Woven with Thanks

Last night, somewhere between midnight and 4am, I spent a good portion of an hour lying awake for no good reason. This is par for my course as a pregnant mom of a toddler (who still wakes up at least once a night because he needs a graham cracker/there’s a moose in his room/he got lonely). I don’t think I’ve actually slept a whole night through since sometime in 2012. But that’s not the point.

During these midnight musings, I have learned that our parents lied to us as children. If you just close your eyes and lie there quietly, well, it will be quiet and dark. It will not help you fall asleep, and you mind will not suddenly think to itself, Oh, she’s trying to sleep; I’ll quit bothering her with the task list for next week and the panic about whether potty training is damaging her child’s psyche. Since I’m too lazy to be one of those people who say, “Well, I guess I’m not sleeping, I should probably clean out the garage,” and I’m too pregnant to take large doses of sleeping pills, I knew there had to be another way to quiet my mind. So I turned to prayer.

Not prayer that I would fall asleep quickly. I’ve tried that once or twice in the past, and I’ve come to the conclusion that God’s not really in the Ambien business. No, I start praying through the needs of my friends and loved ones. (That’s where Facebook really comes in handy. You know exactly what kind of prayer your friends need, even when they haven’t asked for it, if you know what I mean.) I usually get through several before I start to drift off.  

I haven’t found anything that calms my spirit in the middle of the night like bringing the people I love before God. Not only does it bring peace, but in my intercessions for others, I find God speaking to me. Take last night, for example.

I was starting to run through my list of people and their needs, when that nagging voice of some Sunday school teacher from childhood piped up, “Always begin your prayers with thanksgiving,” (presumably so God doesn’t think you’re taking Him for granted and ignore you). For a moment, I thought, Well how am I supposed to thank Him for divorce or mental illness, Mrs. Holypants? Hmm? But then He showed me a picture of how we can thank Him in even the most joyless situations.

I suddenly imagined our prayers as a basket or cloth being woven. We go in and out, up and down as our lives and circumstances change. We weave the threads of supplication and intercession all through a framework of joy and thanksgiving. Lord, give strength and wisdom to my single-mom friend. Thank you for the ways you have provided for her and the people you have surrounded her with to support her. The struggles I am praying for on her behalf lead me to recall how faithfully God has upheld her even in the midst of a life-storm. Father, bring peace and healing to the one struggling with depression. Thank you that she is bringing awareness to her condition and that she is encouraging others. I want to see her mind and spirit healed, but in the meantime I rejoice in the courage and boldness she has found and in knowing that her transparency is going to bless others.

Thanksgiving is an absolutely integral part of our prayer life. It’s not a magic password to the throne (Thank you, God, that all of the past seasons of NCIS are on Netflix. Ok, I’m listening. Did you see Season 10, Epsiode 5? I mean, yes, go ahead with your request. Um, yeah, could you heal my friend’s sister’s cousin’s dog? I think he’s got mange or something yucky.) Prayer is about change. The more I pray, and the more I find ways to thank Him, the more I am changed, which I believe is the true purpose of prayer.

Prayer, in my personal opinion, is not meant by God as a means for us to manipulate the divine providence and sovereignty. If it were, no one would die from cancer, parents wouldn’t bury their children, and the innocent wouldn’t suffer. So Mrs. Holypants from 4th grade is right, we do need thanksgiving if we are going to have a meaningful prayer life.

Not because it gives us points towards answered prayers, but because as we thank God, we see where He has already answered our prayers and provided for us in ways we never thought to ask. In light of His faithfulness revealed by our thankfulness, we see how pain and tragedy really are part of God’s merciful plan to draw us into a deeper knowledge of Him. Our sufferings become less about how we feel or how we are affected in the immediate, and more about how God’s grace is weaving through a story that began long before us and will continue long after us.

Thanksgiving fills us with hope. It reframes our perspective. It reminds us of God’s promises and His faithfulness that never fails. It reassures us that His mercies are new each day, just as we need them.

 

How are you thankful?

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Tuesday’s Truth – If You Can Only Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All

Hello everyone! Just a short bit of a public service announcement this week. In this latest season of my life, I have become so aware of the trials and sufferings of those around me. I’m not talking about starving children in Africa or politically oppressed people in Asia, or impoverished South Americans. I’m talking about the people in our families, churches, and neighborhoods who are dealing with pain and difficulty right now. The middle-aged man who is suddenly and unexpectedly a widower,  the couple struggling with debt and unemployment, the parents caring for a chronically, critically ill child, the small-business owner wondering how many months they can stay open or afford to employ others, or the parents who lose a child to an illness or an unexpected accident.

