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Holes In the Sidewalks of Life


09/07/20


1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

I’d like to speak about spiritual growth this week. Spiritual growth is detailed in 2 Peter 1:3-8: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if we possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, spiritual growth includes:

(1) increasing our knowledge and understanding of God's Word,

(2) decreasing our frequency and severity of sin, or mistakes

(3) increasing our practice of Christ-like qualities, and

(4) increasing our faith and trust in God.

Perhaps the best summary of spiritual growth is becoming more like Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of what it truly means to be spiritual.

So, how is our spiritual growth reflected into the world? It is like a song that our life sings: It is heard and seen by others through our thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes. We are living in some of the most divisive times I have experienced in my life. Every difference is amplified, and sides are defended vehemently. It does not appear we are seeking harmony in our lives, but dissonance.

For instance, the Covid 19 virus: half of us think it is a hoax, or of little threat, and think the other half are fools for being duped into changing their lives and being manipulated by the media. The other half believes the threat of the virus is real, that the social behavioral changes are necessary, prudent, will help protect people from becoming infected, and think the other half are fools for not taking proper precautions and not taking it seriously.

Almost on every issue imaginable, immigration, climate change, the economy, jobs, taxes, the infrastructure, small business, corporations, social injustice, guns, violence, agricultural concerns, regardless of what it is - half the people in this country believe the other half are fools. If we are caught up in this thinking, then we have fallen into a worldly trap and are stagnant spiritually. The truth is, people have differing opinions - always have, always will. But that does not make them wrong, or fools, or unworthy, or stupid – they just think differently.

The world has traps for us human beings that we stumble into if we are not aware. In 1977 Portia Nelson published a poem entitled “There's a Hole in My Sidewalk”. It is short and I will read it.

Chapter One

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in. I am lost .... I am helpless. It isn't my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend that I don't see it. I fall in again.

I can't believe I am in this same place. But, it isn't my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there. I still fall in ... it's a habit ... but, my eyes are open.

I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter Four

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter Five

I walk down another street.

This is the journey of self-awareness and spiritual growth. This is the story of how we can add goodness to our faith; and knowledge to our goodness, and self-control to our knowledge, and perseverance to our self-control; and godliness to our perseverance; and brotherly kindness to our godliness, and finally how to add love to brotherly kindness.

It takes practice, willingness, and awareness. We are going to fall into holes, into worldly emotional and intellectual traps. It is frustrating to find ourselves in one. Without warning we find ourselves in a pit of anger, anxiety, resentment, grief, or despair. We confront loss, change, differing opinions, and perspectives that catch us by surprise.

This is the nature of life. Some things are out of our control. Unexpected events happen. Change always occurs. The most that we can do is adapt to them the best we can. Eventually, we struggle out of the hole into which we have fallen and journey on. Hopefully, we grow from such an experience and become a more mature person who is better able to cope with other pitfalls of life.

And then it happens again! We find ourselves in the exact same hole. “Why does this always happen to me? Why do they always do this to me? When will they ever stop?” We blame others and try to fix them, change them into something more like us. We don’t take responsibility for anything. Still, we struggle and pull ourselves out of the hole and journey onward.

Regardless of our best efforts, we fall into the hole again. But this time it’s a little different. We are able to acknowledge that we saw the hole first, but because of habit, we still fell in. We are beginning to awaken to the relationship between our choices of behaviors and actions and the situations we find ourselves in life.

Fall into a hole enough times, and we start asking questions like, “What is really going on here? Might I be somehow responsible for this situation? What did I do to get here? What role did I play in creating the circumstances that placed me in this hole?" The horrific truth dawns upon us: if I am not responsible for being in this hole then I am going to continue falling in.

Learning this is good news. If we can find out what we are doing and stop that choice or behavior, then we can avoid these holes into which we keep falling. Taking responsibility for our problems means that we take control of our lives. All we must do is change our self and the situation can improve. While this task is ridiculously hard, it is at least possible. Changing others is not.

When we find our self once again in that same bad relationship, but with a different person, we need to realize we are making the same mistake over and over. Maybe it is time to ask our self, "What am I doing?" "How did I get here once again?"

When we are in that same tired old argument, ask what did I do to get here? “Oh, I keep wanting to prove my point and not listening to them. I am responding with an attack every time I hear something I disagree with.” When we discover what we are doing and why we are doing it, then change is possible. We can begin taking responsibility for our self.

Surprisingly, if we do this, the other people we were wanting to change may change as well. We cannot change others directly, but if we change, then they are given the opportunity to change in relation to us. By effectively changing ourselves we may actually change another person, a group, and perhaps, the world.

As we take responsibility for our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions, we can begin avoiding the holes in the sidewalk. We are now able to see what is coming, because we know our patterns and habits; we have become aware. This knowledge gives us control and we can intentionally respond to life in a different manner.

Awareness provides new possibilities. When someone invites us into a familiar hole, we do not have to enter. Our friend, who has been awaiting our arrival to leave for a party, sarcastically says, "Well, you are late again!" Our typical response is to defensively say, "Must you always complain?" When we are aware enough, we see that familiar hole of an argument and a bad evening looming and can make a different choice. We realize that our friend has had the legitimate frustration of waiting and has also been worried about us. We speak to these issues and say, "I am sorry to be late. Traffic was terrible. I know that you were wondering what happened to me." Our new choice allows our friend to acknowledge the concern and apprehension rather than just voice the frustration of waiting. The hole of another repetitive fight is avoided, and the evening goes well.

As we grow spiritually, we finally can see holes far into the distance and simply change streets. We change our inner dialogue and behavior so completely that the old patterns no longer occur. The new street will have holes that we have never seen before. But we now know the rules about the "holes" in the sidewalk. They are not our enemies; they are invitations to grow. At the first encounter with a new hole we should immediately ask, "How am I responsible?" Indeed, we may not be responsible, but the sooner we ask this question, the sooner we can take charge of our life.

It is my prayer that through managing the holes in our sidewalks of Life, we will learn that we choose our reactions and responses, and it is those responses and reactions that set the stage for what we experience in life. We choose whether to celebrate and honor the contribution to the prosperity and economic strength of the nation by the American system of organized labor and workers. We choose happy or sad, simple or complicated, forgiving or condemning. We choose to be accepting and tolerant. or rejecting and dismissive. We choose unity and harmony, or chaos and divisiveness. We choose to express Christ or the ego.

Ephesians 4:31-32 teaches: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” When we have grown spiritually enough, we know what we do and why we do it. We will always be making choices, and we are responsible for the choices we make. We are responsible for our reactions, responses, our words, and actions. All our growth stems from falling into holes, learning the lessons, and making new choices. I pray that we fall into enough holes that one day we will become “whole”.

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