the stuff of dreams and lent

Last night, I had an epic trilogy of nightmares.

In Part I, I was first pursued, then held hostage by a serial killer.  This dude was scary; he was Hannibal Lecter and Lex Luthor and Nurse Ratched all wrapped in one.  I kept trying to get away from him, but he always caught up.  I couldn’t let anyone around me know what was happening or else he’d kill them all, too.  He wanted me and only me, and I felt like a mouse being played with by a cat.

Eventually, I was able to distance myself and my family from him somehow, because Part II found us at church.  The service and Sunday School were over and we were about to go outside when a brewing storm system suddenly gave birth to about a dozen tornadoes.  Most of them were far away, but I saw one coming right for us, so I ushered us down into the basement.  It passed over us without harming us or the structure around us, but I could hear people’s screams outside as they were sucked in.

This transitioned into Part III as we drove home and settled in.  My girls went to bed and I was talking with my mother, when out of one of our bedrooms came the person with whom I have the most difficult relationship in my life.  She came out and stared right at me, but she wanted to talk to my mother, not me.  I stepped aside and let her pass, and then walked away, praying fervently my mom wouldn’t allow herself to get hurt in the conversation.

Then I woke up.  I believe my profound thought upon rousing was, “What in the [bad word] was that?!”

Now I’m no Joseph, but I enjoy dream analysis and interpretation very much.  There is a lot of material in these dreams to pore over, and it doesn’t take a genius to speculate that there is some kind of stress / turmoil going on in my head.

Do I think it a coincidence that my last thoughts before going to bed that night circled around Lent?  Absolutely not.

I have observed Lent since I was sixteen years old and it is always a complex labor of love.  Deciding what to do / not do for forty days seems straightforward, but I easily devolve into a sort of tug-of-war between what God is calling me to do and what I think will benefit (or, let’s be honest, what will look best on) myself.  I must constantly check myself and pray over it, or I can degrade the spiritual work by turning it into a glorified New Year’s resolution.

And that’s the “easy” part.

After that comes the real work of living it out.  Giving without letting my right hand know what the left is doing, keeping up appearances so as not to garner the praise or sympathy of others, and doing it all without complaining or arguing…well.  I can barely master those disciplines on Christmas Day!  Throw in a little warfare against my human nature and will and it’s amazing how fast and furiously the rationalizations start to fly.

The truth is, I know this all affirms that the work is good.  If my flesh lashes out, it’s because it needs the discipline.  When my mind tries to talk me out of it, it only shows that it needs this retraining.  Every swing of my emotions will only reorient them to the One I really need to connect with for peace.

Serial killers?  Come ahead!  I’m killing myself anyway so I can live with Christ.

Tornadoes?  Blow away!  I serve the One who will both use and calm the storm.

Enemies?  Do your worst!  I will walk in love and forgiveness, and God will make everything right in the end.

happy

I am a Christian.  I have been an active believer in local churches for all thirty-seven years of my life.  I probably fall toward the conservative side of the pew when it comes to tradition and doctrine, and I actively enjoy apologetics, eschatology, and inductive Bible studies.  And it is with a full heart that I can honestly wish everyone this year: Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, a Blessed Winter Solstice, Happy Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa, and even Merry Xmas!

It has become very popular in the fellowship of believers these days to be cranky about such alternative salutations.  It is our God-given, or at least Constitutional, right to celebrate Christmas.  It naturally follows that we should be able to wish others a merry Christmas without being persecuted or stamped down for it.  I agree with these concepts.  But is it really the answer to beat others over the head with our merry Christmases and refuse to receive their best wishes in any other form?  I humbly submit: No.

It is unbecoming of us to post ugliness in the name of Jesus.  I don’t think He is offended by the fact that there are people out there celebrating other things at this time of year…especially when it’s not even the accurate historical date of His birth.  I don’t think that He cares if we abbreviate the manufactured name of the holiday down to Xmas so it will fit on a gift tag…especially since “X” has been used as His initial before.  But I do think He cares whether we actively love one another despite our differences.  Yes, I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere once.

I am celebrating Christmas this week, and so when I am out and about, I am wishing people a Merry Christmas.  A week and a half ago, I posted a message at work wishing people a Happy Hanukkah, and I will wish people a Happy Kwanzaa as I see fit next week.  I am not trying to be inauthentic or people-pleasing when I do this.  Rather, it’s the same thing as saying “Happy Friday!” or “Have a nice summer!”  I genuinely wish everyone – Christian or not – a day of blessing and positivity and progress down the path of meeting and fulfilling our respective destinies.   I’m praying that we can all just accept each other’s intentions and toss the semantics to the curb.

Merry Christmas, y’all.