A recent episode of You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes featured a conversation with Huey Lewis of the infamous Huey Lewis and the News. It’s a great conversation all around, and at one point they get on the topic of raising kids. Huey being further along in his years now has adult children, and he mentions that while he’s loved watching his children grow up, the 2–5 year old age range is undoubtedly the cutest time. I couldn’t help but tear up thinking about my own little girls. Emma turned 3 years old just a few months back, and Elena turns 2 next month. I know for sure we’re right in the thick of that cute timeframe. I mean, just look at this picture taken last week of them.
Their smiling faces bring me joy every day. I’ve mentioned in other posts that their love has been the greatest metaphor I’ve personally experienced for God’s love. It gets me at least once a day. At least! Heck, it gets me even just thinking about it as I write this.
I think it was Michael Scott in The Office who asked the question, “How do you know when you’re living in the ‘good ol days’?” It’s something I think about a lot because I am 100% sure I will look back on this time very fondly in life. My career is doing well, our health is mostly alright, and of course these girls are just a bundle of fun. Don’t get me wrong, there are still trying times. (The girls can really drive me nuts some days.) But mostly, this is a very good time in my life.
You know, it’s pretty easy to drink in teachings about being in the moment when the moment is pretty nice. Just yesterday, our family went to McAlister’s Deli and ate a really nice lunch. If the girls wouldn’t have gotten rowdy, I could have sat there for hours. It was just a blissful time.
But what about times that aren’t so great? What about that time when I was majorly depressed around 2014? Or that time when my sister died? Or the inevitable times to come when other undesirable things will happen in the future?
You might not be into Buddhism, but its Noble Truths certainly are full of truth. They all revolve around this idea about how suffering is caused by a desire for something to be other than what it actually is. Or as Michael Gungor nicely words it, it’s desiring “that” over THIS.
They say the Buddha’s greatest teaching was to simply hold up a flower, which is utterly beautiful when you can drop the marathon of trying to be this “enlightened” being. I actually do think it’s possible to be “enlightened,” but it’s probably far more disappointing than what you think. In the purest sense of the word, “enlightened” means having an understanding of what reality is, but reality itself doesn’t change at all. Which is why I say it’s a disappointment because the way you eat a burger, the way you go to the bathroom, the way you lie down to go to sleep at night… it’s all the same as it was before.
The Buddha’s flower sermon is a reminder, then, that you can only be present to what is, so be at peace with what you have in front of you. Yes, you can perform acts that may or may not result in a different tomorrow, but ultimately, you have no control to guarantee beyond any shadow of a doubt that your desires will come to be. An asteroid may hit the earth tonight, you might be hit by a bus tomorrow, or even worse… you might get what you want and realize it’s not all cracked up to be.
The fortunate reality is that through the good and the bad, God is. THIS is. We’ve been talking a lot using the Buddhist metaphor in the post so far, so let’s pivot over to something you might be more familiar with. Like I’ve shared before, once you start exploring life through the lens of other metaphors, you begin to see your “home” metaphor in a whole new light. And the Bible certainly does address the matter of THIS. It is referred to in a phrase you are likely very familiar with: the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven).
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” — Matthew 19:14
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. — Luke 12:32
And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 19:23
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. — Matthew 13:44–46
And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” — Luke 18:29–30
Jesus’ teachings are chocked full of this language. Notice what is interesting: Jesus always refers to this Kingdom in the present tense! This Kingdom is not something that comes later, not something to be attained after death. It is here, and it is now. It’s interesting that in many of these parables, Jesus alludes to this idea that the Kingdom of God is now, but he doesn’t exactly guarantee that it looks pretty according to our standards. It simply… is.
Now, I want to address what is likely a hot question in your mind: What do we do about verses like this?
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” — John 3:3
The way we’ve interpreted it in the Christian church is that we need to get baptized, beg Jesus for forgiveness, and live a “good life” so that we can someday get to heaven when we die. I could never get past how this is ultimately a guilt-driven model. How can God really be loving if he’s constantly reminding us of how crappy we are and how much we need him?
Instead, I’d encourage you to read it like this: “Very truly I tell you, no one can revel in THIS unless they die to the chase after the elusive ‘that’.” This is exactly why Jesus notes that a rich man has a very difficult time entering the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not a message necessarily downplaying money; he’s simply noting that when things constantly seem to be going well for a person by worldly standards, why would he ever want to drop that chase?
(The irony the rich man does not understand is that while the chase may go well for a while, it is never promised and always ends at the inevitable, final marker of death.)
Again, this isn’t a call to be naively okay with your current lot in life. If you’re in a bad situation, do what you can to get out of it. But when I think back to the time when I was depressed in 2014, I spent so much time desiring a stupid “that” that I had no eyes to see the Kingdom of God right in front of me. And truly, things weren’t nearly as bad as I made them out to be in my mind. I spent far too much time worrying about things beyond my control. I wish I could have understood then what I’ve come to know now.
The Kingdom of God is in this moment.
And in this moment.
And in this moment.
And in the moments when your world is collapsing all around you.
And in the moments when you stand on top of the mountain.
Take peace, friend, in knowing that the grace of the Kingdom of God is always at hand.