Monday, August 25, 2014

Sermon for August 27, 2014

Laws for Living: #7 Peace With Yourself

When the crowds heard him, they were astounded at his teaching. But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40
At heart, I am a nice guy. And I can be sensitive, too. Sometimes I care too much what other people think. Sure, I have my moments of when I am unpleasant, but most of the time I like to relax, and laugh, and enjoy my time with others. I want people to feel at ease around me. I want to live the kind of life that the Dalai Lama speaks about. He says, “We must each lead a way of life with self-awareness and compassion, to do as much as we can. Then, whatever happens we will have no regrets.” How many of us can say we live like that – a life of peace with ourselves, a life with no regrets?

Of course, I can’t be the nice guy all the time. Then there are the times I just have to stand my ground on an issue. An ethical line has been crossed. A decision needs to be made and the buck has stopped with me. People look to me to make a tough leadership decision. No matter what, someone will be unhappy. Someone may feel hurt. And someone may think less of me. So much for getting to be the nice guy all the time. I can feel very ill at ease in these situations, because my values tell me to be kind, but others may perceive my actions as mean-spirited or inflexible.

Maybe you’ve let your anticipation of how a critic will speak about you keep you from fulfilling your dreams. Perhaps you’ve been quiet or inactive on important issues because you’ve cared too much about what other people think of you. Have you ever sacrificed your sense of inner authority to another person’s opinion of you?

Sometimes we can have a hard time owning our inner authority. We can feel intimidated by approaching critical people, especially those we see as powerful. Our tendency is to try to get someone else to do the difficult work of confronting those we perceive as controlling. For example, I feel angry with Janelle and I see her as controlling, so I share my anger not with Janelle but with my buddy Hal. Hopefully, Hal will share my anger with Janelle without mentioning my name so Janelle won’t be angry back at me. It’s a sure recipe for chaotic and destructive interpersonal relationships.

So here is what I propose for making peace with myself. It’s not original with me – the first time I came across this idea was in The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. Here’s the proposal:

It’s none of my business what other people think of me

The truth is, most people don’t spend much time thinking about me at all. The same is true for you. Sorry. Few people have time in their schedules to think more than a brief second about us. When I do have time to get my thoughts straight, I’m too busy mulling over my own shortcomings to worry about yours. In the words of essayist David Foster Wallace, “You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.”   

It’s not none of my business what others think of me.

However, it is entirely my business what I think of me and how I nurture my sense of self-identity while staying connected in relationships. There is a fancy word that therapists and coaches use for this attitude. It’s called “self-differentiation.”
  • Self-differentiation means being willing to say clearly who I am and who I want to be while others are trying to tell me who I am and who I should be.
  • Self-differentiation means understanding that I can be distinct from others, without being distant from others.
  • Self-differentiation means becoming responsible for my own life while being committed to growing closer to those I love.
When we can stop seeking validation from external sources and opinions, when we can stop living for others and begin living into our most authentic selves, then we can experience liberation from self-absorbing worry about what others think about us.

When I recognize my authority, I can say three very important statements: 

I know who I am,
I am who I am, and
I am good enough.

I get a sense of this in Matthew’s telling of Jesus and the greatest commandment. We read an episode about yet another attack on Jesus character and reputation by teachers and leaders of the established religion. I think the interrogation is about more than the religious authorities trying to catch Jesus in a theological mistake. Jesus is so threatening to the religious order, the questions are intended to pull him back into line.  It’s a way of saying, “Jesus, if you just change your ways and become like us again, you will have respectability and acceptance.” The Pharisee’s questions are about assimilation. Assimilation is one way to turn away criticism and dissent. Assimilation says, “Give up your self-identity and become like us, and we will all get along. Failure to do so will mean exclusion, and perhaps elimination.” We can see a similar pattern of assimilation and exclusion in immigration debates in America, by the way. We talk about the dream of an America that promotes a process of identity formation among diverse citizens who deliberate freely together. A free-thinking, diverse citizenry can feel so menacing to the majority, we create systems that domesticate or internally colonize the identities of those who don’t fit in. The majority says, “You must walk, talk, think, and act like us if you want to be like us.” Nations do it. Religions do it. Neighbors do it. Churches do it. The person or group in power demands that others sacrifice self-identity and self-reflection to keep a vague and tenuous peace.

