The Approachable God

God is not a chameleon. He is who He is. But He does have the ability to show Himself to us in a way that we can understand. To show up in a way that’s meaningful to us.

God is not a cookie cutter God. He doesn’t say, “This is who I am…you either get me or you don’t.” He understands that we all have unique and contorted lenses through which we see life. He is humble enough, wise enough, to come to us in a form that is impactful and powerful and specific to our situation. He even chooses not to show Himself  at times when we are not willing or ready for that encounter. He personalizes our interactions with Him by taking into consideration our pain, our experiences, our limitations, and our understandings.

When my daughter was going through leukemia treatment and I was a single mom, I had moments where I was so afraid, so discouraged, and so overwhelmed that my prayer life consisted of…”Dear God…Ugh.”  I had nothing inside of myself, not even the energy or courage to approach God for help.  During these times, Jesus would come to me as a young boy leading a lion.

I know, it sounds weird. But on a spiritual plane, I was curled up in the fetal position on the ground…frozen in perpetual  grief and fear. I could not and would not have responded to Jesus the Judge or Jesus the Truth Teller or Jesus the Conqueror. Although Jesus is all of those things, that’s not what I needed from Him in those moments.

So Jesus came to me as a small boy… a child with a soft voice, innocent eyes, and gentle touch. Bottom line, He was approachable. I could talk to him.

He would squat down unceremoniously on the ground next to me. “Are you ok?” he’d ask. “What’s wrong?”

Despite my guardedness and cynicism, I couldn’t help but talk to this child. Sense his concern. Pour out my pain to him. Cry with him.

He would listen soberly, respectfully. When I’d ask him the hard, theological questions burning in my heart, He’d grin and answer, with sparkling eyes, “Wait til you see what my Dad’s got in mind.” Then he would grab my hand, pull me to my feet, ask me to lay down on the back of the lion who always stood a few paces behind the boy, clearly ready to respond the boy’s every whim.

What a lion it was! Not scary, but awe-inspiring with rippling muscles, ferocious nature, unquestionable power. It could do or have whatever it chose, but it chose to carry me. It chose to bear the weight of my doubts, my worry, my fear, my hopelessness. It did for me what I could not do for myself. I moved me forward when I wanted to give up.

The lion represented Jesus’s power on my behalf. And how I needed His power. But the lion didn’t lead. The boy led the lion because, first and foremost, I needed God’s empathy and concern and humility.

As humans, we have limitations and wounds and weaknesses that affect our ability to show up for others in the ways they might need. We usually only have a few tools in our tool belt for interacting. We may be good at confrontation but bad at empathy. We may be full of grace but short on honest criticism. We may excel at teaching but lack the patience to listen.

God has no limitations. He has every tool at his disposal, and a limitless knowledge of exactly what we need from Him at every point in our lives.

  • When we need discipline, He isn’t fooled by our excuses. He delivers correction.
  • When we are discouraged, He doesn’t lecture or condescend to us. He offers encouragement.
  • When we need truth, He doesn’t beat around the bush. He tells it like it is.

When dealing with someone hard-headed and prideful, He may be the Forceful Enforcer. When dealing with someone wounded and frightened, He may be the Gentle Rescuer. He doesn’t compromise His nature. But He does adapt His presentation. He interacts with us in the way that we respond to.  Scripture puts it this way:

To the faithful You show Yourself faithful, to the blameless You show Yourself blameless, to the pure You show Yourself pure, but to the crooked You show Yourself shrewd. Psalm 18:26

God is not one-dimensional. Like the people He created, He is wonderfully complex, mysterious, and unfathomably deep.

  • The God who destroyed the entire world by flood is the same God who leaves 99 sheep untended and goes off in search of that 1 rebellious sheep who got himself lost.
  • The God whose wrath drives him to punish sin is the same God whose love drives him to die in our place.
  • The God who holds the stars in place is the same God who stoops down to hold us up.

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But He deals with us uniquely.

He is a Father to the fatherless. A friend to the lonely. A guide to the lost. A light to those who walk in darkness. A refuge to the oppressed.

He is capable of being all things to all people. He is everything we need in each unique circumstance of our lives.

Who do you need God to be for you today? 

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Featured image by Roujo as seen on Flickr

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Blind Desire

“If God puts something in my hand without first doing something in my heart, my character will lag behind my achievements, and that is the way to ruin” -Warren Wiersbe

If God always gave us what we asked for, we might not be as happy as we think.

Oftentimes, we ask for what we want without really understanding what we’re asking for. We can’t see ahead of time what it will be like to have it… or what it would require from us… or the effects it would have on our life. We just want what we want.

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We want a more prestigious job, but we don’t want the work and time commitment it would require. We want closer relationships, but aren’t willing to deal with our character flaws which are creating the distance. We want our master’s degree, but we don’t want to consider the effects of that decision on our finances or our marriage. We want to to minister to people without admitting that we are driven by a need for approval.

We are driven by desire without the wisdom to predict the associated costs and outcomes.

