Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Resting in the Moment


I'm a quick reader. I always have been. As a child the people around me were always astounded by the speed with which I would devour a book. I was pleased at that. I have to admit the recognition felt good. But mostly... mostly I just couldn't wait to find out what happened next.

I'm still that way. It's harder now that my eyesight isn't as good. It takes me longer to focus; longer to make sense of the words on the page. But, still... I've torn through two books today. That's in addition to spending time shopping with my daughter; doing laundry; checking facebook; fixing supper, etc....

I'll admit that the first book was a fairly quick read. The second, though, was a little more intensive... a little more thought-provoking. And there were several times I thought "This is good.... I need to journal and explore this some...." I was anxious, though, to find out where the author was going to end up. This wasn't fun fiction. But I still wanted to see what happened... what the answers were. I tore through it looking for the next good piece of info... figuring I'd journal about it after I'd finished it.

But when I finished... I realized... I don't necessarily remember those things that punched me in the gut as I was reading. I was so anxious looking for the next bit of info, wanting to know how the author dealt with the things in her life... that I blew on through, pushing past everything to get to the "end" and see what was there.

And after I closed the book and started preparing for bed, I realized... I should have stopped. When those bits brought emotion or provoked thought... I should've stopped right then. I should have allowed myself time to process and explore; to discover what meaning and application it had for my own life. But the things that should have been savored and chewed on were gulped down like a fast food meal. My incessant search for knowledge and my incredible drive to find out the ending cheapened the journey my heart could have taken. I went flying past to see what more there was when I should have rested in those moments.... wrestled with those moments, even. It's in those moments of wrestling, after all, that we begin to know God... that we begin to know ourselves. But my insatiable need to know the ending... to gather all the knowledge... took me right past all that.

And it dawned on me... how often I do that.

As a child I was always anxious for that next milestone. I may have been the only Kindergartner asking "When are we going to start getting homework?" No wonder my classmates had issues with me! LOL! But, seriously, I couldn't wait to be older... each milestone reached only meant a renewed hunger for the next one. It's only natural, I suppose. And yet, in the quiet of this night... and in the reflection of a book I should have journaled through rather than sped through... it occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, I need to be more purposeful about being here, in the moment God has me in right now... and less concerned with trying to get to what's next.

The end will come, after all. It's there waiting. I don't really need to miss the journey in trying to get there.

-jenn

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

31 Days - Falling


I have a confession to make. Whenever I see the "trees" starting to grow in the gutters at my parents' home, I cringe and hope that my sister can talk her husband into taking care of the problem. No, I'm not really that lazy. I hate feeling like I'm shirking work. But any more than one or maybe two steps up the ladder and my heart starts pounding furiously. With the death-grip on the ladder, my hands wouldn't be much good for doing anything useful, anyway.

I'm also not one of those people you'll see peering over the edge of a canyon with fascination. Sure, it's beautiful. And I appreciate God's handiwork immensely. But unless there's a fairly high and very sturdy guardrail, I will be appreciating it from a safe distance. A very safe distance. Okay, maybe a slightly paranoid distance.

Because if I'm honest? I have to admit that just standing on our bed to change the direction of the air vent in the ceiling causes me to feel disoriented and unbalanced. I steady myself against a wall or by touching the ceiling because I feel sure I am going to lose my balance and topple over. Hello? It's a queen-sized bed, for crying out loud! Even if I did lose my balance, it's a fairly soft place to land! So why on earth does it induce panic?

I'm fairly sure it's not because my parents warned me against jumping on the bed as a kid....

It's because... my fear for the final day of 31 Days of Fear:

I am afraid of falling.

It's a real fear... with some valid reasons behind it. History – my history – proves falling can be dangerous – and that I have a certain proclivity for it! There's the ankle I tore getting on a horse in college (yes, getting on... that was fun to explain to the ER staff). And the other ankle I tore up several years ago getting down (yes, down) from putting decorations on our Christmas tree. And the knee I messed up as a teen on my first (and only) snow-skiing trip (yes, in Indiana... and no, I don't have any plans to ever go again). Falling happens. Especially to me, it seems. And it usually hurts. So there's some truth in the fear. But what's the real Truth? Truth with a capital T?

When I first considered writing on this topic, I thought I would be talking about a fear of heights. I don't like being on the edge of a cliff... I don't like being on a roof... I don't like being on a ladder. But as I started thinking about it, I realized it wasn't really the height that bothered me.

You see, when we were in Hawaii several years ago we did a helicopter tour – with the doors taken off. The pilot warned us that takeoff can unnerve some people. We shot straight up and banked and I laughed out loud. Seriously! I loved every minute of it. Except... I did have a death grip on my camera. Truth is, I was even afraid to switch from my SLR to my videocamera – I was sure I'd drop them out the gaping hole of a door if I tried. I may have been strapped in, but my camera wasn't!

And a few years before that, Carl and I spent a day at an amusement park. Despite his fear of heights, I managed to talk him into trying Cedar Point's newest roller coaster, Millennium Force. At the time it was the highest, steepest, fastest coaster in the world, breaking six different world records. I loved it! My hands were up all the way with a grin on my face the entire time. (BTW - the hands-up isn't a show of bravery... it actually helps lift your body for that coveted "air time" – which I love!) It was a blast! At least I thought so. Carl hated it.

So... how can I feel panicked while simply standing on a bed and yet laugh out loud in a helicopter with no doors... or throw my hands up with a smile on the world's fastest, highest, steepest roller coaster?

As I thought about it, I realized it's not really a fear of heights. It's a fear of falling (or dropping something important). Still, why am I panicked on the bed and positively giddy on the roller coaster?

I think it comes down to one thing: trust. What am I trusting? You see, if I really look at it...

Fear reveals something about my faith and trust.

If I am standing on a roof; the edge of a cliff; or even my bed, the only thing I have to trust is my own sense of balance. Myself. And I don't trust myself. I know I mess up. There's fear; and quite frankly, a reason for the fear.

When I am on a roller coaster preparing to plunge from a staggering height at unbelievable speeds and I'm smiling about it? You have to know that I am trusting in something I believe to be far greater (and more reliable) than myself. I'm strapped in; secured by the safety arm. There is no fear. There is only joy and an anticipation of that moment of weightlessness where I feel like I'm flying; feeling free... and yet safely confined... by arms I trust more than I do my own.

So... fear is a flag:

Fear gives me the opportunity to stop and ask,
"Am I trusting in myself? Or Someone greater?"

King David wrote:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
(Psalms 20:7-8, NIV)

Chariots and horses were the tanks and fighter jets of the day. They represent the strength and power of men. But David says those who trust in them will fall. Deep down I think we know that. We know we're not infallible. That's why we fear:

We fear because we're trusting in the wrong things.

We trust in chariots and horses; in ourselves and things of this earth. And we know they are not infallible... that we are not infallible... and so we fear.

Or...

We fear because we're not fully trusting in the right things.

David says that those who trust in the Lord will stand firm. So if we trust Him – really trust Him – there's no reason to fear, right? God is perfect. His plan is perfect. His love is perfect. It's what we've been told all our lives. Sometimes we even smile and repeat it back during the tough times... maybe trying to convince ourselves as much as everyone around us. It's what we're supposed to believe. We're not supposed to question; not supposed to doubt; not supposed to fear. Because perfect love casts out all fear, right? (1 John 4:8).

But.... What do we do with that when cancer strikes our friend, leaving her kids with no mother... or a drunk driver takes the life of a child? What do we do with it when our spouse walks out the door... or our teen is trapped by an addiction? What do we do with it when we look at the harm in our own lives and wonder, "Where was God? Why did He let that happen?" What do we do with it when we feel like we're falling hard and fast into a pit of darkness? And what do we do with it when Jesus himself tells us that we will have trouble in this world? (John 16:33)

If God doesn't keep the bad stuff from happening, how can we not fear? How can we really trust Him to protect us when we know He lets us fall?