Jesus doesn’t cave into the trap of compromising himself in order to help others feel at peace with him. For him it’s not about assimilation but self-differentiation. Jesus knows who he is. He senses where he begins and ends and he is at peace with himself. Because he is at peace, Jesus can confront the systems and empires he calls his followers to resist. Jesus is not influenced by the pain or pleasure associated with reputation. He is influenced by love. Love for God, love for neighbor, and love for self.

You and I will find it very difficult to fulfill God’s aims in the world when we shape our lives around a compulsive concern about respectability or winning the approval of critics. Church, this is not our calling and not our hope. We claim a different authority. We claim the authority of love.

Instead of assimilation, I want to be self differentiated.  It has to do with being a “self” or an “I” in the face of pressure by others or by systems to blend into, the “we.” To be differentiated is to know and act on one’s own mind, especially when one’s position is different from the group’s. My inner authority tells me that I am a loving person who is trying to live out the greatest commandments: love God, love others, love myself. I don't need the approval of others or the disapproval of others. Validation begins from inside me, not from others on the outside.

I love the self-differentiating imagery in Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Journey.”
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver reminds me to listen to my own voice and not the voices of everyone else around me telling me who to be and what to do and how to fix myself.

This is the most compassionate act you can do for anyone: to stand by the truth of your own life and live it as passionately and as fully as you are able.

This is the point where my New Englandy, puritan congregational roots kick in. My inner Calvinist says, “Isn’t what you are saying idolatry? Aren’t you putting self-love above love for God? How are vanity and self-absorption going to help anything?” I think sometimes we get scared about self-love and self-esteem talk because it can sound pathological. If we love ourselves, we will turn into irrepressible narcissists. There’s a difference between self esteem and narcissism. Self-esteem represents an attitude built on accomplishments we've mastered, values we've adhered to, and care we've shown toward others. Narcissism is often based on a fear of failure or weakness. It’s an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best, and a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feeling of inadequacy. Narcissism has to do with what others think of you. Healthy self-love has to do with what you think of you.

What I’m talking about is making peace with yourself by nurturing a sense of self-identity while staying connected in relationships. Here is an exercise I am working with. I was inspired by an article I read on the Website Tiny Buddha.
  • Look in the mirror and say “I love you.”
  • Immediately, the judgmental thoughts might begin. “But I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m stupid. I’m afraid.”
  • Let those thoughts come and go. Don’t judge. Just notice.
  • Look again in the mirror and say “I love you.”
  • The judgmental thoughts may come again. “But you don’t understand, I did something terrible. People are angry at me. I’ve made mistakes. I’m unlovable”
  • Look in the mirror and say “I love you.”
  • Here come those thoughts again. “No really, listen, I’m damaged and I’m damaging.”
  • Look in the mirror and say, “Yes. And I love you.”
Keep at it. Practice until compassionate love for yourself becomes an involuntary reflex, like a breath or a heartbeat.

Believe me, it takes some time. I’m still learning. I hear perseverance is the trick. I believe that practicing how to love myself, and not the perceived image others have of me, is worth the risk and the pain.

Sources:
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201206/self-esteem-versus-narcissism
Ten Poems to Change Your Life by Roger Housden
http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-stop-beating-yourself-up-over-mistakes/
http://www.difficultrelationships.com/2006/03/25/bowen-differentiation/
http://blog.chron.com/thepeacepastor/2013/06/jesus-and-the-differentiation-of-self/

Sermon for August 19, 2014

Laws for Living: #6 Peace with the Ordinary

1 Samuel 16:14-23
Philippians 4:11-13
Tao Te Ching 8

The major difference between athletes who win Olympic medals and those who don’t is not talent. It is more mundane. Gregory Jones, dean of Duke University, coaches a basketball team of 9 to 11 year old boys. “They never want to practice,” he says. “They want to scrimmage so they can show off their three-pointers or their spectacular moves.” It is difficult to help them understand a pro basketball player’s commitment to the mundane tasks of repetition discipline and practice. We learn from other excellent athletes, performers and artists about the centrality of repetition, habit, and doing ordinary things day by day. The major difference between athletes who win Olympic medals and those who don’t is not talent; it is, rather, the ability to engage in the mundane activities of free throw after free throw, of laps in the pool hour after hour, day after day that hone the skills that give them the edge.

