Shortly after we were divorced, my first husband and I had an insightful and gracious conversation as we sipped soft drinks at a small table in an outdoor café. At first, we felt awkward and stilted, but we gradually entered into an honest assessment of our broken marriage. We both agreed that some of our troubles stemmed from following the traditional marriage “templates” of our parents. Although these templates seemed to have worked well for them, we had grown increasingly frustrated and disappointed by the roles we were living, as well as from the expectations we held for each other. This new understanding was so healing for us, and we ended our time by lifting our drinks and wishing each other well.
This year I chose the word, awaken, as my focus for 2020. The word has led me to reconsider other templates I have held as true, including my understanding of the Bible. The more I read and learn about the Bible’s symbolism, the culture and time of the writings, and the underlying circumstances behind the passages, I find the Bible to be more revealing, inspirational, helpful, loving, and sacred to me. My old template of the Bible is giving way to a more expansive and universal understanding, and I find it even more profound, spiritual, and alive!
There is a story in the Bible about Peter having a vision (see Acts 10:9-16). He is starting to pray when he sees this vision of a large sheet coming down from heaven, holding all kinds of animals together. A voice tells him to “kill and eat.” The rules of Peter’s day were very strict about what foods were unclean. Peter wants to please God, and to kill and eat some of these animals would have broken a holy law! But God reveals to Peter that this law was to be set aside and in this way, Peter could honor a meal offered by someone of a different culture, and in turn, foster love and community amid diversity.
Our unique life experiences – and with God’s help, the insights we glean from them – become our personal teachers. We are always being invited to expand with the universe and the expansive love of God, and this often involves changing our minds about issues, changing our attitudes about situations, or changing our templates about truth. As our minds expand in new awareness and understanding, our hearts can expand in love and grace for all people and all of life.
I am beginning to see how God has often used my life experiences to awaken and expand my understanding. Several of my long-held social templates have been surrendered with my new understanding of LGTBQ people (see One Mom’s Journey to Joy), my understanding of racism (broken systems continue to oppress and Black Lives do Matter), and my understanding of healthier pro-life policies (over anti-abortion laws). Most surprisingly, through these new ways of understanding, my life-long, right-leaning template has become a liberal left.
I still have such a long way to go, but I find that when I am able to increase my understanding and discard my obsolete templates, my joy increases. As I become more liberal with all of my life – liberal with my love, generosity, forgiveness, politics, and yes, even taxes – I feel more liberated myself. Jesus always tells us, “Do not fear.” My fear lessens each time I choose love, grace, and generosity, while trusting in God’s infinite provision and mercy for me.
May God keep inviting me to rethink my templates, keep expanding me even when I feel uncomfortable, and always, always, keep moving me toward greater unity and love.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 NRSV)
(Photo by Karen, at Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio. Notice the moon!)