I asked my psychologist that same question a few months ago. He asked me to consider what it was I was actually trusting God for. As I considered it and we talked about it, I suddenly remembered something I'd written after another tough season over a decade ago:

August, 2002
About a month ago I asked a question about regaining the blind faith I realized I'd lost. I don't know that you do get that same "blind" faith back, but I think maybe what you do gain is even more valuable. I don't have that same naivety. But somehow my trust is actually, I believe, even stronger. Somehow I think trusting having seen the danger that's out there is more valuable than "trusting" while oblivious to it. It doesn't take much trust if you don't see the dangers.... Kind of strange to explain, but the faith I'm finding I have now is even more sustaining. I think that before all this I trusted Him to keep me from falling. It seems quite naïve, but it really didn't dawn on me how precarious of a position this life is or how hard a fall He might actually let me take. Now I trust Him to keep me in the fall and I think that's more than trusting Him to keep me from the fall.

Oh.

As I think about that, my mind goes back to that roller coaster. My favorite part of the ride is that moment of weightlessness at the top where you feel like you're flying. But falling is still part of the ride; part of the plan. When that safety bar was locked into place and the ride started moving, I knew I was going to fall. No question. But I wasn't scared because I trusted those arms – greater than mine – to hold me in place during the fall. You see, they weren't there to keep me from the fall, but to keep me in the fall. Huh. Just like my journal entry.

That's the truth I need to hold onto:

God won't always keep me from the fall... but He will always keep me in the fall.

He promised through Moses:

"The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.
He will not fail you or forsake you.
Do not fear or be dismayed."
(Deuteronomy 31:8)

Truth is, that coaster was falling. I was falling. But I wasn't falling alone and that made all the difference. The arms were there to ensure I was held safely in the fall... controlled within the boundaries set by the creators; not flailing around on my own. I trusted the arms... I trusted the creators and their design – even though I had no idea what was ahead or how exactly it all worked. I trusted... and I enjoyed the ride.

Is that kind of trust easy in real life? No. Carl couldn't trust the coaster and spent the entire ride desperately wanting to abandon ship. And if I'm honest, there are times in this life when the ride gets a little rough and my head bangs against the safety bar and I think "This isn't so fun! I'm scared and I don't understand what's happening. Get me off – now!"

But that fear... it gets my attention... it asks what it is I'm trusting... and it points out where I'm not trusting. I've had to wrestle with that more than once. If I'm honest, I still wrestle with it. And I will most likely wrestle with it the rest of my life. That kind of trust just isn't easy. At all. But when you've wrestled it to the ground (yet again), for that moment you can actually grasp it... it's amazing.

The rest of that entry from August, 2002:
Now I KNOW bad things can happen... and yet there's more peace and trust than I ever remember really having before. I don't have any more answers now than I did at the point when I was angry, when I was throwing accusations God's way, or when I realized I'd lost my trust. And I can't tell you where that anger and distrust went. Only that it's gone. Only that once I admitted it, God took it. And in its place is a faith, but a different faith. Maybe it's kind of like the difference between believing what you can see and believing even when you can't see anything. Maybe it's the difference between just being oblivious and actually trusting. I don't know... but for the first time in my life, I don't have to look for answers. I'm NOT looking for answers, not trying to figure out the game plan. I don't need to know. My sense of well-being isn't based on figuring it out and knowing where He's taking me or why He's doing what He's doing. I'm at rest, at peace. I am just content to be.

You see... the psalmists had it right:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
(Psalms 125:1)

... we rise up and stand firm.
(Psalms 20:8, NIV)

So as I wrap up this series on 31 Days of Fear (& Truth) I'd just encourage you to ask, "What is it that my fear is revealing?" Are you trusting yourself, leaning on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)? Or are you trusting Someone greater than yourself?

Father God, thank You for this journey of looking into my fears and for the things You've shown me through it. I have to admit that it's still hard to trust sometimes. It's easy to look at the pain of the past and think I need to protect myself. It's easy to get scared and brace for impact. But help me to remember that the fall is part of the ride. Without it, there would never be that moment of flying. And while You may not keep me from the fall, You will always be there keeping me in the fall. You're the Creator. You've laid out the course and set the parameters. And I can trust Your arms to keep me safely within them. I will struggle with that, at times, Father. Probably more often than not. But I know that even in the struggle You hold me. And I want to be able to hear You say, "Buckle up!" and look into Your eyes with a smile, throw my hands up in the air and say...
"I'm in... let's fly!"

Fear: I am afraid of falling.

Truth:
  • Fear reveals something about my faith and trust.
  • Fear gives me the opportunity to stop and ask,
    "Am I trusting in myself? Or Someone greater?"
  • We fear because we're trusting in the wrong things. (Psalms 20:7-8)
  • We fear because we're not fully trusting in the right things. (Psalms 20:7-8)
  • God won't always keep me from the fall (John 16:33)... but He will always keep me in the fall. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
  • Those who trust in the Lord cannot be shaken but will endure forever. (Psalms 125:1)
  • Trusting in God allows me to stand firm. (Psalms 20:7-8)

-jenn

Note: This post is part of a 31-day writing challenge. Click here to see the rest of the posts on my 31 Days of Fear (and Truth).

Monday, January 25, 2016

31 Days - Desire

photo by Kayla Dietz

Don't ask me to make a decision. I can't do it. Seriously, I've been known to laugh as I point out that it takes me 20 minutes to make a decision in McDonald's – before they expanded their menu to include wraps, etc.! Okay, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration... but only slight. And....

I have to admit that nearly every time my husband asks where I want to eat, my answer is the same: "I don't know."

What do I want to do? "I don't know."

If I could have one wish.... "I don't know."

What's my favorite.... "I don't know."

Over ten years ago I wrote:
Our small group is on marriage enrichment. Carl asked the question, "Yeah, but what if SHE doesn't know what she needs?" Afraid that the group would think he was being funny, I looked at our leader and told him, "Ummm... it's a real question."
And... I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up!

Do you see a pattern?

Until recently, I didn't really see the connection between any of those things. I thought I was just easy-going at best; indecisive at worst. I'm beginning to see things just a little differently.

I think I have attempted, as best as I know how, to kill desire. I don't recognize my own wants or needs because I've done my best to kill them. I'm not sure of all the reasons, but I at least know some of them. Ranging from my childhood sexual abuse, to friends turned bullies at school... desire for relationship was dangerous – it was a weakness which opened me up to pain. Other desires felt unattainable; out of reach; and therefore foolish. (To be accepted by my peers; skate like an olympic ice skater; sing like Amy Grant; write like John-Boy Walton....). And those desires I didn't label as foolish, I usually labeled as selfish or wrong.

Desire made me weak; foolish; or a jerk (or all of the above). And that... usually brought the sting of rejection. And so somewhere along the line I decided it was better to kill desire than to feel its pain. It just hurt too much.

So... my fear for Day Thirty:

I am afraid of desire.

It's a real fear... with some valid reasons behind it. History – my history – proves desire can be dangerous. Even scripture tells us "but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed." (James 1:14, NIV). So there's some truth in the fear: desire is dangerous. But what's the real Truth? Truth with a capital T?

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids - blind, lame, and paralyzed.
One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him,
"Do you want to be healed?"
(John 5:2-6,ESV)

Evidently there was a belief that at times an angel would stir the water and the first person to then enter the pool would be healed. So as Jesus passes by this pool with a multitude of invalids waiting for such a stirring, he sees a man lying on his mat who has been paralyzed for 38 years. Jesus stops... looks at him... and asks... "Do you want to be healed?"

Imagine for a moment the indignation of that man... "Do I want to be healed? What kind of crazy question is that?" He may have even believed for a moment that he was being mocked. I'm sure it wasn't the first time. He was lying at the edge of a pool with no way to get in – even if the waves did come, he had no one to help him. I can hear the taunts he's suffered at times: "How do you think YOU'RE going to get in there, cripple? Huh? Get real – you're never going to make it. Why don't you just go home?" He's heard it all before... and in truth it echoes the same despair that he feels in his own heart. Noone is going to help him. Noone ever has. Noone ever will. Noone cares. He's alone. And he's been lying on that mat a long time. A. LONG. Time.

