Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
--Romans 12:2 CEB
We recently upgraded our internet service at home. Like many folks, I suspect, when all four members of our family were forced by COVID-19 to stay home all day and all four of us were using the internet at the same time, we discovered to our dismay our phones, computers, video games and video streaming slowed to a crawl. In a fit of frustration one day, I contacted my internet provider to see what could be done. A nice customer service representative informed me I was eligible to upgrade to their fastest internet speed and get a brand new modem for free. The best part was it would cost me $20 less a month than what I had been paying for slower internet speed! I wish I had made that call sooner, because now we are all zooming down the information superhighway.
I am not an IT expert, but I am told the speed of your internet comes down to bandwidth. One definition of bandwidth is “the transmission capacity for a computer network.” Your equipment connecting you to the internet, the number of devices trying to use the internet through that equipment and the kinds of things you are doing on the internet, such as downloading video games, streaming movies, etc. all determine how much bandwidth or capacity you have to work with.
Bandwidth sounds like an apt spiritual metaphor to me. Another definition of bandwidth is “the energy or mental capacity required to deal with a situation.” I don’t know about you, but recent news events have left me feeling low in this kind of bandwidth. COVID-19 and all the complexities that come from it, the killing of George Floyd and other African Americans by police officers and white vigilantes, the protests and counter-protests after those killings, on top of all the usual stuff that comes with trying to cope with life has left me feeling exhausted at times..
I’m in the business of trying to help people recharge their spiritual bandwidth. I am well aware that people are less able to care for others when they have failed to take care of themselves in a spiritual way. I also know that if there is any hope of people changing the many messes humanity has made in our world it lies with people whose spiritual bandwidth is at high capacity and who are connected to the Divine. I know all this, but I still resist doing the things necessary for spiritual self-care. You’d think by 48 years old I would have learned that doing more and more activity, no matter how well-intentioned it may be, depletes spiritual energy inside me, and unless I remain connected with God to keep that bandwidth going, I will run out.
The consequences for us running low on spiritual bandwidth are not limited to our own frame of mind, mood or energy. When our capacity for facing situations from a healthy spiritual place runs out, we often treat those we love the most worse, have nothing to offer the world in terms of making it better and engage in behaviors that hurt ourselves. I’m pretty sure most of us get that concept, just as I’m pretty sure most of us have trouble putting it into practice.
In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, he offers some advice. He tells them not to be conformed to the “patterns of this world” but be transformed “by the renewing of your mind.” Growing up in conservative Christian circles, I usually heard this verse expressed in dualistic terms: world = sin, evil, bad vs. Christian life = righteousness, good. At this point in my journey, however, I’m understanding the “patterns of the world” not as something inherently bad. I believe most people are trying to do good things out of as pure motives as they can muster, but doing the stuff we aspire to do becomes more difficult, more confusing and less effective without spiritual bandwidth.
Paul goes on to say that when we are renewed and are focused on what God wants, we can accomplish stuff like this:
Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.
On my best days, doing this kind of good stuff doesn’t come easily; on days when my bandwidth is low, this kind of living barely happens at all.
I don’t know what you do to renew yourself and connect with God, but you need to do it not just for yourself but for our broken world. Our world needs people who have the bandwidth to show love to strangers, associate with the lowly, act humbly, demonstrate perseverance and live in hope. Maybe the best thing you can do for the world today is do the stuff that renews your mind and spirit: prayer, meditation, scripture reading, journaling, yoga, exercise, gardening, being outdoors, whatever!
Get some more bandwidth. You need it and so do I.
Grace and Peace,
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