I’m wondering whether it’s also true of faith. Is the life of faith developed by tending to the mundane? Is it in the routine and the everyday moments of life where we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation? Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that the life of faith is more about showing off our spiritual sills, about proving ourselves to God and others, about correct belief. But, what if it’s really more about engaging in the daily routine that opens us to God’s grace? What if having strong faith is related to our ability to find grace in the grit of life?

Does it feel like a wasted day when all you do is tie the kids’ shoes, wipe a snotty nose, answer the best you can the “whys?” of inquisitive minds, referee spats, dry tears, kiss scraped knees and wounded egos? Living in partnership with someone and making a home together is not so much about falling in love and living happily ever after as it is eating together, fighting fairly, putting the toilet seat down, squeezing the toothpaste at the right end, and accepting each other at their worst. Can we live that reality with acceptance, or do we carry the fear that there might be something more exciting – less ordinary – with someone else? I know there are some rotten relationships out there. I know people are abused and neglected. I’m not talking about those relationships. I’m talking about couples for whom the romance may have faded, but who nurture a deep sense of loving commitment through the mundane minutia of daily living. Quite often, couples don’t realize what practice and attention in their relationship means until one of them is no longer here.

Commitment to the little things is what the life of faith is about. It is not about what we achieve or what we accomplish, or whether we do things better than someone else, or how much we impress God, but rather the attitude that informs our daily routine.

Throughout the New Testament we find Jesus transforming people through daily, ordinary interactions. He sits by a well when a woman comes along that engages him in conversation. He seeks a little rest, and he sees a crowd of hungry people. He sets off on a journey to do one thing and gets sidetracked by people who are disabled, disfigured or dying. We get the sense that he is living life for as long as he has it. When he meets those who are paralyzed, either in body or by circumstance, he shows them another way. Jesus is someone to follow, not just because he did great things, but also because he did small things in great ways.

We get a sense of this in today’s first reading from 1 Samuel. We overhear a conversation in the court of King Saul, a troubled and paranoid ruler. He hears about someone who can play music that will bring peace to his spirit -- a keeper of sheep and virtuoso with the harp. David gets called to court. I don’t get the sense that David had royal aspirations. Becoming King was not on his bucket list. David did not lie or manipulate people to achieve his political ambitions. As far as I can tell, he simply practiced some rather ordinary tasks for his day: feeding sheep, protecting his herd from enemies, and plucking music in the fields where no one was even around to hear him. The story is not about his talent but about his dedication to things he does naturally.  David develops the skills to be Israel’s greatest king in the fields, doing small things in great ways.

What might our lives look like if we approached the mundane tasks of the day as opportunities to develop faith, and stretch our imaginations, and engage us as people of integrity? What might happen if we were to make peace with the ordinary?

Some of you know the story of Brother Lawrence. He was named Nicholas Herman by his parents, living in the region of Lorraine in eastern France. He received a revelation from God at the age of 18. In the deep of winter, Herman looked at a barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. For the first time, Herman understood the extravagance of God's love. Like a tree in winter, he himself was seemingly dead, but God had life waiting for him. At that moment, he said, that leafless tree captured an image of the love for God that never after ceased to influence him. He eventually entered a monastery in Paris as a lay brother, not having the education necessary to become a priest. He took the religious name Lawrence of the Resurrection. He spent almost all of the rest of his life within the walls of the priory, working in the kitchen for most of his life, and as a repairer of sandals in his later years. Yet despite, or perhaps because of, his somewhat lowly position, his character attracted many to him. He was known for his profound peace and many came to seek spiritual guidance from him. People collected his wisdom and saying, and it became a spiritual classic entitled The Practice of the Presence of God.

For Brother Lawrence, "common business," no matter how mundane or routine, was the medium of God's love. The issue was not the sacredness or worldly status of the task but the motivation behind it. He said,
“We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of [God], and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before [God], who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."
Do you want to make peace with the ordinary? Then learn to draw water from the kitchen sink with a sense of awe for what water means to our lives, giving thanks for the privilege of having clean, drinkable water at your finger tips. Tend to your work, your study, your worship, your family, your community, doing small things in great ways.

