Ok, I have a little secret. It’s a secret and it’s something that no one really talks about in the Church. I feel like a lot of you are going to judge me when I tell it to you. So, please show grace.
I have a favorite book of the Bible.
THERE, I said it! Gah! It feels really good to get that off of my chest. But the other thing about my secret is that my favorite book is not even especially unique or dramatic or “cool.” Philippians is my fave. Well, for sure it’s my favorite epistle from Paul, and probably my favorite book of the Bible.
Philippians is like comfort food to me. Or to be more descriptive, I would even say Philippians has an SCENT to me. Does that sound insane to you? It’s a scent that brings almost visceral feelings and emotions to me, a strong and comfortable familiarity. If I had a Philippians sweater, I would pull it out of my closet and bury my face in it, breathing in the smell of the words. You probably think I’m crazy, but aromas have a strong power over us!
For example: the other day I was grocery shopping and I had headphones in, listening to music. With my tunes playing, I was in my own little world, not really paying attention to any shoppers around me. And all of a sudden, I got a whiff of Drakkar cologne. Oh my gosh. It was like I was in a time machine, transported right there from the canned goods aisle to a seat on a school bus in junior high. I was picturing rugby shirts on boys, permed hair and pegged pants on girls. I honestly don’t even remember if there was a specific boy or boys who wore that scent, but clearly that aroma is strongly associated in my mind to those years (which, let’s be honest, were strongly associated with boys in general). It was very surprising. I still have no idea which of my fellow shoppers was bringing back the 90’s for me that day. I mostly shop with senior citizens and stay-at-home moms on Monday morning, so it’s really anyone’s guess.
Fortunately, Philippians doesn’t remind of any ill-fated adolescent romances or raging hormones. But it does remind of childhood songs, teenage convictions, college-level exegetical challenges and new discoveries even as an adult. Maybe Philippians reminds me to recognize my upbringing in the Church as the absolute gift that it is. I’ve read those four little chapters time after time, and still the Holy Spirit is able to open my eyes to new treasures within them. I could write a dozen blog posts about my favorite verses, but an old favorite has been pressing on me this month.
Now, technically, my heart belongs to Thessalonians right now, because I’m knee deep in Children of the Day, by Beth Moore. (You guys? Sah. Good.) But sometime around the first of this month, I stumbled across Philippians 2 and read one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture: “Then you will shine among them like stars in the night, as you hold firmly to the word of life.”
Isn’t that the most beautiful image? Who among us doesn’t want to SHINE like stars in the night? I’m wriggling in my seat, holding my hand up with fingers flared in that annoying way little kids do when they want to be called on. Me! Me! Me! I want to shine, teacher! Pick me! Oh, for crying out loud, this world that we live in is so. stinking. dark. And at first glance, when I read this verse, I am tempted to think really BIG PICTURE. As in: African militants kidnapping hundreds of innocent children, thousands of children being abused and neglected, humans being bought and sold like property, intense poverty robbing millions of basic needs and dignity. Part of me wishes that the verse preceding this would have some HUGE secret for us, the way we can SHINE a light into the deepest darkest parts of our globe and truly “change the world.”
Well, it does have a bit of a secret. But you know what? It’s not BIG PICTURE like I imagine. But I think it probably can change the world. Wanna know what it says? Wanna know what comes before “….THEN you can shine…”?
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”
Come again, Paul? Seriously?
The entire passage of Philippians 2: 14-16a says:
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.”
Paul had a firm grip on the reality of our sinful nature, so I don’t think he literally meant that if we stopped whining we’d be “without fault.” Commentaries tell us he most likely meant that if you live without stirring up trouble, you’ll be above reproach and no one will be able to accuse you of wrong-doing. But not much figurative language is needed for us to nod our heads in somber agreement as we look around at a warped and crooked generation. Yet, it still takes me aback that the wide sweeping notions of this dark world and being pure before the Lord are all kicked off with an instruction to stop grumbling. It feels a little like putting a wild fire out with a squirt gun.
As I was pondering this passage, I found myself brushing off the notion. That is way too simple to make much of a difference in the world. But brushing off parts of Scripture is not really a healthy habit. Maybe my inclination to minimize this instruction is because it’s NOT simple! Maybe I don’t want to think about it, because what I’m feeling is conviction with a capital C! I so very much want to focus on that part of the verse about shining. Can I just do that? Can I just SHINE when I feel like it and still keep my arguing and my grumbling? Please?
And I started to think about how often my instinct is to complain. I bicker and argue as much as the next girl, but the instruction to do EVERYTHING without grumbling? That hits a little close to home. Fighting with the IRS and Social Security about adoption-related paperwork AGAIN? I want to give someone a PIECE OF MY MIND. Why does the school drop-off line turn grown adults into clue-less self-centered babies? I need to write a post about it on Facebook. My husband or kids dare to be human and annoying? I need to vent to all my nearest and dearest girlfriends. I started to realize that I have a habit of grumbling that may be much more serious than I thought.
I’ve talked a lot on this blog about my desire to be genuine, not pretending life is hunky-dory all the time when it is not. So how do we do that? How do we carry on relationships with honesty, and avoid being negative? Well, first, if you look carefully, Paul never said: always be positive. (He DID say, several times: “Rejoice in the Lord always!”) He said “Don’t grumble.” There’s a difference. I can admit to having a crappy day, without starting up a round of “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat some worms.” I can have a really frustrating interaction with, say, multiple government employees, and I DON’T EVEN HAVE TO PUT IT ON FACEBOOK. I can be in a really challenging season with my job, my best friends, my parents, my in-laws, my husband, my kids or my health and choose to share the details with a small group of trusted friends without giving the nitty-gritty details to every acquaintance who crosses my path.
And maybe, if I’m really making an effort to stop grumbling, I’ll pick and choose which things I talk about with my loved ones. Is this weighing heavy on my heart? Have I been thinking about this for a few days? If so, then it’s worthy of sharing with someone who can help encourage me. Is this a passing annoyance, or just a chance to complain about another person, then I can probably just keep it to myself. Will sharing this complaint on social media solve my problem? Will it instruct or uplift me or anyone else? If the answer is no, then I should probably just go ahead and hold back the flying fingers of wrath.
You know why? Because I DO want to shine. Choosing my conversations more carefully may not rescue children from slavery, but it can have a profound impact in my world. My biggest circle of influence is right here in this teeny little 1200 square foot home, and any smart person will tell you Mama sets the tone in the household. I want to SHINE, and I want to teach my kiddos how to SHINE in their world too. I want to “hold firmly to the Word of Life” with everything in my being, and I want them to SEE that on me day after tiring day. Heaven knows they are growing up fast in a crooked and warped generation. If curbing the grumbling and arguing is the start of teaching them how to shine for Jesus, then it’s a challenge worthy of my time. Will you do it with me? Let’s do some world-changing with our words and attitudes.
(You guys gotta hold me to this plan, because, well: IRS.)
2015 is gonna be the year we SHINE.