Monday, April 23, 2001

"Life’s Not Fair – and THAT’S OK!"

I have made a scientific discovery with which I’m sure you will agree. When children are formed in the womb, somewhere in the final stages of development, a DNA chip appears in their brains. Not many scientists have recognized it, but every parent knows it is there. It is called the "life should be fair" chip. Without exception, everyone is born with it.

Sheila and I have discovered it in each of our young ones. We have four children - one of each. Andrew, Carissa (now known as Kris), Amber and Chadd. They are all very different, but the same in many ways. Each has the Shaffer eyes, the Shaffer hair, the Shaffer sense of humor, many of the same tastes. One of the large ways they are all the same is that early in life each uttered the very same phrase, "That's not fair!" It comes from the chip!

I’m cutting pieces of birthday cake and one of these children says, "That’s not fair, she got a bigger piece." It’s the chip!

A younger child is toted off to bed and notices her older sibling doesn’t have to go to bed yet. "That’s not fair, he should have to go to bed, too." It’s the chip!

A younger child gets some new, spiffy pajamas. The older one says, "That’s not fair, I should get something new, too." It’s the chip!

An on and on and on it goes. You’d think it would get better as children get older, but the chip does not naturally disintegrate.

My mother-in-law thought that life should be fair for her children, so she tried to make it so. One December Sheila’s older sister asked for a baby carriage for Christmas. The result: all four girls got baby carriages. They had parades around the house. Probably jockeying for the lead and arguing that it wasn’t fair that everybody else got to be in front longer. Was that fair? NO. It was equal. That, in itself, was not fair. Sheila wanted a doll. At Easter time, Sheila's mom would equally count out the jellybeans she put into each child's Easter basket in an attempt to be fair. Was that fair? No, it was equal. What about the child who doesn't like jelly beans? Especially the black and green ones.

The DNA chip is in each one of us. We want life to be fair. We even think life should be fair.

When someone else is promoted we cry, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

When we don't get that raise we moan, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

When our spouse doesn't deliver we whine, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

When our children act in ways we don’t see others acting, we complain, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

When life doesn't provide us with the abilities, the possessions, the talents, the opportunities we see others have, we cry out like children, "THAT’S NOT FAIR!"

My children don't say it much any more. Not because the chip is gone, but because they've learned it is not worth listening to the response. They know my answer to that exclamation will always be the same, "LIFE'S NOT FAIR!" You get a smaller piece of cake, well, life’s not fair. You don’t get to stay up as late? Well, life’s not fair. You don’t get new pajamas? Well, life’s not fair. You don’t get the promotion, or the raise or the talents or the opportunities… Well, life’s not fair. No one ever promised life would be nor should it be.

NOW HERE’S THE IMPORTANT PART - do you know what? That's OK. Yes, you read it right. Read it again. Life's not fair, never will be, wasn't created to be… and that’s OK. Really it is. It may not feel like it, but it is.

God is in charge, we’re His kids, He loves us all the same, but He does not promise that life will be fair. In fact He promised just the opposite.

""I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."" John 16:33 (NIV)

If we insist on fairness and strive to get it on our own, we often short circuit God's ultimate better plan. Remember if Joseph (you know, the guy with multi colored coat whose brothers sold him) had pouted about the unfairness of his life, he would have never become vice president of the world. Life's not fair, and it really is OK. God's in charge.

"As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil, for he brought me to this high position I have today so that I could save the lives of many people." Genesis 50:20 (TLB)

Life's not fair, and that's OK. When we accept that truth about life, it gets much easier to handle. We will accept the difficulties we are handed as a normal part of life instead of believing something is wrong when unfairness comes. That pain is a part of breathing. That in this world those who don't deserve it are going to get things we never do. By accepting the truth of God that life is not fair and tossing out the lie that life should be fair we give God the opportunity to make us grow from the unfairnesss into BETTER people instead of BITTER people.

