April 15, 2020
How do we negotiate the mazes of life? David & Karen Mains assert that to move from confusion to confidence you must do your best to remove any of life’s unnecessary elements. To get the Scripture verse handout mentioned in this podcast, visit http://grow.beforewego.show/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen: So, one of the things that we can do in relationships with the people we live with, or our friends is invite them to say to us what things they think might be complicating our lives. Nothing like another opinion.
David: What to do when you don’t know what to do. That’s the subject we’ve been talking about.
Karen: And if we could say that in a different way, we might say, “How do we negotiate the mazes of life? And we’re aware that in this present pandemic, many people are trying to do exactly that.
David: Okay, so what we’re talking about is not going to be something that’s theoretical.
Karen: Well, for most people, it won’t be theoretical. There may be some that it’s still in the theory category. But for most listeners listening to us right at this moment, they’re facing a really tough world with a lot of tough decisions they’re having to make.
Intro: Welcome to the Before We Go Podcast featuring Dr. David Mains and his wife, noted author Karen Mains. Here’s David and Karen Mains.
David: So, Karen, what’s good and what’s not good about these days of social isolating?
Karen: For me personally?
Karen: Well, I have a lot of people I’m in contact with on email and it seems as though many of us are reordering our drawers and our closets. Because you know…
David: We have the time…
Karen: …you have the time and it’s always on the back of your mind I need to do this or I should do this and you don’t ever get around to it.
David: So, is this the good or the bad?
Karen: I think it’s the good of it. It’s kind of funny actually how many of my friends have said they’ve been organizing their shelves. I think for me, it has been mostly a gift. Our lives are often filled with, you know, things on our calendar. People were meeting with, that we love to do, but it’ll take a morning or an evening.
Karen: Places we have to be, you know, just errand running. And in fact, we had one woman who came and lived with us for six years. She’d had a bad background and needed a place to heal and be safe. But she just took the load off of me running errands and the kids were all home then at the time. So, she’d take them places and, you know, she played the chauffeur role. So, not having any of that in our days has meant that I’ve been able to focus on things I really do need to do. The important things I need to do. And so, I’ve made kind of a rule of thumb and that is that the morning is for writing. There’s nothing that’s supposed to interrupt that. I’m not going to run to the cleaners because, oh my goodness, I got to take those yesterday or any of that stuff. The morning is for writing. And then the afternoons are for anything else that I have to do. Or they should be doing in the spring is coming. So, I’ve spent the last couple of days just joyfully outside. It’s like a kid playing in the dirt in the afternoon.
Karen: Doing it in the afternoon, not doing it in the morning. Oh, just do this one little thing. And then you’ve been out there for two hours, you know. So, for me, it’s been good in that it’s focused my intent and given me a system. I’ve had to define a system of how I’m going to spend my days. And it’s been very helpful.
David: One of the surprises for me is that it’s been easier to have quiet time.
David: Because there are far fewer interruptions. Any surprises for you during this time?
Karen: Not a surprise, but a reminder. I’m really an introvert. That’s my basic nature. But as we grow older, we move into what’s someone called your shadow side. And so, for the last five or six years, I’ve laughed with you about how extroverted I have become. And yet I think my basic nature is one of introversion and for the introvert, the long expanse of quiet is really a gift. And so, you know, we haven’t even been able to have our family and most of them live nearby. So, we’ve done FaceTime and called them on phone and email, but they haven’t been here for the holidays that we just passed through. You know, not to have a big crowd over for Easter dinner. That was a new thing, but it’s been good. In a lot of ways, the surprises have been more that I’ve gone back to what my essential nature is of introversion and spent a lot of time reading and thinking and researching and writing. That’s been really a gift to me.
David: One of the things I’ve had to avoid, some days I’m good at it, other days I have to remind myself I’m not as good at it today, is watching too much of the news.
Karen: Well, it’s reporting on the pandemic, so you’re trying to keep up and it’s actually kind of addictive in some ways.
David: There’s a lot of complaining in the news, both sides.
Karen: Yes, someone didn’t do this right.
David: And I don’t have to pick up certain problems. You know, the President saying, which is true, “I’m coming to the place where I’ll need to make the most important decision of my whole life.” And then you think, “What would I do in that situation”? Then at certain points you say, why am I thinking about this? I’ll never have to make that decision.