Honestly, how long can we hold onto desire that is continually denied? A year? Two years? Five? Ten? Twenty? How about... thirty-eight? Ummmm... yeah. That's tough. We all eventually move to a place where we begin to protect our heart – numbing it with resignation or even bitterness. We find ways to deaden the pain. Maybe it's biting cynicism as we lash out at others. Maybe it's sitting down with a full container of ice cream and a spoon. Or maybe it's disengaging and "vegging out" in front of a TV, or my favorite – a book. Whatever our method, we try to find a way to build calluses around our tender hearts... to kill the pain of unmet desire... to kill desire. And I think what I am discovering is that you can't just kill one desire. Where one is damaged, others will follow. Like dominoes, they fall until there are none left.

Proverbs 13:12 tells us that "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." I believe that's where this man is. Heartsick. Numb. He's an odd mix of hope and hopelessness. He's there, yet he really doesn't believe he has a chance. Not daring to dream, he's lost the heart-connection to his desire. He's just going through the motions. He has no answers to those who might mock him and ask "How are you ever going to get in there first, old man?"

And now someone stands above him asking, "Do you want to be healed?" What kind of question is that?! But when he looks up into Jesus' face, he doesn't see mockery. He sees compassion. He doesn't see rejection. He sees an invitation. And as he searches his heart for the answer, I think he feels something that was nearly dead begin to stir in his heart again. Desire. Yes, he wants to be healed. And his heart beats a little faster as he dares to dream. Maybe this man with eyes full of compassion would actually help him into the water....

But Jesus doesn't even look at the pool. He looks at the man. Actually, He looks in the man. He doesn't need the stirring of the water. He wants the stirring of his heart. He sees success in what's happening inside the man's heart, not in the pool.

Jesus wants to stir and awaken our desire!

We see a similar story in Matthew 20:29-32 where two blind men call out to Him. The crowd wants the men to be quiet, but Jesus stops and asks the two men, "What do you want Me to do for you?"

You can't tell me that Jesus didn't know what they wanted. So what was the purpose of His question?

I think He wanted to stir their hearts enough that they would give voice to their desire. Sometimes that's hard. If I give voice to a dream that seems out of my reach, I look foolish to the people around me. "Who am I to dream something so big?" So I keep quiet. Sometimes I'm afraid to give voice to it because it seems selfish. So I keep quiet. Sometimes I'm afraid to give it voice because denial (rejection) would hurt too much. So I keep quiet.

The crowd tells these two men the same thing I tell myself sometimes: "Be quiet!" But Jesus tells them (and me): "Tell me. Don't listen to the voices telling you to be quiet. I'm telling you to speak up! Dare to dream! Dare to ask. Dare... to give voice to desire."

Jesus wants us to have faith enough to admit to and give voice to our desire!

He's serious about that. We're even told in James 4:2 that we have not, because we do not ask.

So why is Jesus so interested in stirring our desire?

I don't think I'm the only one who has been hurt or disappointed by desire. And I don't think I'm the only one who has denied desire. But here's the thing: if I attempt to deny desire, I'm not just killing desire – I'm making an assault on hope. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "We can only hope for what we desire." Think about it: we can have desire without hope, but we can never have hope without desire. Hope can't exist without desire!

The New Testament is full of messages about hope. In fact, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that the three foundational things to the Christian life are faith, hope and love. And 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to be prepared to give an explanation for where our hope comes from. Peter indicates that our hope is what draws people to us; to our story; to our Savior. He tells us to be ready with an explanation when we're asked about it. And yet... there aren't many people knocking down the doors to our churches asking us about our hope. Why? I think it's because we've dulled our desire. Our hope is mild and bland because our desire is bland.

People should see and want our hope. But hope cannot exist without desire.

But Jesus doesn't want to stir our desire just for the benefit of others:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
(John 10:10 )

The thief comes to steal our joy. He also wants to steal our desire. He works to turn the desires God places in our hearts – misdirecting them towards his own purposes. If he can't steal our desire, he will work to kill it. He is even crafty enough to get us to do his dirty work for him – convincing us to kill our own desire. And in stealing our joy and killing our desire, his main objective is met: he destroys any effect we might have for the Kingdom of God. Without joy and without desire we are no longer a threat.

Jesus sets Himself in complete opposition to satan's purposes, though. Jesus tells us that He came so that we could live life abundantly; life to the full. We don't live abundantly when we are vegging out in front of the TV, numbing our desire and deadening our hearts. We live abundantly when we dare to dream; when we dare to give voice and pursue it; when we dare to reach to be all that God created us to be. And we just can't do that without desire.

Jesus came so that we could live life to the fullest and we can't do that without desire.

Look again at Proverbs 13:12:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
(Proverbs 13:12)

What does it really mean to say that "desired fulfilled is a tree of life?"

Genesis 3:22-24 tells us that our access to the tree of life was blocked after the first sin (eating from the tree of knowledge). God took it seriously enough that He posted guards with flaming swords to protect us from it. (Yes, to protect us, but that's another thought for another post).

In Revelation 2:7 and 22:14 we're told that we'll regain access to the tree of life in heaven. But for now? In between Genesis and Revelation? For now we don't have access to the tree of life. So what does it mean that desire fulfilled is a tree of life?

The first part of Proverbs 13:12 tells us that hope deferred leaves us heartsick. It saps our strength and leaves us weakened... despondent. But second part of the verse tells us that desire fulfilled renews our strength and rejuvenates us – bringing life back to the despondent, deadened heart. It is as if we were in Eden – resurrected and plucking the fruit from the tree of life.

Desire fulfilled gives us a taste of Eden – what our lives were meant to be.

And that... that is the way Jesus intends us to live... with a taste of Eden... an abundant life... and a desire for more.

Oh, Father... I wish I weren't so afraid of desire... afraid of looking foolish; afraid of rejection; afraid of pain. I want to reach out for desire... and I know that's what You want for me... what You want from me.... and yet I pull back and put up walls to protect my heart. Oh, Daddy, I'm sorry. Sorry for joining with satan to kill something that You meant to be beautiful. It's scary to even think about, but I'm swallowing hard and asking You to give me the strength to break that agreement with evil; to instead reach out for the desire that You want to stir within me. Help me dare to dream... dare to desire... dare to live life... and dare to live it... abundantly!

Fear: I am afraid of desire.

Truth:

  • Jesus wants to stir and awaken our desire! (John 5:2-6)
  • Jesus wants us to have faith enough to admit to and give voice to our desire! (Matthew 20:29-32; James 4:2)
  • People should see and want our hope. But hope cannot exist without desire. (1 Peter 3:15; C.S. Lewis)
  • Jesus came so that we could live life to the fullest and we can't do that without desire. (John 10:10)
  • Desire fulfilled gives us a taste of Eden – what our lives were meant to be. (Proverbs 13:12)

-jenn

Note: This post is part of a 31-day writing challenge. Click here to see the rest of the posts on my 31 Days of Fear (and Truth).

Friday, November 20, 2015

31Days - Stuck


I thought I knew what I was writing about for this blogpost. I'd started my research, was planning it in my head. And then... then today happened.

Two weeks ago, my husband and I sat down on our counselor's sofa and as he looked us over he commented how relaxed and contented we looked... and asked about the difference.... I was feeling really good about where I was. The 31Day challenge had been good for me. I felt I was growing. I felt more confident in who I was as God's child. I felt content.

Today... today couldn't have gone much more differently. First let me clarify – it's not "couple" stuff. We're good. It's not even "husband" stuff. He's good. It's "my" stuff. I'm not so good. I went into today knowing it probably wasn't going to be pretty. Truth is, if my counselor had asked me to put a word to how I felt inside before we started, I would have said "toxic." There was a rage boiling just beneath the surface that I didn't understand and I didn't want to even look at... It's too scary to get too close to it. But I knew I had to. So... yeah... it was a tough session – trying to get to areas where I still shut down; I still can't go.

By the end of the session I didn't feel toxic anymore... but I also didn't feel capable of going where my next blogpost was "supposed" to go. In part, because I just didn't have the emotional energy to deal with it (or anything else). In part, because... if I'm honest... I was letting satan whisper those all-too familiar accusations in my ear: "Look how messed up you still are, Jenn! You thought you were growing? Well, think again! You can't keep it together for more than a couple weeks. You haven't gotten anywhere! How on earth could you believe that you have anything to say that could possibly benefit anyone else? How arrogant! What a hypocrite! You know you haven't learned a thing. You're nothing but a poser and you have absolutely no business writing anything!"

Can I just admit that even typing out those lies has my throat tight and tears in my eyes?

