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This message is from February 19, 2006

Scripture Reading:
Mark 4:35-41

How Are You?

In our culture, there is a process for saying goodbye on the telephone. Most of the time, we go through these steps without really noticing. It's like the process has become invisible to us. So I'm asking you to notice what you have learned to ignore.

When two people are talking on the phone, someone will initiate the process of saying goodbye. Someone will say, "Well, I'd better get back to work." Or, "Okay, it was nice talking to you." Somehow, one person finds a suggesting the conversation is at an end. At this point, it would be premature to actually say "Goodbye." It would sound abrupt. So the first person doesn't really say "Goodbye." It's just a suggestion at this point.

Then, the second person has a chance to respond. If the second person has more to say, he or she can pull the conversation back from the brink. The second person can say something like, "Oh, one more thing...." Or, "I almost forgot: I need to tell you about grandma's penguin." Then the conversation can continue.

But if the second person agrees to end the conversation, he or she will say something like this: "Yeah, back to the salt mines." Or, "Okay, I'll talk to you later." Only after the second person has agreed to end the conversation does anyone say "Goodbye." It's a two-step process.

Next time you are talking to someone on the telephone, you can try this out. Pay attention to the process of saying goodbye.

We live within a set of unspoken rules. There are unspoken rules about how we say goodbye. There are unspoken rules about how we say hello.

When the cashier at Fred Meyer asks, "How are you today?" I think there is probably a limit to what he really wants to know. He probably doesn't want to hear about the painful swelling and itch of hemorrhoidal tissue. Oh, wait. You don't want to hear about that either. The cashier at Fred Meyer doesn't want to hear about my skin or my intestines. He doesn't want to hear about my deep anxieties.

In fact, when the cashier at Fred Meyer asks, "How are you today?" there is a very narrow range of what you can say in return.

When someone asks, "How are you?" the standard answer is "Fine." Fine is a technical word that applies to the grit of sandpaper. It can also be a technical word when someone asks you how you are doing. Technically, it means, "I am completing this social ritual, but I am not really telling you anything about myself." "Fine" is the best answer if you don't really want to say anything.

It's also acceptable to tell people you are doing, "Great." This can be sincere or sarcastic, depending on your mood.

Finally, when someone asks, "How are you?" you can always complain about being too busy. This is the one complaint that we find acceptable. Don't talk about your bowels. Don't talk about the decrepit state of your house or the relatives who owe you money. We have unspoken rules against all of that. But you can tell everyone you meet that you are too busy. Far, far too busy. Everyone is too busy.

I don't always react very well to the busyness of others.

Sometimes, when other people tell me they are too busy, I start to think, "You're too busy? What about me? I'm way too busy. My life is totally out of control. I don't sleep well. I have a caffeine addiction." Maybe I feel strangely competitive about this. Maybe some childish part of me wants recognition. After all, being too busy is a sign of status in our society. This is another unspoken rule. Busy people are important people. Busy people have value. Obviously they have value. They have Things To Do.

When people tell me they are too busy, there is a part of me that wants to compete.

But I know it is foolish to compete about this. Seriously. It is foolish to compete about who's life is more out of control. So, when people ask me how I'm doing, I never want to say that I am too busy. No matter how I'm feeling, I don't want to answer that way. I may feel cold waves coming up and over the side of my little boat. I may see storm clouds overhead. I may feel like I'm about to sink. But I have resolved not to say that I am too busy.

I always hope to answer, "I'm doing well." When people ask me, "How are you doing?" I want to say, "I am doing well." I think this answer is a gift. If I can tell people that I'm doing well, they don't have to worry about me. They don't have to compare their busy schedules to mine. Telling people that I am doing well means I am in a place where I can care for them.

So I want to answer, "I am doing well."

A few weeks ago, I had an insight about this. Telling people that I am doing well would be a lot more effective if... if... I was actually doing well. Instead of giving people the illusion of doing well, it would be even more generous if I actually was doing well. If I was actually doing well, then people really wouldn't have to worry about me. I really would be in a place where I could care for them.

Instead of pretending I'm not too busy, maybe I should really live that way.

I know I should have thought of this a long time ago, but it honestly just occurred to me. I have a responsibility to take care of myself. To be the person I want to be, I have to take care of myself.

Here's the problem. I don't know how to do this.

Jesus said, ""Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

I am starting to believe that Jesus was speaking plainly about this. I think he really meant it. Instead of pretending not to worry, we really should stop worrying. We really should let go of all those worries about our life.

I don't know how to do this.

I move within the parameters of unspoken rules. This is the life I know. By these rules, I talk on the phone. I respond to the clerk at Fred Meyer. I drive my car to the grocery store. I watch TV. I produce my share of chlorofluorocarbons. I feel stress. Nothing in the life I know teaches me to live without worry. Nothing teaches me to live without fear.

I am drawn to the life that Jesus describes, but I don't know how to get there.

I am like one of the Disciples, who comes to Jesus in the storm: "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" Instead of learning to see the world in a new way, I simply want God to help me manage the crisis.

I have come to see the universe through a set of unspoken rules. Most of what I do reinforces this old way of seeing. So if I want to see things differently, I need to gain a different perspective. I must allow myself to sink deeper into God's presence. I must surrender myself to stillness. I must abide in the Spirit of God.

As I spend time with God, I believe the unspoken rules of this world will slip from my shoulders. I believe they will drop off of me like old leaves in autumn. I will shed them like an old skin. They will fall from me, like scales falling from my eyes. T

his is the power of God in my life. God soaks into me and changes the way I see things. God brings transformation.

An early Quaker named Robert Barclay wrote about this process at work in his own life. He wrote, that he came to know God, "Not by strength of arguments, [n]or by a particular disquisition of each doctrine... but by being secretly reached by this life; for when I came into the silent assemblies of God's people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart, and as I gave way unto it, I found the Evil weakening in me and the Good raised up."

This change happens organically. It is like fruit coming to the vine. It is like ice melting at the end of winter. It is like a seedling rising from the earth.

Transformation is waiting to happen but all those unspoken rules are in the way. The everyday framework of our lives is in the way. We must clear a space for God to work. We must go a little deeper. We must linger a little longer.

I'm trying to make a little more room in my life.

I hope God will meet me there, and teach me to rest more and worry less.

Jesus said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. I think maybe Jesus is saying the same thing to me.