 

I’ve addressed the issues of trials, suffering, God’s plans and the like in past posts. I’m not here to go over all of that again. What I want to address today is how we respond to those in our lives who are experiencing pain and struggle. So many times our first reaction when someone shares a trial or tragedy with us is to try to make them feel better. We say things like, “God is in control,” “Everything will work out,” “God’s going to do a miracle,” “They’re in a better place,” “There’s a purpose in this,” “Just lean on Him,” or many similar things. Many times, these things are completely true. God is in control, He does have a plan, and there is a purpose in our pain. But stop and really think about it. Does saying any of those things really make someone feel better? Is it even really possible to make someone feel better when they’re really going through something life-alteringly painful? I don’t think it is. The only one who can truly comfort someone in those types of situations is God, and He works directly on the heart and spirit of the sufferer, not through their ears.

 

It is possible for us to do something, however. We can offer support in many ways that opens the door to God’s comfort and healing. Sometimes there are practical things that we can do to care for those who are hurting. The old saying is very true: “Actions speak louder than words.” In fact, one of the best things we can do for our suffering friends and loved ones is just keep our mouths shut. I can’t say I’m always good at that. I mean, I write this blog every week because I like communicating and expressing the things I’m learning and discovering about God. I never got in trouble in school for my papers being too short, but for them being too long. I can over-communicate very easily. Once in a while, though, I get it right. I remember one situation where I took my own advice, and I can look back and see how much more effective it was than if I had tried to pull out all my “great wisdom”.

 

A friend had suffered an incredibly tragic loss. I’m pretty sure one of the first things I said on the phone was, “I don’t have any words.” Just things like “I’m so sorry,” and “I’ll be there as soon as I can”. And when I did get there to support her, I ended up (not by my own brilliance, I confess) just letting her tell me the whole story, with all the good memories, and all the painful details. We laughed a few times, cried a lot, and actually had a very beautiful time together. Did I make her suffering go away? No, there was nothing I could do to fix it. Did I say something profound that put everything in perspective? No, there’s not a lot of perspective when you suffer an immense loss. I would have loved to have taken a measure of her pain away, but all I could do was help her carry it for a few days. Over the next several months I followed the same course and spent time listening on the phone when she would get overwhelmed with the grief. Again, there was nothing I could do to make it better, but I could still offer support. Probably the most surprising thing to me was how I was changed and affected throughout the process. I saw God’s faithfulness, my friend’s trust in Him and her growth, and the miracle of God’s healing in spite of overwhelming emotional injury. If I had tried to spout wisdom, make things better, and run my own mouth, I would have missed the opportunity to be blessed and learn from God’s work in someone else’s life.

 

So as you come across the pained and hurting in your own life, shut down the urge to try to fix things with your words, go against your natural instincts, and just keep quiet. Support, care for, and uphold the sufferer, but do it through caring actions and loving listening. You may be surprised at what God will do in your life too.

Tuesday’s Truth – It’s Tradition!

Welcome to another week. Today’s topic is something that we’re all familiar with – traditions. We all have them, whether we like them or not. We learn them, adjust them, abandon and create them throughout life. If you’re at all like me,  you grew up with two sets of traditions for things like holidays, birthdays, and family gatherings. And then, if you married someone like my husband, you added in two more sets of traditions that were not only completely different from each other, but also completely different from the two you grew up with. They can be based on your ethnic background, religious beliefs, regional differences, and personal preferences. They can be mainstream or extreme, but either way, they are the main rules of “how we do things in this family”. And then, if you grew up in church, any church (or mosque, synagogue, or temple), you have a set of religious traditions that you carry around as well. Some of you have a very limited set, others (like myself) have a more “confused” bag of church traditions. For example, I was raised in a variety of evangelical churches, but I had family members who were Catholic, I attended a Baptist college, but then spent several years teaching at an Episcopal school. So I’ve had the full range of worship from pew kneelers to hand-raisers, environments from school gyms to stained glass, and sermon series based on popular movies as well as morning worship guided by the Book of Common Prayer. Eclectic doesn’t even begin to cover it.

 

Traditions are a crucial part of human culture and psychology. Our brains thrive on having a predictable framework for life. This is true at work, in the family, and in religion. Even those who reject what they see as “organized religion” still form their own traditions, rituals, and beliefs. Traditions help us connect with others, and help us bridge gaps in time and space. Traditions help the transmission of history and wisdom. Many traditions are enjoyable or comforting.

 

Traditions can have a negative side as well. They can be restrictive. They can be burdensome. They may be irrational, obsolete, or irrelevant. Traditions can keep people at a distance and create confusion. Some traditions may cause people to completely dismiss God or the church because they are too difficult to understand, too hard to follow, or too uncomfortable.

