Well, that was it. Today I unceremoniously came to the end of a 23 year career of home educating my offspring. We ended with the dissection of a fetal pig. He didn’t get much of a chance at life, but there he, no she, was-- perfectly formed from her little piggy snout to the tip of her tail, with all the appropriate ‘middle’ things encased ever so predictably inside that tiny pink body. You won’t mind I think, if I spare you details, and the photo? We are quite through with dissections around here, and forgot to snap a photo of this one.
Meanwhile with great pomp and ceremony, kids are graduating into life-after-highschool all over the place, including two nieces and a nephew. I pondered this week what advice I have to offer someone heading off into the wide world to try out their wings (and faith)—It came together in the form of an analogy. We drill into our kids what it takes to stay physically healthy, you know: eat right, get some exercise, learn to manage stress and get your sleep. So I got to wondering, are there corresponding means to encourage soul health, and avoid falling prey to floundering faith?
Eating right reminds me of the Word, our manna. We need it, daily. To be chewed and swallowed and digested—meditated on, pondered. And we need a balanced diet of it—not just the sweet morsels, not just a chunk here or there, but the whole meal deal, from cover to cover providing all the essential protein and carbs, vitamins and minerals to make us competent for whatever our calling (II Tim.3:16,17) For variety of cuisine, we have teachers and preachers who cook with the Word and prepare it in appetizing ways for our consumption. Whether in church, or on the Internet or in a book there’s no want of good food available. It’s just up to us to shop discerningly and consume consistently.
Then it’s time to exercise—to see that that good Word doesn’t turn into unbecoming flab on our hips or our lips (Mt.15:8). We’ve got to allow it to energize our Walk through life. Here’s where the exercise of faith comes in. Without it no amount of eating will make us strong. We’ll be dropping like flies in the wilderness à la the children of Israel, remembered for their hard hearts and unbelief. “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them,* not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” (Heb.3:7—4:2). Walking by faith is to be our normal lifestyle, not just huddling ‘round the feed dish like a bunch of ‘meat birds’.
[If you have ever raised the kind of chickens bred for their meat you will appreciate this analogy. We tried both ‘meat birds’ and ‘layers’ one year. While the young egg-layers scampered about in their yard enjoying the sunshine and scratching about for unsuspecting worms and arthopods while they grew strong for a life-time of productivity, their housemates, the ‘meat birds’, could not be bothered to leave the feed dish. They sat and gourged with no thought of being made with legs and wings for a purpose. Their life expectancy was accordingly short—a mere 6-8 weeks. Let that be a lesson to us ( : ]
Analogies aside, from my experience, the need for exercise is relentless. It’s not enough to get in shape. You have to keep on working at it—getting out there and pedaling, or stretching, or walking or whatever you do to keep fit—or your body starts to sag and fitness begins to wane. Just like exercising faith. No matter where we are on the journey, faith is required, continuously. Let down your guard and doubt slips in, or fear, or anxiety, or whatever default you are most prone to return to. Exercising faith is a relentless requirement for soul fitness.
Faith has everything to do with the third requirement for good health—learn to manage stress. Of course, the lifeline for our souls in this regard is prayer—’Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’ Phil.4:6,7 I know these verses by heart, but does my heart know this kind of peace? Learning to ‘manage stress’ is really a matter of learning to cast it on the only One who can really carry it without falling apart. Why then do I try to carry it myself? With good reason Peter 5: 7-9 became one of my favorite passages many years ago: “Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you…” We can’t carry manage stress on our own. We weren’t designed to.
And my last piece of advice to the young graduate chomping at the bit to be on to greater things was: No matter how busy life gets, always get your rest. Your soul needs it too. Remember that Jesus wants to know you more than He wants your service. Learn to rest in who He is in you when you feel inadequate. Don't carry burdens you were never intended to bear; His yoke is easy, His burden is light. If you find yours to be too much, you're carrying more than He intended. Sit and talk to Jesus a bit and get His perspective. Here you'll find 'rest for your soul' (Mt.11:28-30)
Soul rest is more than a temporary activity, it’s to be our state of being—resting in the work Jesus has accomplished on our behalf, resting in His promises, knowing that what He requires of us He will accomplish in us as we walk with Him and share His yoke….
No sooner had I put these thoughts together into a letter to my niece then I realized that this same advice is not just for young people beginning steps toward their careers, it is for old people set on finishing well and middle-aged people navigating the ‘as-is’ of life. And this advice is for me, wrapping up one phase of life and peering out into the future with a lump in my throat and a prayer on my lips: Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Ps.139: 23,24
Feeding on the Word, walking it out by faith, casting all that matters to us on the One who cares most for us, and making every effort to rest—these are ageless tips for living well, for this is the everlasting way to live!
After all, do we ever cease to need daily Bread just because we’ve been eating it for so many years? And is the exercise of faith not as necessary a daily discipline as when we first believed? Walking by faith still goes against the grain of our ‘natural’ (flabby) way of responding to life. And what of stress? Does it ever go away, at any stage of life? And is not rest all the more needful the older we get?
Perhaps I should write myself a letter, then again maybe I just did…
Blessings on you and yours at whatever stage of this great and everlasting life you find yourselves!!
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” Is. 55:2