Tag: Happiness

Being Human: Dealing with Stress

Life can be stressful, but God is always there to get you through

Published Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Growing up, I had an uncle Bobby, and he was pretty much the coolest guy ever. He owned a go-cart, so I immediately loved hanging out with him. He also lifted weights and looked quite buff.One day I noticed that the license plate on his big truck (also very cool) spelled out “S-T-R-E-S-S.” My mom asked him about it.

The reason for Bobby’s unusual choice in vanity plates? Well, because life, quite simply, can be very stressful.

During a study I lead with another Dan I know — called “Lunch with the Dans” at noon Thursdays at Zeppelins in Bluffton — we got to talking about stress recently. I was personally very stressed about whether my wife and I should get a dog. We finally decided to go all in and get a miniature schnauzer, and we found a beautiful 5-month-old named Bruce, but the adoption ended up falling through. Before we knew this, however, my wife had sent me a number of texts worrying about the cost and how we’d take care of Bruce while traveling. Who would check in on him during the day? How would we train him?

I suppose I was more “in” than my wife, but because of her questions I began to stress over her stress. It is funny how these decisions make you re-evaluate everything in your life.

In the Scriptures, the hero of faith, Abraham, had many times of horrible stress. Particularly in Genesis 14:8-15:1, in which the kings of Canaan lay waste to each other in war, and Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is taken as a captive along with all his possessions. Abraham hears about this and has to decide what to do next. Does he run from this place and let Lot find his own fate? Or does he sit tight and wait until the war comes to him? He decides to go to the men of his household (318 of them who were able to fight) and in the night he plans a raid on the armies of the victorious kings.

The life of Abraham is fascinating. In fact, I’d love to see a movie about him — showing imperfections and all. Abraham’s men win the raid and in this amazing victory they bring Lot home. All the spoils of war are brought back to the lands. Abraham is a hero, and yet there is an interesting verse with God’s voice to our hero immediately afterward: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

Without this voice of God, we would not have known that Abraham (here still Abram) was afraid. Only after the battles end and the mighty men have stepped into great dangers — after Abraham has given away all the spoils to the people and has kept nothing for himself — do we see how stressful this really was for him.

At this moment, God comforts him and reminds him that in the midst of all the evils surrounding him, especially this one, which was not of his own making, that God is in the middle of it all.

And God is the great reward.

What are you stressed about? Are you afraid and wondering about the future of your family or your own journey? God doesn’t promise us a perfectly peaceful world, but he has promised he will be our peace in the midst of crisis.

In times of stress, remember Abraham and his family.

You, too, will make it through.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

Ingredients to a Happy Marriage Might Include Bacon (Pastor’s Corner)

Ingredients to a Happy Marriage Might Include Bacon

Published Monday, June 4, 2012
As I write this article, I am celebrating nine years of marriage to my wife. To mark the occasion we took a few moments this morning to enjoy a raspberry white chocolate latte at The Corner Perk and then went next door to The Sugaree, where I saw something marvelous: the Homer.It is an enormous doughnut covered in maple frosting and sprinkled with thick chunks of bacon. Yes, bacon. It was truly amazing. I was nearly in a sugar coma when I went to work for a meeting. I even wrote a blog about the doughnut and cited it as a symbol of the goodness of the nine years of marriage we have shared. I’ve gotten a lot of “likes” on this blog — especially from guys who like bacon and totally understand.It may be a silly way to say it, but my marriage has been sweet and fulfilling. So much so that we have developed our own inside jokes. Every anniversary, my wife and I laugh about the short-lived MTV show “Newlyweds,” which starred Jessica Simpson and her then-husband Nick Lachey. At the end of their first season, which was also their first year of marriage, they were eating a meal together at a restaurant. Jessica candidly said, “We’ve been married one year? Feels like seven years.” Amanda and I feel the exact opposite. It has been nine years? It feels like three minutes.

It actually came up this morning as an affirmation of how fast time flies when you are having fun — and working hard.

In contrast to the fleeting nature of celebrity weddings and relationships, I recall the romance and love in the Scriptures: “How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice!” (Song of Songs 4:10).