Karen: He’s not asking me.
David: No, he didn’t put a phone call through saying I need some consultation.
Karen: A little prayer, no, nothing like that. So yeah, why are you concerned about it? You’re just going to have to live with it or have a decision he makes.
David: Then I have to discipline how much I will watch.
David: How much do I need to know? How often do I have to check the numbers and feel? One of the good things about news media I’ve found is that they are hitting human interest stories and they’re doing a very good job of that.
Karen: Yes, some beautiful stories are coming out of this as well as the faith of all of these people dying and their families and grabbing. That’s just gruesome.
David: Anyway, I’m going to add another chapter to the messages I’ve been giving. I’ve explained to people that I gave these 25 years ago to a college and I was talking about what to do when you don’t know what to do because I was going through a very difficult time in my life, and I haven’t tried to rewrite these. I’ve just taken them as they are. So, I’m referring to things that happened 25 years ago; films I saw a long time ago, what was in the news. You know, you’re talking about O.J. Simpson and those things. But I thought I’m just going to do the messages as they were presented. In terms of the college, I don’t think the messages were recorded. I never got recordings of them, one way or the other. But then we’ll talk about it on the far side, okay?
David: One of my all-time favorite comedy films came out in 1991. It stars Richard Dreyfuss as a high-profile, very successful psychiatrist who’s always in control. And he’s written a book he feels extremely good about called Baby Steps. Bill Murray is a lovable neurotic who adores the book and attaches himself to the doctor and his family.
Karen: I’m excited. It might be a good word.
David: Even when they go on vacation, he follows them. Dreyfuss can’t stand having this manipulating intruder around and tries his very best to get rid of him. But the family kind of likes this peculiar fellow named Bob and eventually they become emotionally attached to him.
Karen: What is the name of the film?
David: Well, it’s appropriately named “What About Bob?.” I’m laughing just thinking about it. The bottom-line question is what’s to be done about this nutty guy? When in ministry, encountering these Bob types is inevitable. So, I could easily identify with what was happening in the script. I first saw “What About Bob” on a United flight. And in my laughter, it was everything I could do to keep from rolling in the Isle of the Plague. And I went to a theater and the content was even better and funnier the second time.
When we watched it at home on video, I started laughing in anticipation as soon as the opening credits started rolling. You see, Dreyfuss knows he needs a vacation. And he has to get this patient out of his life and out of his home or eventually Bob will destroy his well-ordered, overachieving, beautiful existence, which of course is exactly what happens. Unable to work his way through this client professional maze in a complete reversal of roles, the psychiatrist is the one who ends up catatonic in a straight jacket in a mental institution.
David: The film is on my top 20 list. And it’s a comedy with profound implications. I won’t read deeper thoughts into this than it deserves except to say that a lot of times our mazes are complicated by other members of our family or friends or psychiatrists even or ministers or bosses, well-meaning neurotics, people over whom we have no control. Problems usually don’t come in neat packages that can be worked on one at a time.
So, in order to progress from confusion to confidence, I’ve found it’s helpful to remove all unnecessary elements to get rid of the Bobs, if you please, when at all possible.
Jesus does this in Mark Chapter 1. He’s trying to escape some of the pressures of his work. Here’s scripture. “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed. The whole town gathered at the door and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons. Very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him and when they found him, they exclaimed, everyone’s looking for you.” It’s sort of like saying, “Would you believe we got a whole town full of Bobs back there”? Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else to the nearby villages so I can preach there also. This is why I have come. So, he traveled throughout Galilee preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”
What’s unfolding here is the common problem of other people unwittingly trying to set our Lord’s agenda. But he’s not going to allow it. He knows that if he continues to heal people, pretty soon every sick man, woman, boy, and girl in the whole world will come to where he is. The agenda will only get heavier, not lighter, and what’s most important in the limited time Christ has, is to fulfill his father’s desires, which at the moment meant more preaching about his kingship or the Kingdom of God.
I’m told it’s characteristic of our contemporary generation to be scheduled to death. We’re discovering that overactivity is not necessarily commendable. Whether you’re struggling to find the mind of the Lord or to work your way through a broken romance, give yourself a breather from taking on more than you can handle. There’s no merit in trying to impress people by how much you’ve accomplished or can’t complete or don’t know how to refuse. Better uncomplicate your life as much as possible so you can concentrate on what is really important.
