Monday, March 23, 2015

The Crook in the Lot

This tree sits next to our house as a constant reminder of human frailty and God's sovereignty.

It's right beside our driveway. I see it every day as I pull in from work. In the summer it's heavy with leaves that hide its deformity, but when the leaves fall off you see just how crooked it is. I often wonder: Was this tree planted hurriedly and incorrectly, without adequate thought of the angle it would take as it grew? Did it miss out on some critical ingredient in its infancy? Did a child thoughtlessly kick the tree, hammer a nail into it, or push it over and then try to prop it up--is that why it got off to a bad start?

But then look at the photo: In time the tree sensed its nonconformity, tried to correct itself, but overcompensated. Now it goes too far in the other direction. It's easily the ugliest tree in the cul-de-sac. The fact that other, more beautiful trees and shrubs grow around this tree only underscores its woundedness.

Still, this tree bears fruit. It's growing at a steady rate, stretching its branches more and more with each passing year. This summer it will again be full with large, bright green leaves. In the fall they will avalanche down all around our yard and that of my neighbor. Then the naked tree will once again be revealed for the crooked piece of work that it really is.

The tree is a living parable, of course.

Many years ago, the Scottish pastor Thomas Boston wrote a book called The Crook in the Lot: Or, the Sovereignty and Wisdom of God Displayed in the Afflictions of Men. Boston based his book on Ecclesiastes 7:13, which says, "Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?" In other words, said Boston, everything that happens, happens at God's command and by God's design. God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, including our weaknesses, trials, and struggles. We are thus able to say with the psalmist, "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places" (Psalm 16:6). We don't have to struggle against who we are, where we've been planted, the work we've been given to do, and the weaknesses that make our way difficult.

If my tree could talk, it might say, "God, why did you make me like this? I don't like being different. I'm the talk of the neighborhood and I don't like it. This is not the life I would have chosen."

But if my tree were a Bible-believing tree, it would hasten to add, "But it's the life you've chosen for me. Therefore I will rest in your sovereign wisdom, believing that you work all things according to the counsel of your will, for our good and your glory."

The reason for my tree's crookedness is a mystery. But it is what it is. It's been given a crook in the lot. Faith means accepting God's will, acknowledging his goodness, living for others, and looking forward to that day when the crooked will be made straight.  

Friday, February 06, 2015

Facebook, pride, and envy

There's a growing body of evidence that Facebook contributes to low self-esteem and depression. Reuters reported last year, "Witnessing friends' vacations, love lives and work successes on Facebook can cause envy and trigger feelings of misery and loneliness." The Huffington Post recently reported on a survey of over 700 college students that found that "while heavy Facebook use was not linked directly to depression, frequent users who experienced feelings of envy were more likely to identify with statements corresponding to depression." Finally, studies by Drs. Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer of the University of Innsbruck led them to conclude, "The longer you're on Facebook, the worse you feel."

This doesn't surprise me. I'm a heavy user of Facebook. I post often, have a lot of FB friends, and read their posts throughout the day. Okay, I'm addicted. And I'm thinking about giving up Facebook for Lent or something because I believe it does throw fuel on the fires of my flesh. 

That's not Facebook's fault, it's mine. I own it. But I do wonder: Is there something about Facebook that makes it an almost irresistible magnet for pride and narcissism?

Think about it. Do I ever post about my sadness, feelings of inferiority, or anger? Do I spread the news about my boring day? Do I tag photos of me staring off into space thinking, "Been there, done that"? Does anyone? No! Well, that's not true. Some people are up front about their struggles, and I take my hat off to them. But the usual Facebook post is the wonderful vacation, the smiling family photo, the highlight or victory or promotion or answer to prayer. So when many people read such happy posts, what are they to think but "What a loser I am! I don't have wonderful vacations. I don't have a happy family. Why, I'm not even married. I can't even have children. God hasn't answered my prayers in years. I must be good for nothing."

So yes, Facebook probably contributes to depression. It paints a distorted vision of reality. It creates hopes and expectations that cannot come true. It gives pride an outlet for acceptable expression. It stirs up envy and covetousness.

At the same time, Facebook is a technological marvel with benefits. As a parent of grown children who have spread out across the fruited plain, I love keeping up with their activities through Facebook. I can maintain ties with old friends without having to attend class reunions. So I don't want to give up Facebook. 

What is to be done? Maybe the answer partly lies in everyone being more honest. We can post about our discouragements as well as our advances, our failures as well as our successes. We can ask for prayer. We can do what the Apostle Paul did: "boast all the more gladly of [our] weaknesses" (2 Corinthians 12:9). At the very least, we can decide that some things--however worth celebrating they may be--do not need to be posted. There is something to be said for keeping some things to ourselves.

And as a Facebook addict, that's something I need to remember.