There is a deep appreciation for the “other” in the relationship and a delight that can last throughout the years. I see those who have been together 50 years or more as the heroes and heroines of marriage. Often they say that they had some “best years,” but there were also some very hard years. They continued to invest in their love through the years, though, and found deep happiness in each other’s presence. That is the everlasting love, a love we can emulate. It continues to ride strong through the storms of life and builds a stronger unity.

As a husband, I hope to live out the biblical ideal that Paul spoke of: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:25-28).

To fall deeper and deeper in love each and every day is not a fairy tale, but rather a choice, an honor and a great adventure. Christ gave himself for the church and gave it all, certainly, so we can emulate that great and sacrificial love that gives and gives and gives in our marriages.

A heart filled with the love of the spirit will always overflow.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church.  Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

Being Human: If You Do All Things in Love, You Will Have Perfect Freedom

As a youth minister, I often hear young people talking about how annoyed they are with their parents rules.  These rules are seen as oppressive to some, while others just dislike the constraints and are waiting until they are older to come out from under them.  These rules usually are communal rules based on teaching responsibility or a value that the parents think is important for the family to live out.

An easy example is “We respect others.” This is a huge concept that is not easy to grasp, but I believe that all teens wrestle with it at times.  There are teachers, peers and neighbors that young people just don’t “respect” because they feel they have been wronged for some reason.  Say a teacher reprimands a young girl for talking too much in class.  The young girl feels that she was not the only one talking, others should also have been reprimanded, and she was ultimately embarrassed to be called out.  The young girl also seems unable to comprehend that one teacher, in a class of 20 – 30 students cannot individually reprimand each person in a group.  A teacher looks for a leader among the talking tribe, or someone who is closest physically, or someone they know will listen, and calls that person out, hoping that one reprimand will bring the talking girls back to focus in order to continue teaching.   That young girl from that point forward says that she “hates” that teacher, that teacher is “Horrible” “Mean” or “Nasty”.

The young girl’s father eventually hears the young girl on a tirade against the teacher, and quickly realizes that the daughter is not “respecting” the teacher.  Certainly there must be another side to this, and so a conversation happens.  Feeling pressed, the young girl, not understanding why the parent is supposedly taking the teacher’s side in the issue, lashes out and disrespects the father, furthering her family “sin” and is pressed for remorse and repentance and a genuine change is required by the father.  Punishments, like taking away ipods or video games, becomes a way of enforcing family values, and if the young person is stubborn, eventually the young person starts decrying their loss of Freedom.

Isn’t this America?  Aren’t we free to do what we want?  My parents are dictators!  Everyone is out to get me.  

To the adult this is selfish, but this is not uncommon among young people who are yearning to grow out of the boundaries of their childhood, but still are not capable of having their fences completely removed.  Trust is hard for parents who want to protect their children, and are not sure of how far their children should be able to go while making mistakes.  Each situation is different and in my opinion, the parent has more or less leigh way in proportion to how much danger the youth is actually in.  Parents have to maintain fences so that the impulsiveness of youth does not destroy the child, yet there can be a lengthening of the boundaries, and the conversation needs to change from directives to a two way discussion where the teen has some input (but not authority).

“Because I said so” will no longer work.  The reasons must be discussed, weighed, and values need to be communicated, lived out and permeate the experience of the child.  And those things which a parent does not budge on become the framework with which the child builds their adult life.

But what about Freedom?  From the young person’s perspective, this is the ultimate aim.  To be free of constraints and able to do whatever they would like to do.  If only I could play Skyrim (a video game) for three days straight, drink nothing but energy drinks and eat nothing but candy and Pringles all day.  Or Why can’t I tear up my clothes, wear all the makeup I want and date as many boys as I like?

Obviously all these questions revolve around the natural yet selfish need to satisfy Number One.  Freedom to the young person is the ability to do whatever I want whenever I want to and go wherever I want to go as often as I want.  The world really is still new to them, whereas an adult has already “been there and done that” and so the appeal is not so great to drive the car downtown, or to take a first date to the movie theater.  These moments of great excitement within safe boundaries are wonderful.  But that lack of experience, and overvaluing of the rewards versus risk make for a dangerous mix.  For example, an adult would not  likely jump off a bridge to impress their wife if the place does not look safe.  A young man would be much more likely to take such a risk, if a girl he likes is present, even if she is scared of him doing it.  Even to impress the buds.  A parent who discovers this activity will likely shut it down.  Lockdown would ensue.  Long conversations and lectures would happen until the point is drilled.  And still the young man could sit there and think about how awesome it would have been to get those “cool points.”

