The following is the content of a letter I wrote tonight to a friend of mine. He was down and needed some encouragement. The names have been changed, but the content is the same. I hope it was inspirational to him and will be to you too.
I definitely understand your frustration. I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt, as they say. And we go on. It's what we've been through that got us to where we are today. And it's what we do and go through today that will take us to where we'll be tomorrow.
A tree right here can't be a tree over there. And this particular tree can't be that particular tree, or another tree. It can only be the exact tree that it is. And that's enough. That's its purpose. It brings a piece of the puzzle to the party that no other tree has. So do we.
We get into trouble when we start comparing ourselves with others. We get into "I'm not enough" mode. But the truth is, we are enough. God created us and gave us the freedom to choose whatever we choose to do, have, and be. If we don't like how that's worked out, we can choose again, and focus on changing how it works out in the future. But in the mean time, there's no other being on the planet just like you, with all that you've been through, learned, and know. Only you can be you. And being you isn't difficult. What's difficult is trying to be a "you" that you aren't. Giving yourself permission to be the holy child of God that only you are frees you up from lots of unnecessary anguish.
In my own life, I found that everything changed for the better, at least my attitude did, and that's the beginning of changing everything else, when I discovered who I really was--a holy child of God, put here to "be God in my little neck of the woods." You may be the only one in your space that's "being God" to those around you, sharing His love with them. Or you may be being that more genuinely than most others are. "Being God", to me, is simply allowing the goodness we ascribe to God to flow through you, like water flowing through a pipe. When water flows through a pipe, the pipe gets wet, too. When you allow God's love to flow through you, you get the benefit of that love too, since you're experiencing it first and then sharing it with the rest of the world.
People would much rather see a sermon in action than read or hear one. That's where we come in. “Be God in your little neck of the woods.” Be the lover of humanity. Be the consoler of humanity. Be the comforter of humanity. Be the helper of humanity, right where you are. You're naturally doing that all of the time, in your volunteer work, in helping others, in all the many little things you do for others. You're making a difference in someone's life all of the time, even if it's just a smile you share, a kind word, a helping hand. That's "being God in your little neck of the woods."
You're not “wasting your life” when you're expressing kindness and love to others. You could be totally paralysed and bedridden and still be a blessing to the world, by simply beaming out your love to the world. Your life would not be a waste. It would be a beacon, sending light and love to everyone everywhere, whether or not they even knew you existed. Nobody has to know your name or even know that you exist for you to make a difference in the world! All that has to happen is for you to be the love that you already intrinsically are, as a holy child of God. That love will be felt and will make a difference, even if no one knows you exist! That's how powerful love is. Others will feel that love and be moved by it, even if you can't move.
Act in ways that you think God would act toward those around you. Remember “What would Jesus do?” It’s like that. When you start "being God in your little neck of the woods", you don't need to spend so much time asking of God or imploring God. You're allowing God to be Himself through yourself. You're His voice, hands, feet. He isn't somewhere off in the skies. Jesus taught us that the kingdom of Heaven is "within you". You don't need to look somewhere outside of yourself to find God. He hid himself inside of you, the last place most humans look. That's why Jesus had to remind us of that.
Unfortunately, the Christian church has taught Christians to deny themselves, to denigrate themselves, and appreciate everyone else. Yet what did Jesus teach? He taught us to love others "as we love ourselves". How we love ourselves is the standard by which we should love others. But the church has taught just the opposite, causing so much trouble for people. I suggest that you get a red-letter New Testament or a red-letter edition of the Bible, and just go through it reading what Jesus said. You'll find that he didn't teach most of what "Christianity" teaches. And you'll find that "Christianity" teaches many things that Jesus never taught. Duh! There seems to be a problem there. Yet most Christians have never seen it! They never stop to compare what Jesus taught with what they've been taught. I believe they should.
We've been taught to think of ourselves as separate from God. That's so those "in power" in the church can beat us over the head to do what they want us to do. The church, as an institution, is about power, money, and control over people. Jesus fought the same battle with them in his day. He taught us that "I and the father are one". And he didn't limit that to himself. He wasn't the "Great Exception", as he's been portrayed. He was the "Great Example" of what we're to be. But we haven't been taught that. Yet he taught it himself.
