Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!" Matthew 5:3

I am thrilled to arrive at the Beatitudes. The Bible's first account of Jesus' preaching is a shock to the world, as each one is the antithesis of what our human nature drives us towards. It is so easy to believe in them, but it is so incredibly hard to put them in practice.

Fairly early in his public ministry, Jesus had developed a considerable following. One day, as a crowd gathered, he sat down on a hillside and began to teach:
"Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!" (GNT)
"Spiritually poor," or "poor in spirit," as we see in other translations, is almost universally understood to refer to spiritual humility, not poverty of possessions. It would be cruel to refer to people living in destitution as being "happy."

Rather, it is those who make no claim to perfection - or even superiority - that are the spiritually poor. You are happy when you trust God to achieve the life you are supposed to live, instead of feeling as though you can do it all yourself.

It is a liberating feeling! Trust in God to better yourself! So why is it so hard to stick with that feeling?

We are human.

I am a very proud individual. Throughout my life, I have held delusions of grandeur that my career would be something noteworthy. I have not sought superstardom or riches; but I have coveted respect. In younger years, I envisioned a future as a published historian, a radio personality, a big-time newspaper reporter, somebody who people would envy. These are worthwhile professions - the world needs to be educated, entertained and informed - yet my eye was fixed on the prize. It didn't occur to me until recently that I had to work towards my goals; I waited for things to happen. The result was that I got frustrated and changed my career goals on multiple occasions.

A huge test to my ego started nearly four months ago. After getting axed from my teaching job, I became a stay-at-home dad. Never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted that I would become a "Mr. Mom." I saw those men as suffering artist types who used their sugar mamas' careers to subsidize their own laziness. My own perceptions of the man as the breadwinner were now thrown into my face.

But what a blessing to spend the day with my children! It doesn't always feel that way, especially when my two-year-old daughter throws a tantrum as my 10-month old son screeches with teething pain.

Dom Helder Camara
More importantly, I am seeing how difficult and important this job is, and it is a job. It's a daily conflict between my preconceived notions of parenting, fatigue, patience (or lack thereof), my sometimes inadequate brain, and, of course, my kids' development. I'd be lying if I told you that I've turned the corner and became the best darn stay-at-home dad in the world. It is a daily struggle. Dom Helder Camara, the late Catholic archbishop of Recife, Brazil and a man I greatly admire, wrote of such a struggle:
"God works this marvel: that even though he resides with us and in us, we still retain our weaknesses. It's up to us to avoid giving way to pride, to keep on the alert. We have to keep the process of conversion going all the time."
Yet even as I typed that very quote, my mind turned to whether or not my wife would be impressed by this post. Just yesterday, I spent a long time on a message to a pastor critiquing him for referring to the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a false prophet. I believe, and expressed in that message, that such language is counterproductive, especially in a world that seems to be on the brink of a devastating war.

After I sent the message, I emailed a copy to my wife. Later, at home, I asked her if she read it. She said yes.

That wasn't the response I was looking for, so I pressed: "What did you think of it?"

"Oh, yeah, it was okay," she said.

I was perplexed. I spent the better part of the day working on it. I considered tweaking it a bit to send it to a prominent publication. Perhaps my message of tolerance would help tip the scales and prevent conflict! And all she could say was that it was "okay?" I asked her if she thought a magazine would want it. She did not.

"It's not your best work," she said.

I'm a freelance writer, so I tend to believe that everything I write is gold. Talk about bringing a guy down to earth.

Dom Helder again has words to bring it into perspective:
"True poverty is not the kind we choose but the kind that God sends. I thought for instance that the clothes I wore could be a sign of poverty. But when the photographers used to follow me everywhere, I realized that external poverty is worthless unless it is a manifestation of internal poverty: 'Look at me! I am a poor bishop, a bishop of the poor! I am not like those bourgeois bishops.' That is terrible. You see it wasn't until later that I knew that the poverty God had chosen for me was not to take away wealth - which in any case I didn't have - but to snatch away my fame, my reputation, my prestige."

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