Then the chip begins to disintegrate. And we can get on with doing life the way God designed us to do it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

"The Spirit is willing, but the Flesh, well, it just won’t cooperate"

It grabbed by the throat, threw me up against the wall, slammed me to the floor and pinned me to the carpet. And every time I tried to get up it did it again. At least that's the way it felt.

"I can’t believe how BAD I feel," was my slogan for the past week. I’d had colds before but this… It must have been what folks around these parts call "The Flu." Growing up in southwest Ohio, "the flu" always meant a stomach virus that lasted about 24 hours. When we moved to Pennsylvania people talked about "The Flu." A monster that gave you a fever, congestion, total body aches, a cough that never ends and a complete case exhaustion. I stuck my foot in my mouth a few times before I caught on. "Those stomach cramps are awful," I would say as people looked at me like I was speaking French.

But in all these years I never personally caught "The Flu" my ownself. Frankly I thought people who caught the flu and stayed in bed were wimps. "I’ve had stuff like that before," I’d say to myself. "Just take some Alka-Seltzer cold medicine and push through it. It's not that big of a deal." Then last week I got "The Flu" my ownself. It was not a pretty sight.

I took some cold medicine and TRIED to push through it… and found myself sitting at the kitchen table, head in hands entirely unable to function. I’d get up for a couple hours and end right back in bed. It felt like a 50 pound weight was lying on my chest. And a couple more were tied to my feet and hands. No energy. No appetite. No mind. Powerless and helpless. (Now you think I’m the wimp, don’t you?)

One of the worst parts was the cough. My mouth is still numb from living on cough drops. Every muscle in my body still aches from gut wrenching hacking fits. Cough suppressants didn’t help. All the concoctions people recommended didn’t help. Nothing helped. I sat on the couch in the middle of the night thinking, "It’s just mind over matter. I can stop coughing and get some sleep. I will not cough. I will not cough. I will not cough." And I would cough. Loud and long. Powerless and helpless. The spirit was willing but the flesh, well, it just would not cooperate.

I’m getting better. It is taking a long time, but I’m getting better. I must be one of those old folks that need a yearly flu shot.

We all need a reminder once in a while about our powerlessness. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are in control, that we have our destinies in our hands. We look around at other people, believing they are wimps because they can’t just push through their problems. Then one day we hit it. ALL OF US DO. We run headlong into some wall that we cannot push through. We try everything we know and concoctions that others recommend. Nothing works. We will ourselves to overcome it. It’s just mind over matter, we tell ourselves. And nothing works. The spirit is willing but the flesh is powerless.

That is because we are human, not God. We were not meant to be able to handle everything. We were meant to depend on the One who can. When we depend on ourselves, the wall always wins. When we depend on God, He always wins with us in His arms. May not look like it for a while. But there has never been a wall that can beat God. (Remember the cross?)

You’d think we’d have this figured out by now. Jesus was very clear when He said "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5 (NIV) Jesus let us know point blank we are powerless and helpless without Him. But then comes the good news: But God also told us through the Apostle Paul, "for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power." Philippians 4:13 (TLB) There is nothing we cannot handle relying on God’s strength instead of ours.

So what are the walls you’re beating your head against?

Sin? You know the drill we use, "I will not do that. I will not do that. I will not do that." And you do that. Why? We are powerless and hopeless relying on ourselves. But powerful and winners when we rely on God’s strength and way out. "for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power."

Problems? "They are just too big. They are going to destroy me!" Sure. No question about it as long as we rely on our own strength. Doesn’t have to be that way. "for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power."

Relationships? Of course they are hard. God told us they would be as soon as our ancestors bit into the forbidden fruit. But destroy us? Nah. Look at Philippians 4:13 again, "for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.". There are no exceptions, not even for hard relationships.

Are you beginning to see it? If the spirit is willing and we recognize that the flesh is powerless and we rely on God instead, then we can face ANYTHING and make it through victoriously.

So what are you going to do? Wait until you’ve worn all the hair off of your head beating it against that wall you’re looking at? Or let God handle it? It will still be a tough road, but you’ll make it to the other side in God’s way and in God’s time.