 

The thing about traditions is that they are only a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Too often, we become attached to a tradition, and force ourselves and others to “follow the rules” because it is tradition, rather than holding to a tradition because it is inherently valuable. An extreme example of this would be the extended segregation that was practiced in the southern United States even after the Civil Rights Act was passed, long after the myths about African Americans being sub-human or diseased or violent had been dispelled. White people didn’t want to associate with black people, but they couldn’t give a good reason why, they just knew that it wasn’t done: their grandparents and parents had avoided contact, and so should they. It was just the way things had always been, so it was they way they should be. That’s the biggest trap of traditions. Somehow we fall into a belief that tradition is more important than truth; that traditions should be followed because they are traditions, not because they serve a purpose or have sacred importance. We fear changing or discarding any traditional practice or position because we have so strongly linked “the way it has always be done” with “the way God wants us to do it”.

 

We seem particularly prone to this in religious and moral matters. We sometimes put more importance on the way our culture, church, or family has done things than on what God actually says (or doesn’t say) about many issues. (Please note, I am not saying that all moral positions are just traditions; I believe in moral absolutes, but only where God has made it clear that something is an absolute. Many of the things we hold tightly to are really interpretations and traditions, and we need to extend grace to each other, not judgment.) I witnessed an amusing example of this several years ago. My husband and I were still be living in the town where we attended college (a relatively conservative Baptist school). The college had very strict rules against any type of drinking, smoking, or other substance use, and most of the students had grown up in homes and churches that likewise took a very dim view of such things. However, at that moment, there happened to be a conference of Episcopal bishops and clergy meeting at the Episcopal school I taught in. Episcopalians have no tradition that frowns upon drinking or smoking in moderation. I had become used to this in my time working at the school, but many of the students attending my alma matter did not have the benefit of that experience. One evening during the bishops’ conference, we were enjoying dinner at a local pub and coffee shop, which was very popular with students (and which happened to be run by the rector of the local Episcopal church). The bishops and clergy had all decided to meet there as well. One of the men, with his purple shirt, clerical collar, and large cross, stepped outside for a smoke. At the table next to us, a young man, obviously from the Baptist college, was talking with his friend, and they could not reconcile in their minds how someone who was obviously a Christian minister could also be an unashamed smoker. Now, I’m not saying smoking is a good idea. We know that it is a serious health risk. However, it’s not expressly addressed in the scriptures, and so I can’t say that the smoking bishop was any less of a Christian, any less obedient to God, just because he smoked a cigarette and I did not. We must be cautious about letting our traditions  cloud our views of other sincere, God-fearing, people.

 

We fall into this trap in missions and evangelism too. We think that part of converting people to faith in Christ is making them like us. This was clearly the case in the early years of world missions, when missionaries from England and America would go to Africa and Asia and not only preach the Gospel, but also try to change the clothing, language, and the social and family structure of the people they had been sent to, as if making them Christians also meant making them English-speaking Westerners. At this point in history, we have gotten much better about being culturally sensitive, but the belief that changed hearts necessarily mean changed traditions still holds on. If we want to continue reaching people, both at home and abroad, we need to be more conscientious about to what extent we are asking people to obey God, and to what extent we are asking them to follow our own traditions. We need to not be afraid to confront and change tradition where it is no longer serving its intended purpose, and is instead serving to keep people farther from God.

 

I found a wonderful quote about this very thing in my leisure reading this week. I had just begun re-reading Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre, one of my very favorite books. I always have appreciated the philosophy and theology that Bronte weaves throughout her works, but I found this gem in her preface to the novel. She says, speaking of tradition,

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns. These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.”

 

We are not the only ones to struggle with this balance between tradition and truth. The Jewish community in Jesus’ day had a very strong culture of traditions. Some where merely cultural, while many of them were based on the laws and regulations that God had given to Moses and the Israelites. In the end, however, they did not serve to help people cultivate their relationship with God, but to keep people from having that close, loving relationship with Him. Jesus himself chastised the religious leaders of the day, saying “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46) Jesus often disregarded Jewish custom, tradition, and regulation when it served his purpose of drawing people to himself. He healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-3, Luke 13:9-11), and allowed his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-3). When confronted by the religious leaders of the day, he rhetorically asked them whether it was better to do good or evil on the Sabbath (Luke6:9), basically turning the question of what observing the Sabbath meant back on their own heads. In Matthew 15, Jesus took part in a debate with the religious leaders about the value of traditions. He summed up his indictment of the religion of the day by saying, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6b) To Jesus, the one person who perfectly fulfilled all of God’s law, the point was not the act of observing a ritual or of maintaining a tradition, but of living with one’s heart tuned to God.

