Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Holding On and Holding Off

A time to embrace and a time to refrain…

                        Ecclesiastes 3.5


I live with a packrat who holds on to everything. This evening, we had one of “those” discussions—over a Pyrex measuring cup, of all things. We live in a high-rise flat with a galley kitchen and finite cabinet space. Given the paraphernalia we’ve collected over the years, every inch is precious. So when I found a collapsible cup that tucks into a drawer, I snapped it up. My partner came in tonight just as I trashed the old cup. With not a word, his look said it all. We’ll never use both at the same time, I told him. He suggested someone might want it. “Of course,” I said. “The next time somebody says, ‘Boy, I wish I had a measuring cup’ we’ll have one.” He wandered off, muttering about how I love to throw out perfectly good stuff. As I saw it, though, I replaced one cup with another to free up space the old one required. Keeping both cancelled the new one’s advantages. The Pyrex cup was history.

Growing in knowledge of Christ, we pick up better tools to replace old ones used for the same purpose. No finer example of this exists than love. Younger, less experienced followers of Jesus love out of obligation; it’s what He asked us to do. But as we mature, we learn love is an opportunity to introduce God’s presence to people and situations that need it. If we hang on to love as what we’re supposed to do, we negate advantages gained by approaching it as a privilege. Obligatory love is history, replaced by love no less obedient to Christ, yet far superior in effectiveness. This is why, transitioning from spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 to love in chapter 13, Paul writes, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.”


Experience urges us to hold on to most excellent mindsets and habits in lieu of previously held, less effective ones. It also teaches when holding off is best. “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6.12 (KJV). Later, he repeats this, affixing a fresh conclusion: “not everything is constructive.” (10.23; NIV) Contrary to the legalistic bent of religiously (rather than spiritually) minded Christians, Paul places believers above the law. Codes and statutes are useless to him; they eliminate assessing how closely we conform to Jesus’s example on a case-by-case basis. The issue shifts from what’s right to what’s best, opening all options to consideration. Yet blanket permission doesn’t excuse us to do as we please. It forces us to choose between holding on to what’s constructive and holding off compromising influences.

Green Light, Red Light

“There’s a time to embrace and a time to refrain,” says Solomon. Knowing what we need tells us when to hold on; knowing what we don’t need tells us when to hold off. During early stages of walking with Christ, discerning what’s best in every situation—choosing excellence over expedience—isn’t as clear-cut as we’d like. Tools we’ve collected so far may prove inadequate and skills we've acquired may need fine-tuning. For example, it takes seasoning to embrace people unconditionally and still refrain from indulging their unhealthy pursuits. The art of simultaneously holding on and holding off comes with experience.

Regardless how often we fail to choose what’s best, however, we stay at it, applying today’s lessons to tomorrow’s challenges. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything,” James 1.4 explains. It’s a trial-and-error process. As one songwriter said, “We fall down, but we get up.” With every stumble, our sight improves. Experience helps us differentiate green lights signaling times to embrace from red ones that say “Refrain! Refrain!”

Experience teaches us to see when it's time to embrace and time to refrain.

(Tomorrow: Searching and Surrendering) 


Annette said...

OK...don't mistake this for missing the point of this blog, which made me think (as always) about how I can become better, more spiritual...

But I'm on Walt's side about the Pyrex measuring cup (you know, durability vs. colapseability). Please conveya my support. (o:

Tim said...

Hey Annette! To my knowledge he's not yet read today's post, but I'm certain I'll hear about it when he does. And when the topic comes up, I'll definitely pass your support his way!

FYI here's a link to the new cup in question:


I tell ya, it's a wonderful thing!


Anonymous said...

You are so very right. We discard earlier tools in favor of better ones. My spiritual life is constantly changing, every year or so, sometimes faster than that, I gain new and better ways of relating to God, of finding meaning in the mundane, and of reaching ever higher. But sometimes, I find that I still wish to cling to the old tools too, just because of the memories. perhaps I'm a bit of a pack rat too.

Tim said...

Hi, Sherry. Letting go of old tools is tough because we've got so comfortable using them. We know how they work and what to expect. As with any new application, using better ones begins with uncertainty and, at best, mixed results. But once we get the hang of it, I believe we appreciate their excellence.

