Hope in the Caverns

If you want to see my sister and me argue, bring up James Franco.

I love the man. Talented, smart, funny, weird, attractive – what’s not to love? I watch his movies and I’ve seen Freaks and Geeks (the lovely one season it was). I own and have read Actors Anonymous. I even had a Pineapple Express poster hanging up in my room for a while.

My sister, on the other hand, will watch a movie with him in it despite the fact that he is in it. She theorizes that he bought his degrees instead of earning them. She doesn’t even think he’s a little bit cute. (“He’s always squinting! He never opens his eyes!”) She’s who gifted me Actors Anonymous for either my birthday or Christmas one year, and it almost physically pained her to buy the book.

Going into it, the main reason I watched 127 Hours was that James Franco was in it. While I love and appreciate and try to do my part to preserve nature, I’m not an outdoorsy person, so that didn’t appeal to me. Gore sometimes makes me cringe and curl up in a ball in terror, so that didn’t appeal to me. But I found it at Walmart for, like, five bucks a few years ago, and it’s one of those movies that people seem to refer to in passing more than you’d think, like they’re operating under the assumption that most people have seen that movie, so I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.

Aron Ralston, played by Franco in the film, is basically an uber human (the term I stole from one of my college professors for someone who’s good at everything). And in his free time, he explores canyons, among other things. He’s off doing this one day when he falls into a crevice/cavern and a boulder falls with him pinning his arm and leaving him stuck for 127 hours.

Aron can see the sky from where he is, so it’s not entirely dark. In fact, he gets about 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day. Aron gets out his camera a few different times and starts recording, so it was at least enough light to make a video. I think if it’d been pure darkness, Aron probably would’ve had a heart attack or had such a problem breathing that he would’ve never caught his breath and would have passed out entirely.

There’s a very tiny part about caverns in Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Billy Pilgrim is 12 and is on a trip with his family out west. They’re in Carlsbad Caverns and the ranger warns everyone that he’s going to turn the lights off and that they’ll be in total darkness. When the ranger does as he said, “Billy didn’t even know whether he was still alive or not.”

Scott’s sermon on Sunday made me think of both of these scenarios. It also spawned the working theory my brother and I developed that, in addition to being captivated by the One Ring to Rule Them All, Gollum was what Scott would call “cave crazy.”

But what do Franco, Vonnegut, and Tolkien have to do with a twisted Bible verse?

When we read Jeremiah 29:11-13, we read it correctly and often perceive it wrong, and that disconnect has everything to do with dark and light.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

So beautiful. Such a bright image of tranquility that you almost feel like you’re looking at the sun. The words “good,” “future,” “hope,” “I will listen,” and “you will find me,” give us this idea and promise of peace and joy that is absolutely real. That is what this scripture means.

But when we zoom out a little and read just one verse before and one verse after, the entirety of the truth is seen.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.’” (Jeremiah 29:10-14, NLT)

A darker picture than before by far. One that demonstrates that we will have adversity. It’ll get better, sure. There is some light. But it won’t always be a great time. There will be some darkness in our lives.

It’s a truth that many don’t realize until they experience it: it’s not that our lives contain no darkness; it’s that we have light to make our way through it. Hope doesn’t come from never having problems. Hope comes from knowing fear, stress, failure and knowing that none of those are where you end. The greatest hope comes from knowing it doesn’t come from your own merit but the merit of an all-powerful God with a perfect record.

We’re not Gollum, victim of the darkness. We’re not Billy Pilgrim, unsure of our very lives.

We are like Aron Ralston. We have light to guide us, to see us through. We may be stuck in an immovable situation. Everything we try may fail. Our faith may wane, but God’s faithfulness won’t. We may not know how, but He’ll get us out. That’s enough. We may not have enough light to see every detail, but we’ll have enough light to see a way out.

There’s a song by Switchfoot called “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine.” The chorus goes:

We are crooked souls trying to stay up straight,
Dry eyes in the pouring rain.
The shadow proves the sunshine.
The shadow proves the sunshine.
Two scared little runaways
Hold fast to the break of daylight were
The shadow proves the sunshine.
The shadow proves the sunshine.

