From the moment, I did, I couldn’t get them out of my mind. I knew. He was right. The tsunami was coming. And nothing any of us could do would stop it. It was coming, in some way, for each and every one of us.
I heard the phrase in an interview with the church leader Rick Warren. Warren said: “A tsunami of grief,” as he put it, was heading our way. And we needed to be prepared for when it hit.
But come on, who can be prepared for that? When grief hits, no matter how much you try, you’re never prepared. It sweeps you up and it carries you with it, whether you like it or not. And some days, you think you’re ok, then boom, the grief takes your legs right out from under you.
Has it hit you, that grief? I didn’t lose anybody close to me to this virus. I didn’t lose a job or face financial hardship. But still, I feel it. Some days, a lot of days, I wake up, and I just feel sad. I don’t know why, but I do. I sense something has been lost. I can’t even put my finger on what it is. All I know is that whatever it is, I miss it. I miss it a lot.
How do you make it through the grief? How do you find a way to navigate the sadness as you face a world that in some strange way, you know is not what it was? How do you move forward when some days, you don’t feel like moving much at all? In these words, God shows you the way. God shows you how you can find a place to stand even in the grief, even in the days that feel the darkest and most discouraging. So, let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
How do you get through the emotional pain that you feel in these days? Heck, how do you deal with the emotional pain that you can feel on any day, pandemic or not? In these words, God tells you. God shows you the path that enables you to go out in strength on even the saddest of days. So how does it happen? It happens when you let God prepare your mind to be holy.
Now, before I get to that word, holy, that, trust me, means not at all what you think it does, we gotta focus on that whole prepare your mind part. You see. That’s where the problem begins. Because human beings, we’re not good at the whole prepare your mind part.
And when Pater says prepare your mind, he uses a particular Greek work for mind, dianoia. And if you think of a word like dialogue, you can guess what dianoia means. If a dialogue is talking things through, well then dianoia is thinking things through. That’s what Peter is asking these folks to do. And he’s asking because he knows. We human beings aren’t that good at that, at thinking things through. What do I mean?
Well, let’s go back to a famous experiment from several decades ago, called the Gorilla Experiment. The researchers made a film of two teams, passing basketballs. One team was wearing white shirts, and the other team was wearing black shirts. Now the viewers of the film were then asked to count the number of passes that only the members of the white team made.
As you can imagine, that meant they had to concentrate pretty hard on the white team. But in the middle of the film, a woman in a Gorilla suit walks into the middle of the two teams. She thumps her gorilla chest, and then moves on. She appears for nine seconds.
Now, how many of those counting even noticed she was there at all? About half did. Now, the other half not only did not notice her. They did not believe she had been there at all. I mean. How could they have missed that? But they did.
Do you see what this study tells you? First, you can be blind to what is literally right in front of you, but not only that. You’re also blind, well, to your own blindness. You can’t even see that you can’t see. (By the way, this is what magicians count on with every one of their tricks.) And the great psychologist Daniel Kahnemann even coined an acronym WYSIATI to communicate this false perception, this fallacy we all have. What does WYSIATI stand for? It stands for the fallacy, the false perception, that What You See Is All There Is. And it’s a fallacy because what you see isn’t all there is.
That’s why, as I shared last week, most human beings didn’t see blue for hundreds of years simply because they didn’t have a word for it. Blue was there. They just didn’t see it.
Again and again, folks make the WYSIATI mistake. It’s why in 2002, in a study they discovered let’s call it the “renovation optimism gap.” They asked homeowners how much they estimated their kitchen renovation would cost. They guessed around $18,000.00. How much did it actually cost? $38,000.00. Ouch. And if you’ve ever done a renovation, you might know the reality of the “renovation optimism gap.”
That’s why Peter tells these folks to think things through. For their world has changed. A few years before, it may not have been popular to be a Christian, but it wasn’t dangerous or deadly. But now, it had become that. And in a world that had changed like that, your perspective can shift pretty dramatically and not in a good direction.
