Not Perfect

Are you perfect? I know I’m not. I don’t even want to pretend to figure a percentage. I fail – a LOT.

When I was younger, I had some notion that I could manage any situation – that even if someone thought I’d done something wrong, I could work hard enough, spend enough time, say enough words, to make someone know I intended no harm or did the best I could. As I have aged, I’ve learned this is not always the case, and this is a HARD lesson. I really believed that if I tried hard enough, didn’t give up, all situations could be resolved.

Boy, was I wrong. No matter where the blame lies, you will never be able to make everyone happy, and this is a lesson worth learning early:

You can’t fix everything.

There will be people you can’t please. There will be relationships you can’t mend.

Sometimes, the relationships are worth mourning. Sometimes, they are not. Sometimes, you are at fault. Sometimes, you are not.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

You will disappoint people despite trying your very hardest. As someone who placed an inordinate amount of importance on friendships, I will pass on what I have learned:

You will lose friends if you have kids; you’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re too ‘Jesus.’ You’ll lose friends if you’re too secular. You’ll lose friends if you’re fat. You’ll lose friends if you’re too thin. You’ll lose friends if you drink. You’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re tolerant. You’ll lose friends if you aren’t. You’ll lose friends if you are true to yourself. You’ll lose friends if you try to be a chameleon.

Point is, no matter what you do, you will lose friends over the years, and this is OK, despite how it makes you feel.

I know.

It makes you feel like a failure. You think that if you were perfect, all of your friendships would remain hunky-dory and no one would ever dislike you or think you should do anything differently in your life, but that is NOT true.

I *sort of* finally accepted this.

Did you know Jesus was perfect and that some people hated him?

WHAT???

And since I know I’m NOT perfect, if some people hate me, why should I be shocked?

So, my conclusion?

Live Biblically. Love Biblically. And if people hate you, well, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20

You will still have nothing to regret. EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT PERFECT. Live the best you can according to your conscience – according to the Holy Spirit – and if you fail, Jesus sacrifice has still covered you, and if your friends, or family, or whomever, cannot not accept you and your failures – your struggles –  along the way, it does not matter. Keep going. The Lord knows your heart, knows you are not perfect, and accepts you anyway.

YOU ARE LOVED.

 

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Truth is Truer in Narnia or Finding Transcendence in Art

 

I love good art not because it reminds me of reality, but because it gives me hope that there is something beyond the reality I see.

I love Picasso’s Dora Maar au Chat because it reminds me that even what seems broken can be beautiful. I love Van Gogh’s Starry Night, because his stars are the essence of stars the way I imagined them to be almost alive when I was a child – something magical and unearthly. I love C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia because reading them is like lifting the murky gray of our world and shining a light on it. Truth seems truer in Narnia the way the Technicolor version of a movie is more vivid than the real thing. I love Patty Griffin’s song, Making Pies, because the ordinary is the beauty within it.

Stripping away the facade of reality allows me to see the truths beneath the surface – truths I have grown incapable of seeing in the familiar, often harsh, face of world around me. I am blinded by my hurts, my fears, my prejudices, and my cynicism.

I catch glimpses of this transcendence in life and in nature, but usually only if I am looking, and most often when something has become its least ordinary self – a part of itself I have not yet become inured to. The sun at high noon in a cloudless sky is so common that it will rarely evoke any comment or reaction, but an extravagant sunset with cloud strokes patching the sky in yellows and golds and purples and reds? When I see that, I believe that God took up a brush and palette and painted the sky Himself – just to ravage me with beauty – the way a lover hopes his gift will bring his beloved to tears.

A young man walking across a street will not impress, but seeing a young man take the arm of a blind stranger after exchanging a few words, and then watching them cross together? Suddenly, I have seen beyond the ordinary to something beautiful – something that I hoped existed all along, but in which I hardly dared believe.

Too many of us, myself included, usually experience this hope only when something is so startlingly breathtaking we cannot help but notice, and then, we are like children greedily snatching candy from a curmudgeonly schoolmarm, as if God only dispenses these moments in his most expansive moods.

Art and hope have this in common: they both help you to see and believe in the beauty that is too often hidden in the real world. Good art is an exercise in hope – it reminds you how to use it. I also believe that they both begin with imagination.

So what is this hope, and can I immerse myself in it instead of only stealing these flashes of ecstasy and existing in mediocrity the rest of the time?

And here is where the imagination comes in. If I am hopeless, it is because I have stopped imagining a world or a circumstance where things can be better. The hopeless lack imagination.

In the Bible, the word “hope” is often interchanged in various versions with the word “wait.” If I give up hope because I do not have or see something now, I very much misunderstand the idea of hope, because why would you need to hope for something you already have? Romans 8: 24 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

But there is one more component, and probably the most difficult one: belief aka faith. Waiting and imagining will eventually send you spiraling down in to despair if you do not also have belief, because the longer you have to wait, the less your imagination will be able to sustain you. Ask any adult. And let me be clear – what we are believing for as Christians is not in this world. If we are only living based on the circumstances of the moment and not as if there is something transcendent, then we are living as any secular person.

Have you ever read what is commonly known as The Faith Chapter in the Bible? Hebrews 11 begins: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It goes on to commend those who have lived extraordinary lives of faith. Verse 10 says of Abraham: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Verse 13 says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” Verses 38-40 are so powerful: “…the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

I ask you not to skim these verses as we are so often tempted to do when we believe we know them already or we don’t think we care what they say. Go back now. Reread them. Note the phrases:

  1. “still living by faith when they died” – interpretation: they had not received their promise yet and they died. If you give up while you’re still breathing, you’re not gonna make the Faith Chapter.
  2. “world was not worthy of them” – interpretation: when you are tempted to think you must have done something to deserve your hard life or maybe that God is not doing his job, think of these people who wandered in deserts and lived in caves and in holes in the ground and remember that the world was not worthy of them. Don’t give up hope. The world won’t be worthy of you, either, whether it knows it or not.
  3. “since God had planned something better for us” – interpretation: something beyond this world: “…the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…” because we are “…foreigners and strangers on earth.”

In Mere Christianity, Bk. III, Chapter 10 (unsurprisingly, the chapter titled “Hope”), C.S. Lewis says this: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Thank God.

