Monday, February 1, 2016

Storms, helpers, and theories on faith-building

So, one of the best things about a blizzard—

Wait, scratch that last. Saying "one of the best things" implies that there are more than one good thing about blizzards—which is, frankly, laughable, since I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel here to find even a single good thing. So, beginning again:

The only good thing about a blizzard and subsequent heavy snowfall is that suddenly, neighborhoods become neighborly again. I suppose any natural disaster brings about this end; I recall similar friendly acts when our street flooded two summers ago. Suddenly, people who'd barely spoken to each other were sharing buckets to bail, and even the more aloof crowd up the street wandered down to assist folks on our dead end, to push cars out of harm's way, to chat amicably and offer support. We haven't seen them since, but hey...

So, when last weekend's snow began to fall, and the husband was headed out of town, and the kid was sick with a flu, we just sort of hunkered down... and I did a lot of praying. For safe travel for the hus and his gang of church kids and fellow leaders (they arrived safely and had a great time), for my loved ones to have random plowing help and for more able family shovelers to step in (all of that happened), for everyone to use good judgment and common sense and do what they could for whom they could do it. Paying it forward, so to say. I couldn't drive an hour in my low-riding sedan in the snowdrifts with an ill child, so I shoveled our own walkway and the elderly neighbor's as well, trusting that if only all of us contributed in a sensible, local way,the good deeds would work their way around to every needy soul. And from what I've found out? That's what happened.

I remember reading that Fred Rogers told kids who were struggling to comprehend disasters that they should "look for the helpers." He comforted children who were floundering in confusion and unanswered questions by pointing them toward those fellow humans who stepped up to lend a hand—to be God's hands, in a way. And Mr. Rogers was right, of course; there are always helpers, and one can take some solace in seeing the good works of those folks. Part of healing occurs when you see the helpers, and sometimes when you are the helper... and I truly believe a big part of it also happens when you accept help, because that acceptance is an admission of sorts that you needed help in the first place.

The whole disasters-and-helpers thing has me thinking about a point I keep trying to make at my Bible study, and which as far as I can see has not yet been well received. I have observed aloud a direct correlation between being in a position where you need to ask for or accept human help, and being able to ask God for His gift of salvation. The part I think most of my study-mates object to is my suggestion that when you have plenty of money and a bevy of people around you whom you can pay for help, you don't grasp the idea of needing salvation as deeply because you just don't "need" much in this earthly realm.

This is my opinion, of course. But it lines up well with what I keep hearing about people who've been to the poorest places in the world, decrepit, downtrodden villages where people hear of God's love and eternal life and embrace it with the utmost joy. These people have nothing, their very existence often depends on moment-by-moment offerings. People who need assistance with every task—the chronically ill, the disabled, the infirm—those people truly understand their own helplessness, and I suspect that understanding helps them to better grasp their absolute dependence on God's mercy and kindness.

I'm not saying I want to be ill, or incapable, or desperately poor. Of course I don't. Yet, I do see over and over that those people have far less trouble on the whole accepting their need of Jesus. They have been humbled by life, by circumstances, by hungry children in their care, by the fact that without someone else, they can't get out of bed.

Humility is a difficult state to achieve when you're healthy, able, and comfortable, with money to spare. Doesn't it make sense that it's harder for many of us to feel we truly need God because we already have all the trappings of this world? It seems that the people with the biggest concept of God are those who have the smallest, most realistic, often most broken images of themselves and their utterly fallen, current dwelling place.

That's why bad storms make us neighborly again. We are humbled by something far bigger than ourselves; we realize, at a fundamental level, that we must accept help or be cut off and have our well-being endangered by our own stubbornness. It seems to me that the storms of life have the same effect. We can sit, snowed in, by the light of a flickering candle, eating cold canned beans and feeling lonely and sorry for ourselves... or we can open the door, accept the hand that is proffered, be humbled yet thankful, and then pass on the gift to others.

In my uninformed, simple opinion, this is one of America's greatest weaknesses: Our wealth. It's hard to see ourselves as we really are, when we've heaped up so much shoddy "finery" and just-released technology around our pathetic, messed-up selves. That stuff affects our perception of ourselves. It's piled so high that we can't even see Him knocking at the window. I hate storms... but I could probably do with more of them. Think about it: when have you felt closest to God? I don't feel joy when faced with trials, not yet, but I'm going to work on my big-picture viewpoint about the whole thing.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. -James 1:2-4