Recycling

I recycle because I have a friend who recycles. 

I mean, I have a friend who recycles.  She carries a bag with her when she goes on walks simply so she can pick up trash.  When she comes to visit, she brings me all the recyclables she can’t recycle in her own town, because my town has a broader recycling program.  “Maybe I’ll inspire someone else,” she says.  And by someone, she occasionally means me.

Any activist will tell you that the hardest thing to initiate is a change in someone’s behavior.  Changing the way someone thinks is hard enough.  Swaying another’s opinion to agree with you – now that’s a challenge!  But these changes are still a marathon away from actually changing their behavior.  This was certainly true for me.  I agreed 100% with everything my friend told me.  “Be the change you want to see in the world,” she’d quote.  “Absolutely!”  I’d agree. 

Now I should clarify.  I would occasionally pick up trash and pack it out of my favorite hiking haunts.  Or I might pick up something blown from my apartment’s dumpster and return it.  I would recycle when it was convenient, but my apartment complex didn’t have recycling pick-up.  I knew there was a recycling center in town, but… I chose not to figure out how to use it.

So what was it that actually manifested a change in my behavior?  Well, for one, my friend’s persistence.  But more importantly, she didn’t drive me to it.  She led me to it. 

This same friend recently sent me an article with a short video about the impacts of plastics in our oceans.  It made me glad that I recycle.  It made me glad that I was being part of the solution and not part of the problem.  But before I started recycling, the article probably would have garnered a different reaction.  I still would have agreed with the message – Wow, what a mess we are making of our environment!  But rather than drive me to action, it probably would have just made me feel guilty.  I would have exiled the thought to the island of guilty thoughts that I am not going to act on, and I would have continued on as usual.

Too often when we are trying to change someone’s behavior – or even when we are trying to change our own – we try to drive the change like a cowboy driving a herd of cattle.  We crack the whip of reason, we coerce, we plead.  But instead of a stampede toward the corral, the result is usually more like a baulking bull.  The topic of change can become a matter of stubborn principle.  “Well, I’m not going to do it,” we say.  Even when we want to change, we find ourselves pushing back rather than embracing a new behavior.

The Bible gives us a different analogy of change.  Jesus didn’t ride herd with a whip.  He simply entered the pen through the gate.  “I am the good Shepherd,” Jesus told his followers. “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3,14). 

Jesus wasn’t driving the change; Jesus was leading the change.  And this is precisely what my friend did to change my recycling habits.  One time when she was visiting, she threw me and her recycling in the car and drove to the recycling center.  She never said: “I’m going to show you how to recycle so that you will start doing it.”  We simply went and recycled together.  And after I had done it once, there was no reason for me not to continue. 

Sometimes in life, change is elicited simply because we have someone come alongside us and show us how.  Even when it is something we could easily figure out on our own, we sometimes need that physical presence to help initiate the change.  This is true for the activities of our life, and it is true for our walk of faith.  Positive change comes not from being driven toward it from behind, but from being led by someone walking with us.

I wonder how many of us can say, “I am a Christian because I have a friend who is a Christian.”  And more importantly, how many of us have friends who can say about us, “I am a Christian, because I have a friend who is a Christian.”

 He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:3b).

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Self Encouragement

I was having a frazzled kind of day.  Not anything in particular was going badly, I just felt somehow entirely discombobulated.  You know those days where too little sleep and too many racing thoughts start taking their toll?  I felt a bit as though a piece of me was going in one direction, and another piece was pulling in an entirely different direction, and no pieces were clear in their purpose.  It was one of those existential “What am I doing here?” kind of days.

Then I posted the Matchless article.  As I was giving it a final read-through before posting, I suddenly realized it was exactly what I needed to hear.  I needed to be reminded that even on days when I feel floundering and purposeless, there is still a reason I am right here, right now.  That God created me, just as I am, for a reason.  In a strange sort of way, I spoke to myself the very words I needed to hear.

This may sound a bit self-congratulatory.  But the more I thought about this experience, the more I wondered: what’s wrong with being self-congratulatory?  Maybe one of our problems is we don’t self-congratulate enough.  And more importantly, we don’t self-encourage.

It is a fact of life that there are going to be bad days.  Days we feel sad or scrambled or stressed or scared or all of these things at once.  Sometimes there is no one else around to help us sort through these feelings.  Sometimes the friends who do surround us do not know how to help.  Wouldn’t it be nice in these times of struggle if we had a source of encouragement that could speak hope into our lives even when no one else was around?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be our own source of encouragement?