It is in response to this ethos of youth that I’ve been pondering a simple tool for helping teens realize true freedom.  I discovered it recently while reading John Wesley’s early sermons and diary entries prior to visiting Savannah, GA.  In the sense that we are all sinful creatures, all burdened by our passions and desires of the self, and unable to stand up on our own to “lift our eyes toward Heaven”, we need a path to throw off that burden, to be free from that guilt which comes from harming ourself and others for our own desires, and essentially to be Truly Free.

The only path to freedom is to rid ourselves of the desires of the self.  Our rebellions all come from our nature, fallen since the time of Adam, to put ourselves before everything else.  A baby knows how to cry for its wants, a child knows how to make a scene in a toy store, a teen knows how to argue to pursue unhealthy relationships and adults know how to burn out friends, jobs and marriages.  It comes natural, and it takes a certain discipline to keep one’s “self” from taking over one’s whole universe.  We forget that the people of the universe outnumber our “one” vote, and that the needs of those people might be worth considering, even before our own.  The young person who has never been overseas, and who has never seen poverty, sits in their mansion, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich thinking of how his or her parent’s have abused him/her for not cooking steak for dinner.  It is a matter of perspective, and our perspective is skewed towards self satisfying and sinful behavior.

If one were to live life and make every decision according to the principles of Love, that person would suddenly find that they have been set free.  As Wesley spoke about in his early writings.  True freedom comes from putting others first. Primarily, putting God, our creator, as primary among all things.  Once we recognize that we are not a god, and all we do is not divine, we can begin to let God’s will to work in our lives. As we empty ourselves, and begin to ask God what we ought to do rather than what we want to do, we find ourselves in a refreshing stream, moving us forward, rather than using all our strength to push against the waves of God’s Holy Spirit.  Wesley several times quotes Jesus’ primary command, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength.”  We learned this in Sunday School, but barely have put it into practice, because by putting God in a primary position, and recognizing that we are not the center of the universe, we threaten the most streamlined version of the universe that we could imagine.  No person would naturally want to see themselves as a secondary creature, but that is the truth.  God has placed us on a planet, it has the resources we need to live good lives, we are surrounded by people who we are to care about, and we have to decide how we will work within this system.  God has given mankind responsibility to govern this world as either good rulers, or as we often do, as tyrants.  If we live in sin, we dictate our own desires and plunder the earth.  When we push off the burdens of sin thanks to the guilt destroying power of Jesus Christ (and his great love for all people!), and the washing and cleansing we receive, our heads are enabled to look up towards heaven, realize our position in the universe (as a creature and not the creator), and we can finally be unleashed to do the greatest amount of good possible.  Not in the Mark Twain way, of doing good only to satisfy one’s own need to be recognized, but because we were originally made good, and we are being restored into living in the image of God – which is the perfect image of Love itself.

Yes – When one lives in love, one lives in perfect freedom.  If a person considers their neighbor as if that neighbor was oneself, and we realize that others deserve consideration, great things become possible.  When I was in college, I remember realizing that if everyone tended to the needs of three or more others, all our needs would be met.  Putting aside logistics of who would help who, if a need was seen, it could be met.  This is a good pattern for a marriage.  Often people go into a marriage thinking that the other person is going to satisfy that God sized hole in their being.  That person is merely a drug, used and consumed, until there is nothing left (because only God can fill that place – only he can eternally fill the human with love), and then the marriage falls apart.  The more selfish a society, the more hardship the institution of marriage will have.  Why? Because marriage requires that the man and the woman put God first, and find nourishment and sustenance from the Creator.  Then, the married person must put the other before one’s self.  If each person does this, even if one fails and repents and tries to make things right, they are still far beyond what two selfish people could ever accomplish.  God first, spouse second, and then everything else.  If both give of themselves all in all, the marriage has a greater ability to succeed, to be full of love, and to have two members who feel complete freedom – to love the other.