That’s step one. Step two of making peace with the ordinary takes us deeper. Because life is not just about practicing the presence of God in the mundane tasks. Life is also about dealing with pain and distraction. Pain is quite commonplace, really. Pain is part of that ordinary landscape of what it means to be human. I appreciate how Marie Howe describes it in her poem “What the Living Do”. She writes:
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
Don’t you just know that feeling, when sink has been clogged for a week and you just don’t have time to call the plumber? Or the toilets back up on overflow onto your new carpets? Or just when you thought you caught up financially, something knocks you right back down?  Have you ever thought, “Wouldn’t life be so much better if things just worked, if people listened, if I could get through the day without something unexpected or uncalled-for getting in the way?” But no, life happens. And pain happens, especially in little ways. We drop our groceries in the parking lot. Our coffee spills down our wrist and stains the shirt sleeve we just had laundered yesterday.

We tend to think ordinary means interruptions like these don’t happen. But actually, this IS the ordinary. This is what the living do. It’s quite normal for things to fall apart and not quite work. This is what the living do. It’s a built-in element of life itself. It’s part of the package of being alive. The imperfections of the day are the very things that make us human.

To find God in that which is imperfect is not something that comes easily to some of us. In Japan, there is an entire worldview that appreciates that which is imperfect, unfinished, and ordinary. It’s called wabi-sabi. Wabi comes from a root word referring to harmony, tranquility, and balance. Wabi has come to mean simple, un-materialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature. It reminds me of the words of the Tao that I printed in the bulletin. Lao Tzu talks about someone who is content to be simply one’s self without need to compare or compete -- someone who is perfectly herself and never craves to be anything else. Such a person would be described as wabi.

Sabi by itself means "the bloom of time." It indicates tarnish and rust. Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly, mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn tree, an old car left in a field to rust as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, an abandoned barn as it collapses in on itself. There's an aching poetry in things that carry this patina.

So now we have wabi, which is humble and simple, and sabi, which is rusty and weathered. Together, wabi-sabi has to do with taking pleasure in what might first appear to be mistakes and imperfections.

What might it mean to cherish the ordinariness of the life you’ve been given – the life that is not built to last, the life that demonstrates a weathered elegance, the life that remains tranquil when it falls apart? What would it mean to love life filled with clogged sinks and spilled coffee – to know that, as aggravating as it is, it is all well and good? It’s all worth it, because it means we are here. We are alive. And God is with is.

So, praise the ordinary.

Praise the tedium of an ordinary day;
    Getting up in the morning,
    Spreading butter on bread,
    Dishes to wash and laundry to fold,
    Bickering children with beautiful, faces that need a wash cloth.
Praise the busyness of jobs;
    Meetings and emails,
    Papers to write,
    Sticky notes to stick and desks to dust.
Praise the familiarity of friends,
    the faithfulness of pets,
    the tedious requests of people who want something from you.
Praise the ordinary at Christ Congregational church;
    The usual faces and the habitual greetings,
    Good moods and bad,
    Grumbling about this or admiring that,
    Yielding to the familiar rhythms of worship.
Praise, praise the monotony of an ordinary day.

It is what the living do.

Sources:
Roger Housden, Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again and Again, 71-78.
http://newenglandchurch.org/sermons/020310gm.htm
http://nobleharbor.com/tea/chado/WhatIsWabi-Sabi.htm
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/lawrence
http://thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com/2010/11/poetry-friday-ordinary.html

Sermon for August 3, 3014

Laws for Living: #5 Peace with Happiness
No one is in charge of your happiness, except you
I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with God’s praise.
I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out.
God met me more than halfway, God freed me from my anxious fears.
Look at God and give warmest smile. Never hide your feelings.
When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot.
God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.
Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see— how good God is.
Blessed are you who run to God.
Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all God’s goodness.
Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you.
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, God will help you catch your breath.
Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.
God is your bodyguard, shielding every bone; not even a finger gets broken.

Psalm 34:1-9; 17-20

I read once that the average child laughs 400 times a day while the average adult laughs only 7 times a day. It turns out, this is only half correct. If a child was awake 12 hours per day would, that child would be laughing at least once every 1-2 minutes from sunrise till sunset. But for adults, the number may be closer to the truth. I notice a lot of adults will purposely hold back smiles and laughter during certain hilarious situations out of fear of seeming "childish.”  Or they will be too afraid to ask questions that are on their mind because they worry that asking lots of questions the way that a child does might make them feel less intelligent. In other words, we adults are good at putting on a mask – a persona – presenting an image to others of how we want to be perceived.

