Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Candle Burns at Both Ends

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

"My duty is never measured by what I feel is within my power to do,
but by what God's grace enables me to do."

--Andrew Murray

"A Christian poet of a bygone generation wrote a rather long hymn around a single idea: You can, by three little words, turn every common act of your life into an offering acceptable to God. The words are 'For Thy sake'....."

--A.W. Tozer

"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.

--Luke 9:24

I am a slow-paced person and my desire for a meditative life has been strong enough to enable me say "no" to many extraneous activities. I stepped out of my career when I was in my late 20's and ordered my life in such a way as to keep afternoons free for Bible reading, writing, and prayer. My candle burned steady & slow.

My 4th decade found me with 4 children under the age of 6. The quiet, meditative life was a thing of the past but the habits of that life lingered. I dropped nearly all outside ministries and commitments and allowed my little light to burn at home. Period.

Now in my 50's, I am acutely aware that my candle is no longer a tall taper. I could spare the wax so as to make the flame last a little longer, but for the first time in my life I feel the strong urgency to do just the opposite: to burn the candle at both ends.

In my roles as wife, mother, teacher, and friend my energies are constantly being poured out. Once, I would have resented the lavishness of the expenditure. Now I see that the unreserved burning creates the vacuum into which God may whoosh! send the fresh oxygen of His Holy Spirit to renew the brightness of the burning.

Sunday is often the day that happens for me. I'm truly learning what it means to rest spiritually on that day.

Lord, keep me burning till the break of day.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ideas Have Consequences Chapter 6: The Spoiled Child Psychology

We've all met the spoiled child at the grocery store. He's the cute toddler who spies the red sucker at the check-out counter and wants it. Now. Pointing to it with his chubby finger, he announces his desire to his mother. "No," she says, and tries to distract him. The child's demand becomes louder, more insistent. The tired-looking mother beseeches his help in unloading the cart, but to no avail. She becomes more and more embarrassed as the drama increases: the child reddens, throws himself weeping on the ground, and kicks his feet. With an exasperated sigh, his harried Mother capitulates. The child gets up and takes his reward. His stormy demeanor has been transformed to a sunny smile. The crisis has been averted--temporarily.

Why is the grocery store the typical setting for such a scene? Because it it the place where needs/wishes can be instantly gratified. The spoiled child receives a tangible reward without expending himself to work for it.

Richard Weaver observes that city life breeds and reinforces the spoiled-child mindset in a myriad of ways. The artificial atmosphere of city life breaks the link between effort and reward. There is no hunting, gardening, or chopping of wood needed because goods can be obtained through a complicated and little understood means of exchange. As the child becomes accustomed to comfort without discipline, he naturally assumes that he deserves to be gratified. He is a consumer rather than a contributor. When he grows up, his inflated sense of self worth causes him to feel that the world owes him a living. In Weaver's words:

"The city renders sterile."

The benefit of hard work can hardly be disputed. When a man has a sense of mission, he willingly bends his back to difficult tasks in order to carry them out. His work is a joy. It is therapeutic, too, providing him with a vision bigger than self and giving a reason for self-discipline. Reward becomes sweet because it doesn't come easy and it doesn't come cheap.

What happens when a whole society shifts from a rural to an urban culture? There is a decrease in self discipline, a decline in the work ethic and hardness of individuals. That society ceases to produce true heroes, because there is no longer an arena in which they must struggle for survival. Heroes cannot be made in a place of comfort and softness.

Perhaps the greatest challenge confronting Western culture, in Weaver's words, will be to

"overcome the spoiled-child psychology sufficiently to discipline for struggle."

He points his finger at science, the tool of "progress" that has made life easy and the "stereopticon" (media) that has actively brainwashed people into being mere consumers.

The fact is that a society cannot survive without a workforce. If the workforce becomes complacent, soft, and solely consumeristic-- the members of that workforce begin to resent those in managerial roles who are needing their productivity. Society is set on a course of decline.

The final words of this chapter are almost chilling in the light of the recent economic actions of our government to shore up private companies. Listen to Weaver's thoughts:

"So long as private enterprise survives, there remain certain pressures not related to mass aspiration, but when industrial democracy insistently batters at private control, this means of organization and direction diminishes. Society eventually pauses before a fateful question: Where can it find a source of discipline?"

I have to ask myself some questions, too, after reading this chapter.

  • How can I, as a city dweller, maintain the link between work and reward?
  • Am I only a consumer, or do I actively contribute toward the benefit of others?
  • Do I shrink from struggles, or do I have the larger outlook that struggles are the very forces that discipline me and make me a fit, contributing member of society?
  • How can I teach my children the discipline and reward of hard work?
  • Who are my heroes?
I may explore some of these thoughts on future posts, before I go on to the next chapter in the book. Important stuff!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


This tree picture prompts the memory of a lovely thing, something enjoyed just last month. I had my morning devotions two days in a row beside this strange tree. As I read the words of Psalm 1, words which describe a tree planted by streams of water, I could see the living embodiment of the poetry right before my eyes.

Usually, I think of a lovely tree as being straight & symmetrical. This one does not conform to the standard definition of beauty. It is unbalanced, leaning heavily in the direction of the water. The branches that extend over the shore are short, while the branches that extend over the water are longer, appearing like fingers straining to reach into the cool flow.

I guess my life is a lot like that tree. I've tilted myself heavily in the direction of the eternal flow, actively seeking the Living Waters. That choice has forever ruined me in the world's eyes: I bend away from its attachments and appear rather lopsided as a result.

I am comforted by this scene because this tree is a thing of beauty in spite of its asymmetry.
With arms reaching toward the eternal, the less I want to extend myself to the world and the less I care about conforming to its standards.

Lord, make my life such a thing of beauty.