Being free, means being in love.  When individuals and societies fail to love, wars become reality, walls are built, words become venomous and full of poison.  Storage containers become filled with atomic weapons and militaries march to meet enemies who are no longer seen as human.  In our regular lives, we sit in separate rooms, we live within our gadgets and leave home to find fulfillment in other people in things (all of which cannot satisfy the heart, and the body will wither away as it is abused seeking happiness and satisfaction).

To find happiness, to be fully free, to hope for a better future, we will have to live our whole being in a state of love.  First for God, and because God made us all and loves us all, we will begin to see the people of the world as they were created – as children of God worthy of being brought into the family.  To love is to be completely free. 

(Top Image Source: here, Bottom Image Source: here)

Religion Can Be Beautiful – A Response to “Spiritual but not Religious”

Religion Can Be Beautiful

An edited version of this was published in The Bluffton Packet

A spoken word video recently made the rounds on Facebook called “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus.”  It was well rhymed and made some interesting points. It was so reposted (reposting is borrowing the video and sharing it with your friends) so often that NPR picked it up and had a representative from the Barna group talk about the non-institutional spirit of our young generation.  Certainly, this video is an outgrowth of something I remember people saying when I was young – “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”  I said it a few times when I was younger and I felt that it allowed me to be a “rebel” in the tradition of James Dean, but I could also love Jesus and read the Bible, both of which have always been foundational to my identity in one way or another.

Even a few years ago I would likely have felt at home posting this video myself, but since I have become part of the Methodist church, and have been part of a traditional church, I have found the trappings of “religion” to be like a beautiful art, a canvas in which the beliefs of people who have faith have placed their paint.  At one time I would have joined the rebel cry as young people throw off the old and bring in new styles of worship.  Not even “contemporary” worship as some people call it, but an even more progressive form of  loving Jesus that would be considered all action with very little program or form.  That seems to be the call of this video – more action.

As with any argument, there is an anti-thesis or I like to call it “push-back.”  Jesus himself pushed back on the institutions, which would seem to support the claims of this video, but it the issue is so much more complex than that.

As I read the scriptures, I do not see Jesus as the anti-institutional figure that he seems at first glance.  He spoke in the synagogues as an adult and even as a child he enjoyed being at the temple and talking with the religious leaders about his father, God.  In fact, Mary and Joseph had a scare when they, like many parents have, left Jesus behind after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Jesus in some degree felt at home in his faith.  He was also called Rabbi by his disciples, he spoke of paying your taxes to Caesar in respect for pagan authorities, and he died accepting the punishment for a crime he didn’t commit.

So why does Jesus seem like such a rebel?  He turned the tables at the temple, he broke wheat and ate on the Sabbath against the Pharisee’s interpretation of the law and he declared he was God – which went against all human comprehension.  But at the heart of his rebellion, it is not against religion itself.  It is against corruption of the heart which leads to destruction of the individual and society.

Read through one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and you will see that Jesus had a religion.   True religion is about orphans and widows.  Translated: True religion is about justice and compassion and love.  When people forget this, all religion (the expression of our faith) becomes hollow.

So now I would say, “I am religious because I am a spiritual being.  I ask God to make me pure so my religion remains pure as well.”

For your reference, I am responding to this video that went viral a few weeks ago:

Why I Chose Not to Fast for Lent – Life and Lent

Growing up I didn’t even know about Lent.  The pentecostal congregational style of discipleship was based on two things.  Reading the Bible, Prayers (public and private), and the work of the Holy Spirit (healings, prophecy, fillings, etc.).  There was a lot of activity but there wasn’t a lectionary based movement from year to year.  The main holidays that ordered the year were Christmas and Easter, but seasons like Lent or Advent were largely lost on us.  I remember times of fasting, but they were not in the context of traditional seasons – they just happened as the pastor or the leadership team called for times of spiritual growth and maturity.

Then I ended up at a traditional Methodist church as a youth director.  I’ve had the time to slowly acclimate to the traditional forms, and I’ve found that they are handy.  (1) They remind us each year of some of the most important themes of Christianity.  (2) I also like it that the reading of the whole Bible is possibly if one follows the lectionary for two years.  (3) Repetition is the Mother of All Learning (as the Russians say), and the repetition each year helps me to try to get things right that I did wrong.  Well, there is more, but my point is that I have grown to love the seasons of the lectionary.