So, Peter wants them to think things through, to think beyond those present challenges. He even uses a clever phrase to emphasize his point. He tells them to gird up the loins of their mind. In those days, folks walked around in long robes (mainly because it was cooler). But the robes weren’t so great if you wanted to run, so what did you do? You girded up your loins. You rolled up the robe, tucked it into your belt so you could free up your legs to move. Today, he might say something like roll up the sleeves of your mind.
You see, Peter knows that when it comes to tough times in our lives, times when our emotions are strong, it can be all too easy not to think things through. We can begin to imagine that the emotions are the reality, when they are not. They are simply our reaction to the reality, our perspective on it. But what we see is not all that is.
So, in times like that, we need to roll up our sleeves and think things through. We need to get up on the balcony. Now, what do I mean? Well, when you’re in the middle of a situation, like a pandemic, you can begin to think that’s all there is. But it’s not. Remember. What You See Is Not All There Is. So, what do you do? You go somewhere else to get a different perspective. You get above the fray. You get up on the balcony.
And that’s where that word holy comes in. Holy doesn’t mean pure or obeying certain rules. It comes from a Hebrew word, qodesh, that simply means set apart.
When you apply it to God, that means that God is just that, set apart, as in set apart from, utterly and infinitely beyond everything else.
By the way, this is what peeves me about that atheist, Richard Dawkins. He presents this “brilliant” evolutionary argument that as God would need to be really complex, God would need to evolve through natural selection. And as natural selection could not exist before the universe, God could not exist. But God doesn’t exist like that. God doesn’t exist as some sort of super complicated stellar whale. God doesn’t even live in the universe. The universe lives in God. Talk about not thinking things through, Richard! (this critique of Dawkins comes from a wonderful book called: Unapologetic)
Ok, so that’s what holy means when it comes to God, but what does it mean when it comes to you. It means much the same thing. It means set apart. But our set apartness takes on a different flavor, set apart in the way someone becomes set apart in the military.
Years ago, I heard a story of a soldier who wrote to his mother during World War I, about how muddy things got in the trenches at the front. She wrote back, alarmed at what the army was doing to her beloved son. And he wrote back. “Mom, I belong to the U.S. Army now, and if they want to get their boots muddy, it’s up to them.” That soldier got it. He had become set apart, and that set apartness required a different way of seeing things, even himself.
And Peter is reminding these folks they are set apart too. How they lived before came because they didn’t know. They didn’t see things as they really were. But now, they do. They do see. They do know. And what they know has set them apart.
But what do they know? They know this. This God who exists beyond everything, beyond time itself came to them and to you. This God even became one of them. Why? This infinite, inexhaustible God loves them. This God loved them, loved you so much, that in Jesus, he even gave up his life. Why? So, he could bring you home, so that you might know who you are. And who are you? You are the beloved child of God. And when you know that, well, that sets you apart.
Both my parents loved me growing up, but I gotta admit my mom really, really loved me. And do you know how that made me feel? It made me feel set apart. I know that I had someone that committed to me. Someone once said. Everyone needs someone who has an irrational belief in them. That was my mom.
And Peter is saying, God has set you apart like that. You are loved. You are loved by a God who has an irrational belief in you. But it’s only irrational because you cannot see what God can. You cannot see how precious and beautiful you are. But what you see is not all there is.
And when you know that, when you know God loves you like that, sees you like that, it sets you apart. And it gives you perspective. You realize. Even in your saddest moments, you are never alone. No, God is even more present. After all, if you’re a parent, and your child cries out in distress, what do you do? You rush to them, to hold them, to love them, to comfort them. And you have a God who loves you more profoundly than that.
And as you think that through, you realize. You don’t set your faith and hope on your emotions or on the news of the day or on the opinion of others. No, you set your faith and hope in a God who ransomed you from your futile ways with God’s very life. You set your faith and hope on a God whose love has set you apart, has made you holy. And when you realize that, then you know, even on your most grief-stricken days, you will be okay. For you are being held by a love that will never leave you nor forsake you. So, prepare your mind by pondering that love. Prepare your mind by resting in that truth. Prepare your mind by remembering the One who has set you apart, who has by his love, made you holy.