The recipe for Hope: Imagine, Believe, Wait

Or in longhand:

To live with a constant feeling of expectation for a certain thing (Isaiah 40:31), a thing which you have not yet seen or experienced (Hebrews 11:1), you must trust that God is faithful even when this world is full of suffering (Romans 8:18), and you must remain in a state of expectation that His promises are true (Psalm 27:14).

Hope: hōp/ – noun

  1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Im·ag·i·na·tion: iˌmajəˈnāSH(ə)n/ – noun

  1. the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced

Be·lief: bəˈlēf/ – noun

  1. trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.

Wait: wāt/ – verb

  1. to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon

 

And a song for your parting thoughts:

Imagination

Music by Jimmy Van Heusen

Lyrics by Johnny Burke

Imagination is funny
It makes a cloudy day sunny
Makes a bee think of honey
Just as I think of you

Imagination is crazy
Your whole perspective gets hazy
Starts you asking a daisy
“What to do, what to do?”

Have you ever felt
A gentle touch and then a kiss
And then and then and then and then
Find it’s only your imagination again?
Oh, well

Imagination is silly
You go around willy-nilly
For example I go around wanting you
And yet I can’t imagine
That you want me, too

On Writing and Procrastination

I am highly qualified to write this post, because I am chief of procrastinators when it comes to writing. For example, I’m doing it right now. Sure, I’m writing this post, but I am NOT writing an outline for my new book, which is what I intended to do.

I think that most of the things that are good for us seem hard to begin – like exercising or praying or reading my Bible – I don’t usually want to do them until they are already done. Writing falls into this same kind of category for me. When it comes time to do it, I can find any reason not to. I’m not the only person with this issue. I read a book whose author said (not in these exact words) that unless you apply discipline to your writing, the dishes will suddenly seem like the most important thing in the world. This is true. Writing often gets relegated to the last spot – when everything else we could possibly do is done – and then we make up some more things to do.

I did fairly well on keeping up work on my book in 2015. In fact, I finished my book in early November. (More on this later.) However, since then, I have not written anything at all, and I’m feeling it.  So, I’m starting again. Kick-starting it is the hardest part…getting into the rhythm of writing again.  I WANT to. So, why is it so hard?

  1. Fear. Fear that I will find I have nothing to say (which never happens).
  2. Fear. Fear that it doesn’t matter (which doesn’t matter, because it matters to me).
  3. Fear. Fear that it’s too big of a job (which is only true if I QUIT in the middle).
  4. Fear. Fear that I will mess it up (which is only an issue if I won’t fix it).
  5. Fear. That is all.

A blank book is a giant canvas with nothing on it, and you feel that from the moment you put a word down you could be making the wrong strokes – the wrong picture – damaging the infinite possibilities that the canvas held before you began. But possibilities are only that, and if you don’t take them, the canvas will remain blank. Whatever comes from your work, it will not be nothing.  And something is better than a life of blank canvases.

So, what is the cure for this fear? Discipline. Plain and simple. When I think of that, I wonder in how many other situations discipline would be the cure for fear. I think there are many things that counteract fear…love for one. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whomever fears has not been perfected in love.” (I John 4:18) And then I remember that love is a discipline, too, so maybe it really is the only cure for fear. In this case, loving myself enough to realize that writing for me is enough of a reason to write.

A few things that I learned last year when attempting to exercise the discipline of writing:

  • Facebook is not my friend. It will not change my life to find out how big a baby swordfish is, nor to know just which of the 10 stars (most of whom I don’t know anyway) got their start in the antiquated version of American Idol that was “Star Search.” (Those are just the things I rabbit-trailed already today. It’s 5:00 AM.) Facebook is my version of “the dishes” that suddenly become so important. 90% of what I see on Facebook does not interest me anyway, but when it comes time to write, I suddenly feel I need to see every post before I can begin. So, twice last year, I temporarily deactivated my Facebook account – times when I found that I was having trouble exercising my discipline or I felt I was stuck on my story, so I was letting my mind wander instead of trying to figure it out. This worked well for me, and I will definitely implement again. I don’t think I will delete my account at this point – too many friend and family connections that are there, but temporarily deactivating, or even just signing out, is a definite.
  • Having a word count goal for every writing session. This was very helpful to me. Instead of saying, “I will write for one hour,” then twiddling my thumbs and staring out of the window. I knew I would be there until I got X number of words down. My goal was 1,000 words every time I wrote. Sometimes that only took an hour. Sometimes it was 3. In cases where I was extremely stuck on where the story was going, I gave up because I realized that I really did need to stare out of the window for a while and figure that out before I put down another word. Now, I didn’t write every day. I’m not sure that I can. I do own and run a business, and sometimes that is just all I can do in a day.

I am hoping that this year, I am able to create a more disciplined approach than I did last year:

  • I’m going to sketch out main story points before I begin my sequel so that I won’t get quite as story-stuck as I did last year. I’m sure it will still happen, but I think that will help me keep going. I tried it without doing this, now I’ll try it with and I’ll see which method works best for me. These will be very loose, as I like to follow the story where it leads. My problem has not so much been writer’s block. I could write something. But making sure it served the story when I wasn’t sure where the next step in the story went was another issue. Maybe it’s the same thing? Opinions?
  •  I’m going to be less excruciatingly deliberative over every phrasing of sentence and tone of voice. I’m going to edit it afterwards anyway. And I think the faster I get it down, the happier I will be with my progress. Everything can be changed later if it needs to be.
  • I’m going to track how many words I am usually able to get down in a time frame (though I will still have word count goals), and see if I can improve it. The more I write, the more I will have written, right? I think that’s how that works.
  • Though I know I will not be able to write every day, I am going to set an expected number of days that I will write per week. Maybe 5 days a week? I haven’t decided yet.
  • I am going to put it on my to-do list. I am a to-do list junkie and I love completing my tasks for the day. I think adding it will be a little mental trick for me to see it is a necessary activity.

If you’re wondering, “So, where’s this book you supposedly finished?” It is still in the edit phase. I wanted a few people to read it, and get back to me with their thoughts. I have gotten those thoughts from some, but have a few more to go before I do the big edit. I also wanted to let it sit and mellow for a while so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. In the interim, I’ve had lots of ideas about a sequel or prequel or multiples of both. I’ve realized I was making a mistake not to just go ahead and begin one of them. I have a “complete one task before beginning another” mentality, but that’s not realistic for this type of project, and I KNOW it’s not good for productivity. I am actually on the verge of deciding I should wait until I have more than one book written to even begin publishing. (This will be self-publishing, by the way, so all is at my own discretion.) I think people may like it more if they know there is already a sequel waiting for them.

