May 20, 2010

On Elegant Sufficiency

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , , , , at 7:08 pm by Mo Dardinger

Today at lunch, I quoted my father to my girlfriends. I don’t quote him often. He didn’t teach me much. I wasn’t open to instruction, and he wasn’t particularly communicative.

My father was, though, a good man in lots of ways. He recognized and opposed pride. He supported his wife and children, then later his second wife and me, his last child.

He had supported his mother and younger siblings, too, when his alcoholic father abandoned the family. He’d had to drop out of school in the fourth grade to earn a living for them. But he didn’t boast, and he didn’t complain.

He worked as a baker, eventually owning his own large bakery. Later he worked for others, mostly as a pastry chef.

For recreation, he went deer hunting with his buddies or gambled at the local dog track. He was a hard-working, responsible fellow. He drank, but not to excess.

Dad smoked, but he quit cold turkey one day and never looked back. I’ve always been proud of him for that.

My father made friends easily with those he worked with and for. He enjoyed a good laugh.

After a meal with friends, at their place or ours, he would often proclaim, “I have had an elegant sufficiency.” Isn’t that a choice phrase? “An elegant sufficiency.” It says, “I’m satisfied. I’ve eaten enough. I don’t need any more, thanks.”

More than that, it states that what is “sufficient” is all that is needful. One ought to be satisfied with “enough,” with that which is “sufficient.” That which is enough is elegant by virtue of being the proper amount, that which is fitting, that which is needful.

If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. ~ 1 Timothy 6:8 (NASB) ~

The apostle Paul promotes the correct attitude in this verse, doesn’t he? Who says we need to stuff ourselves until we can’t hold another morsel? Who says we in the developed world have a God-given right to feast every day while the rest of the world scratches for a living? God Himself would be the first to deny such a “right” exists and to call for a limit to our self-indulgence and greed.

Believe me, I have been living well, eating well, and not engaging in self-denial on behalf of the poor or anyone else. All this while working for a charity that serves the poor, while reading the Bible regularly, and while associating with others who love the Lord. Sometimes the blinders we wear are invisible to us, and sometimes we excuse our own behavior too readily. At least, I do. But I see the need to change, and today I took a baby step in a new direction.

For lunch out with my friends today, I ordered just a bowl of soup. It cost a bit less than the sandwiches or the salads. It came with bread and made for a delicious, satisfying, filling meal. Thus my quotation of my father to my friends: “As my father used to say, ‘I have had an elegant sufficiency.'”

May it become a common phrase on my lips, and may more of my father’s goodness and kindness influence my heart and mind in the months and years to come.

May 13, 2010

Those Were the Days, My Friend: Lingering in the Antechamber to Joy

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , , at 8:56 pm by Mo Dardinger

One of the songs that I liked back when was a song about “the good old days.” I was too young at the time to have shared the experience elucidated in the verses, but I liked it all the same. It rang true. It told the tale of a group of friends who were sure, as young adults, that the good times they shared together would never end: “We’d sing and dance forever and a day.” They also experienced (and expected to go on experiencing) victory of some sort: “We’d fight and never lose,” the line went.

This song always drew for me a mental picture. Friends gathered in a wood-paneled restaurant or bar. They chatted, joked good-naturedly, lavished their free time on one another. I craved that depth of friendship and fellowship. But I always saw myself as on the outside of the good times, as someone on the other side of the window, out in the street, gazing in longingly.

Then one Sunday morning our worship leader (who was also our senior pastor) heard a word for someone in the congregation. A word from the Lord. (This happens a lot in charismatic congregations, but not so much in the more staid churches that I’ve belonged to since then.) It was something about a wagon wheel and being on the outside looking in. It reminded me of the song, but that’s all. It took my friend Karen to point out to me (after the service had ended) that this was an image I had of myself, and that I should go “claim” the word.

So we approached my pastor, and he and Karen prayed for me. As they prayed, an image came to me. This rare occurrence is what believers usually call “a vision,” as in “your old men will dream dreams, and your young men see visions” (Joel 2:28). The image was of being in the gathering place, enjoying the fellowship of friends. Then the curtain across the back doorway moved aside to reveal a gigantic meeting place, a large auditorium. It was brightly lit, especially in the center. Concentric circles of worshipers joyfully adored the Being in the center.

This was where I belonged. This was what I should have longed for, in addition to friendship. This was true friendship, true fellowship, with all eyes fixed upon the Most Lovely, the One who dwarfs all others, the One who loves incomparably better than the best of us.

“You and I were made to worship,” another song I like proclaims. That truth was brought home to me through this vision. I had been longing for mere earthly friendship. True joy was offered to me (and to all who will come and join in).

Our relationships with our husbands, wives, co-workers, friends — they’re great, sometimes. But they’re out of kilter if worship of the true and living God is not the center of our lives.

The happy gathering place with chattering buddies has its place in our lives. (Grieving with those have suffered loss has its place, too, certainly.) But we must remember that human fellowship is merely the anteroom to heaven, not the main event. The Lord’s love draws us in to a delight that surpasses our happy, youthful, zestful moments. The worshipers in the circle of light enjoy one another’s company, but they don’t make that particular enjoyment their chief aim. They delight in the Lord’s infinite goodness. Other joys are appreciated, received with gratitude from our heavenly suitor, but not sought as the purpose or goal.

Since the day of the vision, I have often lingering on the outside looking in. And I have sometimes participated in true friendship. But we are offered a much greater joy, and I plan to cling to this vision and pursue that joy. I have lingered too long in the antechamber to joy.