It’s a testament to the fact that there is good and bad, light and dark, and we often can’t know one without the other. Were it not for the shadows, we wouldn’t perceive the depth we need to navigate. And if there was no sunshine, we wouldn’t be able to see the area we need to navigate and how we need to move. God is the truest light, and He will fulfill His promises and give us hope, joy, and peace. But it won’t always be easy. We just have to remember that we have access to the Light, and all we need to do is keep reaching for it.

By Carrie Prevette

Keep Your Heart

I have the most trouble explaining to people that I like being single.

I like being able to go see whatever movie I want and sit where I want in the theater. I enjoy driving alone, singing loudly to the music that I get to pick and turn the heat or air conditioning up as I please. I love being able to wear whatever clothes and make up I want without worrying about if anyone else likes it. I like cooking for one. I love being able to go to concerts, hang out and take selfies with cute band members afterwards without anyone getting clingy or jealous. I enjoy my space and freedom and being able to do what I like with the energy and time both of those allow me.

Until a guy comes along who compensates for all of that and truly adds even more joy to my life and feels the same about me, I’m not giving up the freedom I get from being single.

The problem with all of this is that we’re taught from a very early age by people – be it society or the media or even family members – that our happiness cannot begin until we’re in a romantic relationship that’s headed for marriage. So when I tell people that I’m happy being single, a lot of them either think I’m crazy or don’t believe me.

Listening to someone talk about a breakup they’re going through always seems to validate my singleness. If I’m not terribly close to the person or the situation, I sometimes internally smirk and pat myself on the back for not putting myself in a position to maybe end up a ball of emotion or a bitter wreck. I’ve done well to guard myself and my heart.

And to demonstrate just how much emphasis our society places on romance, we take spiritual advice and turn it into romantic advice.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, NRSV)

Pretty, isn’t it? Not terrible dating advice either. Guard your heart because it’s valuable and important and bad people will corrupt it in some form. Wise. Practical.

And not at all what the author’s getting at.

Let’s read around it. “My child, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” (Proverbs 4:20-27, NRSV).

The author, presumably Solomon, is telling his kid to listen to him and remember his words because they are helpful, healing words. He says to keep them in the heart and then to guard the heart because it gives life.

Then Solomon says to get rid of “crooked speech” and “devious talk,” and this is incredible spiritual advice. I’m not going to get into what qualifies as bad language or lecture you on what words you should or shouldn’t say, and I don’t fully believe that’s what Solomon means here either. I believe that Solomon is referencing the power of our words and what our words say of us as people. It’s less about the actual words we speak and more about how we mean them. Do I mean to insult someone? Am I speaking kindness into someone’s life? Am I talking about someone, and if so, am I being hurtful?

I believe Solomon is addressing two problems with communication here that affect us spiritually. One is gossip and lies. Gossip and lies profit no one. Spreading things, churning speculation and rumor so much that people believe them as fact just hurt people. It makes them feel judged and devalued, and anyone who generates that isn’t being very loving and peaceful. Two is using language with intent to hurt people. Do we insult people or put them down all the time? Do we say things that drain their self-confidence or dull their self-view? Are we giving them life to give to others or taking what they have of it? Doing such things doesn’t point back to the God of love.

Solomon tells us to keep our eyes looking forward and to keep on the path. But what do the two have to do with each other?

In basketball, it’s easy to fall victim to a trick play. A lot of times defenders look silly because someone will give a no-look pass and that team will score. If you watch, this is because the offensive player is looking one way and is passing another. Usually the body goes where the eyes go. If a player is looking at a teammate, it’s a safe bet he or she will pass to said teammate. If the player looks at the basket, the player will likely shoot. So the defensive player prepares for the ordinary, the way the eyes are looking, and is tricked when the body doesn’t go where the eyes go.