Do you have goals or dreams you need to apply some discipline to? Any writers out there have tips and tricks they use to keep going? I would love to hear your stories!

Conflict Unresolution

Hello, All!

I’ve been dealing a lot with the idea of what I thought was “conflict resolution” in my head lately, until I realized that what I needed to be focusing on was conflict UN-resolution.

I have this obsessive compulsion to force things into some sort of resolution when there is conflict.  So, any time that cannot happen because one or both parties cannot or are not willing to attempt to come to a satisfying middle ground, I find myself unable to let the situation go.

It’s such an amorphous being, though…conflict, I mean.  It never looks the same twice.  How do you take something to the mat (Conflict, as an entity, not the individual on the other side of it) when its face is always changing?

I will go over and over everything that was said on both sides, trying to see if I missed something, if I said something I shouldn’t have, if there was something I could’ve done differently.  The situation will eat at me for basically as long as I let it, and even then will pop up in my mental microscope at the most surprising of times, sometimes years later, and that same feeling will arise.  It’s the feeling of self-doubt, of injustice, of longing for some way to understand what in the world happened, and wishing there were judge and jury to determine if, as I usually believe, I did everything I knew how to do in order to resolve it.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve made mistakes in my efforts to resolve conflict.  But when I DO believe I’ve made a mistake, I try to acknowledge it, and hope that the effort is recognized in the proceedings.

And so I find myself with an ever growing list of conflicts that just feel…open.  Unfinished.

Examples, you say?  Everyone is always squirming for an anecdote.  I don’t feel like going into details, but I will attempt a generic list. (Aside: my list proved to be thoroughly opposed to condensing itself.)

The most recent is an ongoing customer service issue with a group of people with which I must continue doing business for a time, and in a personal setting, not over the internet.  After a number of unsatisfactory events, where I would calmly express that I was frustrated, and calmly ask for a little more communication next time there was an issue (you get the idea), I was sent a very defensive, sarcastic message.  I responded with a message that was a good deal more to the point, though still nothing I feel the need to apologize for.  This interaction was completely ignored by the recipient.  *Queue obsessive over-analyzation.*  My next week was spent in dissatisfaction, trying to determine whether a) I really did go to far, b) they are just insanely bad at customer service or c) is there a c?  Someone help me out if there’s another option.  After that week of misery, I decided it was clearly not going to be resolved to my satisfaction unless I was pro-active.  I didn’t want to make enemies of those people, but I also did not want to seem copacetic towards being treated like that by someone to whom I was paying money.  So, I took them a box of chocolates with a card that said, essentially, “Hey, I don’t want to be enemies, so let’s make peace, thanks.”  I didn’t apologize, still not feeling that one was needed, though I’m sure they thought otherwise.  The devil on my shoulder didn’t want me to do even this, as it could be misconstrued an apology, but the angel won out.

I will say that this is one step towards accepting conflict unresolution – doing what you can to make peace, despite ongoing differences, and then letting the chips fall where they may, so to speak.  My inner soul still does not find it overwhelmingly settled…it’s like a song that someone brought one chord closer to finishing, but still did not complete.  It continues to linger, though no longer in manic waves.

Another recent event involves a person…a friend…whom I feel is frequently trying to manipulate me (and others) into doing various things.  If a tag showed up under this person’s name when you introduced them, lately I feel it would be: “Donna*: Always Wanting Something from You.” (*Names changed to protect the living.)  This is one of those different faces of conflict..the conflict that arises in you to which the other person may very well be entirely ignorant.  To raise or not to raise?  That is the question.  And even this is different for every person, in every situation.  There is no hard and fast rule.

Historically, in my life, I have been a conflict raiser.  If something was wrong, you were going to know about it, and truthfully, because I wanted to fix the issue that I was having trouble dealing with so that we could all go on living happily and peacefully, and not (generally) because I wanted to be able to complain to you about your faults.  I clearly have not always done this successfully, but it was my goal 90% of the time.  The other 10%, I admit, amounts to something akin to verbal abuse as a way to satisfy my feelings of injustice.  I’m not proud of that, but I am going for full disclosure here.  I have tried to come to a level of moderation in this, because I felt that I was becoming, myself, defensive and imperious…not who I want to be.  Accepting the injustices done to you, after all, was a trait carried by Jesus to a level that most of us will never even understand.  And what I call “injustices” are generally so petty, that I would be ashamed to face the Lord and tell him about the level of wrath that was kindled because of some minor inconvenience.  Hebrews 10 discusses the new Christians having faithfully and joyfully accepted the stealing of their property as well as many public punishments and reproaches.  How foolish are most of my complaints?

However, interpersonal issues are real, and must still be dealt with.  In this particular scenario, I realized today that I was allowing someone else’s expectations of what I should do cause me to feel pressured, guilted, and often, in the end, forced to do something I didn’t want to do.  And that is on ME.  Not them.  Someone else’s expectations do not have the ability to force me into those actions.  Boundaries, people.  Simple boundaries.  The expectations are theirs, but I get to decide what I will do with them.  If saying, “No,” and disappointing or angering someone is the result, then so be it. I don’t have to get mad, I just have to not do things I don’t want.

The last face of conflict I’m going to talk about is on the flip side: when you think someone has internal conflict involving you, but instead of trying to resolve it, they just disappear.  The disappearing is usually when you begin thinking they have said internal conflict involving you, because I’m not talking acquaintances here.  I’m talking about people you’ve been through stuff with, people you opened your soul to…friends you thought would be around forever.  And then suddenly, they’re gone.  As an introvert (I’ve been reading a lot of books about introversion), I don’t make close friends easily, nor take them lightly.  So, the sudden absence of those people with no explanation (or in some cases, just inadequate platitudes) becomes something close to, if not an actual, traumatic event.  The lack of information creates a world where anything terrible they could have thought of you becomes a possible truth, playing and re-playing the chart-topping broken records of self-accusation and self-doubt, whatever those might be for you: “Am I boring? Too serious?  Too intense in friendship?  Critical?  Judgmental? Negative?”  And then, because you want to feel OK, you run to the other extreme and start considering good traits that maybe they just couldn’t handle in you:  “I’m probably too honest or too spiritual.”  The problem is that you don’t believe any of them. You feel that there must be some glaring flaw deep down in your soul that you’ve never even considered and you will never know, because no one will be honest or brave enough to expose it to you.  And by “you,” I mean me.