So my fear for Day Twenty-Nine:

I am afraid of being stuck (not making progress).

Evil doesn't play fair. He knows just where to push. He knows where I'm vulnerable. He knows that I hate the thought of being right back where I started... of all my effort and tears being for nothing... of being stuck here... forever. He plays on my fear; uses it to try to disable me. But what's the real Truth? Truth with a capital T?

Maybe I should start with what my counselor told me as I prepared to leave his office. As I stood to walk toward the door with my shoulders slumped and head hanging, he looked at me and said, "You can do this. You know how I know you can do this?"

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:13)

He continued, "You know what else I know? Apart from Him you can do nothing."

"I am the vine, you are the branches;
he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit,
for apart from Me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5)


I can do all things through Him, but without Him I can do nothing.

To be honest, I simply nodded my head. They were familiar verses that at that moment didn't have the impact they should have. They should have been freeing. They should have impressed on me that it's not MY battle. It's God's. And while I may feel "stuck" at times, God never is:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 1:6)


It is God who began the work in me.

The word "began" in this verse carries the connotation of the very beginning (creation). I didn't begin the work that's going on in me. My therapist didn't begin the work that's going on in me. God and God alone began it – long before I even saw it; long before I even knew I needed it. It wasn't my responsibility to begin it. It isn't my responsibility to complete it. My responsibility is to simply submit myself so that I'm working with Him, not against Him. My responsibility is to allow Him to work in me.

for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
(Philippians 2:13)


It is God who is at work in me!

Not only did God begin it, but He is at work in me at this very moment. God – the all-knowing, all-powerful, God of the universe – is working in me! For His pleasure! That's a pretty amazing piece of Truth.

And circling back to Philippians 1:6:

God will continue His work to perfection.

"He... will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." The work in me is a continuing work in progress. It won't be finished until Christ returns. But it is in process. I am in process. I am His work; His masterpiece. And God is not going to quit. He doesn't give up. He doesn't stall out. Paul is reminding us of what David told us long before:

The LORD will accomplish what concerns me;
Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
(Psalms 138:8)


God will complete His plans for me... with mercy, kindness and faithfulness.

David tells us God will bring to completion the plans and purposes He has for us (the things concerning, or applying to us). But do you see what comes next? In the very same breath, he talks of God's lovingkindness: His kindness, mercy and faithfulness. David is painting a picture of work done with love and care. Listen to what he's saying –  a work done with love and care... like an artist laboring over his work.  An artist creates not just with his hands, but with his heart. That's the picture David is painting.  That's what our Father is doing:

But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all of us are the work of Your hand.
(Isaiah 64:8)


God is working with the love and care of an artist;
carefully sculpting and shaping each detail.

You know, I've heard that verse a thousand times. Somehow, though, I've always envisioned a messy lump of clay being transformed into a simple, monochromatic, functional piece of pottery. When I started writing about Psalms 138:8 today, though, the image began to change. He's working with love and kindness... He's working with the heart of an artist! Suddenly, instead of a simple, functional piece of pottery, I am envisioning an exquisite piece of artwork bursting with color and creativity; a masterpiece labored over with great attention to detail.

The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He.
(Deuteronomy 32:4)


God's work is perfect!

The problem with a masterpiece? All those fine little details... the careful attention... it all takes time.

But listen to what God says through Habakkuk:

For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
For it will certainly come, it will not delay.
(Habakkuk 2:3)

In the first part of the verse, God promises that His goals will be accomplished. But if we look at the next part of the verse we see just how well God knows us. He knows our impatience. He knows we're going to look around; not see anything happening; and become frustrated, disillusioned, or even try to take things into our own hands. He knows! So He answers us before we even get there and says, "Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay."

God knows it will seem slow to us!
So He warns us and tells us to wait for it.

The New Living Translation puts it this way:

But these things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.
(Habakkuk 2:3, NLT)

God's plans are not delayed – they are right on His time schedule.

It seems slow.  But it only seems slow to us. He's still working; still fine-tuning all those little details that will bring me – His masterpiece –  to perfection. Sometimes from my perspective it may look like nothing is happening; nothing is changing; no progress is being made. The artist sees the little details that I don't notice, though.

My daughter is an artist. She notices things that I miss. I can look at a painting and appreciate it as a great piece of art. She, however, notices the details that I don't: the intricate shading; the color variation; the attention to shadows and light. I don't really notice those details. She not only notices them, she spends what sometimes seems to me an inordinate amount of time on them. And yet it is the artist's patient attention to those details – details I don't even notice – that makes it a masterpiece. Those little details take time. And the work is coming together whether I can see it or not.

As I was studying Habakkuk 2:3, I discovered that the author of Hebrews actually quotes it in Hebrews 10:37 (and Hebrews 10:38 goes on to quote Habakkuk 2:4).  I took a look at it in Hebrews and was a bit surprised by what I found:

35Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 37FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. 38BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. 39But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul
(Hebrews 10:35-39)

Oh wow. Think about that for a minute. The NT scripture is quoting an OT scripture (in all caps) in which God tells us that what may seem slow to us, is in fact still coming. It will happen, just wait. And then the NT scripture starts off the reference with "do not throw away your confidence?!" That just blew me away.

I don't know about you, but that speaks to me right where I'm at: As I'm walking out the door of my counselor's office, head hung low, shoulders slumped, with the words of satan echoing in my head: "You thought you were growing? Well, think again! You haven't gotten anywhere! How on earth could you believe that you have anything to say that could possibly benefit anyone else? How arrogant! What a hypocrite! You haven't learned a thing. You're nothing but a poser and you have absolutely no business writing anything!"

And God answers, through His written word – words written long before I was born – "I know it's taking awhile... but I'm working... it's coming... wait for it, Jenn... don't throw away your confidence."

My head lifts and my heart jumps.

Don't throw away your confidence!

The confidence I'm to keep hold of is not a confidence based on I can do, but on God; His Word; His promises; His faithfulness; His process; and His timing. I am to have confidence in the Artist. He's working on a masterpiece! That... that's enough to put tears in my eyes. Not the tears of despair and lost hope that satan wanted to push on me... but the tears of hope, love and gratitude; the tears that flow when you realize just how very much you are loved and understood... and how very special you are to the one who loves you.

But the encouragement doesn't end there! After God tells us to not throw away our confidence; after He reminds us of the OT scripture that tells us to wait for what's coming; then the author of Hebrews tells us:

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction,
but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul
(Hebrews 10:39)


We are not to retreat, but to have faith.

When satan filled my mind with the lies that I was getting nowhere, it felt useless to even try. Part of me wanted to retreat, pull into myself and quit. That pulling into myself? That's one of those destructive protection mechanisms I've been learning to overcome. And retreating into destruction is exactly what satan wanted. He wanted to disable me by convincing me to give up; to return to those things which would destroy me instead of reaching toward the things that could destroy him. But the God of the universe knows my weaknesses; my vulnerability to losing confidence and retreating. And He whispers words of encouragement and understanding, "Don't draw back, Jenn; don't retreat. I know it's taking awhile, but I'm working. It's coming... wait for it. Don't throw away your confidence, Jenn. Have faith!"

Do you hear the love? The tender reassurances from a God who knows you better than you know yourself? The only thing I can do at that point is relax in His grip with tears of gratitude and echo the words of thanksgiving from the Apostle Paul:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21)

And even those simple words of gratitude have a message all their own:

God is the power working within us...
and He is able to do much more than we can imagine!


Father God, thank you so much for speaking to me through Your word. Thank You for the reminders that You are working in me – even when I don't see it. Thank You for the beautiful picture of an artist creating a work of art with love and patience. Thank You for knowing me and providing the words of encouragement that I would need – long before I needed them! Oh, Daddy! Help me to remember. Help me to hold onto confidence; to not retreat back into destruction. Instead, help me to have the faith to know that You are working even when it seems slow to me. I am a masterpiece! And You care enough to spend time on the details. 

Oh, Daddy... Thank You! 


And to You who can do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think,
according to the power that works within us,
to You be the glory!

Fear: I am afraid of  being stuck (not making any progress).