The same applies to our spiritual lives. If our eyes linger on sin, our hearts will take interest in it and we will turn to it. By looking forward on our straight path, we see only the beauty and promise of our straight path. Not looking around us and focusing on where all the sin and masquerading pain exist. Not looking behind us and focusing on our dark and rocky past where we see imperfections or maybe even fun times. Looking forward to hope and countless blessings and focusing on God.

Our focus is what it all comes down to. Are we focused on God, on serving Him, on loving others like He does, on keeping our hearts and lives on the path He has us on? Or are we letting corruption enter our hearts and exit our mouths through a turnstile while looking for something we think will be better but will leave us empty?

Look at your heart. Where is its guard? Where are your eyes looking, and where are your feet turned to? I encourage you to remove anything that’s causing your heart to harden or turn from God. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding. And fill those empty spaces by letting God in. It’ll make your heart feel so full that you won’t hesitate to guard it anymore.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. – I wrote another blog post that heavily involved Proverbs 4:23 earlier this year. At the risk of sounding super conceited, I’ve got to say that I really like that post. It’s probably one of my favorites that I’ve ever written, and I think it’s a more in depth post about the function of the verse in our lives than this post. You can read it here if you’re interested.

A Considerable Log

I’ve heard it said that the Bible is the most perfect mirror. When we look into it, see ourselves in it, it shows us exactly as we are. It shows our good qualities and areas that we are excellent in and execute beautifully. It also shows our faults and blemishes, our sins and what we need to work on. It shows us exactly how we are.

The truth of how we are can be difficult to deal with, especially if one isn’t a very self-aware person. So when we find something that makes us feel justified and we think might exist to do so, we use it as a defense. It’s understandable.

But using “judge not” in such a way doesn’t stand because the full context of the scripture doesn’t support it.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NLT)

True, in my experiences, down to the last letter. And scripture worthy of quoting. But let’s keep reading.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” (Matthew 7:3-6, NLT)

Jesus isn’t providing a defense for our sins here. He is calling us to each get right and then help others instead of judging them for being in the same state we’ve all been in before.

Sin is sin. Little sin, big sin, one sin, living in sin – it doesn’t matter; the key word is “sin.” All that matters is if there is any sin, and regardless of how few or how many sins we find ourselves committing, regardless of how subtle or glaringly obvious our dark spots are, if we have sin, we hurt God. Sin is a great equalizer in that whenever we do it, and all of us do it, our playing field as far as God’s concerned is absolutely even.

If I have sin in my life, it is unfair and unloving for me to make a big deal out of any sin you have in your life. Jesus calls me to rid myself of my sin and then lovingly help you get rid of yours.

To be clear, there’s a difference between judging someone and giving him or her godly advice or assistance. Judgment entails feelings of inferiority, loneliness, and bitterness. Godly advice and a true desire to help comes with feelings of love and hope. If our hearts are where they should be, the person we’re helping shouldn’t feel judged.

This scripture, like most others, is one that’s not to point at others, but rather one to point back at ourselves.

And that whole bit about holy and unholy, pearls and pigs? It’s harder to decipher, but here’s what I glean from it: don’t waste your effort and wisdom on someone who simply doesn’t want it. I’ve been on both ends of this, both thrower of pearls and trampling pig, and no one wins. People get upset. Ideals are presented and lovely words and nice sentiments fall on barred ear drums. Intentions and relationships stand the potential to be questioned, and friends can even fall away from each other. It’s best to reserve spiritual assistance until it is seemingly sought and to love and respect the person even if he or she doesn’t want your insight or help.

Judgement is a very circular thing. If we give it, we are sure to get it. It is not a sign of love. It is not our job or our place. We’ve all been there, and were it not for the unbounded grace of God, we would still be there. Removing my log doesn’t give the right to condemn my fellow man for the speck in his or her eye; it simply gives me the perspective to really help them sort it all out. This scripture doesn’t exist to justify my log or my speck. It exists as a call to love, to always love

By Carrie Prevette

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