I’ve also noticed that sometimes, we fool ourselves into thinking the mask we wear is really who we are. Some people trick themselves into thinking we were created to be serious, solemn, and somber people. We can hide our divine light. What might happen if we trained ourselves to see beyond our cracks to the shimmering beauty that lies beneath? Might we let ourselves be content? Might we make peace with happiness?

Imagine yourself at costume party.  Everyone at the party is role playing the character they dressed up as. Except instead of dressing in a set of clothes, everyone’s costume is his or her wearing their personality. The guests come to the party wearing all their beliefs about what they are, who should be, who they shouldn’t be, what should do, and they shouldn’t do. You wear one, too. Your personality mask is a set of agreements about yourself.

Sometimes, we play the same personality role at the party of life keeps for years . . . sometimes a whole life time. Sometimes we completely throw ourselves into the role of our costumed personality. On one level, we seriously believe everything we’ve told ourselves about who we are and how we present ourselves to others. On another level,  another part of their consciousness knows it is all just made up.

What I want to know is this: Does this costume party make you happy? After all the striving to look a certain way, after all the efforts to act a certain way, after all the attempts to direct others into perceiving you a certain way . . . all things considered, are you satisfied? Are you content? Are you happy? If not, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Sometimes, in a moment of enlightenment, we look at ourselves and others and we are able to see beyond the masquerade. We sense the image of God behind the personality mask. We realize that this person is a glory-producing likeness of the Divine who us pretending to be someone else. Sometimes, in a moment of enlightenment, we flirt with happiness. And it feels good.

Social Science literature points to three factors that contribute to greater happiness:
Circumstances, personality, and intentional change. Let’s think about these for a moment.

1. Circumstances. The conditions of your life contribute to your happiness, but much less than you might think. Want to guess how much? Only around 10 – 12% total. That’s right: the things most people chase in search of happiness – money, experiences, relationships, and material stuff – all that stuff together makes up only around a tenth of our happiness level. Changing your circumstances tends to make only a short-term difference to your happiness. We might want to remind ourselves of this next time we think a sports car or a pair of awesome new boots will change life for the better.

2. Personality. Experts say about half of your happiness level is related to genes and personality. According to some research, we can blame human evolution for our desire to focus more strongly on the bad over the good. Throughout our evolutionary history, organisms that were aware of bad things were more likely to survive threats. Humans have also evolved the capacity to examine why these threats happen to us. We want to learn what happened so we can avoid going there again.

Beyond biology, we may get something out of holding on to negativity.
  • žDo you have some sort of stake in holding on to criticisms and misconceptions?
  • žDo you ever find yourself dwelling on and obsessing about the ways you feel you’ve been wronged
  • Do you ever let disapproval from others keep you up at night, fantasizing about how you will put the critics down and triumph over their meanness?
  • žHave you ever told sad stories from the past as a way to avoid judgment or win approval?
  • Have you ever believed that everything would be better if the world or other people would change?
  • Sometimes, ways we get attached to the very condition we say we don't want. We can have a hard time letting go.
3. Intentional Change.  Intentional factors make a sizable contribution to our happiness – up to 40%. These are all factors that we can change – the thinking and actions that we have control over.

We can change behaviors by doing things like exercising regularly or engaging in a productive hobby.

We can change our thinking. For instance, in our worship service today, we took time to count our blessing – to make gratitude a mindful act. It’s an act of intention. We can make an effort to recognize and appreciate the good that we have, celebrating each small success, being thankful for health, and having gratitude for the support of others. If you want an exercise to help you out here, take a cue from marriage therapist John Gottman. He says there is proven ratio needed to increase the happiness in relationships:

5:1

Positive and good interactions must outnumber the negative and bad ones by at least five to one. In other words, bad events are five times more powerful than good events. Negative events are so much more powerful than good ones, we must ensure that the good outnumber the bad in order to prevail.

