APRIL 6, 2008


Peggy Noonan, a speech writer for former President Ronald Reagan, shares her experiences of working at the White House in her wonderful book What I Saw at the Revolution. The book is packed with humor, sensitivity, irony and wonder, and one of my favorite sections of the book recalls her first year at the White House. She divided her first year into three phases. The first phase was, "Gee, these people are gonna be so smart" phase. In this phase she just kept quiet so people would not know how dumb she was.

Her second phase was the "Hey, Iím as bright as the other guys" phase. In this phase she gained confidence in her work and abilities.

The came the third and final phase. This she called the "Oh my God, weíre in charge" phase. She said this phase, knowing that she and her colleagues were in charge, filled her with mild anxiety attacks.

Now, what would you think if I were to tell you that you were in charge? Not in charge of the country, but rather that you were in charge of your life? Maybe you would think, "Thatís blasphemy. Godís in charge. Iím not in charge." In one sense that is true, but in another sense God has given us quite a bit of responsibility. God has put us in charge of the earth to tend it and care for it. God has put us in charge of living creatures to treat all of life with respect, and God has given each of us a say in what we do and who we become. Yes, God is in charge of the universe, but God offers us a broad path in which to shape our destiny.

Unfortunately, not many of us have taken advantage of the responsibility, freedom and power that God has given us to shape our future. I this regard, I think of the old nursery rhyme,

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?

Iíve been to London to visit the queen.

Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you do there?

I frightened a little mouse under her chair.

Thatís the way it goes for many of us, and itís really too bad. What an opportunity for this cat. This cat gets to go to London to meet the queen. What an honor! What a privilege! What a thrill! He might even catch a glimpse of William and Harry while there. He might get to see the crown jewels. But what happens? When the cat gets to the royal palace, it deserts its lofty aspirations and goes off chasing mice. No royal reception. No conversation with the queen. No mission accomplished. He could have done so much more, but he chose to chase mice. Thatís the story of many of us. We have the God-given power to compose our own lives, but as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Unfortunately, many people go to their graves with their music still in them.

Today we turn our attention to the second thing we need to learn in order to fly with eagles, and that is, we need to take charge of our future. People who fly with eagles know they have a say in their future. In this regard, I think of the research of psychologist Martin Seligman. Seligmanís studies revealed that depressed people usually have had experiences from which they concluded that no matter how hard they try, there will always be opposing forces stronger than they are. Consequently they become helpless and depressed.

Conversely, eagle flyers believe they have a great deal of power over their circumstances. This confidence that they are in the driverís seat helps them to hold on after others quit. One such person was Abigail. We read about her earlier.

Abigailís story unfolds in seven scenes. SCENE ONE begins with David on the run from King Saul. There is a Civil War of sorts in Israel with David and his men on one side and King Saul and his men on another, and one of Davidís hangouts is the Desert of Maon. While in Maon David gets to know some of the locals. In fact, most of the locals love David and his men because they protect them from marauding bandits. One of the locals David protected was a man name Nabal. Nabal was a big, wealthy sheepherder and just before sheep-shearing time David sent Nabal a message. In the message David reminds Nabal that his soldiers have never stolen from him the entire time they were in Maon, so it seemed right that Nabal extend an invitation to David and his men to the party held after the sheep-shearing. End of scene one.

SCENE TWO revolves around Nabalís response. We had a bumper sticker on our refrigerator door when our son was in middle school. It read, "Sometimes I wake up grumpy. Sometimes I just let him sleep." Nabal not only woke up grumpy, he stayed grumpy all day long. Nabal was surly, mean and needed to take a course in "how to win friends and influence people," and he turned down Davidís request. This was a slap in the face to David because at sheep-shearing festivals owners were expected to be hospitable and Nabal was far from it. Adding insult to injury, Nabal arrogantly refused to acknowledge Davidís protection from bandits, and the scene ends with Davidís messengers shocked by Nabalís response.

SCENE THREE: DAVIDíS RESPONSE. Needless to say, David is not thrilled with Nabalís words and attitude, and he does not take kindly to the refusal. So, a furious David and four hundred of his angriest men strap on their swords and take off over the hills to slaughter Nabal, his men and his flocks.

SCENE FOUR: BACK AT THE RANCH. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, one of Nabalís hired hands tells Abigail, Nabalís wife, about Davidís message and Nabalís insulting answer. In fact, listen to how the hired hand summed up the situation to Abigail, "Now, think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk with him."

By the way, Abigail was the polar opposite of Nabal. Where he was mean and surly, she was kind and had a way with people. She was also intelligent, and without her husbandís knowledge, she took a colossal risk. She packed up two hundred loaves of bread, two barrels of wine, five sheep, two bushels of grain, and one hundred raisin cakes and two hundred fig cakes. If David and his men were not invited to the party the party would come to them!