 

Early church leaders also cautioned against those who professed to be Christians but insisted on new believers following the old Jewish customs in order to be saved or to be a part of the church.  This is what he had to say: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) In Acts 15, Paul, James, Peter and other leaders of the early church determined that there was no point in making new believers (especially those from outside the Jewish culture) follow the traditions of Judaism, but to instruct them to obey the core of God’s law. Peter pointed out that the old traditions and rules had been too much even for centuries of faithful Jews. (Acts 15:10) In his letter to the Philippians, Paul warned the church not to be led astray by those who would seek to enforce Jewish customs in the name of salvation in Christ, because we are not saved by outward acts, but by inward belief. (Philippians 3:1-3) Disagreements about traditions often threatened to tear the early church apart, but the Apostles wisely intervened and taught their followers to put their focus on honoring God, rather than honoring man’s traditions.

 

Traditions can be useful and enjoyable, but they do not tell us much about how we really must live as children of God. Fortunately, the Bible is very clear on what really matters. The prophet Micah gave a clear description of a life lived rightly when he wrote, “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Jesus summed up all of God’s laws in two simple (yet still not easy) requirements: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) Outwith those few things, the rest is just window dressing. The design of your church, the order of service, the style of worship music, the fashion of your clothes, the way you celebrate holidays, the rituals you do or don’t observe – they may help you personally in your relationship with God, but they must not ever take the place of that relationship.

 

Be Blessed!

 

How do you feel about traditions, especially within Christianity? Are there any you find particularly valuable in your walk with God?

Tuesday’s Truth – The Clock is Ticking

Hello, Friends. What I have to share with you today may not seem encouraging at first, but my hope is that what we discover today will give you the fuel to keep pushing on. You see, my mind has been quite consumed this week with thoughts of life and death.  Life, because I’m getting closer and closer to welcoming my child into this world, and seeing him begin his life. I am amazed by all the possibilities in store for him. And death, as we lost a dear friend this week after a short battle with cancer. I’m still in shock because it seemed far too soon for her to be taken. The truth is, we don’t know what life will bring. I can tell you the things I dream and hope for my son, but in reality, I have no idea what his life will be like. And just as we cannot say what the course of our life will be, we also cannot rightly predict what its end will be. We are often left wondering why some people are taken as children or in the prime of life, while others live into their hundreds. Aside from trusting that God has a perfect timing for each one, I can’t really explain it. But what I do know is that the Bible has some clear points and thoughts regarding how we are to view our own life and death.  The ones I want to focus on today come from four men who had very intense lives and experiences with God. The first, and our longest passage, comes to us from Moses, who spent many, many years of his life waiting and struggling. I want you to see this whole Psalm for context, but then we’re going to make some connections to draw out the truths of the sections that are in bold print.

 

Psalm 90, a psalm of Moses:

 

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.”

 

If you know the whole story of Moses, then you can see how his pleas and praises in this psalm accurately echo his experiences of exile, struggle, and wandering. Now let’s make our connections and pull out the life and death truths that he is speaking of.

 

Look back at verse 3.  Moses speaks of us as mortals returning to dust. This is our first truth – that every one of us will one day die. The writer of Hebrews puts it bluntly: “And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)  Perhaps not the most pleasant thought, and depending on your age right now, it may be easier or harder to grasp. I’m at a point in life were I can’t really imagine coming to the end of my life. I’m so focused on building my own life and looking forward to the new life that is coming to our family,  that the idea of being an old woman and knowing my days are coming to a close is almost outside of what I can imagine.

 

But if we look at the next two sections, verses 5-6 and verse 10, we see that our days go by quickly and that we cannot be certain of their number.  We learn just from experience that there is no minimum or maximum number of days in a life. The only boundaries are those set by God for each individual person. Let’s take the word of Job, who certainly saw his share of what we might call untimely deaths in his family, and who probably more than once wondered why he himself was still alive. He said, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” (Job 14:5) We are limited, not boundless, as we would often like to believe. David, the king and writer who spent many years of his life waiting for God’s plans to come to fulfillment and who spent a great deal of time running and fighting for his life, also realized how short a single human life is. He said, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:5) While 80 or 100 years may seem long to us at times, in the grand scheme of human history, and especially in light of eternity, it is just a tiny drop in an enormous bucket. Our time is short and unpredictable. I can’t guarantee that just because I’m under thirty I have many years to go. And I can’t guarantee that the sweet little old ladies at church have any less time than I do. What I can guarantee is that we each have a limited amount of time, and that should make us very thoughtful.