We can also change our will or volition. We can do things like striving for a new goal or working on a skill. If you are stuck on this one, try doing some community service. Go out and surprise yourself with how awesome and amazing you are. Do a bike ride for charity. Sign up for a 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk. Raise money for an important cause close to your heart. Learn to play the saxophone. Take a tap dancing class. Volunteer at Shepherd’s Table. Deliver meals on wheels. Write that novel you've always dreamed of writing. Be someone who inspires happiness in others.

Bottom line: Theoretically, it is possible to be happy no matter what the external circumstance. It is useful to think of the ability to control your emotional responses to events as a muscle; just as your biceps become stronger only when you exercise them using the appropriate weights, your ability to control your emotional response to events gains strength when you take on challenges that correspond to your current ability. If you are someone who lets relatively minor events, like an encounter with a rude waitress, spoil your mood, how can you expect to maintain your happiness when a more extreme event, like a week-long visit from a unpleasant relative, unfolds? Change your thoughts if you wish to change your circumstances. Since you alone are responsible for your thoughts, only you can change them. Since you alone are responsible for your happiness, then it’s within your power to be happy. We can all be happier. We can do it by focusing more on intentional factors and paying less attention to the other stuff.

In our Christian tradition, there is another factor at play when it comes to making peace with happiness. What I am about to say may seem to contradict everything else I’ve aid up to this point. So hear me out. It’s called the surrender mindset. Taking personal responsibility for your happiness involves adopting a surrender mindset, which refers to the willingness to fully and unquestioningly accept the outcomes you are dealt in life.

Surrendering isn't the same as capitulating, by the way. In other words, a person with a surrender mindset is not a weak, rudderless individual who has "checked out" from this world. A person with the surrender mindset may dream of breaking the world record in the 100-meter dash, but if she were to discover a physical condition that prevents her from achieving this dream, she will be able to re-imagine her dream and move on to other goals without hesitation. When many of us moan when our favored outcomes don't unfold, the person with a surrender mindset is able to move on.

One effective way to develop the mindset involves faith in a larger intelligence or force. Some research says that those who believe in a good force larger than oneself will find it easier to surrender. Here is the contradiction. I just told you that nothing external to you can make you happy. Now I am telling you that there is something external that can influence your happiness. The reason for this is straightforward: if you believe that the Universe is shaped by a force more powerful than you, and that this force has your best interests at heart, then you will find it much easier to make peace with the circumstances you are given. Instead of trying to make yourself happy by purchasing a new gadget or looking for other people’s approval, the surrender mindset helps us learn to be content with any situation. It helps us realize that we may not be able to change what happens around us, but we can always change how we relate to those events. Or, if you are convinced God is always dealing you a bad hand, you are more likely to ruminate about the past than to move forward into a new future.

The author of Psalm 34 has this surrender mindset.  Listen again to the words the author uses to describe a relationship with a God who has our good in mind:
I bless God, I live and breathe God; God freed me from my anxious fears.
Look at God and give warmest smile. Never hide your feelings.
When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot.
Worship God if you want the best. God is listening, ready to rescue you.
God is there every time.
Ultimately then, surrendering has to do with trust. Trusting that God is taking care of you is crucial for being happy. If we want to take personal responsibility for our own happiness, then we do something that seems illogical: we trust in the Good. We take responsibility for our own happiness by surrendering our happiness. Strange, huh?  When we figure this one out, we go enter into new types of relationships based on honesty, responsibility, courage, and wisdom.

We can be happy. In that spirit, I offer these affirmations:

Beginning with the early dawn, I will radiate my cheer to everyone I meet today. I will be the mental sunshine for all who cross my path this day.

I form new habits of thinking by seeing the good everywhere, and by beholding all things as the perfect idea of God made manifest.

I will make up my mind to be happy within myself right now, where I am today.

Sources:
http://www.getorganizedwizard.com/blog/2013/03/theres-only-one-way-to-be-happier-and-this-is-it/#ixzz393DP9aGx
http://www.carlsonschool.umn.edu/Assets/71516.pdf
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/10/how-to-build-a-happier-brain/280752/
http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200403/marriage-math
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sapient-nature/201112/taking-personal-responsibility-your-happiness
http://www.pathwaytohappiness.com/enlightenment.htm


Sermon for September 16, 2018

A Journey and a Return After this, the Lord chose 72 more followers. He sent them out in groups of two. He sent them ahead of him int...