This one, I don’t have an answer for.  I’ve been trying to figure it out for years.  How do you learn from mistakes you don’t know you’ve made?  On days I am putting my confidence in the Lord (as I should always do) and not basing my emotional stability on my own capabilities and persona, I can look at this philosophically, distance myself from it, and realize that whatever flaws I have, Jesus is well aware of them and loves me anyway.  And that if those people were still needed in my life, God would’ve left them there.  But on days when my conflict unresolution obsessive-compulsive disorder rears its head and I am focused on my faults and downfalls, my broken record still plays the top ten, and sometimes throws some new ones in there, too.

This is a tough post for me.  I usually won’t let myself say anything until I’ve got it mostly figured out.  I bet that there are some folks out there, though, who are further along in figuring this out than I am, so maybe I’ll get the chance to learn a few things.

Different and Confused

This world is hard.  We all know that, though some to greater extents.  But sometimes things happen that just make you look at that fact…look at it square in the face as if it were a person.  They hit you in such a way on a certain day that you want them to change your life, to change your heart, to change you forever and not just to pass you by with a glance, but you WANT to look at them that way in order to be forced to acknowledge them.

Yesterday I had a couple of those experiences.  They weren’t my own sufferings, and probably were the more poignant for it.  There was a woman with her daughter.  I didn’t think anything of it, the daughter was probably around my age and looked normal.  Then she started talking to me.  And I couldn’t understand her.  It was immediately clear that the girl had what I assumed was a developmental disability or something of that nature.  I thought I was catching some words, but really the only one I was certain of was “confused,” which I got that she was saying as a reference to her mother who was a bit frazzled. The daughter continued to talk to me, and, in the circumstances, not really being able to hear or understand her well, I just nodded and smiled.  Before they left, the mother said, “Confused is her word for weird or out of place.  She was in a car accident and when she woke up, the first thing she said was, ‘I’m different now, and confused.'”  I know that life-long disabilities have seemingly insurmountable challenges, but something about suddenly understanding that this girl used to be just like me, and that tragedy changed her, couldn’t settle in my brain.  The idea of her understanding what she had lost, and the thoughts of what the parents must have felt knowing their daughter was probably never going to do the things she had aspired to do before – it just hung with me.

Then I went to a store to exchange something on my lunch break.  I heard a woman who worked there say something behind me, and I thought she was speaking to me.  I asked her what she said because I didn’t hear her well, and she said, “I was just praying for God to rescue me from my life.”  We had a few back and forth interactions.  She told me that she already served her time in prison and she couldn’t take this anymore, clearly intimating that what she was living now still felt like a prison to her.  I didn’t really offer her anything of substance…I just gave a tiny bit of listening.  In hindsight, I wish I had done all kinds of things, but that doesn’t matter now because I can’t go backwards in time, so I’m trying not to dwell on it.

When I was leaving the store, the woman from before was there with her daughter, and I suddenly felt blasted with other people’s pain – not in such a way as in I wished that it hadn’t happened, but in such a way that I was suddenly overwhelmed by the magnitude of it.  Not just their pain, but the pain of the billions of people whose sufferings they represent.

And I felt my smallness.  I don’t just mean in that way of, “Oh, I wish I could help everyone, but you can only do so much.”  I mean in the way that I know I could do a lot more for people than I do…I felt my emotional and spiritual smallness.  I was inadequate.

I had a lot of thoughts throughout the day.  I thought about how often I feel “different and confused” myself, which on the surface seems like it would be in a very different way from the daughter, but then I wondered how different is it really?  Different and confused is different and confused no matter where you’re coming from.  (I’m not saying all of the thoughts I had are true, I’m just telling you what they were.)  And I wondered if that car wreck actually could have saved that girl from some other unspeakable horror.  She seemed genuinely happy.  Maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to her?

I thought about the other lady and how sometimes all of our lives can feel like a prison, and how sometimes that is just life and I even found myself wondering if she was just lazy.  (Many of my thoughts are not highly honorable, I’m just being honest.)

I think that a lot of my thoughts were being formed by the sub-conscious desire to make sense of it, to compartmentalize it and make it OK.  But the fact is that it’s not OK.  Just because suffering is common to all man does not mean it is something that we should walk un-feelingly by or be able to dismiss because it falls into something we can categorize as “acceptable” or “understandable”.

I came home, and though I wasn’t thinking of it in relation to the days happenings, and quite unintentionally since I meant to be reading Proverbs, I began reading in Ecclesiastes.  I couldn’t have read something more appropriate.  Vanity indeed.  All of the things we seek and all of the atrocities that occur because of it are pointless.  What was comforting was the acknowledgment of evil:  “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not marvel at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.” – Ecclesiastes 5:8

God is the highest of those high officials, and he is aware of injustice and suffering, and He’s got it.  Though all the seeking of pleasure and riches and even wisdom (though he admits it better than folly), he considers vain, it all boils down to what he says at the last, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed in to judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  It is also interesting to me how even in what seems like a most pessimistic view, Solomon still wants you to fight for justice.  We are to mete out the mercy as God’s emissaries, indeed, it’s part of those commandments we are advised to keep:  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4

I want to be severely affected by the reality of other people’s pain.  I want God’s mercy to flow from me to the hurting and oppressed.  I want to cease the vain attempts at satisfaction that, from experience, Solomon tells us will never fulfill.

If Only I Had an Enemy…

Lately I’ve had a lot of thoughts about my lack of concern for other people.  My husband and I have been talking a lot about all of the times the Bible, often through Jesus, says to be kind to the strangers, to show hospitality to them, to visit the sick, to care for the orphans and widows, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to love your neighbor as yourself (expounded on in the story of the Good Samaritan), etc.  There are a lot of them.  Here are a few:

Galatians 5:13-14: For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 2:8-9: If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself,” you do well.  But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

John 13:34-35: A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.