Truth:

  • I can do all things through Him, but without Him I can do nothing. (Philippians 4:13, John 15:5).
  • It is God who began the work in me. (Philippians 1:6)
  • It is God who is at work in me! (Philippians 2:13)
  • God will continue His work to perfection. (Philippians 1:6)
  • God will complete His plans for me... with mercy, kindness and faithfulness. (Psalms 138:8)
  • God is working with the love and care of an artist; carefully sculpting and shaping each detail. (Isaiah 64:8)
  • God's work is perfect! (Deuteronomy 32:4)
  • God knows it will seem slow to us! So He warns us and tells us to wait for it. (Habakkuk 2:3)
  • God's plans are not delayed – they are right on His time schedule. (Habakkuk 2:3)
  • Don't throw away your confidence! (Hebrews 10:36)
  • We are not to retreat, but to have faith. (Hebrews 10:39)
  • God is the power working within us... and He is able to do much more than we can imagine! (Ephesians 3:20-21)

-jenn

Note: This post is part of a 31-day writing challenge. Click here to see the rest of the posts on my 31 Days of Fear (and Truth).

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

31Days - Messing Up My Kids


I started to offer up the prayer request in our Sunday School class. It was a simple request, really. But as I started to explain why I was worried, my voice broke and the tears gathered at the corners of my eyes. It surprised me. I hate displaying emotion (yeah, working on that, see Day 19: I am afraid of revealing my emotions.). I hadn't seen it coming. But as I'd started describing the problem, my culpability in it all had overwhelmed me. I was sending my daughter off to another state, to live off campus, on her own, where she knew no one. And I hadn't prepared her. She didn't know how to cook (other than wild game she'd killed, cleaned and fried); she had never had a lot of household responsibilities (I wanted my kids free to concentrate on schoolwork and still have time to be a kid); and she barely knew how to drive (didn't even have her license yet because I hadn't wanted to push her). I sat there that morning with tears gathering in my eyes and words stuck in my throat because I knew I hadn't prepared her for life on her own. I'd messed up. I'd failed my child.

There are other regrets that I have as a parent. We haven't eaten around a dinner table (in our home, anyway) in over four years. We didn't do it often enough before we moved, but after the move to the small lake cottage, definitely not. We've never really had family devotions. I tried once or twice, but it never really stuck. I wasn't the parent that had long talks with her kids after school – drawing them out and getting them to talk about their days. Sometimes I disciplined with anger and frustration. Sometimes I looked the other way because it was easier. I was there for every soccer game, but I was never the parent who visited the school lunch room on a regular basis or volunteered in the classroom. I had my own hang-ups that kept me from being one of "those" mothers... a better mother. I didn't really want to be around one of those mothers, either... because they'd just remind me how short I fell... all the things I wasn't doing right... all the ways I should be doing better... all the ways I was failing my children.

So my fear for Day Twenty-eight:

I am afraid of messing up my kids.

It's a real fear... with some valid reasons behind it. I'm not the perfect parent. I have messed up. And there are a lot of examples in the Bible of good guys who weren't so hot at fathering and had kids who tended to end up dead. (David and Eli are two that come to mind). That's comforting, right? Not. So there's some truth in the fear. But what's the real Truth? Truth with a capital T?

Well... let me introduce you to a guy named Ahaz:

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do right in the sight of the LORD as David his father had done. But he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel; he also made molten images for the Baals. Moreover, he burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel. He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills and under every green tree.
(2 Chronicles 28:1-4)

Ahaz was probably the worst king of Judah. Previous kings fell short in one way or another (we all do, right?), but all the Bible has to say about Ahaz is that "he did not do right in the sight of the LORD." There's nothing good or redeeming about him ever mentioned. He'd had plenty of good examples: his own father, Jotham; his grandfather, Uzziah; and further back in the family tree, David. But instead of following those examples, he followed the ungodliness that the northern kingdom of Israel had embraced. All those sacrifices he made? They weren't to God. They were idol worship and pagan practices.

But it gets worse. Ahaz wasn't just a bad king, he was a pretty bad dad, too. Actually, that's a bit of an understatement. I think we could justifiably call him a horrible father. CPS would be having a fit. You see, Ahaz intentionally burned his sons in fire. Yes, I said intentionally. He worshiped the pagan god, Molech. Molech was worshiped by placing a metal statue representing him in the fire until it was red-hot. An infant was then placed on the glowing, outstretched hands of the statue (still in the fire). Please read that with the horror it deserves: the child was placed in the flames on the molten, red-hot, outstretched hands of an idol! The screams of the child were covered by beating drums until the child burned to death. Unfathomable. I. Just. Can't. Imagine. But Ahaz did that. In fact, he did it more than once – scripture says he burned his sons in the fire. Sons. Plural. There are no words.

So if you are afraid that you might be messing up your kids... I can pretty much guarantee you're nowhere near as bad a parent as Ahaz. I can't point to a verse that backs it up, but I believe that anyone who is actually worrying about the job they are doing as a parent is a parent who is headed in the right direction – they are at least concerned for the welfare of their child.

Not Ahaz. We're talking one twisted, messed-up dude. So...

Ahaz was not only one of the worst kings of Judah,
but also a horrible example of a father.

Now let's skip ahead just a little and let me introduce you to Hezekiah, another king of Judah:

Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old; and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done.
(2 Chronicles 29:1-2)

The chapter goes on to tell how he restored the house of the LORD and called the people away from idol worship back to God. This guy was a good guy.

The author of 2 Kings also speaks highly of Hezekiah:

He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went he prospered.
(2 Kings 18:3-7)

Did you catch that? "...after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him." No other king was like him. Not before. Not after. He was perhaps the most godly king, and was definitely the best reformer Judah had. No other king had the courage to forbid the pagan worship on the high places. Hezekiah did. He destroyed anything having to do with them. He clung to the LORD and didn't depart from Him.

Hezekiah did right in the sight of the LORD
and was one of the best kings of Judah.

So... who was this Hezekiah? The verse said he was David's son, right? Actually, that would be a "sort of, not really." David was his ancestor, but that was several generations back. Remember that really twisted, messed-up dude, Ahaz? Uh huh... Hezekiah was his son. So think about this: Hezekiah grew up knowing that his father burned his brothers to death in the fire to Molech. It's possible he even witnessed it. Can you imagine knowing your father tossed his kids – your brothers – into a fire and watched them burn to death? Wouldn't you think that would mess you up a bit? Can you imagine the sessions with his psychologist? But that's the kind of father Hezekiah had.

The most godly king and most active spiritual reformer of Judah...
was the son of an utterly depraved man!

How does that happen?

"Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit"' says the LORD of hosts.
(Zechariah 4:6)

... our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
(Psalms 115:3)


God is in control.

It's that simple. God is capable of doing whatever He pleases. So as I think about the fear of messing up my kids, the real question becomes, "Do I truly believe that God is in control? Or do I believe that my mistakes can't be redeemed?" Don't just read over that sentence. Don't just give it lip service. Think about it: What do my fears say about my belief? Do I really believe that my mistakes are bigger than God? That He can't redeem my mistakes?

God gave Jeremiah the answer for that:

"Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?
(Jeremiah 32:27)


My mistakes are not too difficult for God to redeem.

Does that mean I can do anything I want and not worry about how it affects my kids (or anyone else, including myself)? Of course not. There's a balance. Granted, it's a tough one; one difficult to wrap our heads around:

Do I believe God is sovereign; in control; can do anything He wants; and is able to redeem any mistake I might make? Yes.

Do I believe my decisions and actions have consequences? Yes.

Both/And.

How can both be true? I have no idea. I think it's one of those things we just can't understand. But then, if we were able to understand God in total, He wouldn't really be much of a God.

Paul tells us, though:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7)


We are to pray instead of worry!

Here's the interesting thing: the word translated "anxious" in this verse is the same one Paul uses in Phil 2:19-20 as he commends Timothy for his concern for the Philippians. Yet here, using the same Greek word, Paul tells us not to be concerned, but to pray. Contradictory? Not exactly.

Paul commends concern for others – just as I am sure he would commend our concern and care for our children. God gives us guidelines on raising our children because we are responsible for them – we are to care for, guide, and do our best to raise them according to God's instructions and plans. We know that God calls us to do our best in all circumstances (Colossians 3:23). So I am not advocating throwing up our hands and saying, "Whatever will be, will be!"

