The Better to See

Once upon a time, I knew exactly how to be a great parent. Then I had children of my own. Right from the start things didn’t go the way I’d planned. We had feeding problems and sleeping issues and I generally felt like a complete failure as a mother for about the first year of DD’s life.

I couldn’t have told you then why things happened as they did. I can’t tell you for sure even now. I’ve had an inkling, though, in the intervening 11 years that makes some of these seemingly senseless things make a little more sense to me.

Back when I was so sure what good mothers did, I didn’t have a whole lot of patience or understanding for other ideas on the subject. Not only that, but any problems or difficulties somebody else might be having, I was certain, could ultimately be traced back to their own bad choices.

I probably wouldn’t have considered myself “judgmental” back then, but that was clearly the case. I was spending too much time finding fault with the rest of the world to recognize the log in my own eye (Matt. 7:3-5).

After the difficulties I encountered as a new mother to my daughter (and subsequent complications I had with each of my sons), I found I have much greater compassion for other moms who are struggling. I still like to offer ideas for strategies that might help, but I am much less likely now to offer my own advice as the obvious solution to all their problems.

“Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” (Job 16:3-5, NIV)

Job had some experience with judgmental advisers. After losing his fortune, his children, and his health in short order, his so-called friends paid a visit. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar reminded Job that God is just, then followed up this truth with the false assumption that Job must have done something terribly sinful to cause such a harsh response from God.

Once his friends had their say, Job responded by telling them not only are they full of hot air, but they’re bringing him greater misery rather than the succor they may suppose. He took it a step further to say if their positions were reversed and he were visiting one of them, he would bring encouragement rather than the disappointment and disapproval they’ve offered.

It seems comforting, despite much evidence to the contrary, to believe that I have a lot of control over my life. I’d like to think that the actions I take have a great impact on the sort of life experiences I encounter. It’s a problem of prosperity. If I have a nice house and money in the bank, I want to justify myself as deserving. The flip side of this foolishness, however, is that if someone doesn’t have a nice house or money in the bank or enough food to feed their family, they must deserve that.

Sometimes, I understand, that’s true. People make really poor life choices that have devastating consequences. And it’s easy, when all I see are the effects, to assume I know the cause. Yet, despite making good choices, working hard, and praying fervently, sometimes bad things still happen. We live in a fallen world full of cursed people. All things aren’t good, but God does work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). And I fully believe that one of those good works He does for us in our suffering is to give us empathy.

When I can more fully understand another person’s experience, we can connect more honestly and deeply. It’s hard to be close to people when I’m blaming them for everything going wrong in their lives.  But when I am aware of my own limits, when I can look at my life and see how little I really can control, I am better able to shower God’s grace on other people who need it just as much as I do.

Father,

You call us to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)–not just when things are going they way we’d like them to be–because You use every situation for our good. Thank You for those times I have been able to see how painful situations are beneficial. Please, give me faith for the times I cannot see and must simply believe.

Help me to sing Your praises through the seasons when life is too hard for me to think I can handle it on my own. Help me to trust Your blessings in every circumstance, not just the pleasant ones. May I seek to bring You glory no matter what trauma, festivity, or stress the day holds.

Back and Forth

The end of the year is a traditional time to take a closer look at my life. I find myself considering this past year: my joys, my triumphs, my missteps, my sorrows. And I think about the coming year and what may lie ahead.

When looking ahead, I like to plan. I want to know where I’m headed and have a good set of directions from here to there. With my proverbial map and compass, I don’t simply hope I can make it, but I am confident in my ability to use my tools to navigate the path.

Is it just me or does life not work that way very often? Even when I may have an idea where I’m going, my map gets torn and I misplace my compass. Suddenly, I have no way to know whether I’m even on the right road or moving in the right direction. I start to run this way and that like a squirrel who can’t decide whether there is enough time to cross in front of an oncoming car.

Once again, I’ve discounted my lack of future knowledge. I can plan all I want and waste my time scurrying about when I’ve lost the tools I think I need.  Yet I’m no further ahead than I started out and I’m exhausted to boot. Not only have I lost my confidence, but I no longer have much hope that I’ll actually get wherever it is I need to be.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. (Psalm 62:5. NIV)

So many times, I have put my hope in jobs or friendships or my own thoughts about what will be best for me and things haven’t worked out as I’d planned. I conveniently forget that I don’t really have the whole picture, that God’s ways are higher (and deeper and wider) than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9).

God rarely promises a particular outcome to our life circumstances. He has never asked me to trust that any situation will turn out the way I’ve prayed it will. Instead, He asks me to trust in Him. To believe that He knows what is best for me–even better than I do. To rest in Him and allow His hope to fill me because He is everything I need.