John 15:9: As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love.

John 15:12-13: This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:17: These things I command you, that you love one another.

Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.

Mark 10:42-45:  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man [Jesus] came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

James 2:14-18: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body what good is that?   So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”  Show me your faith apart fro your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

James 1:27: Pure and undefiled religion before our God and father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

I could keep going, but the point is, I think that I have somehow overlooked the radical nature of what it means if I actually DID this consistently in my daily life, and not just as an occasional “act of kindness” in order to make me feel good about myself.  Right here, my flesh really wants to defend myself, and tell you that I do sometimes do nice things…and I do, but I think I recuse myself from this responsibility far too often.  Sometimes it is time-related: I say I am too busy, but I still manage to fit my favorite TV shows in.  Sometimes it is comfort: I feel that I need some sort of embossed invitation in order to make sure that putting myself outside of my comfort zone is what God wants of me.  Sometimes it is pure laziness: I just don’t want to.  Sometimes it is fear: what if I try to reach out and it is not welcomed, appreciated, effective?

I was kind of down a few weeks ago; I was (and still am) feeling convicted about how little of my time is spent intentionally reaching out to others in distress.  I was reading in the Bible and came across chapter 58 of Isaiah.  I was stunned…we had been discussing all of the Scriptures telling us to help others, to love others, and I was in a sort of spiritual funk, feeling like I didn’t know how to get out of it.  And then I read this:

Isaiah 58: 3-12: “Why have we fasted and you see it not?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”  Behold, in the day of your fast, you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.  Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?  Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not THIS the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your  healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  THEN you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’  If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, THEN shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy YOUR desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

It’s a lot like some things Jesus said in the New Testament as well, that acts of “religion” are not regarded by him:  Matthew 6:16-18 – “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  And also as it says in Psalm 51, “For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

He doesn’t want us following a list of rules; he doesn’t even want us (per Isaiah 58) to pray and fast and mourn and cry out to him if we don’t plan to act on his words about helping those around us.  He wants our hearts.  He wants them because he wants them to love…him first because that enables us to do the second, which is loving one another.

As I said, I was feeling pretty down before I read Isaiah 58, but it literally gives you a cure for depression.  It says (paraphrasing), “Care for these people, and your gloom will lift.  Meet the desires of the afflicted, and the Lord will meet your desires.  Where you felt disconnected from him (the Lord), he will show up.  Where you were feeling empty and destroyed, you will begin to bloom again.”  Wow.  Depression is caused by selfishness?  It actually makes sense.  We are depressed largely because we are wanting something for ourselves, which we are not getting, feeling, experiencing.  Even if those things are good things, i.e. the presence of God as it discusses in the chapter, we are depressed over them because we are self-focused instead of others-focused.  It’s like all of the things the Lord asks of us, He asks for us to give up self, to die to self even (Galatians 2:20), but it is all because that is what, in the end, will satisfy our deepest longings.  “For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

There is a song by Mumford & Sons with one single line that has run over and over in my head since the first time I heard it…”if only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could have won.”  I often think that our battle would be more easily won if the enemy were like David’s.  As he was speaking to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”  At least in our American culture, our enemies are much more subtle: 2 Corinthians 11: 14-15 – “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  So, it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.  Their end will correspond to their deeds.”  My enemy is indeed a master of deceit, he is Satan, the Father of Lies (John 8:44) disguised as my own feelings of laziness, apathy, selfishness – if I were to see those things as they really are, even my flesh would rail against them.  I would be appalled at their ugliness.  I watched a video recently about reaching out to the poor and hungry, though I can’t remember what it was from.  At one point in the video, there is a man, clearly starving and malnourished, on his hands and knees, reaching out his hand to a man walking by…but the man doesn’t stop.  He doesn’t even look.  That image has also run through my mind over and over since I saw it.  I am the man who is just walking by, not looking.  One hundred years ago, in our world, we had the excuse of ignorance, the excuse of the logistical difficulties of helping, even if we learned of an issue around the world.  Now, we have no excuse.  Even if there were no hurting, no starving, no poor, no sick around us (which there are), it is so easy to send aid to anyone anywhere in the world.  We have no end of information about those who need help, and no limit to the ways we can help them.  My enemy has become more clear, as I have pictured that man, reaching out to me as I walk out of my house to my car, as I walk into church.  I cannot escape him as he stretches out his arm, pleading for aid.  My enemy is my self-absorption…my desire for a smart phone, though with the extra $ I would pay on my monthly bill, I could probably feed that man each month; my desire for a vacation that, even on a budget, would probably cost more than that man has ever seen, because I “deserve” it…as if that man does not deserve to eat…to live.  If there were a starving man outside my door, even one starving man, I would be callous and cruel to walk past him each day, living comfortably in my relative luxury, but taking no notice.  But there is not just one starving man, there are 15 million children dying every year, and they are all reaching out to me.

So, what will I do?  I am not sure, specifically.  But I know that I MUST cease pretending I am obeying Christ’s words while only nominally reaching out to others who need help.  I must view my apathy as the enemy that it is.  I must take the Scriptures I have included and am including below to heart.  Here’s an interview that my husband did with a man who has done just that, transforming his Christian life from what he acknowledges was just going through the motions, to a life that reflects Christ and his power: Victor’s Story.  Please listen, and note how he embodies the precepts in the texts below:

Matthew 25: 31-46: When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did  see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they will also answer saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Luke 10:25-37: And behold a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Since then…or “The Luckiest Girl”

…that’s me…the luckiest girl…God has done so much in my heart and life in the past year, I couldn’t even begin to spell it all out.  But I’d like to try.

The biggest earthly change in my world is that I got married last August.  For any of you who previously followed this blog, I married the former boyfriend, whom, last you heard, I was no longer dating.  I say “earthly change” because, there have also been (and continue to be) a lot of spiritual changes, and for the better.