 

Look at our last passage from Psalm 90, verse 12. Moses equates numbering (counting, considering) our days with learning wisdom. David makes a similar request of God: “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4 ) When we remember the first two truths (1: That we will each face death; and 2: That our time on earth is not only limited, but relatively short) we are by necessity forced to make a choice. We can either hear those truths and then choose to ignore them and continue living carelessly, or we can realize the truth and choose to live consciously, carefully, and purposefully. While I fully believe that the Bible is the only source I need for truth about how I should live, I find it very interesting and exciting when other religions and philosophies agree with what the Bible says. A quick survey of philosophy, psychology and many major religions will echo what we find here; that is to say that life is much richer and more satisfying when we live with the mindset of making the most of a limited time and with a definite purpose (specifically a purpose other than just our own enjoyment). See what St. Paul, who clearly packed as much purpose into life as it is possible to, said about how we should live: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

 

How many of us truly make the most of each moment? I know that I often miss that mark. Most of us are born with excellent time-wasting skills. Today’s technological environment makes it even easier with smartphones, internet access, streaming video, and all that goes along with those things. Certainly they can be useful, and shouldn’t’ be dismissed out of hand any more than books or exercise or sleeping should, even though some people may not find those pursuits “useful”.  The key is not for us to make lists of things that we should never do (or make ourselves to-do lists that take up every single moment), but for us to be wise and circumspect about how we are spending our time.

 

That means that we are careful about how we choose to use our energies. It is tempting to think that making the most of the time means doing the most things with our time. It would seem to us that we ought to put in the extra hours at work to please our bosses and clients (and possibly to make some extra money so that we can be good providers for our families), to say yes to every volunteer opportunity, and then to push ourselves to go the extra mile and home to do the maintenance or renovation projects that we feel will make our lives much better (and increase the resale value of our house!). In reality, though, more is not always more. When you are pulled in too many directions, when you are exhausted, when you are committing yourself to tasks and roles that are not using your talents and abilities to their best effect, you are actually making less of the time, rather than more. God, and the world, does not need you to do everything. Your company will not (usually) go out of business if you don’t work 20 hours a day, every day. The church will not cease to function if you don’t volunteer for the building committee, men’s ministry, outreach bowling league, and nursery duty. Your home will not fall into chaos if you aren’t able to replace all the cabinets and siding and landscape the lawn like a pro this summer. Don’t make yourself less effective by thinking you have to do everything for everyone, and don’t rob others of the opportunities to serve, give, and be responsible. God put more people than just you on the earth for a reason, and that reason was not so that you could do their work for them. What you need to do is to know what gifts, talents, abilities, and skills God has equipped you with, and also have a realistic understanding of the limitations He created you with. Evaluate every opportunity through those filters, and you will find yourself making better choices about how to wisely make the most of every moment you have been given.

 

If we are being wise about how we spend our moments, what room does that leave for rest, play, and relaxation? I believe that rest and recreation are critical to our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. God was very clear about setting a precedent for rest, even going so far as to mandate one day of rest a week for the Israelites. It is important that you take time out to get adequate sleep so that your body continues to function at its best. If you work 18 hours a day every single day, you may be working a lot of “moments” but it is very doubtful that you are making the most of those moments because you are not at your best. You also need relaxation, time where you mind can slow down, where you can focus your thoughts and energies on something other than work (your day job or your service/volunteer work) or you will quickly become burnt out, jaded, or overwhelmed. The key to this is to make the most of your rest “moments” as well as your work “moments”. Does that mean formulating a relaxation checklist or a rest agenda? As much as I would probably be the first to fall into that trap, I have to say no. What it does mean is that when you are resting, relaxing, and recreating, you need to truly be resting, relaxing, and recreating. Don’t multitask your rest time. It’s tempting to try to watch a movie, spend time with your spouse, and read a book at the same time.  (Or at least it is for me.) It’s easy to say that you’re going to lay down on the couch or your bed for a nap, and then pull out your phone and start answering emails. There are as many different pitfalls as there are individuals when it comes to sabotaging your rest times.

 

Try an experiment this week: when you are “off the clock” so to speak, be more intentional about your rest and recreation. If you are going to read, do only that – no TV, no background music, no chatting on the phone or texting. If you are going to watch a show or a movie, do only that (I’ll allow for some snuggling on the couch with your spouse or child, though!). When you spend time with a friend, spouse, or child, be intentional. Do something truly together, not just at the same time. Have a real conversation. Ignore your phone and emails. Really be with that person. When you go to bed, don’t take your tablet, smartphone or laptop with you. Just lie down, think restful thoughts (the classic “counting your blessings” really does work!), and let rest come to you, rather than cramming something into every moment before you fall asleep out of exhaustion.  It will be harder than you think (I know I will struggle with it this week!) but give it a try, and see how you feel at the end of the week. Do you feel like you are both more productive and more rested? Did anything interesting happen when you really focused your attention on the people you spend time with?  I’d love for you to share your experiences in the comments this week.

 

Joy to you!

 

 

Tuesday’s Truth – Don’t Fight Me on This!

 

Hello, friends! Yep, I’m a day late. The Monday holiday threw me off for sure. I keep having to remind myself what day of the week it is. Ugh.

