Question Five: “Can I give up trading in magic and superstition?”
Introduction to the series
Much of the last year was thread through with considerable loss. My brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died this last January as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his disease. He would have been 58 years old in October.
In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book called The Dave Test, which was just released by Abingdon Press. The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to support those we love. Whether that hard place revolves around divorce, death, unemployment, abuse, illness, or some other misfortune, I hope that the questions I ask and the answers the book offers will help us all sit a bit more easily with life’s ragged edges.
Over ten weeks I plan to apply the questions in The Dave Test to our preparation for the holidays. At this time of year for many there is — as the expression goes — “no cause for celebration.” But I am convinced that there is reason for hope and I don’t believe that we need to navigate the holidays alone. I hope that the book and this application of The Dave Test’s principles to the holidays will help ease the sense of isolation that is so much a part of life for many of us at this time of year.
This week’s Dave Test question: “Can I give up trading in magic and superstition?”
“What did I do to deserve this?”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“Did I offend God?”
“What can I do to make it go away?”
“Can I say something? Are there special words I can use?”
If I have more faith will I get a different result?”
We all indulged in magical thinking when we were children. We imagined that our thoughts and actions governed the world around us in a direct and instant fashion. Such thinking is the product of what psychologists call “primitive causality,” the childish assumption that what the world around us is subject to manipulation.
If notions of primitive causality were confined to childhood and we shed it as adults, it might not be a big problem. But magical thinking wraps itself around religious thought. Worse, yet, some have exploited the connection in order to sell an approach to prayer that turns conversation with the living God into the manipulation of cosmic power.
“Have faith and it’s yours.”
The best of our holidays celebrate a living God who loves us better than we love ourselves and who longs to be in conversation with us. But that God is never the object of magical manipulation. And, ultimately, the one thing that Scripture promises is that if we love God, we will receive the desires of our heart, which (if you love God) is God.
The message of the Bible is not “God’s got stuff. God wants to give you stuff. Pray and you will get stuff.”
That’s not to say that our actions don’t have consequences. Mature adults know that certain kinds of behavior can bring with it devastating results: Hatred and violence, for example, often carry with them their own “just desserts.” But much of what happens in life is without immediate, discernible cause.
So, if you are approaching these holidays in the shadow of loss, don’t shoulder the burden of magical thinking and ransack your life, looking for an explanation. The cancer you are battling today is not punishment that was sent your way for some indiscretion. The heart attack that cut short your spouse’s life is not a consequence of an undetected sin. The job you’ve lost is not punishment for failing to be perfect. Let go of childish notions of causation and embrace the one gift that is ours: whatever happens, God loves you.
For more on taking The Dave Test during the holidays:
Question One: “Can I say life sucks?”
Question Two: “Can I give up my broken gods?”
Question Three: “Can I avoid using stained-glass language?”
Question Four: “Can I admit that some things will never get better?”
To read more about The Dave Test, or to order a copy:
(Click on the book to order)