Before coming to the chapel ministries years ago, I started an inner-city church on the near west side of Chicago. The point where all the expressways come together is called the Circle Exchange. Here the University of Illinois established a commuter campus in the 1960s and named it Circle Campus after the intersection. And it’s also where we started a brand new evangelical free church in 1967 and called it Circle Church.
We grew rapidly for an inner-city congregation, and we got publicity in a lot of places, including Time Magazine. During those years, we first started taking people into our home. Our personal “What about Bob’s”? And there’s seldom been a time since when somebody hasn’t lived with us. This past year, a young man from a ministry home who was severely depressed lived in our furnished basement. But I found it hard when facing intense pressure and misunderstanding all day at the office to come home and feel the distress of someone battling his own demons.
My wife and I talked this over and arranged for him to live elsewhere for a month. Why? Because he wasn’t worthy of our help? Of course not. It was because we needed to reduce the number of stresses in our lives and focused on what was most important for us. I would never demean food-service workers. They are some of the hardest workers in the world. It’s also true that a lot of eating goes on in the scriptures and in the church.
Acts 6 is a setting where the cause of Christ is growing rapidly and anyone trying to give leadership to a burgeoning church knows that growth brings its own immense stresses. Here the Grecian Jews started complaining because the Hebraic Jews’ widows were getting all the attention when food was distributed. Reading from Acts Chapter 6. “So, the twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It wouldn’t be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables’.”
I could put in there to make sure the knife and spoon are on the right side of the plate and that the meals are served in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing and that no one’s being cheated proportionally.
Back to scripture. “’Brothers’, they said, ‘Choose seven men from among you. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word’.”
What was the result? “So, the Word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” The bottom line was there’s rapid growth in the dissemination of the gospel. If that stopped, the twelve knew they had missed their primary calling.
When visiting overseas I often find that my brothers and sisters in the Lord there have better understanding of kingdom matters than I do. I know that native missionaries in lands like India have fixed their sights on evangelism and church planning in the vast unreached areas of their country. And when I remind them about caring for the sick and making sure fellow believers have adequate food, they say, “Amen.” But they also insist that the primary resources they have, whether that’s people, funds, time, skills, or material goods, must be invested in priorities as established in scripture. They suspect the Western Church has occupied many of its mission leaders in a vast amount of its resources in matters of food distribution and on a scale far larger than in this passage. Or in being unable to say “no” like Jesus did to the long lines of sick people. And I, for one, am grateful for their insights and believe it’s good to have my thinking challenged in this regard.
Wheel spinning is an indication that people wanting to go somewhere need help. They’re in the unenviable position of trying to figure out what to do when they don’t know what to do. The problem can be intensely personal and might involve a given local church, a denomination, or the combined resources of a large, united effort.
A key principle I’m learning that applies to this sort of situation is this. To move from confusion to confidence, you must do your best to remove any of life’s unnecessary elements. That’s something you can do when you don’t know what to do. To move from confusion to confidence, you must do your best to remove any of life’s unnecessary elements.
Let me share two simple personal illustrations. Several weeks ago, my daughter called with a word that a friend was selling a well-trained yellow lab for a good price. They’re great dogs. Our old English Sheep dog died five years ago and I kind like the idea of a large dog around the house for Karen’s protection since she works alone in her study so much. But as we talked, we both agree that this wasn’t the time to complicate our lives with a new animal. We’re trying to cut back on responsibilities, not add more. That doesn’t mean we’ll never get a dog, but this just wasn’t the time.
Again, it doesn’t seem like a big thing, but it is a small complication that could expand to major proportions. For the same reason, Karen has chosen to not travel in itinerant ministry for two years. She’s completed her time as chairperson of the National Board of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Now she wants to carve out more time to be with the Lord, to slow things down personally in order to get a better handle on this whirligig we’ve been writing. Hebrews 12:1 and 2 reads, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross”, and so on.
Another recent film, starting with the word what, was the odd little study entitled “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” Johnny Depp plays a likable young character stuck in life with not much of a future. He’s a small-town Iowa grocery clerk who stocks shelves and fills customers’ orders. He also has two people he cares for, and he truly loves them both. One is his younger brother who’s mentally retarded and has the bad habit of regularly climbing up the town water tower and scaring the daylights out of everyone. That’s Leonardo DiCaprio. The second person is Gilbert’s mother who must weigh at least 500 pounds and lives her entire life in the family house which is falling to pieces all around them.