 

Today let’s talk about something really fun: fighting! We’re talking about what the Bible often refers to as “quarreling”, but what we could also call arguing, fighting, or bickering. It seems as humans we have an almost boundless capacity for arguing and fighting with others. If you’ve ever watched a group a children, you know exactly what I mean. It is amazing how they can find a fight when there is absolutely nothing to fight over. As grown-ups, though, we’re not really that much better. Part of the problem is that there’s often some small grain of truth or importance to what we fight about. I’ve noticed this lately as I’ve browsed some pregnancy and child-raising forums online. There’s a constant current of bickering going on about everything: formula vs. breastfeeding, cloth vs. disposable diapers, where your baby should sleep, whether or not to circumcise, how terrible your mother-in-law is, what heinous thing your husband has just done, even how to spell your baby’s name. These women (all of us women, really, if we’re being honest) can find a way to stir up trouble about nearly anything. And it’s not just in their responses to each other on the forum; I see it in their tales of woe about husbands and siblings and in-laws. We hormonal pregnant  ladies are not the only ones guilty of doing it. Just read the comments after a news story about anything even remotely political or religious in nature. Sometimes I’m afraid the little avatar icons are going to start slapping each other on my computer monitor, the arguments get so heated. Like I said earlier, this can be so tempting because many of these things are intensely personal and we hold very strong opinions and beliefs about the issues, major or minor.

 

But then again, we as humans also seem to take perverse pleasure in argumentation and discord. If not, how would so many reality shows get such high ratings? I know I’ve been guilty of getting sucked into so-called “train-wreck” shows. And what about a huge majority of romantic comedies? Their plot lines and dialogue often thrive on arguments, conflict, and bickering. It’s almost a cultural imperative to be argumentative. I’ve known quite a few people who will start an argument just for their own entertainment, even if they don’t actually disagree with others. As a collective, we’re trained to think that arguing and fighting is a) funny, b) healthy, and c) unavoidable. But that’s just not the truth. Before we look at what the Bible does have to say about quarrelling, let me make one thing clear. Quarrelling is not the same thing as an honest confrontation. There are times when it will be important, even critical, to confront someone about a serious moral or personal offense. The Bible is pretty clear about that. But even in those situations, an argumentative or quarrelsome tone is never the right path to take.

Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about being a quarreler. We’ll break it down into three main ideas:

  1. It is not wise to start a quarrel (or to join one).
    1. Proverbs 16:28 A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
    2. Proverbs 15:18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
    3. Proverbs 17:14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
    4. Proverbs 20:3 It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.
    5. Proverbs 26:17 Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.
    6. 2 Timothy 2:23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels
  2. God doesn’t want His people to be quarrelsome.
    1. Proverbs 17:19 Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction.
    2. 1 Corinthians 3:3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?
    3. 2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful
  3. To end a quarrel, take away the fuel.
    1. Proverbs 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
    2. Proverbs 26:21 As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.

How do we put this truth to use in our daily lives? We can remember these principles when we are tempted to start or join an argument. We can remember that it is no use to argue with a quarrelsome person, no matter how strongly we feel that we are in the right on a certain issue. We can be careful about what we let into our minds (and into the minds of our children) regarding arguing and fighting by being thoughtful about the types of movies and TV shows we watch. We can even take the extra step and do what we can to extinguish a quarrel. Will it be easy? No, because it is part of our nature to argue and fight. But I truly believe that this is an area where developing self-control will bring an abundance of peace both with others and within yourself.

 

Wishing you a fight-free week!

 

 

 

 

Tuesday’s Truth – It’s Not Okay

Welcome back! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend, especially all you amazing moms out there.

 

You’ll notice that the title of this week’s post is “It’s Not Okay”. Wow…how is that for some truth? But truth it is. There are a lot of things in life that are not okay. It’s not okay that thousands of children are abused every single day. It’s not okay that my beautiful friend was just diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. It’s not okay that three young women spent the last 10 years in captivity in the middle of an Ohio suburb. It’s not okay that my niece was born with a heart defect. It’s not okay that buildings collapse and kill people because someone was too greedy to ensure the building’s safety. It’s not okay that my best friends lost their daughter before she was two months old. It’s not okay that every day spouses are being cheated on, teens are being drawn into drug and alcohol addiction, children are being orphaned, lives are being lost before they’ve really been lived. The list just keeps going. No matter what you believe about why there is evil or pain in the world, you can’t escape the truth that it is there.

 

I almost feel unqualified to even be talking about this subject, because right now there’s not a lot of pain in my life. I am happily married, we have a comfortable house and a steady income, we’re surrounded by loving family and friends, and I’m 5 months in to an uncomplicated, relatively painless pregnancy. The scary thing is, I know that any of that could change at any moment. Pain, trial, suffering, whatever you want to call it, could pop up any day. In fact, one of these days it will. I don’t know what it will be, or when it will come, but I know that there is something down the road that I am going to have to face, whether I like it or not.