What Paul is warning against is a concern that becomes fearful and distressing. Paul is not saying "Don't worry, be happy!" He is saying, "Your care for one another is good, but don't forget that the LORD God is in control of it all." We do have responsibility. And yet at the same time He is sovereign; we are not. It's not all on us. He's got it. Pray about it instead of stewing about it!

Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
(Psalms 37:5-6)

And remember... all those verses we claim for ourselves about how God has chosen us; loved us; sacrificed for us? All those verses about how He will speak to us and guide us? They apply to our children too. Just like us, they have their own choices to make. We can't make their decisions for them. But God loves them and will be there for them!

By the way – the kid I was worried about in the first paragraph? She's blooming beautifully right where she's at – way beyond what I could have ever imagined.

Father God, this adulting is hard. I don't feel responsible enough to handle my own life at times, let alone responsible enough to guide and direct my children. I know I've made mistakes. I know I will continue to make mistakes. I hate that. I hate thinking that I didn't cuddle them enough or wasn't consistent enough or didn't listen enough. But God, You are there holding and loving them. You are constant. You hear their thoughts before they ever are formed. Nothing is too difficult for You. Where I've failed them, You can heal them. Where my instruction is lacking, Yours is perfect. Give me strength and courage, wisdom and compassion to be a better parent. But thank You for loving them perfectly when my love is so imperfect. Abba, Father... thank You for being such a good, good Father.

Fear: I am afraid of messing up my kids.

Truth:

  • Ahaz was not only one of the worst kings of Judah, but also a horrible example of a father. (2 Chronicles 28:1-4)
  • Hezekiah did right in the sight of the LORD and was one of the best kings of Judah. (2 Chronicles 29:1-2; 2 Kings 18:3-7)
  • The most godly king and most active spiritual reformer of Judah... was the son of an utterly depraved man!
  • God is in control. (Zechariah 4:6; Psalms 115:3)
  • My mistakes are not too difficult for God to redeem! (Jeremiah 32:27)
  • We are to pray instead of worry. (Philippians 4:6-7)

-jenn

Note: This post is part of a 31-day writing challenge. Click here to see the rest of the posts on my 31 Days of Fear (and Truth).

Sunday, November 8, 2015

31Days - Last to Know


I stood holding the tray in front of me, glancing around and trying to convey a confidence I didn't have. Wild animals target the weak. So do teenagers. Show no fear and you might survive. I hated lunch: hated the period where chaos reigned; hated the noise and jostling for position; hated choosing a seat; trying to look like I belonged when all I wanted to do was run. I hated it.

I started for the table where I usually sat. She wasn't there yet. He was. For some unknown reason he had decided the very first time we met – in kindergarten – to pursue me. Not in a way a girl wants to be pursued. No, he was the wild animal whose sole purpose seemed to be to tear me apart and laugh while the world watched. Show no fear. I slid into my normal seat at the far edge of the small group of friends, waiting for my friend to arrive. I wasn't quite sure how she could be friends with both of us, but once she slid between us all would be okay. Before she arrived, though, he turned to me, "She doesn't want you here, you know."

I knew his games. He just wanted a reaction. Everything would be fine. Just ignore him. Show no fear. He continued, "She's tired of you always hanging around."

I steeled myself, ignoring him. He was just trying to get under my skin. I wouldn't let him. I couldn't let him. Show no fear. He went for the jugular anyway: "She's just too nice to tell you. She doesn't want to hurt you, so she's tried giving you hints. But you didn't get them. She even told you a story about a friend who was hanging around too much, but you were too stupid to figure it out. It was you she was talking about."

I froze. This went beyond his normal taunts. I remembered the conversation with her. He wasn't there for it. If he knew.... The truth of it slammed into me as I fought to keep the pain and humiliation from my face. He was right. I'd overstayed my welcome at her table. And my worst tormentor knew it before I did. I was not only unwanted, but I was too clueless to catch on. Everyone but me knew. Stupid. Pathetic. I fought desperately to show no emotion – no weakness that might invite further attack – but my mind reeled. She'd told him. Of all people, she'd told the one who would love to rub it in my face. And now everyone knew. Everyone but me. I was the last to know. Too stupid to have seen it myself. There would have been pain enough in the rejection. The public humiliation, though, cut me to the core. There was no place to run; no place to hide. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing me react so I sat... quietly eating my lunch, acting like nothing was wrong and trying desperately to keep the tears from my eyes.

What I didn't realize then was how that moment had triggered and echoed the emotions from my childhood abuse – the damage already done to my soul. I had adored my abuser – probably to the point of being a pest. I was thrilled when he began paying attention to me. I didn't understand the things he wanted to do, but I trusted him... wanted him to like me... and so I followed his lead with no questions. Sometime later my mother – with no idea what had happened – gave me "The Talk." I remember my shock as I realized my abuser already knew everything she was telling me... and as I realized he knew that I didn't know... and had used my ignorance against me. I remember the pain and humiliation of realizing he didn't really care about me. He just thought of me as a dumb little kid who wouldn't know any better. Stupid. Pathetic.

I didn't want to experience that kind of pain again. Ever.

I never, ever, wanted to be the last to know.....

So my fear for Day Twenty-seven:

I am afraid of being the last one to know.

It's a real fear... with some valid reasons behind it. History – my history – proves it can be incredibly painful. So there's some truth in the fear. But what's the real Truth? Truth with a capital T?

Every man is stupid, devoid of knowledge;
(Jeremiah 10:14)


All of us are devoid of knowledge.

Yeah. Makes you feel better already, right? But the truth is, God is the source of all wisdom and knowledge. We have none of our own. You're still not feeling especially comforted, though, are you? It doesn't really address the fear in the way you'd think, huh? But there's a reason I'm going there, and a reason I have no option but to "go there" and to look at this verse.

Honestly, I've been putting off writing about this fear for awhile. I looked at it a couple of weeks ago, but was struggling and so threw it out on Facebook for discussion. My cousin answered with questions of his own:
"Why do you need to know something? Is it possibly a trust issue? Is it a worry issue?"
I danced around it for a moment, answering:
"Good questions... A couple of different incidents from my past come to mind when I think about what drives that fear. The first caused me immense harm from being unable to make an informed decision (my lack of knowledge was used against me by someone who knew what I didn't). The second was a public humiliation that went very deep."
And he replied,
"Sorry. I've got nothing for that. Did God work through these events to develop something in your character that was missing, to somehow make you more Christ-like? I'm kind of grasping at straws here. Still looking at the trust/worry idea."
And I knew... I knew where I had to go. I spent the next morning in my psychologist's office grappling with it. Afterwards, I thought I still needed more time to wrestle with it before writing about it. So I shelved it for a bit. But... the 31 Days is drawing to a close and... I know... I've got to go there.

I haven't wrestled this one to the ground yet. But I'm just going to be honest about where I am. I'm stepping out and saying: "I haven't dealt with this yet. But here it is. Here's what I know. Here's what I know to be right. And here's where I know I am wrong." So... here goes....

When my cousin mentioned the word trust... and I'd mentioned the word humiliation.... I knew the connection. I'd read it before. Dan Allender, a Christian psychologist, had written that shame exposes our idols. We feel shame because our idol – the thing we have put our trust in – has been shown to be unworthy of that trust:
Shame arises when we feel deficient, yes. But far more, we feel deficient and ugly when the god we (covertly and at times unconsciously) worship lets us down and reveals the foolishness of our idolatrous trust. Shame is not primarily an experience of feeling bad or deficient as it is the exposure of foolish trust in a god who is not God....

Our culture declares, "Shame arises because I am a victim and I feel bad about myself." The Bible declares, "Shame arises because I am an idolater and I feel foolish when my idol topples."


----"The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God,"
by Dan B. Allender & Tremper Longman
All that flashed through my mind as my cousin's questions ripped open a wound to reveal the truth – the ugly infection festering below the surface. The truth is, I'd felt humiliation because my idol had been toppled. I was foolish enough to trust in something other than God.

Years before, my abuser had taken advantage of my lack of knowledge. I didn't ever want to be in that position again. My ability to research and gather knowledge would be what would protect me. That day in the high school cafeteria, though, my idol didn't protect me. It toppled. Everyone knew but me. And I felt shame. I'd foolishly trusted something unworthy of my trust. But instead of seeing the symptom of shame for what it was... and instead of recognizing the futility of trusting something that was not God, I just intensified my efforts to never, ever, be the last to know.