There’s a free spirited and delightful young gal Gilbert’s age who comes through town and she’s vacationing in a trailer with her grandmother. Thus, the storyline with all these unusual characters engenders tension between the young man’s responsibility to his family and his desire to escape all this for his personal happiness. It’s heartwarming and funny and melancholic all at the same time probably very much like American small towns in the 1960s.
With all these crazy situations I’ve mentioned, of course, Depp’s character has too many things he’s juggling. But then, you also have to throw into the mix a lonely middle-aged married woman, his grocery store customer, who has been encouraging him to deliver her groceries and enticing him into the house with intentions that aren’t honorable. Being in ministry and seeing how these situations entrap so many people outside of celluloid life I want to yell in the theater “Get out of there Gilbert. You don’t need that complication too.”
I know my shouts and warning won’t do any good because it’s only a movie and the film will go right on telling its story over and over regardless of a preacher’s concerns. But the principle remains. It’s not smart to wrap sin into what is already a setting of a maze. Dealing with sin while plotting through a labyrinth is akin to going to battle carrying two or three times the equipment you need. And the enemy takes advantage of complicated situations to further entrap your life. Clearly this is what the Depp story reveals. Sin increases pain. Not pleasure.
We all have enough to handle just getting through life’s complex situations. What we want to do is kick free of the confusions and move into confidence. And for that we all need the Lord’s help. Unfortunately, sin that entangles only creates a distance between ourselves and the Lord. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that ..”.in our struggle against sin we haven’t yet reached the place where we have resisted to the point of shedding our blood like Jesus did.”
But it’s not just sexual sins we must flee. Here’s Scripture again. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice.”
Now this passage reminds me of my favorite play. Last summer I saw for the third time a marvelous production of it performed at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. In every season the company also mounts works by other playwrights besides Shakespeare. And the play I love is Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. It’s about a French swordsman who has a ridiculously large nose. What a complex and marvelous character he presents. A witty, brave braggadocio as well as a romantic true poet.
Perhaps you have seen the scene where Cyrano is helping a handsome musketeer, Christian to court the beautiful Roxanne under her balcony. He’s hidden from her sight by the night. Both lover, Cyrano and Christian, but Cyrano does so secretly. He feeds Christian his lines, but it’s not working. Christian doesn’t say them very well. Finally in the darkness Cyrano takes matters into his own hands. He pushes Christian aside and courts her for Christian with his own mouth and with his own loving words.
Well, the theatre goer figures out long before the final scene that Roxanne probably doesn’t really care what the one who was courting her looks like. She loves the soul of the person writing exquisite letters to her from the battlefield signed Christian but composed by Cyrano. The story ends sadly and tragically with all suspecting that Cyrano and Roxanne could have made it. Of course, they could have except that the narrative is complicated by his anger and rage and brawling and pride. He has given the devil a foothold to mess up everything he holds dear in his life.
We must get rid of rage and anger, brawling and every form of malice as Paul wrote, “Do not give the devil a foothold.” That warning in Ephesians 4.27. As I implied earlier, I have known the “What about Bob’s.” I’ve known the Gilbert Grapes and the Cyrano’s from towns other than Bergerac. Their stories, real stories are too often bittersweet tales that become tragic because too many unnecessary complications ruin the promising future.
Another appropriate text to help us uncomplicate our struggles is this one. “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” And this of course is Jesus’ speaking. “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” It’s Matthew 6:34.
I’m told the younger generations have a lot of fears. That’s not good. Most fears land on the side of confusion and complications. The opposite of fear is confidence and courage. I am finding that while in a maze there is a constant temptation to pick up next month’s problems, mull over all the what-ifs and try to figure them out. We’re tempted to look at next week and ask “If one of my key creditors really puts the squeeze on will I have a game plan worked out? The day after tomorrow, when this board meeting takes place, what should my strategy be if this happens or that happens”? Those simple words of Christ have saved me from compulsive rumination. This day has enough trouble of its own. It’s like Jesus is telling us to live this one day and give him time to answer our prayers and do some divine intervention work for the future.
