The Sunday-school teacher asked her 10-year-old students if they would be willing to give $1,000,000 to missionary work for children and families in need.
“Yes,” they all screamed in unison.
“Very good. Would you give $1000?”
“Good. Would you give $1?”
The class responded, “Yes,” except for one young boy, who sat silent.
“Why didn’t you say yes?” the teacher asked.
“Because,” he stammered, “I have a dollar in my pocket.”
Okay, that’s honest.
Napoleon reminded us, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to choose.” And because of that, freedom always works better in speeches, than it does in practice. Because if I choose, I offer my heart freely. I’m all in.
I can sure relate to the little guy. I’m good with answers and debate prep about what I would do with the million. But when you’ve got “a dollar in your pocket,” there’s a parting of the ways in what we “believe” and how we live. Of course, I am still “free” to contribute, give, care for, risk, go out on a limb, let go, to live unshackled. But with my hand over the dollar in my pocket, I am stuck. And we all know the litany here (any of the reasons we find it difficult to remove our hand, any of the reasons that keep us stuck – fear of failure, shame from feeling not enough, need for perfection, the tyranny of “should,” need for certainty, worry about what “they” think? (Did it ever occur to you that we’ve never actually met “them,” but they still control our lives? Go figure.)
If I’m honest, it boils down to this: For whatever reason, I am afraid.
If I open my heart to care, I risk vulnerability.
To give without regard for reward, is to risk misunderstanding.
To expose feelings, is to risk exposing your true self.
To love, is to risk not being loved in return.
To hope, is to risk despair.
I’ll cut to the chase. When I am afraid, I react (allow the narrative of my life and world to be owned by the shouting and anger, where labels rule), or I shut down (Lord knows I don’t need the drama and headache).
Reporters were fussing over a woman celebrating her 104th birthday. “And what do you think is the best thing about being 104?” one reporter asked.
She simply replied, “No peer pressure.”
Now we’re talking…
My mind goes to the image of Michelangelo’s statues. He started many more stone statues than he finished. I believe that he completed fourteen. And what of the others (also creations of extraordinary genius)? As far as I know, they remain locked inside of the blocks of marble. I needed the story of the young boy, to invite me to live unstuck. But how?
I am certain that there are programs, with, no doubt, apps for your iPhone: Basic Unstuck and Unstuck Pro.
But freedom (“unstuckness”) is not about adding one more thing to our life.
Freedom is about embracing the gift of grace—in the words of Seamus Henry, “like well water far down”—that already abounds. Inside of us.
In the Gospels, Jesus loved a party. And he partied with some very eccentric and outlandish people. And he wasn’t too concerned about public opinion, or impressing the right crowd. Remember the party with the woman who wasn’t invited, the conspicuous outsider? Notice this: Jesus never talked to an outcast or untouchable, because Jesus didn’t “see” an untouchable. He saw only a child of God that he was madly in love with.
No wonder freedom is not easy. It scares us half-to-death to be seen, to be invited and to be loved in this way, and then to share that gift. Think about the power that this party represents. Everybody is invited. Everybody.
So here’s the deal: Freedom cannot exist in a vacuum. Judaism teaches us that we need to see beyond “redemption.” When the Jewish people were set free from slavery in Egypt, the point of the story (for us today) is not just that we are free, but what we do with that freedom. The story says, “Let my people go, so that they may reflect God.”
Wow. So, we live unabashed. By not withholding, we let the grace and light that is within us, spill.
To be stuck is another way of saying we play small, underestimating our capacity to make a difference with what we consider a small portion. Insignificant? Well, whatever the amount, it is enough for empathy and compassion and caring for the marginalized and brokenhearted among us. Enough to offer tenderness, grace and healing and sanctuary to a fallen world. Just the right amount to make the world a better place and invite our better angels.
Yes, it does cost us, because it means giving up the security represented by the dollar that I know I have in my pocket. Just like breathing, we will inhale grace, and in our exhaling, we pour ourselves out, a spillage fueled by grace.
To inspire others? Yes. But in every exhalation, we must die a little.
Will it result in a new inhaling? Yes. But even that cannot be taken for granted. It is a miracle that we will always find new breath, that we are always created anew.
This week I found Maya Angelou’s A Brave and Startling Truth. Here’s an excerpt…
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth
And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms
When we come to it…
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
Lord have mercy, that is good… thank you Maya…
The garden this week is outrageous, flamboyant, unabashed and bountiful. Unafraid to be all in… lilac, bearded iris, columbine, profligate and marvelous with flower, with no thought of holding back. I am grateful to the bone.
Tomorrow I head to Manasota Key, FL, for my annual time with my oldest friends. (Yes, they are old. And yes, they are my friends.)
This week, my friend Todd Hahn died. Too young. That hurts a lot. RIP my friend. We miss you.
I walk my driveway, now covered with petals from our native cherry trees, scattered by the breeze, an offering of grace.
Quotes for your week…
Breathing in, I know that I’m alive
Breathing out, I smile to the world.
Thich Nhat Hanh
There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness. Dali Lama
Still time to join our eCourse, Find Your Sanctuary: create space for grace. So, where is your sacred place?
We do not go there merely to fulfill an obligation.
We do not go there just to be a good person.
We do not go there to impress people we know.
We go there because if we don’t go, we lose part of our soul.
There is a light in this world.
a healing spirit
more powerful than any darkness we may encounter.
We sometime lose sight of this force
when there is suffering, and too much pain.
the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people
who hear a call
and answer in extraordinary ways.
When you have followed the map
which is not a map
and created the path with every
you will traverse the in-ferno,
meet the dragons and find them
You will bathe in
the pool of the past and empty it.
you will cross the desert and
fall in love
with life teeming there
and you will emerge where
the luminous world swoons at your
feet, seeking what only you
Antoinette Voute Roeder (Still Breathing, 2010)
We may wonder
Whom can I love and serve?
Where is the face of God
to whom I can pray?
The answer is simple.
That naked one.
That lonely one.
That unwanted one
is my brother and my sister.
If we have no peace,
it is because
we have forgotten
that we belong to each other.