The restoration of my child-like faith is one…I can’t really explain what I mean by that, except to say that I had slowly had been descending into a very “grown-up” cynicism and simply resolved to the way life was/is instead of being able to live day-to-day in the joy that God promises us even while we are still here on this earth.  I guess I still felt His peace, but had lost His joy.  And as it says in Nehemiah 8, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  I believe that is why, in large part, as you could read in my former post, I had very little perseverance…I had let the joy die, and therefore my strength was faltering.  My prayer was as David says in Psalm 51:  “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

God has done that, and I can hardly impress on you how much!  I guess for one, I will say that the “joy of my salvation” is never so strong in me as when I recognize my need for it most.  When I am sorely aware of my failures is when I am most greatly in awe of my salvation, most grateful for it, and most amazed at its power.  That (as opposed to when I am feeling self-satisfied) is when I truly feel the joy and wonder of Jesus sacrifice, when I am less obstructed by thinking of myself, when I am resting wholly on Him.  And it brings a joy I cannot describe!  When I am most aware of my lack of deserving His grace, is when I am able to most revel in His love!

And this has restored to me, not only the joy of my salvation, but the ability to feel wonder, to feel love, and, I hope, to reflect those same things to others.  In this, I do feel like “the luckiest girl,” but I know that God offers it to each of us to feel like “the luckiest;” to live so deeply in His presence that circumstances are most aligned with this particular definition: “an unessential or secondary accompaniment of any fact or event; minor detail.”  The FACT is based in our relationship with Christ and our eternity with Him, and that is the thing determining our outlook, not the secondary events of this fallen world, though they may be disabling, disheartening, disjointed.  We are never promised comfort on this earth, and to live expecting it is to live in disappointment.  Romans 8:23-25 says, “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.  For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”  Hoping for what we do not see, but have been assured of!

What does this have to do with getting married?  I don’t really know how they’re intertwined exactly, to be honest.  Very poor writing, to jumble them up if I don’t plan to connect them, I know.  But somehow it doesn’t matter to me.  I’ll just let you readers analyze as you like.

I’ll tell you a little about our life…God really worked a miracle in our relationship, completely eradicating the past hurts and bringing out the best that it could be.  I can honestly say that I could not imagine a better husband or a person I would rather go through life with.  I have never known someone who, when confronted with truth, is more willing to commit their whole being to following it.  Chris is a learner, a diligent seeker, and, as such, when God shows him the way something should be, he diligently chases after it.  And, in so doing, inspires me to do the same.  He is exactly what God knew I needed.  When we started dating, a lot of people had reservations…he was an alcoholic in a rock band with not a lot of apparent commendations.  Now, he is a tireless evangelist, and the best spiritual leader I could hope for.

It’s hard to explain what Chris does when asked, but a friend of mine summed it up for her family when we were asked last week, “He answers really big questions about God.”  That’s in summary, but it’s basically it.  Through the internet, he releases videos and podcasts that answer big questions about God, and thereby receives many personal e-mails with more big questions about God, which he is then able to answer one on one.  He probably spends between 3-6 hours a day answering these e-mails, and the rest of his work-time studying for new projects or creating them.  Less than a year ago, he was still doing all of this part-time, and received no earthly compensation for it.  He was feeling the Holy Spirit compel him to spend more time on it, but needed also to have an income, as we were planning to get married soon.  Around the same time, his part-time job flooded, so a change was going to have to be made regarding his employment.  I called him soon after this happened, and he told me he was doing a job interview with God.  He had looked up job interview questions, and was answering them as if God were asking them.  I talked to him later, and he said he felt like he got the job…and that is when the current adventure began, somewhere in June of 2010.  He went full-time in his ministry, and added a donation button to his websites, believing it was God’s will for him to dedicate all of his time to it instead of just the leftover time.  God has provided faithfully ever since.  We have always had enough, and often had excess.  Being in the position of constantly relying on God for our collective income has put us in a position of active faith that we, as Americans, rarely experience, being so well-prepared, and unaccustomed to risk.  We are trained to live in such a way that we are prepared for everything, financially and physically…so that disaster is averted through our preparation and earthly assurances.  I would not, in contrast, say that we should live frivolously with no preparatory thought whatsoever, but I would assert that where God calls us to depend on Him, we should be willing to live in uncertainty from an earthly perspective.  Chris has no worldly assurance of a next “paycheck,” but we have God’s promises.  And every time things start to run a little thin, God hits us with a big present, as if to say, “Trust me!”  He is able, as it says in Philippians 4, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

Living in constant awareness of not only our spiritual, but our physical need for God’s provision is one of the biggest blessings I can imagine.  It builds your faith like you wouldn’t believe, because He DOES provide.  If we would only give Him the chance more often, and trust Him long enough to see it before scrambling to do so through our earthly methods.  I will close with words from Ephesians 3: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

The Up-Side of Humility

So in my last post from ages ago, I stated that I wasn’t really sure why I hadn’t written in a long time…now I am, so here you go:

I think that in the past two years, I have been learning valuable lessons in humility…but it hasn’t felt very good.  I guess that for most of my life, whatever might have been going wrong around me, I always had this sort of confidence in who I was; that I was largely capable, smart, intuitive, etc.  Even when I knew I had failed, I would somehow morph that failure into a lesson learned, thereby making me smarter instead of it making me doubt myself more in the future.  You may, on the surface, believe this is a good quality.  I don’t see it as such, having lived in it.  I see that even while I acknowledged God’s hand in many things, I also always got a certain self-satisfaction from being able to handle things, being the one who had it under control, etc.  So, in short, when this self-confidence began to crumble due to various circumstances and relationships, I felt that I had nothing of worth to offer.  If I couldn’t handle things myself, why would I want anyone to listen to my thoughts or expect them to glean anything from my ramblings?

I really do feel that all of my acknowledgments of weakness or failure prior to this period in my life were mere intellectual nods…my heart did not really feel its own frailty or understand how helplessly it needed God’s Holy Spirit, at least not on a regular basis.  Maybe in flashes, I felt a sense of failure or doubted my own sensibility, but I would always pull myself back to feeling OK about myself.

As with all things, learning humility has a very fine line…cross it too far, and you end up spending a little too much time going over your mistakes, letting self-pity move in and render you inert for fear of what other thing you may mess up.  I guess I lived there for a while. It has been a hard adjustment going from self-assured me to solely God-assured me.  I don’t guess I will ever have it exactly right, but I am always growing a little, even when I feel like I am going backwards.

Thankfully, I have a wonderful Saviour who never ceases to chase me when I am floundering, and loving people around me who remind me of His mercy and forgiveness…the renewal that He offers.

