Dawn and I love to travel. We find beautiful vistas at mountain overlooks. I am powerless to stop myself from taking hundreds of very similar pictures of the mountains rolling away into the distance with mist, sunshine, rocks, trees, colorful foliage, rivers or any other feature a person finds in the mountains. It makes me think of this verse:
A person's wisdom yields patience; it is to one's glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11 TNIV)
We are in our 25th year together and I am thankful. We have something special. It is special for its value and beauty to me, not for any particular feature of our relationship that nobody else can have. This scripture sentence says volumes about what can make a relationship, whether it's a marriage, a friendship, or any other family connection good. It's in the overlooks.
Ask yourself this: "Can I be patient with the other's flaws?" If you can't chances are you are also not being wise according to Solomon. When I am being wise I am considering my own flaws. I am realizing that the other person in my life is not perfect just as I am not perfect. Chances are we have different imperfections from each other, but that does not make my imperfections any better or more acceptable than the other's. The fact that they are mine makes them look, to me, easier to live with. When I get short fused or demanding with the other, I am simply letting my own folly run away with me, and that too is a flaw. And now for the hard part.
I may be patient when I am wise, but I am glorious if I overlook an offense. What about that other person offends my sensibilities, my sense of order, my feelings of being cared for, my image of goodness, my conception of intelligence? If I can just realize that I am no easier to live with than anyone else and that my own quirks are just as annoying, just as upsetting, just as niggling as anyone else's, I can reach a point of give and take, a place of forgiveness. There are places in conflict resolution for confrontation and compromise, but in our self-centered society we often bypass this first obvious step: to simply choose to overlook something that offends me. Make no mistake, it is a choice, one that must be exercised often, sometimes constantly. We are unique individuals and that means we are different from each other and those differences will feel out of place. It is in the nature of being different.
It's like that mountain overlook. If I could get down into that mountain from my lofty height, I would see the litter left by campers, the droppings left by animals, the dangers, the impassible paths, the holes, rocks, and ruts, the rotting logs. But if my view is to be glorious, from that ridge looking down into the valley, I choose to ignore those trouble spots and see the bigger picture, the majestic panorama of the whole rather than the distraction that the smaller parts can become.
We are called by Solomon to allow our wisdom to shine like a glorious star, to be and, as a bonus, to appear to others to be a wonderful person of depth and beauty. We can be that person. It is in the level of personal stability we can find in living with the differences and the flaws of others. When my friend, spouse, sibling, parent, or adult child becomes an irritant, it's probably more my problem than it is theirs. Often others are just being who they are while I am expecting them to be someone else for my benefit.
Of course some readers will be thinking, "I need to show this to someone else, so they can be wiser and more glorious in their patience and willingness to overlook something." Resist that defensive posture. Instead look at it for what you yourself can gain. Be the example in the relationship, the one who finds personal internal stability in accepting the other. Stand at the overlook and see the majesty of the bigger relational picture rather than allowing yourself to be sidetracked by smaller things. We are eternal beings in a temporary world. All of this is passing away as we speak. When we are weak, or old, or prone to problems these are manifestations of immediacy. Things of the spirit will last. That's where the glorious overlook can be found.
Since December (as well as, of course, a long time before that) The Mennonite Church has been in a state of some anxiety over actions taken concerning the homosexual community by a couple organizations under our umbrella. These same anxieties are bound to become stirred any time, and for any reason, the long-held views of a group of people are challenged. The conclusion of these challenges always leads to change, whether in shifting to incorporate the new views or in reaffirming our commitments and seeing not the policies but the faces in our churches change. In any debate, no matter which way things go, the fallout is painful and the struggles are deeply felt by many.
A recent document released by Lancaster Mennonite Conference called Healthy Sexuality Resources: A Toolkit of Resources for Leaders and Congregations includes a selection of websites containing a number of important documents that shed light on the teachings of the Mennonite Church. The documents while clearly defining a position, also take a strong stand on love and forgiveness as well as repentance. Equally important, they discuss some other issues that tend to be obscured by the issue close at hand. I am including links to a few of the more focused of these sites for anyone who would like to take a look. The leadership of Lancaster Mennonite Conference has made comments and sent out documents that reaffirm our commitment to these statements and call for a renewed focus not on controversy, but on the mission of the Church: growing disciples for Jesus.
We all learned in our early years of school how to write different kinds of notes. One was a bread and butter note. I always found that one to have an interesting name. It is a special kind of thank you note. Perhaps you owe somebody a bread and butter note for their hospitality this past Thursday. Thank you notes were another form we were taught, and which most of us treated like an academic exercise and quickly forgot.
Do you write thank you notes? The Thanksgiving season is an interesting time to think of such a thing, because we don't write thank you notes to God but to people. Thank you notes come back into play in about a month ... at which time many of us will forget about them again.
I think Thank you notes are nice. Many of us probably think of them as overly formal. We stick them in the same category as an engraved invitation and assume that people in our tax bracket do not indulge in such frippery.
However, they are not froth. All we have to do to realize that is to consider how we feel when we receive one. In our adult years we grow jaded about mail. It is full of fliers and bills. But once in awhile a personal envelope makes it to our door, a card, or (it still happens even in these digital days) a letter. When it does, at our house, it gets placed in a special pile as we sort the mail: junk, bills, interesting or important, personal. It is the last thing we open, relishing the idea that somebody thought about us enough to spend time and some effort to send something we could hold in our hand.
Thank you notes are expressions of personal regard. They say "You were nice to me and I have not forgotten." Giving thanks to God is easy. We simply send up a prayer. Give thanks to Him by thanking him for somebody else. Then let them know ... in writing.
Today is my sister's birthday. It's important to remember that family is a gift from God. He created us to be born of a couple parents and to be dependent on them for everything until we can fend for ourselves. The fact that the system is designed so people can also grow up together is proof enough for me that we have a built-in system for socialization. It is among siblings that I first learned to share, to make peace, to make room for the needs and wants of others, to be empathetic and kind. The Bible says we can know God by looking at what He has created. Well, He created families and when they are working at their most functional, they do indeed reflect His goodness.
Birthdays are days our culture designates to celebrate those we love, and hopefully they feel our regard and enjoy it to the fullest. But it is also a time for the rest of us to remember how important the person we are celebrating is to our own balance. When we celebrate a birthday fully, it is often with and for a person who is an emotional resource to us, someone we talk to in particular circumstances and they share our joy and pain. Since conversations like that with those to whom we are closest are so reciprocal, we tend to forget how much we appreciate and need them. The gift of celebration is a "thank you" writ large.
So, Happy Birthday, Becky. I hope your day brings you joy. And may the year to come bring you all the peace that's out there. God bless you, you are certainly a blessing to me.
Pastor, Norma Mennonite Church.