Certainly, we have to be careful anytime we’re putting ourselves into the equation.  We are, after all, only human.  We may be wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), but we still make mistakes.  We make mistakes with others.  We make mistakes with ourselves.  We say incorrect things, we think incorrect thoughts, we seek comfort when what we really need is a good yelling.  If we try to encourage ourselves, chances are good we’ll probably screw it up.  But lucky for us, there is a safeguard in place.  Residing within us is the Spirit of God, who can help encourage our thoughts away from our woeful situations and replace them with thoughts of power and peace and perseverance.

David knew the importance of this type of self-encouragement.  When he was feeling down, he tried to buoy himself up by redirecting his attention back to the source of all encouragement.  “Why are you downcast within me, oh my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:11). 

The first thing David did was recognize that he was feeling miserable.  But rather than dwell on this, he immediately redirected his attention back to God.  How many times when we are miserable do we do the exact opposite?  We like to dwell on the question.  We like to reply: “Let me tell you why I’m downcast!” Over and over again we allow our emotions to tell us how we feel.  We allow our minds to think about our feelings, and the reasons for our feelings, and the feelings of our feelings.  The more we think about how we feel, the more we feel, and the more we feel, the worse we feel, and the worse we feel the more we think, and the more we think the more we feel and…

But notice that David did not allow himself to do this.  “Why are you downcast?” David asked himself.  But it wasn’t posed as a ruminating question.  It was more of an accusation.  Followed by a command.  “Why are you downcast, oh my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God!”

“Put your hope in God!” David encouraged himself.  In other words, don’t ruminate on your feelings.  Don’t mull them over.  Don’t think about them.  Don’t try to figure them out.  Focus instead on God!

Ironic, isn’t it?  Self-encouragement is really not about encouraging the “self” at all.  In fact, self-encouragement is about encouraging ourselves away from ourselves… and closer to God.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:11).

Matchless

At some point over the course of today I came to the realization that my shirt does not match the rest of my outfit.  Unfortunately, this isn’t particularly surprising.  It’s certainly not the first time, although I do actually make an effort to match… sometimes. 

The problem is I really don’t like anything about the whole “what should I wear today” scenario.  For one thing, my selection is limited because I dislike shopping for clothes in the first place.  For another, the clothes I would prefer to wear – garish colors in odd combinations – are typically frowned upon as not going together at all.  It’s not that I’m trying to make a statement when I wear odd color combiantions.  I just actually like purple, orange, and green.  Together.  Unfortunately, the rest of the world seems to disagree.

So sometimes, even when I try to put together office attire that works, I suddenly realize, while standing beneath the fluorescent glow of the cubicle lights, that (oops) it really doesn’t.  Pity the poor folks who work with me.

I have a propensity for odd things.  Colors, for starters.  But also odd numbers. My favorite number is 27.  And unlike some people who choose their favorite number because of a special personal significance, I chose my favorite number simply because it is odd.  And not just odd itself, but composed entirely of another wonderfully odd number.  In fact, 27 = 3 x 3 x 3.  Three threes multiplied together!  Really, what gets more perfectly odd than that?

I have a theory that was developed over the course of late night conversations with friends who occasionally humor me in pondering ridiculously inconsequential subjects during the wee hours of the morning.  My theory goes like this: I was born in an odd month.  On an odd day.  In an odd year.  It is another perfect set of three odd numbers.  Clearly, I am destined for oddity.

It turns out, the Bible supports me in this. Maybe not so much the odd birthday theory, but God does uniquely create each one of us to fulfill the special destiny He has ordained.  To Jeremiah, God declared: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5).  David acknowledges, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14).

Paul, too, writes frequently of the unique contributions expected of believers.  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us (Romans 12:4-6). 

I am odd.  But more than odd, I’m one-of-a-kind.  I have a special place within God’s plan.  He made every detail of me especially for His purposes, and that includes my preference for numbers and colors. He made every detail of you especially for his purposes, too.

Have you ever felt like the odd man out?  That’s probably because you are.  But then, so is everyone else.  We are all fearfully and wonderfully made.  And we were all made with God’s good purpose in mind.  We must take our place within the body of Christ, because we are the only ones who can fulfill the plan that God created us for.  There is no one else who can do it.  God has created each one of us unique. 

In God’s eyes, every one of us is matchless.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 139:14).