regrets.

Sometimes, I wonder if God counts a glass of whiskey and a cigar by a fire on a quiet Wednesday as a form of “communion.”

Not because I’m some rebel, hardened Christian who likes to drink – actually, I think of it more like that episode of How I Met Your Mother in which they get Barney “honest drunk,” when his eyes are glossed over and he holds nothing back. Any question they ask him, he’ll answer.

Sometimes it feels like God invites us for a drink with Him, to loosen us up just a little bit to be honest with Him. Maybe I’m crazy, maybe not.

 

Tonight, I’m reminded of the story of the prodigal son, for a lot of reasons, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep them straight.

Everyone feels like the prodigal son, you know? It’s the most relatable story in the Bible because at its core, it’s a story of salvation – it’s THE salvation story. We all make mistakes, we all run far away, we all feel wasteful. I felt like the prodigal son years ago, even before I made my big mistakes. It’s a powerful story probably because of the fact that we experience it more than just once.

In high school, my “big” sins were trying out cuss words; being exposed to a few pornographic images, and not doing my homework on time. My “big confessions” were being addicted to a video game (which, back then, did I even know what addiction really was?) not doing my chores, and occasionally lying to my parents.

Now, my “big sins” are different. My “big sins” are that ex I got too intimate with, those nights I got a little too crazy going out with my friends, gossiping about co-workers behind their backs, skipping church for months in a row, working up thousands of dollars of credit card debt – it kinda gets bigger as you go along.

In high school, running away from God meant spending a few days out of the Bible, listening to secular music once or twice, and not witnessing to EVERYONE at high school.

Now, running away from God means dissing the church (something I’ve done more than I wish I have,) abandoning my spiritual identity, picking on and criticizing Christian culture…

 

There’s a line in a song that says, “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way that He loves us.”

Tonight, that line rang around in my head, almost obnoxiously. It rang around because I think God was trying to get my attention – I make a lot of time to maintain my regrets. I make a lot of time to think about the year 2015 – The Year Without God. I make a lot of time to think about how long I was out of church; the mistakes I made in relationships; the degree to which I let work rule my life; the degree to which I let responsibilities and obligations rule me…

If I have time to maintain my regrets, then maybe I’m not thinking about the way that He (God) loves me. That line isn’t ripped straight out of the Bible, but I think it’s true nevertheless. Tim Keller talks about the “overmastering power of a positive passion,” in which God, in all of His glory and splendor, His goodness, majesty, and mercy; overrides our motivations, our habits, our desires, and (I believe) even our regrets. Think about it: on your wedding day, are you caught up in how your past relationships failed, or are you busy thinking about how wonderful your current love is?

 

God is gentle and loving – tonight, I heard Him gently say, “stop thinking about it. Stop making time for regrets.”

 

The reality is – there’s a lot of work to do. There’s a harvest that’s plentiful, there’s a field that’s white. There’s a gospel to spread, there are people to love, there’s a Kingdom to consummate – so how do I have time to sit around and lament the past?

 

I don’t.

 

sowing and reaping.

I remember being young, and certain people’s homes had a distinct fragrance – a fragrance I looked forward to enjoying every time we went over. I remembered people’s houses by that – it was one of the first things I thought of when my parents would say, “we’re going to _____’s house!”

I think what I always wondered was, “do they know how good their house smells? Do they know that it smells like…” lavender, or pizza, or honey, or ginger, or coffee…

Nowadays, I wonder that about people’s presence. Does John know that he stresses people out? Does Jane know that everybody lights up and gets energized by her? Does Brad know that when he walks into a room everybody’s caught up by his charisma and charm? Does Sarah know that she’s awkward? [all names hypothetical, nobody wonder.]

 

I know that I wonder about myself – how do I come off to people? Do I have too many pet peeves and stress people out? Do they think I’m thoughtful? Brash? Funny? Kind? Do I lift the burdens of others the way I feel so many lift mine? Do people really mind when I rant, or am I an energetic vampire?

 

 

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately – you reap what you sow. That’s what Galatians tells us – Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever one sows, that will he also reap. Now, there’s context there, to be sure. But the saying holds true even outside of it, and I think a lot of people accept it as conventional wisdom – you get what’s coming to you.

 

Sowing tense relations, stress, annoyance, impatience, complaints: all of that brings itself back full-circle to you. People don’t like being around someone who doesn’t like being around people. People are stressed by people who are stressed. People complain about people who complain (not to mention, I’ve found, people feel invited to complain by people who complain.) People are annoyed by people who are annoyed.

 

But joy – joy’s another thing. I guess I’m naive enough to believe that when you delight in someone, they tend to delight in you. When you find the good in others, they like to find the good in you. When you give of yourself to others, they tend to give in return.

 

It’s no guarantee, but the majority of the time, that’s how it goes.

Goodness seems to beget goodness, and grace begets grace, and love begets love.

In life, in relationships, in work, it all holds true – you reap what you sow.

When your attitude towards your job is that it inconveniences you, it’s never going to stop inconveniencing you. You’ve already decided that it’s going to be a burden, so it’s going to be a burden. It’s kind of like using something (say, your cell phone) as a paperweight – it’s not a paperweight, but it’ll act like one if you want it to. All you have to do it put it on a piece of paper and it’ll hold it down. But objectively, it’s not a paperweight. But once you remove it, you no longer expect it to be a paperweight, because that’s not the function you’ve given it.

 

Our attitudes towards friendships go a long way. If you decide that a friendship is supremely important to you, then nothing they do – political disagreements, cancelled get-togethers, misspoken sentiment – can break that bond of friendship. A bit like God, the strength of the bond of friendship lies in the friends – they choose how easily it’s broken. That’s why marriage is such a powerful sacrament: two people decide that they’re going to do life together through thick or thin, no matter what. And married people fight, they change, they move together, have kids together, experience life together, and even through all of the things that are externally different by the end of it all, the thing that got them through is the thing that never changed – commitment.

 

Let me cut to the quick a little bit with my intentions behind this post. I’m not too old or proud to admit that I still find myself thinking, “I want to be like [so-and-so.]” I find myself thinking about how I want their perspective on life, or their grace, or ability to relate to people; and in thinking about all of this, I’ve realized that the choice is entirely in my own hands.

 

I can be more God-conscious than I am. The choice is up to me – I can either wake up in the morning, check Facebook and email, begin my chain of stressing about work, my dog, and my busy schedule; or I can wake up and start by praying. Believe me – I know how very high-school-student-ministry that sounds, but it’s true. And it doesn’t even work 100% of the time. News flash: I have read my bible in the morning and had a bad day. Coming at you live from Lexington, KY, this is Jeff Poling reporting. All the same, it is better to acknowledge the presence of God than to not – even if it’s not something you choose to use or tap into, you at least are forced to make a choice about it.

 

I can be more organized than I am. The fact that I choose to sit down, eat food, and watch tv, leaving my kitchen a mess instead of cleaning immediately, is my choice entirely.

 

I can be more efficient than I am – I find myself having many unfinished tasks at work, which I simply leave because I’d rather just go home than finish up, and I make my own life so much harder later on. My choice.

 

I can be more joyful than I am. I can choose to treat people with respect and dignity instead of as burdens or inconveniences.

 

As is the case in a lot of these entries, I hope you find yourself challenged and thinking, and rest assured that I am – I feel heavier after writing than I do before I embarked on this. Introspection is a heavy burden – but perhaps it is weight-lifting for the soul.