And that's why when I searched the Bible for the word "knowledge" and I saw Jeremiah 10:14, and then saw it repeated again in Jeremiah 51:17, I knew there was no dancing around it. I knew I had to go with it. Not only does this verse address my fear of being the last to know (not having knowledge)... but it also addresses the real core of my problem. So... here's the entire verse (not just the first line):

Every man is stupid, devoid of knowledge;
Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols;
For his molten images are deceitful,
And there is no breath in them.
(Jeremiah 10:14)

Oh boy. Knowledge and shame and idols – all there together in the same verse. Dr. Allender was right:

Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols.

Shame exposes our idols.

If knowledge is my idol, then it will bring me shame. At some point it will fail me. My foolishness in trusting an idol that cannot protect me will be exposed and I will feel humiliation. In a way, shame is a gift. Shame is to my heart what a fever is to my body. It's a sign that something is wrong. It is my opportunity to stop and ask myself what caused it – what is it that I have trusted above my God? What is my "little g" god?

For his molten images are deceitful... And there is no breath in them.

My idols cannot protect me.

I am guilty. I put trust in something that cannot save me; something that will fail me. It is a false (deceitful) god. It promises something it can't deliver. It can't keep me safe. It's a dead thing with no life (breath) in it. False and dead aren't good qualities to look for in a protector. Yet my shame and my actions reveal a heart that has trusted my own knowledge to keep me out of trouble much more than I've trusted the real, living, all-powerful, all-knowing God. Actually, there's a secondary god I served as well. My psychologist pointed out that my quest to accumulate knowledge was also a grasp at control. There is an underlying belief that if I have enough knowledge and control, I can keep myself from getting hurt. Both are false (deceitful) gods. Both have failed me. I need to quit bowing down to them and trust the only Living God.

But... if I'm honest... on that morning when my cousin asked the questions that exposed my false gods and my lack of trust in the one true God... my heart suddenly cried out with an unexpected question that my "good girl" self had always managed to squelch in the past: "But how can I trust a God who won't protect me?" It took me by surprise. I hadn't let myself grapple with that question before. I know what I'm supposed to do – trust. So I couldn't let myself even ask that question. But now it was out there... and I had to deal with it.

My psychologist turned it on me a little when he questioned, "What are you trusting God for?" And then we looked at Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
(Psalms 46:1)

He pointed out that the psalmist was trusting God IN trouble; not to keep him FROM trouble. It reminded me of something I'd written over a decade ago about learning to trust God to keep me in the fall and how I thought that actually took more faith than trusting Him to keep me from the fall. Apparently, I still need work on that.

I know the last three paragraphs haven't really been about the Truth relating to the fear of being the last to know. I pretty much wrapped that up with the need to trust the only Living God. But... I wanted to be honest; transparent; authentic. I wanted to admit that I'm still grappling with trusting a God who lets bad things happen. If I'm honest, I know He will be my refuge and strength in trouble, but I'd just as soon avoid the trouble to begin with. And that's hard for me to let go of. That's where I'm tempted to pick up my idols. So I'm still grappling; still wrestling. But I look at Jacob... and I know God honors wrestling.

So... circling back to the fear... and back to the very first point I made, that all men are devoid of knowledge...

Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever,
For wisdom and power belong to Him.
It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men
And knowledge to men of understanding.
It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And the light dwells with Him.
To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise,
For You have given me wisdom and power;
(Daniel 22:20-23)


All wisdom, power and knowledge belong to God.

Daniel realized that wisdom (and knowledge) belongs to God. He acknowledged that God alone deserved the thanks and praise for any wisdom he (Daniel) possessed. He realized where his wisdom and power came from.

Any knowledge or wisdom I have has been spoken to me by God.

The cool thing is the way this ties into the fear from the last two posts on my fear of not hearing God. Listen to what Daniel is saying: if I have any wisdom or knowledge – any at all – God has revealed it to me. I've heard His voice! Realizing that... somehow soothes my soul... inspires my trust. Still wrestling, but getting closer.

The truth is, knowledge itself isn't bad. It's when I make it an idol – believe that it's something that can protect me – that I get into trouble. And... looking back to the garden of Eden and Eve as she reached for the tree of knowledge... it looks like it just might be the oldest idol there is!

Father God, it seems strange to say, but thank You for shame. Thank You for the call to realize something is wrong, and the opportunity to come to repentance on it. Honestly, I'm not sure I'm quite there yet. I fight against laying down my idols... laying down what feels like is my best shot at self-protection. Help me to embrace the fact that it's a lie and to embrace the fact that You are the Truth. It's dead and You live. It will fail me, but You never will. I don't want to have any other gods before You, Father. I want to trust. But there's still a part of me shaking in the dark with a death grip on a dead thing... in the disillusioned hopes that it can protect me. So, Daddy, I'll pray the only way I know how... "I do believe; help my unbelief!"

Fear: I am afraid of being the last one to know.

Truth:

  • All of us are devoid of knowledge. (Jeremiah 10:14)
  • Shame exposes our idols. (And one of mine is knowledge). (Jeremiah 10:14)
  • My idols (knowledge and control) cannot protect me. (Jeremiah 10:14)
  • All wisdom, power and knowledge belong to God. (Daniel 22:20-23)
  • Any knowledge or wisdom I have has been spoken to me by God. (Daniel 22:20-23)

-jenn
Note: This post is part of a 31-day writing challenge. Click here to see the rest of the posts on my 31 Days of Fear (and Truth).

Thursday, November 5, 2015

31Days - Me Not Hearing


In my last post, I started with the fear of not hearing God's voice. I quickly realized there were actually two parts to that fear: God not speaking; and me not hearing. I also discovered that what I had planned for one day was actually going to require two.

First, I tackled "I am afraid of God not speaking to me." I was a little surprised by the direction it took, but I was also extremely excited. If you haven't read it, I hope you'll go back and start there.

But what about the second part of that fear? What if I don't hear Him? Or what if that little voice I hear isn't really God, but is just me? What if I am trying so hard to hear something... anything... that I hear things He isn't even saying? What if it's just me, knowing what I think I should hear and forcing it... just like I faked healing in yesterday's post?

God may speak to me, but...

My fear for Day Twenty-Six:

I am afraid of not recognizing God's voice.

Tucked inside my heart is a little girl whose abuser taught her not to trust her own judgment. I know now that the "decisions" I made weren't really mine; they were my abuser's. But deep inside is still the little girl who saw with horror the mistakes she'd made; the incredibly bad judgment she'd used and trusted. As an adult, I know it wasn't my fault, but I still have a hard time trusting myself or my judgment. I'm always second-guessing myself. It makes sense, then, that I don't trust myself to hear or recognize God's voice.

So it's a real fear... with some valid reasons behind it. But what's the real Truth? Truth with a capital T?

"When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them,
and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
(John 10:4)


The sheep will know the voice of the shepherd.

From the previous post, I know God has chosen me. He is my shepherd. And Jesus says in the verse above that the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. So... I'll know His voice. That's it. The Truth. Pretty simple, right?

Does that do it for you? Honestly? I have to admit that it doesn't for me. I know my own ability to mess things up. So how am I supposed to really know?

When my phone rang this morning, the screen said it was my niece. The voice that replied, though, wasn't hers. It was my sister. How did I know it was my sister? The answer seems obvious. But... is it? Until my nephew's voice changed, it sometimes took me a minute to figure out if it was him or his sister who had answered the phone. I know them both, but sometimes (much to his consternation) "hello" wasn't enough to discern which one I was talking to. It's easier for me to distinguish between my niece and my sister, though. Why?
  1. My sister and I have spent more time talking. And I don't just talk, I listen. So I know what her voice sounds like.
  2. I don't just know her voice, I know my sister. I know the way she talks: the words and phrases she uses; the way she initiates conversation. My niece's voice may be similar, but she starts a conversation a little differently. The first word this morning threw me and I wasn't 100% sure if it was my niece or sister. But with the next words of greeting I knew it was my sister. It wasn't just the sound of her voice, but what she said and how she said it.
So how do I get to that same place with God? How do I know Him and His voice well enough to discern whether I'm hearing Him, myself, or even satan? (And make no mistake about it, satan IS a deceiver!). I get there through practice and experience:

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
(Hebrews 5:14)


We train our senses to discern through practice!