Man, that’s hard!

Lord God,

Thank You for having such great patience with me. You ask me for one simple thing, yet I try everything I can to get out of giving it to You. I want to be the one to make my own plans, to rely on myself. I refuse the comfort that comes from just letting go and allowing You to hold me.

Rather than accepting Your rest, I wear myself out trying harder and harder to do what only You can do: give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Please forgive me for trusting in myself rather than You. For settling in on Your throne in my heart and asking You to make Yourself comfortable on the footrest. Thanks for continuing to offer me rest and peace, even when I’m not really sure I believe You.

Much Ado

Various strong opinions of refugees and terrorists have been lighting up the social media circuits this season. As I scroll through my news feed, I see sympathy for those in crisis and sorrow for the plight of people fleeing the destruction of their communities. I also find the fear that allowing displaced persons to resettle in our own neighborhoods would make us vulnerable to those among them who may violently oppose our religious, political, or social ideals.

Fear. That’s a topic I’m pretty familiar with. I struggle with myriad fears. Some are probable, but many are not. I am not an expert on immigration or refugee issues. I don’t really know how likely these concerns may be. But, honestly, I’m not sure it matters.

Much as I don’t like the idea, I can’t read the Bible and believe that God calls me to feel safe because my country has a strong military presence, a powerful leader, a stable economy, or a well-defended perimeter. Instead, He asks me to trust in His strength, His leadership, His stability, His defense, and to share His love with everybody.

Don’t forget to welcome outsiders. By doing that, some people have welcomed angels without knowing it. Don’t be controlled by love for money. Be happy with what you have. God has said, “I will never leave you. I will never desert you.” So we can say boldly, “The Lord helps me. I will not be afraid. What can mere human beings do to me?” (Hebrews 13:2, 5-6, NIrV)

This passage would be much easier to deal with if it were phrased a little differently. If only the writer of Hebrews had said, “welcome friends” or “welcome people just like you” or even “welcome folks who will bring you lots of gifts and be great friends.” I could definitely get behind that last one. But that’s not what the verse says. It says to “welcome outsiders.” Other translations use the term “strangers” or “foreigners.” The meaning is pretty clear–I need to welcome people who are different from me, people who don’t run in the same circles I do, people who come from somewhere else, people who may make me feel really uncomfortable.

And the potential threat to national security that scares so many of us? Yeah, that’s in there, too. “I will not be afraid. What can mere human beings do to me?” If God is with me, what business do I have fearing anybody (Romans 8:31)?

God,

You have called me to show Your love indiscriminately. I don’t often do that well. I wait to grant blessings on those I feel have earned them. I want to save up favor for people who will likely repay me in kind, or at least let me feel good about giving to someone who can’t give anything back. I dislike the idea that I’m supposed to show love to my enemies in the same way I do to my friends, but that is Your command (Matthew 5:43-48).

I pray for our leaders and those who influence national policies. I ask for Your wisdom as they determine how best to respond to crises around the world and within our own borders.

Please help me to have no fear of bad news, but trust in You. May I find Your Light, even in the darkest places. Let me live rightly, being gracious, showing compassion, and freely passing Your blessings to those in need (Psalm 112).

For Me

DH was up for a promotion at work this week. I spent most of the last several days being excited because it seemed he was the top candidate for the job and while the hours weren’t any better, the increase in pay would have been substantial. We found out yesterday afternoon that the position went to someone else. DH was a little disappointed, but I felt crushed.

I was sad for him, but, I’m ashamed to admit, I was more sad for me. Tossing and turning overnight, I found myself chatting with God about my feelings. I realized that I’d expected Him to bless us financially through this promotion, but He hasn’t. That bothered me, but I wasn’t entirely sure why. Getting out of the shower this morning, it finally came to me. “God,” I said, “I thought this new job would mean I wouldn’t have to trust You every single month to make ends meet.”

Bingo.

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20, NASB)

My old friend Lacktrust has been visiting again. There’s a Gershwin standard she likes to sing called, “But Not for Me.” It’s a pitiful tune about how great life and love is for everybody else, but not for me. Too often, that’s what I find myself thinking as I consider God’s promises. I start to believe that He has all these great plans for everyone around me, but my life? Well, maybe it’s slipped His mind.

Father God,

I have a terribly short view of Your grace toward me. Forgive me for the arrogance of believing I’ve been singled out to miss the grace and blessings You lavish on other people, but I don’t think You’ll pour on me. Even when I can look at my own life and see Your provision. Even though there have been more months than I can count when the debit column didn’t match up to the credit column in our budget, yet we still had plenty. In spite of every way You have already blessed me, I persist in fearing that Your bounty is not meant for me.