But the church doesn't listen to Jesus. They listen to Paul. And Paul is the Saul who tried to kill off Christianity. When he couldn't do it from without, he went underground and did it from within, by twisting Jesus' teachings, teaching things Jesus didn't teach, and not teaching things Jesus taught. Mission accomplished. The church became a tool to control the masses, for the agenda of those in power. You don't have to play their game. You can follow Jesus, if you choose, instead of following the church. They aren't necessarily the same.
My question is, Why doesn't "Christianity" teach what Jesus taught, instead of what Paul taught? The answer is very simple. Because Paul worked over Christianity to make it fit the power structure of his day's agenda—to control the people. Paul taught things Jesus never taught, and he didn't teach things Jesus did teach. Jesus never tried to control people. He just taught them how to live. He never taught them that they were damned and doomed, but Paul did. Instead, Jesus taught them that the kingdom of Heaven was "within them" and that they should give up everything less to take hold of that treasure, already within themselves. He simply taught people how to live, loving one another as they loved themselves.
You do that by "being God in your little neck of the woods". There's an ancient saying that expresses something like that: "Before enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water." It's us that change when enlightenment comes, not what we do, necessarily. It can, but it doesn't necessarily have to. You don't need to go looking for God outside of yourself when you know that He is within you, that He is what you are, that you are His expression, His emissary, "in your little neck of the woods".
You wrote: "It seems like no matter what I plan, something happens to stop me." That's the story of Bill's life, too. [Author’s note: Bill was Jim’s younger brother.] We don't make progress in life because there aren't any obstacles. We make progress in life when we overcome the obstacles that are there, despite their being there. People who achieve in life don't necessarily face no obstacles. Many of the most successful have overcome worse obstacles than most have experienced. They find or make a way around the obstacles. And they keep on keeping on until they do find or make a way. They insist on overcoming the obstacles, instead of being overcome by them. That's all any of us can do.
Bill would face an obstacle and become overwhelmed by it instead of focusing his ingenuity and insights into finding a way around it. I saw that happen over and over. If that's happening to you, you probably just need to narrow your focus. You can't do everything all at once. But you can do something at once. When faced with an obstacle, do whatever you can do to make progress. It may be only a little thing and you may make only little progress, but you're moving in the right direction. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, such a small act, and continues, step after step, until the journey is completed, one step at a time, not one mile or many miles at a time. As they saying goes, "Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, life's a cinch." Take the inches that are available to you each day, and you'll be moving in the direction of your intention. The past year got here one day at a time, but that was fast enough.
I've found this rule helpful in my life, "Do what you have on hand to do, and when you've done that, you'll be given more." When you're driving at night, you can't see all the way to your destination. You can only see some yards ahead. But as you go those yards, you can then see further, and so on. That's how life is. Work with it.
I know that you've worked hard, achieved things in your life, and aren't a quitter. But things are majorly different for you now, compared to more "successful" times in your life. But this is now; that was then. Today is the opportunity you have in front of you. Today may not require of you what yesterday did. Even though I don't have a lot of money now, I don't feel impoverished. I have enough for my needs, and I'm working on more. But I'm enjoying what I have along the way. Allow yourself to enjoy your retirement even though you may be working toward more. Today is all we have. Don't lose it by contemplating only tomorrow and missing all of the joys right in front of your nose.
And above all, be kind to Jim. Your church hasn't taught you to do that. But Jesus did. Follow him. He was a much better example. He allowed others to give to him and to bless him. And he thanked them for it and approved of their doing it, often to the dismay of his disciples. He accepted their gifts while he also gave gifts to others. Follow his example.
I hope that you've gotten some encouragement and insight from all of this. That was definitely my intention and my hope. Some of what I've written may sound strange to you. But I encourage you to at least evaluate what I've said, to see if any of it rings true to you. If it doesn't, just leave it. It's always your choice.
Know that you are loved, honored, and adored by All That Is Holy, which you normally call God. It couldn't be any other way, since He made us for Himself. Only mankind has taught otherwise. Stay with God's version.
Charles David Heineke