Long-term Care

When I was younger, long about high school, I would read or hear the story of the Exodus and all the signs and wonders of the plagues (Exodus 7:1-12:30) and crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-31), followed so quickly by the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:1-6). And I’d be dumbfounded, “How can these same people who saw such miracles ever have wanted to abandon God for this ridiculous idol?”

More recently, I’ve been reading the promises and curses for the people of Israel 40 years later as they are about to enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 28), and I’m getting that same feeling of dismay. God is very clear in promising the good that will come if the Israelites follow Him and the evil that will come if they don’t. Still, having read the rest of the story, I know they choose don’t.

Of course now, 20-some years after high school, I can see a little deeper into the story. God has worked in some amazing and unexpected ways in my life and the lives of those I love. Yet, when I face difficult and uncertain circumstances, it is disheartening how easily I fall into the deception that God must not really want to bless me and perhaps I’d be better off striking out on my own.

Today I’m giving you a choice. You can have life and success. Or you can have death and harm. I’m commanding you today to love the Lord your God. I’m commanding you to live exactly as He wants you to live. You must obey His commands, rules and laws. Then you will live. There will be many of you. The Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to take as your own. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, NIrV)

Disbelief is exactly what it comes down to, isn’t it? God states His desire very clearly throughout the Bible: He wants to be with us. He wants to love us and to bless us. The issue is my choosing to believe that His blessings are only those things wrapped up in pretty paper and topped with a shiny bow. Or only when He gives me what I want. Or only when He keeps me from being hurt.

Yet, that’s not the way blessings are described in the Bible. James put it this way, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12, NIV). Or how about Jesus’s own words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …. Blessed are those who mourn …. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst …. Blessed are those who are persecuted …. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:1-12, NIV). The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians to take heart, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV). It’s good to bear in mind those troubles Paul said were achieving glory included shipwrecks, imprisonments, brutal beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, and death threats from Jews and Gentiles alike. Those don’t sound much like what I’d want to follow with a hashtag reading soblessed.

God blesses us for our eternal good. He gives us what will be of the most benefit over the long term, even though it may be hard or painful now. In the same way I require my kids to learn math facts or clean up their rooms, even though they struggle and say they’re bored and tell me I’m mean, because I know such knowledge and practice will serve them well later in life, God chooses to be momentarily “mean” to us and require more from us than we feel is strictly necessary to make our lives better in ways we can’t yet fully understand. And on some long days, that is hard to believe.

Lord,

You promise the best to us. You promise more than we could ever ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). But You also require that we trust in Your goodness and love for us. That is hard sometimes, God! When life looks bleak and nothing seems to be going the way I want it to and I’m tired of the lessons You keep leading me through again and again and again, I just want to throw my hands in the air and admit defeat. And perhaps I should. Maybe if I gave up my own determined misunderstanding of Your ways and Your truth, I would find it easier to recognize the eternal glory for which You are preparing me.

Thank You that, in the meanwhile, in the muddle, You never give up on me. You are good. Your love endures forever. Your faithfulness lasts throughout the generations (Psalm 100:5). Amen.

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Fester, Fester, Fester … Rot, Rot, Rot.

People who know me in real life–but don’t know me well–might be surprised to learn that I really dislike confrontation. The thing is, when it’s something that doesn’t matter much to me, I’ll fight about it all day long. I can argue until I’m blue in the face about music or syntax or the movie we watched last night. And I’ll probably win–even if just because my opponent gives up. But the things that really matter to me, the things that stir my soul, these are the things I have trouble fighting for. I don’t like to fight when I might lose. So I get scared to make the effort when it really matters.

I have a little, but important fight in my life right now. I don’t want to do it. It makes me angry. If I lose, my life may have to change in some pretty significant ways. Because of that, I’m very tempted just not to fight. To “let it go” and sweep it under the rug. Only that’s not really letting go; that’s holding on and letting it build up and continue to fester until my anger eventually explodes out, hurting me and everyone else involved.