SCENE FIVE: ABIGAIL RIDES OUT TO MEET DAVID. When she meets David, Abigail humbly bows before him and turns into the first woman with a doctorate in psychology. She speaks and reasons with David. She admits her husband is a fool, which the name Nabal literally means in Hebrew. She then presents David with the food and a different perspective on the situation. With words skillfully chosen and logically spoken, she underscores the potential negative repercussions of Davidís actions. David buys her compelling arguments, accepts her gifts, and tells her to return home with words of assurance that he will not kill Nabal.

SCENE SIX: THE DAY AFTER THE SHEEP-SHEARING PARTY. Nabal has a doozy of a hangover, and Abigail informs her husband of how close he came to annihilation. Listen to how the news affected Nabal. "Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died." In other words, he had a stroke, was paralyzed and died ten days later.

THE FINAL SCENE. Letís read it.

When David heart that Nabal was dead, he said, "Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabalís wrongdoing down on his own head.

Then David sent word to Abigail asking her to become his wife.

Which she agrees to do. Itís a great romantic tale with a happy ending. The churlish husband is removed. The charming and clever woman gets rewarded. The brave soldier gets the girl. But it is more than a great romantic tale. It is also the story of an eagle flyer, of a woman who took charge of her future. What she did was remarkable taking into consideration of her place as a woman in that highly patriarchal society. She took a huge risk by going behind her husbandís back, but she would not be a victim. She would not give into helplessness. She was going to have a say in her future.

What can we do to follow in her footsteps? Let me suggest three strategies for putting this second eagle flying principle into practice.

Strategy #1 for taking charge of the future is saying goodbye to the blame game.

A baseball story comes to mind. The manager of a minor league baseball team was so disgusted with his center fielderís performance that he ordered him to the dugout and the manager assumed the position himself.

The first ball that came into center field took a bad hop and hit the manager in the mouth. The next one was a high fly ball that the manager lost in the son until it bounced off his forehead. The third was a hard line drive that bounced of his glove and smacked him in the eye.

Furious, the manager ran back to the dugout, grabbed the center fielder by the uniform and shouted, "You idiot! Youíve got center field so messed up that even I canít do a thing with it!"

The trouble with blaming others is that it does not change a thing. I think of the time Lucy came up to Charlie Brown and said, "I want to talk to you Charlie Brown. As your sisterís consulting psychiatrist I must put the blame for her fears on you."

"On me?" Charlie Brown shockingly responds.

Lucy confidently replies, "Each generation must be able to blame the previous generation for its problems. It doesnít solve anything, but it makes us all feel better."

A friend has a sign hanging in his conference room at work. It read, "Donít fix the blame. Fix the problem." Blaming someone or something may make us feel better, but it wonít change anything. If we want to take charge, if we want a say in our future, we need to say goodbye to the blame game.

Strategy #2 .... use the word "canít" sparingly. Canít can be a four letter word. It is a victim word. It is a debilitating word. It implies we are powerless in a particular area of life. Despite scripture passages like, "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me," we insist on using the word. According to the bible we are not helpless, hopeless, or copeless, but every time we use the word "canít" we imply that we are.

What would happen if we substituted the word "wonít" for the word "canít?" For example, letís change the statement "I canít find time to pray," to "I wonít find time to pray." It sounds a little different. How about "I canít stop smoking," to "I wonít stop smoking," or "I canít be bothered by this," to "I wonít be bothered by this?"

We are not helpless victims. We didnít see Abigail feeling helpless, hopeless or copeless. We didnít hear her say, "I canít." We have the God-given power to choose and alter the course of our lives.

Then finally, strategy #3 ... dare to ask for what you want.

One of the things I admire about Abigail was her courage to ask for what she wanted. She thought it through, had a plan, and rode off to ask David to reconsider his actions.

A number of years ago I found myself sitting in a therapistís office. I was on a leave from pastoral ministry. I did not know if I should continue in pastoral ministry. As I worked through my questions, the therapist asked me, "If you could change anything about your job, what would you change? What would you like to do more of and what would you like to do less of?"

I told him and he said, "That sounds reasonable to me. Why donít you ask your session for permission to do that? The worst thing they can do is say no."

The rest is history. Iím still in pastoral ministry, and I found out something very important during those sessions. I found out that people are not very good mind readers, so we need to tell them what we want and need. I also found out that by asking I had more say in my future than I thought I did.

So what do you want? What would you like to do more of and less of? Why not try asking for it, as long as itís reasonable and ethical? See what happens. You may be surprised by the answer you receive.