Thank you for this continued opportunity to grow in faith and trust. Please give me eyes to see Your hand at work. Give me the heart to believe Your promises are always true, even for me!

More to It than That

When I was in high school or college, I was given a bumper sticker that said, “Choose Life, your mother did.” As I considered the words, I felt as though the message was too narrow. “Choose Life” is so much more than just an anti-abortion sentiment. I need to choose to bring Life into the lives of those around me. I need to shine Jesus where there is darkness, both out there in the world and especially where I find it here within myself.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. He is the key to your life. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20a, NLT)

When I have sinned, I need to choose to accept forgiveness. When I have hurt others, I need to choose to do whatever I can to bring healing and reconciliation. When I have been hurt, I need to forgive. That’s hard. Particularly that last one. I don’t want to forgive people when they hurt me. I want them to experience the same sort of hurt I have experienced because of their actions.

Lord Jesus,

By myself, there is no way I can push past feelings of hurt to pray for people who have hurt me. I want what I see as justice, but You have called us to something greater than meting out an eye for an eye (Matthew 5:38-48).

Help me to truly recognize the immense blessings You have given me. Help me to understand the grace You have shown me. Let me open myself up to Your Spirit and be filled up with You so much that I move beyond my own selfish, petty sense of fair. May I show Your love, mercy, and grace, not just to those who bless me, but to everyone You bring into my life. Amen.

A Dream Within a Dream

Several months ago I signed up as an independent consultant with a direct sales company. While I didn’t have any expectations that I would earn the incentive trip to Europe this summer or win any sales awards, I figured I could make a steady income and help balance the household budget. After a few weeks with the company, I discovered that the larger team I was a part of had been named “Dare to Dream” and the leader’s focus was on realizing your financial and family goals by building a successful business.

My business has not been very successful. In fact, I’ve spent the last couple of months teetering on the edge of deciding to quit, but arguing myself out of it because I was afraid I hadn’t yet tried hard enough. Just this morning, I realized that daring to dream is not something I often allow myself to do. Dreaming is scary. I am afraid to get my hopes up lest they be dashed against the rocks by a cold wave of reality.

I don’t want to dream because I don’t want to be disappointed. The god I imagine is much too small and far too concerned with tallying all my rights and wrongs to love me with the extravagance God does. In my fears, my imaginary god will give me what I deserve; he will abandon me because I have failed him.

May you have power together with all the Lord’s holy people to understand Christ’s love. May you know how wide and long and high and deep it is. And may you know His love, even though it can’t be known completely. Then you will be filled with everything God has for you.

God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or imagine. He does everything by His power that is working in us. (Ephesians 3:18-20, NIrV)

Lord Jesus,

I have set up an idol of my own image in Your place. The god I have been looking to is not You. In fearing to fail, I have failed once again. Forgive my sin of believing that You are small enough to fit in my imagination. Forgive my unwillingness to ask for what I need, fearing You won’t give it to me.

Thank You that even when I wander off, You stay right with me. Thank You for loving me so much that You are willing to follow me until I learn how to follow You. Open my eyes to the dreams You have for me. Let me know that what You have in store is bigger and more amazing than anything I could dream up. Let me fear no failure, but trust in Your love that never fails.

Character Counts

We had to call the police on our new neighbors the other night. We could hear them arguing and saw through an uncurtained window as one partner assaulted the other. I found out later, they’d gone out that evening to celebrate their one-year anniversary. I thought back to the early days of my own marriage. I wasted a lot of time worrying that DH might hurt me somehow or abandon me. I realized that I haven’t entertained such worries in years.

“Why?” I wondered to myself. “Why don’t I worry anymore about DH leaving me or using violence against me?” The answer came to me quickly: I don’t worry because DH is not that kind of man. I don’t worry because I know him and that’s not his character.

Almost immediately, I had a lightbulb moment. I spend a lot of time worrying about what God will do to me. How He might hurt me somehow or abandon me. And yet, it’s just as much (or more) a waste of my time to worry about those things. I don’t need to worry because I know God and that’s not His character.

“For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then My faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you. (Isaiah 54:10, NLT)

God, 

So often I think the worst of You. Even after everything I’ve seen You do, after all the promises I know have come true. Still, I fall back into thinking it’s easier to trust in my fallible self than to let go and believe that Your mercy will never fail. It’s seems so much more plausible that You’ll tire of me, You’ll grow weary of my many poor choices and bad habits. But, instead of giving up on me, You love me. You think I’m worth saving, over and over again.

Thank You for choosing me, Lord, when I had no ability to choose You. Thank You for hanging on to me, when I’m afraid I can no longer hang on to You. Thank You for being You, even when I think You’re more like me.