So I feel like I am definitely on the other side of a big mess, coming out on the upside of humility – a place where I know I will fail, and use that only as a reminder to lean wholly on Christ; a place where when I fail, I can trust His words, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.”

Here are a few more verses that are helping me stay there:

Lamentations 3:22-23 –  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

Psalm 51:1-17 –  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict, and justified when you judge.  Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.  Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways,  so that sinners will turn back to you.  Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, You who are God, my Saviour, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.  Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, you, God, will not despise.

Why?

Hello, world.  It’s been a very long time.  As to the why…I don’t really have a reason.  If anyone cares to read the last post from Dec, 2008 (Pursuing What You Love), then I guess I could kind of continue from there with the fact that I did get the job I spoke of in that post, and have been in it ever since.  I think, at first, I did not write because I was focusing on trying to do what I spoke of in that post…learn how not to sub-consciously put myself in some position of superiority, but to really live out love with the people I encounter.

I would say that at first I did pretty well with that, reigning in internal grumblings that would usually cause me to become frustrated with co-workers or work in general, i.e. my schedule being changed from 8-4 to 10-6.  I wasn’t a fan of that, but in trying to live the servant life, took it all in stride and figured God had it all in control, so I didn’t make a fuss.

However, as with all things, I am confessing now that the novelty of being loving seems to have worn off, and I am back to being grouchy with others and thinking about myself and what I want all the time instead of living in the knowledge that most of the things I am wanting or I am frustrated with are not important AT ALL.  Realizing that I have slowly allowed satan to creep back up on me in this area is just making me frustrated with myself, and I have not managed to pull out of the cycle yet.

It comes back to re-surrendering “self.”  Allowing the Holy Spirit to take control again, which will in turn cause me to live as Christ did, unconcerned with self-promotion, unfazed by injustices done to me, actively seeking the good of all I come in contact with, whether friend of foe or some intertwined mess of both.  Most people are that, you know.  Most of the time, the people we have a hard time with are those we would call our loved ones and our friends.  They are not enemies, and yet we treat them, or at least feel inside that we must always be prepared to stick up for ourselves and our own rights against them, or else they will all constantly be taking advantage of us or taking us for granted.  The bottom line is that even if that’s true, it’s not our job to make sure we are treated correctly or recognized sufficiently by everyone around us.  That is not the reward.

The reward for acting like Christ is never shown as a warm, fuzzy existence in which no one will ever get mad at you or treat you unfairly.  Paul was repeatedly imprisoned and held on false charges which the government knew to be false, people routinely tried to kill him, and he was in multiple shipwrecks.  Christ Himself had it no better.

This is not to say that we should react smugly to poor treatment as if we are martyrs who must be living the Christ-life to be treated this way…that only comes from condescension which has nothing to do with love.  Our responses to others must not be based on their responses to us.  Love your enemies and the Golden Rule do not give conditions.  If I am walking in love because I am waiting for the world around me to applaud my behavior, I will always grow weary, because there will never been enough praise.  There will always be at least one person around me who cannot be pleased or who finds something wrong with what I do.  If I walk in love because Christ is in my Spirit, and He is living through me, nothing can burn me out…on the condition that I continue to seek Him above all things.

That is the key.  I believe through this after a time, I stopped seeking my strength, my identity, my validation in Him, and started looking to others for approval and reward.  That is when my spirit grew cold, and “loving” started to seem like an impossible drudgery.

Fasting and Dog Treats

As a Christian, I’ve kind of gone back and forth on the “fasting” issue.  It’s not that I thought it was bad; just that with my particular upbringing, it was not highlighted or explained or really even discussed at all.  When I was in my early 20’s, I had a friend (not a Christian) ask me what the point of it was.  She had a co-worker who was fasting during their lunch hour.  She said that he explained it as a time you were supposed to be more focused on God.  She stated that she could understand this if he had used the time to go away and pray or something, but he still hung out with everyone else during lunch; he just didn’t eat, so she didn’t see the point.

 

I found myself at a loss for explaining anything to her.  I was only moderately distressed by this as I didn’t see it as a big point of contention with the Gospel and had never really entertained fasting as a regular thing to do in life.  In short, I considered it an elective; “Hey, if it helps you with your walk with God, go ahead.”  That was my attitude.

 

As I’ve gotten older and (hopefully) learned a little bit more, I’ve come to see it as something more than an elective – not in a legalistic sense, but as a true method of allowing God more space in our lives to communicate with us and as a means to display our devotion to Him.  I’m not talking about asceticism to the point of bodily harm.  I mean fasting according to what the Holy Spirit calls.  And I also do not mean fasting only in the sense of food.  I think fasting has much more far-reaching implications than simply not eating.  During Lent people may say they are fasting from television or shopping or caffeine or whatever the Lord shows them is impeding their walk with Him or becoming something they depend on.  As I’ve come to see it as something that is an integral part of my walk with God and my spiritual growth, I’ve gone through several stages. 

 

The first stage was what I will call “deliberate fasting.”  (And here I am talking about food.)  I decided, at one point, that food fasting was good for you, soul and body (incidentally, I still believe it is), so I made it part of what I did.  I would fast one day a week, but my attitude about it was wrong.  I was doing it as a rote practice; just making it part of my religious regimen.  And not only that, I was doing it for selfish reasons as well – because I wanted to reap the rewards; not so much because I was hungry for God and what He was offering me.  Needless to say, like all things done simply because you feel you “ought” to do them, like diets, my “deliberate fasting” did not last for very long.  It did not mean anything, and my spirit felt that.

 

The second stage was “desperate fasting”.  This was done when I was so at a loss for what to do in my life that I felt like I had to do something in order to beg God for some direction.  Since I didn’t have any other methods of control to exert in my physical life, fasting became my means to reach God.  “If I only fast enough, He’ll see how serious I am about wanting His guidance.”  Though I do believe fasting in desperate times is called for and exhibited in the Bible, mine was never out of a sense of repentance or, again, out of a desperate hunger for God; it was out of a desperation for God to help me out with my life.  This only serves as an attempt to manipulate God, which is ridiculous for two reasons.  First, the idea that we can manipulate an omnipotent, omniscient God is just silly.  Second, the idea that we need to manipulate God in order to reap the best rewards indicates a complete lack of understanding about how much He loves us.  At least I knew God was the source and I employed prayer as well (which is never bad), but I was not seeking Him.  I was seeking what He could do.

