Do you ever get nervous about what is to come? Do you ever find yourself fearful of the next moment? Do you watch the news at all? It’s crazy to think that our culture has become dependent on fear and worry. It’s almost as if we as people of faith have to struggle more than ever not to give into “the rulers, the authorities, and the powers of this dark world”. The crazy thing is that this isn’t a new struggle. We as humans have been quick to cling to fear or dread or worry…even in the good times. I’m reminded of the story in scripture recorded in the book of Nehemiah. The people of Israel had come home from exile, had begun to rebuild, and had even rediscovered the law. They gathered as one to hear the law read and explained to them and their response is recorded here, “Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” – Nehemiah 8:9 What should have been this beautiful moment of reclaimed identity became a moment of weeping. Why? Because we’re not very good at joy.
In her book Daring Greatly, author Brene Brown addresses this a bit when she speaks to fear, dread and joy. “We can’t prepare for tragedy and loss. When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience. Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen–and they do happen–we are stronger.”* The people of Israel wept in the face of the law because they worried once again that the other shoe was about to fall. They had experienced loss and exile and in this moment of what should have been pure, unadulterated joy, they wept…they were still fearful. As Brown puts it, joy is scary because it’s vulnerable. It opens us up to the possibility that we could be hurt or let down. But if we never fully experience joy we actually become more hollow, more shallow, more fearful and even weaker in the face of tragedy.
The great thing about that passage in Nehemiah is that it doesn’t stop at verse nine. “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’.” – Nehemiah 8:10 Did you see that? The joy of the Lord is our strength. Being able to be grateful and joyous in the good things that God gives us actually becomes that which makes us stronger. I often hear Christians quote or paraphrase German philosopher Nietzsche when it comes to tragedy and pain; “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” (Sometimes they just sing Kelly Clarkson) But this isn’t entirely true. Our go-to after facing tragedy and hurt and pain, can be worry or dread over whatever is coming next…and this is not strength. True strength can be found in the gratitude and joy for those surreal life moments when we experience God in a new way and truly come to realize that the joy of God becomes our strength.
* Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.
Go Vols! Ok, I think I got that out of my system. Eh not really. For those of you who may not know, I am a Tennessee Volunteers fan. I know that doesn’t necessarily strike a chord with a lot of you, but it may with a few. I bring this up not to tell you that I am not really a fan of all Tennessee sports, but I consider myself to bleed orange and white specifically when it comes to UT football. I count myself among the myriad of rednecks who wear orange on Saturdays in the fall for football and on other days as a tacky fashion choice. You have to understand, there are a lot of weird traditions that encircle Tennessee football. Some make sense, and some…well. But my favorite of these occurs on home game days at Robert Neyland stadium (you can put your hat back on your head now). As the Tennessee players exit the locker room to take the field they tap a sign above the door frame that happens to be likened unto the shape of the great state of Tennessee and that sign reads, “I will give my all for Tennessee today.”
Now there are times in the past when I have wondered whether or not the players on the field took that seriously. But I love the expression behind it. In the immediate moments prior to their physical engagement with their opponent, a UT athlete is reminded of the reason he competes and who he is representing. It kind of reminds me of this verse found in Deuteronomy 6:5-6, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” In this passage, God is reminding Israel that the commands he gives them are to always be before them; on their heads, their hands, and even on their door frames. This practice of putting the law on the doorframes of the houses came to be known as the Mezuzah (the Hebrew word for door frame) and in many Jewish homes today you will even see a little box on the side of the doorframe as you exit the house. This little box contains some of the law from Deuteronomy and it serves as a reminder. What does it remind us of? That question is answered later in the chapter, “In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt…'” – Deuteronomy 6:20-21. The mezuzah, the law itself was a reminder of who God was, who we had been and ultimately what God had done for us.
Now think about this with me for a moment. Every time a faithful Israelite exited his/her home they were reminded of their identity. Every time a Tennessee player exits the locker room they are reminded of their identity. What mezuzah do we have established in our homes. Do we just exit our house without a thought as to who we are and who we represent? Are we in such a rush that we forget to remember what God has done for us and how it should effect our entire state of being? I myself have found that taking a moment before I leave my home to remind myself of my identity has reshaped my life in amazing ways. May we find the time to establish a mezuzah for ourselves and for our children before we forget who we are.