We usually focus on the first part of that verse and the need to be mature. But look at the second part: we train our senses to discern good and evil through practice. We're in training, folks! We can improve our senses – our taste; smell; sight; touch; and hearing – through exercise! I'd never thought about the fact that we have spiritual senses! But realizing that we can train them made me want to explore....

Taste:
How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
(Psalms 119:103)

Taste and see that the LORD is good!
(Psalm 34:8).


We are to taste the character and the word of God.

Taste is an intimate, personal experience. Taste isn't just looking at food or reading a recipe. I can read a recipe and think it sounds good. I can even salivate over a picture. I can file it away on Pinterest to try sometime later. I can share it on Facebook where someone else can tell me how much they enjoyed it. But I don't experience that scrumptious-looking food until I've tasted it – really tasted it.

Our dog will do anything for food. But he swallows it so quickly that I wonder if he even tastes it. Tasting involves more than just swallowing, right? I swallow a medication. But I taste my dessert. I chew it, move it around and let it flow over my tongue. I take the time to enjoy it.

The character, gifts, and word of God shouldn't just be collected for later use. We can't experience them through someone else's knowledge or description. Nor are they medication to be swallowed without tasting. They are meant to nourish us. And they are meant to be experienced on an intimate, personal level. Use your palette to know them, consider them, and enjoy them. Next time you're reading scripture ask yourself: Am I just reading the recipe?

Don't just read the recipe – enjoy the feast! Taste it!

Smell:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ,
and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place
(2 Corinthians 2:14)

And He will delight in the fear of the LORD
(Isaiah 11:3)


We are to smell the sweet aroma of the knowledge and fear of the LORD.

The word translated as "delight" in Isaiah 11:3 literally means "to perceive odor... savour, scent, smell." Strong's dictionary explains that the root of the word can figuratively mean to anticipate or enjoy. So we are to take in and enjoy the scent of God's awesomeness (the fear of the LORD).

In the first verse we also see that the knowledge of God has a sweet aroma. We carry that aroma with us! And knowledge of Him comes mainly through studying the scripture: tasting it, not just reading it.

So with practice and training, we will know when something just doesn't smell quite right!

Sight:
... open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light
and from the dominion of Satan to God....
(Acts 26:18)

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,
so that you will know what is the hope of His calling,
what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints...
(Ephesians 1:18)

Open my eyes, that I may behold
Wonderful things from Your law.
(Psalms 119:18)


We are to see God's light; His hope; His Glory; and the wonder of His word.

The word "open" in Psalm 119:18 has the connotation of removing a veil. It's not that God's word needs to be changed or made easier to understand – it's that we need to be changed. We see dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We need the veil removed. The psalmist knew that without God's help, he wouldn't see what he could or should see in God's word. He didn't need new revelation; he needed to see the revelation already given. He knew that while there are wonderful things to be seen in God's scripture, not everyone sees it. So he prayed for God to open his eyes.

Prayer is a vital part of seeing God.

If you want to see the wonderful things God reveals in scripture, though, you need study as well. The psalmist declared that he wanted to behold the wonderful things in God's law. To behold is to look intently.

We need to peer deeply into the word of God.

The Holy Spirit (our Helper) helps us to understand, but He won't do the study for us! God wants to hear us giggle with delight when we catch Him! (See I am afraid of God not speaking to me). As I've prepared for each post in this series I have been actively engaging and searching, and tasting scriptures. I've seen things that I've never seen before. They've been there all along and I've read it before. But... I've been going beyond just reading the recipe. And because of that, my eyes have been opening and I've been seeing more.

Touch/Feeling:
"Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you," declares the LORD.
(2 Chronicles 34:27)


We are to feel – keeping our hearts tender and humble.

Josiah (the king being spoken to), kept his heart soft towards God. He also had a tender heart towards those around him (the place and its inhabitants). Not only does God hear our tender hearts, but a tender heart makes it easier for us to hear Him. We can harden our hearts (Proverbs 28:14, Hebrews 3:8). But that hardened, calloused, exterior keeps us from hearing God clearly (Mark 8:17). We need to keep our hearts tender and soft and full of humility.

Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the LORD'S contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments.
(Exodus 35:21)


The Spirit can touch our tender hearts, stirring desires for God's purposes.

"Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalms 37:4) is sometimes used as a health and wealth gospel: God will give us everything we desire if we just delight in Him, right? But then how do we explain James 1:14 which says "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire"? God will never contradict Himself and He will not tempt us. If we are delighting in Him, though, the Spirit will move within our hearts; stirring us and giving us desires that are of God. We need to keep our hearts tender; soft (malleable) before God and open to the movement of His Spirit.

Hearing:
Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.
(Isaiah 55:3)

This isn't the type of listening or hearing that most of us do naturally. Most people listen to reply. This verse calls us to listen to understand. It is active and intentional.

  • The word "incline" carries the meaning of stretch toward. God wants us to stretch towards Him. We need to put effort into it! Stretching can be uncomfortable, but it is good preparation for any training.
  • The word "come" carries the meaning of walk and is sometimes translated in other verses as "walking together."
  • The word translated as "listen" has the meaning "to hear intelligently (often with implication of attention, obedience, etc." Again, this is active, intentional listening with the intent to follow in obedience.

We are to listen attentively; stretching toward God and walking with Him.

God can speak through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13); the counsel of others (Proverbs 1:5; Proverbs 15:22); creation (Romans 1:20); dreams and visions (Joel 2:28); and through circumstances (Romans 1:13). He can speak to us through the desires He places in our hearts (Exodus 35:21); and through the gifts He's given us (Romans 12:6). He's even been known to speak through a talking donkey (Numbers 22:28) and from a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-5). His voice comes to us in many different ways.

His word, though, is constant and is the way we test all other ways we think God might be speaking to us. John implores us to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). In other words, whatever we hear must line up with what we know of God from His word. Who He is... How He talks... What He says... It's all there in scripture for us to discover.

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:14-17)


The primary way God speaks to us and prepares us is through His word!

By spending time with God in His word and in prayer, we can exercise and train our spiritual senses to discern His voice. Just like I know my sister not just from the sound of her voice, but from what she says and the way she says it, I can also learn to recognize the voice of God.

Father God, thank you for developing in me a taste for Your word. Help me to continue to cultivate that hunger and to carry the aroma of You wherever I go. Help me to keep my heart tender, Daddy, and open my eyes to see You – and the wonder of You – all around me. Thank You for speaking to us in so many ways. Help me to hear You clearly. And, Daddy... thank you so much for being a Father who wants to be known; for promising to speak to us; promising us that we can learn to recognize Your voice.
Thank You for the Helper – the Spirit of Truth that You give each of us.
I want to taste and see that You are good!


Fear: I am afraid of not recognizing God's voice.

Truth:

  • The sheep will know the voice of the shepherd. (John 10:4)
  • We train our senses to discern through practice! (Hebrews 5:14)
    • We are to TASTE the character and the word of God. (Psalm 34:8; Psalms 119:10)
    • We are to SMELL the sweet aroma of the knowledge and fear of the LORD. (2 Corinthians 2:14; Isaiah 11:3)
    • We are to SEE God's light; His hope; His Glory; and the wonder of His word. (Acts 26:18; Ephesians 1:18; Psalms 119:18)
      • Prayer is a vital part of seeing God. (Ephesians 1:18; Psalms 119:18)
      • We need to peer deeply into the word of God. (Psalms 119:18)
    • We are to FEEL - keeping our hearts tender and humble, (2 Chronicles 34:27and feeling the Spirit TOUCH our tender hearts, stirring desires for God's purposes. (Exodus 35:21)
    • We are to listen (HEAR) attentively; stretching toward God and walking with Him. (Isaiah 55:3)
  • The primary way God speaks to us and prepares us is through His word! (2 Timothy 3:14-17)


-jenn

Note: This post is part of a 31-day writing challenge. Click here to see the rest of the posts on my 31 Days of Fear (and Truth).