Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"the privilege of probation..."

"Let my life
be the proof,
the proof of Your love..."

I'd never heard of the group For King and Country until hearing their worship song,  "Proof of Your Love,"  but now that I have, I will look for more of their music.

Listening to it this morning, I couldn't help but remember an experience from decades ago. It was a turbulent time within our church. In the middle of it all, a dear friend and colleague had been put on probation for three years. I was confused. I had friends on both sides of the issue. I called someone who was familiar with the situation, and whose wisdom and judgment I trusted.

He didn't get into the weeds of it all, but asked me a question I will never forget:

"Do you love and value
the privilege of probation?"

I got it. This wasn't about the rightness or wrongness of someone else's choices or actions. It was an opportunity to examine my own relationship to the concept of "probation." The etymological root of which is "to prove."

He then went on to explain to me that, for each of us, there are times when we are given the opportunity to demonstrate our persistence, our patience, our devotion to something we love, because we have been asked to step away from it for a period of grace.

In my faith tradition, we have weekly Bible lessons. Twice a year the subject of the lesson is "Probation After Death." As a child I distanced myself from the reason for that particular theme when it came up -- it seemed morose. I would read the suggested scriptures and their correlative passages from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. But I didn't try to see the connection between the dark-sounding subject title, and the beautiful readings outlined.

After that conversation with my friend, I began to notice how those readings encouraged a deeper sense of humility, courage, and grace. I looked for ways that I could proven my love for God following the cessation - or death - of any negative way of thinking or acting.

But I also noticed that my relationship to the concept of probation included a bit of fear. I was terrified of doing something wrong and being "put on probation" for my mistakes. I was vigilant about always doing the right thing. I hoped that if I was alert I could avoid probation, which I still thought of as punitive.

Of course God loved me too much to let me live in fear of something that is so beautiful. And when the opportunity came, I was ready -- if not eager. I'd made what I thought was good decision. In hindsight, I realized it wasn't. No one knew the background or the details. They only knew how it looked to them. And although my decision was broadly questioned, I was not subjected to any kind of disciplinary intervention.

But I knew.  I knew that, had I listened more deeply for divine guidance, I might have made a different choice. I thought a lot about probation during the ensuing days, weeks, and months. But this time it wasn't out of fear, but out of love for God. I needed to prove to myself -- and to God -- that I had the wisdom and patience to listen longer, more deeply, more humbly for His voice.

So, I put myself on probation. And it was one of the best gifts I ever gave to myself.  I "imposed" a three year probation on activities that I thought I needed to bring a deeper sense of listening, and humble following, to.  I checked in with my probation officer - Christ. I set aside specific quiet time for looking - prayerfully - at the choices and decisions I'd made that week. I examined my motives, revisited moments where I needed to exercise patience and humility, and reviewed my actions through the lens of spiritual self-surrender.

Over the course of those years, I could actually see a difference in my subsequent responses to each demand for wisdom and grace. And I can honestly say that it was a privilege to be "on probation." Every day was a day of proving how much I loved God and was willing to set aside the ego, and put Him first.  I think I became kinder, more patient with myself -- and others, and less judgmental.

This passage from Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health took on new life and relevance:

"As death findeth mortal man,
so shall he be after death,
until probation and growth
shall effect the needed change."

Even though I had walked away from the corpse of what I felt was a less-than-optimal decision, I still had the right to prove that I was free of its hold, its regret -- its grief. Each week I was given the opportunity to sit with Christ and review my thoughts, words and actions. To celebrate my ultimate freedom.

Probation is no longer a punitive, threatening concept for me, it is something I cherish deeply. I try to practice my love for probation, as an expression of my love for God, for good. It is not something that anyone else needs to impose upon us -- it is a gift we can give ourselves. It is an opportunity to say "I love you," to our first Love.

offered with Love,


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