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:17 & 29, NIV)

God,

You know I am not Your most gracious and tactful servant. I choose my words poorly–or don’t choose them at all–when something important needs to be said. I’m scared to stand up for what is right today. I want to just go hide and say nothing is wrong. I want to pretend that’s being at peace with everyone, but I’d be lying. I don’t have the courage to do this on my own. Please, fill me with Your Spirit. Let the words that come out of my mouth be full of Your love and grace. Let me say things that are good and useful.

I don’t want to be afraid that I’ll do something wrong, God. I don’t want to be afraid, period. I want to be strong because You are with me. Thank You that You will give me everything I need today. Thank You that, even when I’m not feeling prepared, You are preparing the way. I believe these truths, Lord, please help me overcome my unbelief (Mark 9:24).

Not Ideal

I spend a lot of time feeling crummy. I think of myself as a not-very-good wife or a not-very-good mom or a not-very-good job applicant. I imagine there is this ideal wife/mom/job seeker who does everything right. Her husband loves coming home each night from work to a clean house, a scratch-made meal, and well-groomed children. Her kids do as they’re asked the first time, without complaint. They would never grab the new tube of blue gel toothpaste from the box and squeeze it all over the bathtub, floor, and cabinet (not to mention the blue-tinged footprints I found on the hall carpet). They always treat their parents, siblings, friends, and complete strangers with respect and courtesy. And when she applies for work, her resume is always at the top of the pile.

Sadly, I am not that woman. I wish I were. I try to be, but I can’t seem to do it. Somewhere, deep down inside, I believe that if I would follow all the rules just right, I could live her perfect life. The rational side of my brain recognizes how ridiculous that notion is. Yet, part of me still magically believes the lie.

God gives us the power to serve under His new covenant. This isn’t a legal contract, chiseled into stone, which kills the spirit. It’s written by the Holy Spirit in our hearts, His life in ours. (paraphrase of II Corinthians 3:6)

Lord,

I keep trying to get this life right, as though You’re grading my performance and I don’t want a low score. But life just keeps seeming too hard to do my best all the time. I am beginning to believe that’s Your intent. You allow difficulties and struggles and just plain bad days because there’s no quicker way to get me turned around, running back to You. I’m not supposed to do it all on my own. You give me the energy to continue putting one foot in front of the other because I know You’re walking with me. And You have surrounded us with family and friends–people with whom we’re instructed to share our burdens (Galatians 6:2).

Please help me to stop trying so hard to complete tasks that haven’t even been assigned to me. Making the world perfect, even my little corner of it, is not actually my job. It’s Yours. You are the One who made the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. You are the One who makes us holy. You are the One who can be trusted to finish what You’ve started (Hebrews 10:14-23). God, thank You that because You are perfect, I don’t have to be. Help me to keep looking to You for perfection and do what You give me to do without trying to measure my success or failure every step of the way.

Where I Belong

I don’t remember being particularly afraid of the dark as a child. It’s more of an adult-onset condition. And, of course, it’s not the dark itself that’s scary. I tend to have many anxious thoughts around bedtime–the time of day when everything finally settles down and I’m supposed to be able to rest. Only I’ve found that as my body begins to relax, my mind picks up the pace. So long as there are other things I need to focus on, I don’t have the time or energy to devote to my worries. But at the end of the day, when nothing else is happening, all the anxious thoughts I’ve kept at bay come rushing out to attack.

Last night was rough. I was panicky and shaking as I tried to relax in bed. DH asked me what I was worried about. I started going through my laundry list of failures and the fears that I must be reaching the outer limits of God’s grace and my body’s ability to withstand the stress I can’t seem to diffuse and the charity of society as a whole. He chuckled. I recognized how ridiculous my thoughts must appear from the outside of my head.

DH reminded me that the concerns I found most troubling were rooted in lies–the lie that tells me I’m not worth the effort it takes to love me and the lie that says I’m not doing a good enough job fulfilling my responsibilities. I know I’m not supposed to worry about anything. But how do I do that? How can I let go of these things that cause me anxiety?

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (I John 3:19-20, NIV)

God,

You speak truth over my life. Help me to listen to Your truth about who I am, and remember that I belong to You. Help me to know that You are greater than any of my fears, any of my sins, any of my insecurities. Thank You for loving me and taking care of me and even listening to me cry out because I’ve chosen to believe that the me You made isn’t very valuable. Let me rest in You, always.