 

So often, Christians try to sell our particular brand of belief by talking about how much better life is once you accept Christ as your savior and have a personal relationship with God. On the one hand, that is true. There is absolutely nothing better than a personal, intimate relationship with a merciful, powerful creator. It changes everything. But it does nothing to change the fact that you and I will  have awful things happen in our lives. The Bible is pretty clear about this. Jesus promises, “In this world you will have troubles.” (John 16:33) His brother James, in his letter to the believers who had been scatter from Jerusalem due to extreme persecution, speaks of trials and suffering as a given in the life of a Christian. (James 1:2) We sometimes forget about it here in America, but Christians have been persecuted by economic oppression, torture, and death from the very beginning up to the present day. And even Christians who don’t suffer for their beliefs still suffer. The friends and family that I mentioned earlier, none of them are suffering because someone doesn’t like that they believe in Jesus; they are suffering because the world is a broken place.

 

God created our world to be a beautiful, peaceful, perfect place. We still see the traces of that perfection and beauty in nature, in certain relationships, in very precious moments in our life. But when evil entered the world and gained a foothold, nothing could be perfect anymore. That’s the thing about evil – it ruins everything. There is absolutely nothing in life that is completely perfect. The wonderful joy and love that comes with a new baby is only reached through months of discomfort and hours of extreme pain. The most beautiful mountains of our planet claim the lives of many who are lured in by the challenge of conquering them. Many of the most majestic animals in nature survive by hunting and killing other wonderful creatures. Man, who creates beautiful works of art and amazing feats of engineering, cannot live long without fighting and warring, whether on the battlefield, in the courtroom, or in the living room. We seem a doomed world.

 

And doomed we are. As we just saw, no one escapes the trials of a life lived on earth. There is no religion that is able to erase suffering. Some promise it, but none delivers. Now you’re probably thinking, “What a terrible thing to say. This blog is about glad hearts. I’m not feeling particularly glad at the moment.” And you would be right. So far, I’ve only given you the bad news. I wish I could tell you that it will all get better. I wish I could “sell” Christianity to you right here by telling you that if you surrender your life to God and accept Jesus Christ as your savior, all the suffering in your life will disappear. Many, many people would gladly tell you exactly that. But as I said earlier, that’s simply not how it works. Don’t despair, however, because there really, truly is good news in all this suffering.

 

What is the good news? God is the good news. Over and over again in the Bible, God acknowledges the suffering we must endure. He is not blind or deaf to our sufferings. He does not promise to remove our pain here and now. He does promise a heaven that is free of sorrow (Isaiah 25:8). He also promises to stand by us in our trials and to redeem our sufferings. Let’s quickly look at the passages from the Bible that show His promises:

  • God’s promises to be with us
    • When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. (Isaiah 43:2)
    • God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
    • Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. (Psalm 23:4)
    • My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
    • He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. (Psalm 91:2)
  • God’s promises to redeem our trials
    • You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. (Genesis 50:20)
    • God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)
    • For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. (James 1:3-4) (Romans 5:3-4)

 

That’s a lot of truth right there, friends. God doesn’t promise that we won’t face pain and suffering. Sometimes, I confess, that terrifies me. I hate the certain uncertainty of a future suffering. I have to walk a thin line between realism and pessimism. The comfort and the victory come when I remember God’s promises, when I recall that I will never go through pain that doesn’t result in something good, and I will never walk through a valley alone.

 

I don’t know what it is in your life right now that’s not okay, but I know that every one of you has something that you are struggling with or that is causing you pain. Even in the goodness of my current situation, I encounter daily trials. It doesn’t matter if you are dealing with something that seems minor or catastrophic to others; whatever your pain is, it is painful to you. I’m so sorry that I can’t promise you a pain-free life. What I can tell you is that not once have I seen God desert someone in their suffering. I’ve watched people go through the most terrible things, far worse than most of us will ever endure, and every time, something good has been the result, when those people trusted God to redeem their suffering and stand by them through their trials. Whatever it is that you are walking through right now, I encourage you to let God walk through it with you, and to bring you something good on the other side.

 

Take heart, friends.

Tuesday’s Truth – You Won’t Make It Alone

Hello again. I hope you’re ready for some more truth this week! Today we’re going to look at what the Bible has to say about friendship. We’ll see why we need friends, why it can be hard to find friends, and what it means to be a good friend. Whether you feel like you have more friends than you know what to do with, or like you haven’t a friend in the world, you need to know these truths. Let’s dive right in.

 

Why do we need friends? The Bible has a lot to say about the purposes and usefulness of friends. Let’s be clear, though. When we talk about friends today, we’re not simply talking about people  you like to go out with – your social circle. We’re talking about a kind of friendship that is much richer and deeper than that. The Bible says that we need good, godly friends because:

We need people in our lives who will support us, defend us, encourage us, and yes, sometimes correct us. The great musical duo Simon & Garfunkel sang,

“I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.”

