May 28, 2009


As I came in the door, my wife said to me, "We had World War 3 before you got home." She was visibly frustrated and angry with our son, but also with herself. By her definition, World War 3 happens quite often, and I considered mentioning that this was actually World War 752, but it wasn't quite the right time. So instead, I went to have a talk with our son.

I found him on the floor of his closet, a place where he can hide when he's upset, a place where he feels safe. I sat down next to him, and I asked him what happened. I had a pretty good idea of what happened, but I wanted to hear it from him. However, he remained silent.

So I waited. I told him I didn't have any plans, and that I'd sit there with him and wait until he was ready to talk.

After about ten minutes, he told me that he didn't like himself. "I always ruin everybody's day," he said. "People would be happier if I wasn't around."

The problem is that he is a very sensitive and emotional person. Like Tinker Bell, who was so small that there was only room in her for one thought at a time, my son only has room in him for so much emotion. Once capacity is reached, the emotion--anger, frustration, impatience--comes spilling out. Actually, spilling might not be quite the right word. Perhaps "exploding out" would be better.

I told him that, yes, he needs to work on controlling his emotions, but that I wouldn't want him any other way. I wouldn't want him without his emotional intensity. Without it, he wouldn't be himself.

I told him that there were two sides to the intensity of his emotions. I reminded him of what happened a few weeks before, when we were at Disneyland, waiting for the fireworks to start, and he saw a small child sitting with her parents; he had walked over to her, smiled at her, played with her, all in an effort to make her smile. It worked, too. Instead of being bored, waiting, the little girl giggled the time away.

I told my son that his sensitivity, compassion, and desire to make people happy also comes from his emotional intensity. There are two sides to almost everything, I told him, and we need to work on cultivating the good side and controlling the dark side. I think I also mentioned something about Star Wars and the Force. This seemed to make him feel a little better, and while things haven't been perfect in the days since, they haven't been all that bad, either. Knock on wood.

About a month ago, 78 homes were destroyed by a wildfire in Santa Barbara. Fire is a constant threat in southern California, especially to those who live in or near natural areas. Most houses today are designed and built in such a way that they put up a strong defense against encroaching flames, and landscaping is also designed with fires in mind. However, there is almost no stopping flames whipped up by strong off-shore winds, which come right into homes like a most unwelcome guest.

And yet, fire is a welcome guest in our homes. It is used to provide heat in winter, to cook food, and provide hot water for bathing. One cannot say that fire is bad. Such generalizations are almost never accurate. Fire has both a good side and a dark side. Fire can consume and destroy, but it can also provide life.

This Sunday is Pentecost, a day when the disciples were "set on fire" by the Spirit. I've known a lot of Christians over the years who were "on fire for the Lord," especially when I was in college. However, their "fire" wasn't always the kind that provided life. In fact, too often, it was destructive.

There has been a lot of intensity this week in California over the state court's ruling on Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage. The courts ruled that the ban is not in violation of the state constitution, but that 18,000 people in same-sex marriages who were married before the ban took effect would continue to have their marriages recognized by the state.

Many of those who support Proposition 8 would describe themselves as being "on fire for the Lord." I see their fire as destructive.

Some of those who support gay rights are getting angry. Last night, there were protests, and some of the protestors held signs that said "No more Mr. Nice Gay." Their feelings are intense. I hope they don't become destructive.

I want to be "on fire," but I want it to be a fire that provides life.

Maybe I'll preach on that this Sunday.

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