 

And now we come to the third stage, which I think I am sort of in the midst of learning and I will call “deepening fasting.”  This is where the dog treats come in.  If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll sort of know that my life has sort of been turned upside down this year – at least in any practical sense.  A lot of it was through personal choice, so I am not going to pretend that external things just “happened” to me, but at the same time, it’s kind of to a level that I hadn’t expected or planned for.  Most of what makes a person feel secure is up in the air or has been rattled this year.  For example: housing, finances, jobs, relationships, health, church, pets (I know, I’m not sure pets count, but in my situation, my pet dying was yet another thing lost).  I don’t want to go into each story, though some you could trace bits of through past posts.  Let’s just say all of this has left me feeling pretty detached from anything except family, friends and God.  Don’t get me wrong – I am very grateful that I still have family, friends and God, as I would have always deemed those the most important, though not in that order.  Still, the others play key roles in most of our lives and whether we like it or not, they serve to provide some measure of security and validation.

 

I was talking to a friend of mine last night and she asked me what my life was like right now.  (Great question, by the way – much better than “How are you?”)  I told her that I felt like I was standing in the middle of an empty room, and though there was nothing really holding me there, I didn’t really feel any great motivation to walk outside of it either.  My answer kind of startled me, even though that seems silly since it came out my mouth.  However, it struck me as unnervingly profound, and I found myself analyzing it after my conversation with her ended and on into this morning.

 

At points in this period of detachment from the world that I’ve been going through, I’ve been completely at peace with it – accepting that it is only temporal and the eternal is what counts.  However, at other points, I’ve found myself grasping at the same worldly things I’ve been stripped of because I caught a glimpse of what looks like a good option.  This seems to recur – a regular pattern in my existence.  I don’t mean for it to, but my fleshly nature just keeps rising from the grave every time I think I’ve buried it.  (That’s probably part of my problem – taking my eyes off of God and trying to take care of it myself.)

 

I think God emptied my life of the peripheral things in it – the things that were not contributing to what He had for me.  And now He is asking me to stay there until He says otherwise.  Not because He necessarily expects me to remain in all of my present circumstances – but because He needs me to realign my motivation.  And so, I am in this empty room that I feel He has purposely emptied.  God wants to fill my life up with things that He has for me in order to live the abundant life He offered me and so that He can use me in the manner He has planned, which, for the record is the same thing (abundant life=allowing God to do with your life as He will).  So, at points in this journey, He has re-introduced things back into that room, bits of things that He may have for me or have for me to do at some point – good things.  But so far, I feel that I am failing when I am shown those glimpses of good things – that I am content to sit in the room and rely on Him whenever I see no way to exert my own effort and no way to pursue anything.  But that when He brings the glimpse of what He wants me to have or to do into my vision, I immediately stop relying on Him and say, in essence, “Oh!  That’s what you have for me, God?  Cool.  I’ll take it from here.  You’ve been a big help.”  And then I make the pursuit of the “thing” my focus instead of the pursuit of God who wants to give me the thing.  And so God empties the room again and says, “No.  You haven’t got it yet.”

 

OK, OK, I know you’re wondering where the dog treats are coming in.  Here goes: I was dog-sitting a couple of months ago, and the dog was a bit unruly.  I won’t name names.  In my frustration, for a few days, I tried to teach the dog to “stay.”  I gave up, although my efforts were working; the rewards of training someone else’s dog didn’t seem quite worth it.  Anyway, I don’t think this dog had been taught much of anything, and it definitely had not been taught, “Stay.”  So, I would take a treat and make the dog sit (it did seem to know that one).  Then I would say, “Stay,” and back up a step.  If the dog moved, I would make it go back to where it was sitting, and we would start the process all over again.  At first, I would just back up with the treat a short distance.  As the dog did better, I would walk further.  I actually got across the room a couple of times.  Whether the dog got the treat or not had to do with its priorities.  If obedience was its first priority and it was looking to me as its “master” for direction, it would get the treat, but if the treat was its first priority, it got nothing.  Granted, a clever dog could probably figure out where the treats are and break the container or tear open the bag or whatnot and get his own.  But a good dog really wants to please its master and knows this is not the way to do it.  Now, this dog, being in the initial training stages, did poorly if I held the treat up tantalizingly before him throughout the process.  If I didn’t show him the treat, he did somewhat better.

 

And this is where I’ve been, if we can pretend that I am a dog and God is my master.  God’s been trying to teach me to “stay.”  I do all right at it if I can’t see the “treat.”  There’s not much for me to run after.  I’m content to listen to Him telling me to stay.  But when He brings it out and shows me, my instinctual reaction is to run towards it immediately.  However, all that does is make God put me back in my initial place and say, “No, let’s try that again.  Wait until I call you.”

 

I don’t know how many false starts I will have to make before I learn the lesson.  I know I’ve made several already, and God keeps putting me back in that empty room.  It’s a peaceful empty room, not a scary one.  I know He wants to fill it up with His provisions.  I just need to stop looking at the provisions and start looking at HIM.

 

All right, so now you are wondering, what does that have to do with fasting???  Waiting on God to tell me I can come have the treat is like a period of fasting, in whatever area that waiting manifests.  What I realized today is that fasting is a way of life – fasting from all that God does not have for me; fasting from the world.  Usually when I think of a fast, I think of putting a time limit on how long I will abstain from something.  I am starting to look at fasting as simply not partaking of things until God gives me the go ahead – committing to not chase after the things of this world in order to satisfy my own needs and desires, but in all things seeking to please the Master first, trusting that He will provide for my needs.

 

I know that there are seasons of fasting as well, and God blesses it any time it is done out of a sense of hunger for HIM – times when the hunger we feel from a food fast is a welcome feeling because it is indicative of the desire we have for God.  I am definitely not trying to undermine fasting in that sense.  Just noting that a life following God will be constantly seeking Him and will never seek to satisfy the flesh without first looking to the Master’s wishes, like the dog that learns to look at its master before going for the treat.  And hopefully, the priorities begin to outline the motivation and we begin to obey not in order to receive the treat, but in order to please the Master.  Maybe this doesn’t even qualify as fasting; maybe that’s just living a Spirit-led life…but that’s how it struck me today.

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