It's OK, I think, to hang on to the memories of our older tools. Where we get in trouble is keeping them around, within easy reach to use when we should be working with better ones.

Thanks for your comments--they're always a great addition to each post.

Peace and joy,

FranIAm said...

Oh so very thought provoking... I would be with you, getting rid of that Pyrex and my husband would be right behind me, taking it out of the trash.

I think the gift - not that I have it - is to know what to keep and what to let go of.

I am not so good at that!!

Tim said...

"I think the gift - not that I have it - is to know what to keep and what to let go of. I am not so good at that!!"

I'm not certain any of us is good at it, Fran, which is why I believe it's important we're aware of why we should do it. It's so much easier to keep adding to the pile when we should be replacing better things for less effective ones.

We rationalize this the same way Walt looked at the cup--let's hang on to it, just in case. And, as Sherry points out above, fond memories of the old tools makes them hard to part with. In either case, we put ourselves in a position of falling back on means and methods that can't get as far as quickly as we're now capable of going. It's sort of like riding a bike when we can drive, or driving when we can fly.

Going back to 1 Corinthians 13, I think this is what Paul's driving at as he starts to wrap things up with, "When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." (Not to suggest you or any of us is childish, of course.) But you get the drift...

Hearing from you is always a joy. And by the way, I made sure I put out the trash before Walt could dig out the cup. ;-)

Peace dear sister,

johnmichael said...

I have enjoyed reading this and I'll be back to read more...to learn more and to grow in Christ, the way I'm suppose to.
I've struggled with religion and my sexuality for so long and I'm now in the process of coming to terms with it all.
Thanks for writing a blog like this...

Tim said...

Welcome, johnmichael! I'm so glad you found us and enjoy the blog. There's a lot for all of us learn--together and from each other. There's a lot of growing we all need to do.

Come back often and don't hesitate to add your comments to the conversation. "Straight-Friendly" is a safe, welcoming place and God has blessed it with a group of sincere, well-balanced, and loving readers. (They're fun people, too!) I know you'll profit tremendously from joining their company.

I'm so happy to know you're reconciling your faith and your sexuality--that you're coming to terms with your struggle. Stay strong in your faith and know that God made you as you are for a reason. You are essential to His plan and He will give you the strength and confidence you need to succeed. He loves you--has always loved you--and wants to keep you close to Him.

You're in my thoughts and prayers. And if there's any encouragement or help I can provide, please let me know. If it's something you'd prefer not to share openly, don't think twice about emailing me at the address in my profile.

God bless you richly,


Cuboid Master said...

Great post! I'm with you, Tim: Throw it away! Ha-ha! When my house is in order, my mind is in order, and I simply can't abide clutter. Still, Walt is a sweetie and his reasoning is just as legitimate. Maybe, in the future, you will buy a farmhouse or live in a larger flat and he can have his own Clutter Room. "The Museum of Walt Clutter," tee-hee.

Tim said...

Oh, Cube, you so don't know how I dream of a farmhouse! Not for the storage space, but for the quiet and solitude... But I know it would be most painful for Walt, who's slightly phobic about isolated places and adamantly opposed to not living within walking distance of every convenience he needs. These are the two things that repeatedly come up when I raise the notion of country living. And when they do, I admit they're also a little scary for me.

When I lapse into romantic reveries about rain on the roof or a cutting garden or open space to run two Bassetts--males we oh-so-gayly name Davis and Crawford--Walt says something like, "That sounds lovely, sweetheart. Just promise you'll never complain about no takeout, no taxis, and no pharmacy or dry cleaners around the corner." Reality rears its ugly head. We're both dyed-in-the-hide city mice, I guess, something I should accept and be grateful for.

But you and Sherry and other readers blessed to live in less congested places should know how often I think of you all with benign envy--especially when there's a car alarm screeching and every police trawler and ambulance in the city is driving by with its siren going. (BTW, three sirens in the time it's taken to write to this..)

Thanks for the comment--"The Museum of Walt Clutter" me laugh out loud!