that HE is the bread of life.
Here are some reflections from the group:
- It says many times in this gospel that the crowds were “murmuring”; some versions say grumbling or complaining, but how often am I speaking negatively just because I can? Am I monitoring my words? I should speak more of how big my God is, rather than how big my problems are.
- Just because we live in a culture that encourages complaining, especially in social media, I need to be on guard and make sure I am a source of encouragement and hope for others and not a person who depletes energy from those who come to me for encouragement by complaining; or taxing those sent to be a support or loved-one for me by complaining to them.
- They shall all be taught by God. God’s job is converting souls. He is the bread of life, not “we” are the bread of life. My job is to be a living sign of that hope and faith. I can do this well by praying, being obedient to what I am supposed to be doing and making room for God to love others through me, and not complaining unnecessarily, but being grateful. We are called to be a light to the world (MT 5:16). We are only human, but we can rely on God for His help through constant prayer.
Under the theological virtue of Faith, we struggled today with naming the human virtue in light of this gospel because they all seemed to fit. Our case study was a more organic conversation about how, in the past few weeks, God has been connecting us with people we have met from all over the country into an intricate network of spirituality. Although many of us dispersed over the summer months, God brought people in our lives this summer that we found had multiple connections into a divine network of friends in Christ. Only when we sat down and chatted about it all did we connect the “dots” (and joked that Kevin Bacon had nothing on us with his “six degrees of separation” game.)
We decided that humanly speaking, we need to exercise prudence and justice in our words, which above all should reflect charity and faith. Having control over our speech, begins with examining our thoughts when we receive them. We have the power to reject negative thoughts that tempt us to unveil an ugly side of our human nature. We need to give more credence to God’s sovereignty than we do to the small problems we are confronted with in our daily lives by speaking life into those words, rather than complaining about things.
How To Act
We chose to act on this revelation by examining our heart in what we are about to speak. When we struggle with something that is problematic, it is understandable to consult with someone we trust or love for help, but we do this by asking if we can share or consult with them. There is a big difference of asking someone’s help with a problem and then listening to their advice thoughtfully, verses treating someone like a garbage can where we pour our junk and complaints just to relieve our own stress. (Most of us were thinking about when our spouses came in the door after a long day of work and we “release the kraken” on them).
How to Pray
Prayerfully, if we are struggling with ill feelings toward a person or about something, we will thank God at that moment for what He is trying to teach us, and ask for His help for ourselves and the person/issue we are struggling with in hopes of God sanctifying our hearts all the more.
A work in progress…
I am happy to say that I was able to put into practice the apostolic and spiritual resolutions for this week immediately after I left our meeting. Rather than look around at the warehouse club members in disdain and thinking about what hypocrites or sinners they are, I was able to be mindful of my own weakness and the necessity of putting on the yoke of Christ, as Saint John Paul the Great wrote about all those years ago.
Having a membership to a warehouse club can be a great advantage to saving money in life, but having a membership to Christ’s love for humanity (despite our messiness) is the highest privilege for eternal savings. The only uniform required at this club is the yoke of Christ (you can pretend its a pretty scarf or some nice gym shoes for a visual) and ask him for a little bit of his heart to show you how to love others as he does. And you don’t have to wait for Thursday to use those coupons because Christ honors them every day. (Although I may suggest that we want to be extra careful about how we behave if we have kindness bumper stickers on our cars 😉.)
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. (MT 11:30)