You see, when I don’t know what to do, one obvious thing I can do is pray. “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving. Present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That’s Philippians 4:6 and 7.
Believe it or not. The concept about not worrying regarding tomorrow is relatively new to me. But then I have to admit that it seems to be working and obedience has not only saved me a lot of sweat, but also given me this strange sense of confidence that the Lord is going to go before me even as he promised he would. So, in this maze of frustration and confusion that is presently my life, I’m fixing my eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of my faith. He is the pioneer, the one who goes ahead and blazes a trail for others as well as the perfecter, the mentor who brings maturity and strength to people like me and like you who used to tremble in our spiritual trail boots. What are you fixing your eyes on? Complications, clutter, confusions, or Christ?
Here I am, an outsider to the personal difficulty of others, admittedly not knowing all that much about the mazes you must traverse. Most likely I come from a different world in different circumstances than yours. In fact, as I preach, I feel a little like Jethro, the priest back in Exodus 18, whom Moses had to accommodate because he was his father-in-law. The prophet had sent for his wife and two sons as he began a wilderness trek, and they couldn’t really travel on their own, so Jethro escorted them to the camp of Israel.
Scripture reads that Jethro was delighted to hear all the good things the Lord had done and the daring deliverance of God’s people from the Egyptians. Then Moses didn’t have any time for Jethro anymore. First thing the next day, Moses took his seat as judge. I would imagine they were looking at tough cases, something like deciding whether O.J. Simpson was guilty of killing his wife and another man, or whether it was a victim of the town gossip. Moses had, who knows how many, mind-boggling trials to judicate.
So, dad-in-law Jethro seized the burden of Moses and explained, “What are you doing? It’s not good. You need to get rid of all these extra elements in your life in order to do what is most important. important. You must be the people’s representative before God. Get others to help bear your load. Stop trying to control all these many, many jobs. Delegation will make your load lighter.” Check that out in Exodus 18.
What did Jethro know? He’d only been there a day or two. Sometimes the outsider can see things better than the insider. What Jethro was saying to his famous son-in-law, Moses, was that in order to progress from confusion to confidence, it’s helpful, often even imperative, to rid yourself of all unnecessary distractions. What’s beautiful about Moses is that he listened to his father-in-law and did everything Jethro said.
The Bible records that from then on Moses was less burdened by the task he did not need to handle. Taking his father-in-law’s advice helped him to be a better leader for the thousands who depended on him to set the direction for the wilderness passage. And I hope some of you will heed my words to you as well.
Karen: So, one of the things that we can do in relationships with the people we live with, or our friends is invite them to say to us what things they think might be complicating our lives. Nothing like another opinion. And so sometimes…
David: Somebody be Jethro for me.
Karen: Yeah, when you don’t know what to do or you feel like you just can’t manage everything that’s hitting you and coming your way. Just turn to someone beside you, who knows you well, who cares about you and say, “Can you see any of this stuff I’m doing that I cannot be doing that I don’t have to do, that I can cut out of my life”? And I sort of promise you, they’ll probably know what to say to you.
David: Could a spouse play that role?
Karen: Yes, often does.
David: Have you ever played that role for me?
Karen: Probably, but I think you do it more for me than I do for you.
David: A person who’s being given correction always feels like that.
Karen: But we need to welcome those insights.
David: Do we still love each other?
Karen: Yeah, we do anyway.
David: Yeah, it’s a big lesson. It’s a difficult lesson, but it’s a helpful lesson. Moving from confusion to not only courage, but I used another word. What was it?
Karen: Would it be confidence that you’re looking for?
David: That’s right. Just before closing, I should also remind you that I’ve chosen five scripture sections with five questions for each of those. Again, if you want to go to scripture and don’t necessarily know where to find appropriate verses, those could be helpful to you. They’re free of charge. As I wrote them out, they were helpful to me. So, I’m feeling very good about them.
Karen: Dean will tell you how you can get those.
David: Thanks for visiting with his friend.
Outgo: You may obtain a copy of the handout mentioned in this podcast by pointing your web browser to the following link: www.grow.beforewego.show. That’s all-lowercase letters. GROW www.grow.beforewego.show SHOW. And if you would like to write to us, please send us an email at the following address email@example.com .
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