Now, that song was likely a bit tongue-in-cheek, but many of us have adopted that way of thinking. I don’t need friends because they will let me down. I don’t need them because they won’t understand me, or they will judge me. I can’t be completely open and honest with them, or they won’t be my friends anymore. I don’t need friends because there’s nothing they could tell me or do for me that I can’t think of or do on my own. A strange mixture of self-loathing and pride let us deceive ourselves that we don’t need real friendships; that the social circle (or complete solitude) is enough.

 

And why not feel that way? Isn’t it awfully hard to find good friends? Yes, it can be. I know that at certain times in my life, it has felt nearly impossible. But why is it that we struggle so much to find and develop true friendships?

 

The first reason goes right back to the attitudes we talked about just moments ago. We block ourselves from seeking and developing friendships because we are trying to protect ourselves from pain and disappointment, or because we think that we are strong enough on our own that we don’t need anyone else deeply involved in our life. I am certain that this very thinking prevented me from developing meaningful relationships at several points in my life. I hate to be harsh here, but you are not all that. You are not so wise that you don’t need the counsel of others. You are not so smart or so refined that you would lower yourself to be associated with other people. You are not so emotionally steady and strong that you can weather the storms of life without others to anchor and support you. Even if you don’t usually think of yourself as an arrogant or proud person, if you don’t have at least one or two deep and healthy relationships with other people (preferably outside your immediate family) then check your thinking and really evaluate your attitude towards yourself and others. Here’s the way I see it. Jesus Christ was the strongest and most emotionally stable person in history, and yet he purposefully surrounded himself with people. He had his 12 disciples, and three of those who were especially close to him. He also had trusted, loved friends among the towns that he visited. While his relationships with them were in great part for their learning and benefit, they were also meant to provide support for Jesus himself. Think about the story of his last night in the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked the disciples to stay with him and pray for him, not as an exercise in prayer, but because he was extremely distressed and longed for the support of those closest to him. If the Son of God needed friends during his time on earth, you better believe that you and I will need them too.

 

Another reason that we have difficulty establishing the kind of friendships that the Bible says we need is that it is so much easier to make shallow friends. We can create these false friendships with wonderful people, but because we (and they) are not willing to put in the emotional energy and transparency, the relationships stay on the surface. We may trick ourselves into thinking that they are truly our friends, and to some extent they may be. They may like us, enjoy being around us, express concern about us or joy for us in the ups and downs of life, but when we get into a really sticky patch, or we make a big mistake, they are the first to head in the opposite direction. Proverbs 14:20 speaks about these kind of friends as those that are only with us when they are getting something from us. This is where belonging to a community of faith can make a big difference. In my church, I find people who share the same beliefs and values as me, who live similar lifestyles, and because of these things, I feel more comfortable exploring the depths of true friendship with them. Now, is every single person in my church going to become my dearest friend? Of course not. Sometimes we just won’t click because of different personalities. Sometimes it becomes clear that an individual is not as trustworthy or as ready to invest as I might hope. Some people are already heavily invested in others, and that is okay. But even with all of those people taken out of the equation, I still have a better chance of establishing the type of Biblical friendships that I need. Yes, the fear of being judged is out there. The truth is, though, that a true friend will correct you when you are in the wrong, but they will not judge or condemn you, because that is not their job.

 

Finally we come to the last thought – what it means to be a good friend. How many of you were told as a child, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend” ? It is simple, but as with many simple things, very true. You cannot expect people to care for and support you if you are not willing to do the same. If you want to develop strong friendships that meet God’s standards, you need to be:

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? In fact, if you think about it, the things that make for any healthy relationship are the same, whether a friendship, a marriage, or other family relationships. Many books, articles, and essays have been written on building healthy relationships, and many of them are worth reading. But even the best of them can only give practical expansions on what we just discovered in the Bible. Boiled down to it’s essence, you will get out of a friendship only what you put in. If you are compassionate, ready to serve, enthusiastically involved, and deeply invested in the lives of others, you can expect that they will invest in your life in the same way. On the other hand, if you are only willing to make shallow, cursory investments in their lives, they will not become deeply involved in yours. It’s not profound or new truth, but yet we seem to often forget it.

 

I have been on both sides of this truth. I’ve gone through times of not feeling like I needed anyone, times of wanting deeper friendships but feeling unable to develop them, and times of sweet joy in friendship. Fortunately for me it has been a progression as I have learned more about God’s Word and about myself. I want to encourage you, whatever stage you are at, to take a close look at your own heart and attitude, and at your relationships, and ask God to help you understand how you can develop healthier, more rewarding friendships, the kind that He has designed you to desire.