Last year is the first year that I participated in Lent.  Everyone immediately starts talking about what they are going to give up for the year.  I figured that it should not be something easily given, so I picked television.  At the time I was watching a lot of comedy programming in the evenings, and I felt it would be hard to do.  So I did it.  My wife decided that she would give up cheese (which turned out to be the hardest fast of all – cheese is on EVERYTHING).  I read more than I have ever read in that time period. I felt more evenly balanced and had time to do other things. I saw movies, but that was only every once in a while at the theater and I felt that they were rewards for the time I was giving up elsewhere.  It was a good time and I felt my spirit lifting a bit.

Then, I found myself a year later.  Lent is upon me again in 2012 as it was in 2011.  I asked my wife what we would be doing this year. She instantly mentioned that I should try giving up Video Gaming.  She would give up deserts.  I noticed that her options always have a health kick in them – which isn’t bad, God calls us to take care of our bodies (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:19), so it works.  I felt that I needed something different his year, however, and I noticed a different nuance of Lent that appealed to me.  Rather than merely stripping something away, I could add some small things that would bring me closer to God.  I thought about it a while and asked myself what I lacked spiritually and it came quickly.

Every week at youth group I encourage young people to read their Bibles regularly, pray regularly and spend time with God.  I find that in the midst of working the ministry, I often find myself paddling the boat myself, never asking God to row a few.  I end up struggling quite a bit and then I remember that I need to get back into the habit of regular Bible Study and prayer.  I’m not talking about what I do for youth group devotions or studying for the Confirmation class I teach.  I’m not even talking about the scripture I read as I write my articles for the local newspaper.  I need to spend some time reading scripture that will speak to my soul. It is for me alone, from God, to my spirit.  All the other work I do, I ask God to speak through me – in this, I realize I need God to speak to me.

So I started today.  I am reading a Youth Devotional (I like Youth Devos because they are two the point and contain a lot of scripture) done by Josh McDowell, and it is on my phone.  I always have my phone so I never have an excuse not to read, and the devotional includes a basic prayer that I may read and make my own.  I like that.

So this Lent I have decided to add rather than subtract.  I feel good about this and I’m excited where it will take me this year.

I <3 My Wife

It has almost been 8 years being with my wife Amanda and I am still madly in love.  We don’t have any kids but we have a few hundred youth from different times and places.  We have spend 2 years together at Flagler college, 4 years in seminary in MA, and almost 2 years in Hilton Head Island, SC.  That time includes the meshing of our lives so her friends have become my friends and mine have become hers.  We have prayed for each other and have seen God’s good work in different congregations and have found the good people of God’s Kingdom in all of them.  I believe we are blessed beyond comprehension, because this year we bought our first home.  Amanda has her craft and workout room, I have my office and we spend a lot of time watching Smallville in our cozy living room on the big brown couch.  I am completely in love and despite it being my birthday today – I may let it also be Valentine’s day too.

I love you Amanda. -Dan

My Best Birthday Gift This Year I Already Received (Psalm 65)

For my birthday this year, I was given an amazing gift.  Over the weekend, I was allowed to experience 11 middle school youth rock with God all weekend long.   I saw hearts changed, lives committed and recommitted to Christ and a group forever changed.

I want to thank their families for trusting us with their care.  I would like to thank the adult leaders who devoted a whole weekend to live and breathe youth culture for the weekend and care so deeply.  I am thankful to everyone who prayed for us while we were away in Columbia.  I am thankful for a wife who lets me do what I do.  I am thankful for God for meeting us in that place and keeping us safe.

All the other birthday gifts I receive this year (if any), will not compare to this joy I have:

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

(Psalm 65:1-8, emphasis added)

So today is my birthday which is also Valentine’s day, but I celebrate it primarily  as the day I was born.  I will sleep, I will eat, I will enjoy God’s goodness, and I will celebrate with my amazing wife Amanda with dinner and a movie (if we can get into a restaurant – otherwise …Chinese Buffet 😉  Happy Valentine’s Day and to all the Heart Babies like me – Happy Birthday 😉  May God bless your spirit regardless of your situation.  You are a child of God.