But God sees clearly, and He knows the future. He knows us. He knows what will actually satisfy us and what will frustrate us. He knows our capabilities and limitations. He knows what we’re ready for and when. He doesn’t say “no” to deprive us. He often says “no” to protect us. 

He is in a unique position to weigh in on what we want. When we ignore His input and direction, we do so to our own peril.

Imagine what would have happened if Moses had tried to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt right after he stepped down as a Egyptian official. He would have been arrogant, hard-hearted, and lacking insight. Consider how he responded when he first realized that the Israelites were his own people. He wanted justice in his own way in his own timing. So he executed his own skewed version of justice. He saw a slave being treated unfairly, and he killed the offending Egyptian. He was rash, impulsive, and raw. He needed to be humbled. He needed to discover and explore his heritage. He need to connect with God.

Ironically, God’s training program to prepare Moses was sheep herding. Tending stubborn, dirty beasts all day every day without recognition. Without luxuries. Without “subjects” who respected his authority. It was a crash course in becoming a thoughtful protector and a leader.

This was also the way God trained King David to become a great leader. Apparently there’s something growth-producing about being in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of resistant, needy, rebellious sheep to watch over. You learn very quickly that it’s not about you. You forget to be self-focused when your existence is about protecting and serving others who aren’t always grateful.

Until we trust God enough to give him the freedom to veto our self-destructive plans and desires, we will move stubbornly toward what we think we want without being aware of how it could ruin us.  

Here’s an example of such a prayer:

Lonely Single: God, please give me a spouse. I’m so lonely.

God: No.

Lonely Single: Don’t you care about what I want? I’m faithfully waiting and I’m trying to do things your way. Why wouldn’t you want to bless me with a companion?

God: That wouldn’t be a good idea right now.

Lonely Single: Why ever not?

God: You can’t handle the truth.

Lonely Single: Wanna bet? Lay it on me.

God: If I brought you a spouse right now, you’d be miserable and you’d make them miserable. Focus on Me.

Lonely Single: What are talking about? What’s miserable is living this life alone. Nothing would make me happier than having someone to share my life with.

God: You have Me. 

Lonely Single: It’s not enough. I need someone to put my arms around. I want to have children and my own family. Why would you deny me that?

God: It would ruin you if I brought you a spouse right now. You aren’t ready.

Lonely Single: Why not? Shoot me straight.

God: Okay. Let’s start with the fact that you don’t know who you are. If I brought you a spouse, you’d look to them for your identity, value, and purpose. You would live to please them. They would become your god. You would resent them.

Lonely Single: Will you bring me a spouse if I promise not to do that?

God: That’s just the beginning. You are selfish. You get mad when your mom calls and interrupts your favorite show. You rarely make time for your friends even when they are struggling. How are you going to handle the needs of a spouse and children? In order to give them the time they deserve, you would need to give up most of your hobbies and pleasures. You would resent their neediness. You would sullenly regret their existence in your life. They would feel like a problem to you. They would not feel loved. Why don’t you try getting a house plant first to see what it’s like to care for something besides yourself?

Lonely Single: So you’re saying I don’t have the character to be a spouse or a parent.

God: I’m saying you need to develop patience and maturity. I’m trying to help you do that, but you’re too busy looking for a spouse to let me work in you. The truth is, you want a spouse and children because of what you think they could do for you and how they could make you feel. But love isn’t about getting. It’s about giving. You need to grow up first. 

Lonely Single: Oh. 

Many of the things we want are wholesome and reasonable things to want, so when God doesn’t deliver, we assume He’s not a good God. We assume He doesn’t care. We don’t trust His heart.

May we trust that if God closes the door to something we want, it’s closed for a good reason. May we remember that God knows us and knows what we need as well as what will truly bring us joy. May we not hold so tightly to what we want that we refuse to become the type of person who would benefit from having it.

God…do your work in us, unimpeded by our stubborn willfulness. 

 

Featured image by Ramon Smits as seen on Flickr

 

Advice from Teens on a Life Well-Lived

No Question for Me

I recently asked my high school Senior Advisory Class to give me some advice on how to live a life they could be proud of. They had some really insightful tips that I want to share with you…

Keep in mind that these seniors are facing monumental changes and decisions at the end of this school year. They are wrestling through their fears and trying to figure out who they want to be and how to create a life that’s meaningful to them.

I started out by asking my seniors to describe a well-lived life…something they could look back on when they were old and feel satisfied.

Here are their descriptors of a well-lived life:

  • I was happy
  • I made my mark and will not be forgotten
  • I felt satisfied and fulfilled by my accomplishments
  • I had no regrets
  • I did what I loved and what mattered the most to me
  • I took risks
  • I wasn’t stressed out all the time
  • I was the best version of myself
  • I maintained a healthy balance between fun and responsibilities
  • I made a positive impact on this world

The next thing I asked my Seniors to consider was what might keep them from living such a life. I told them to think about the adults they knew whose lives were not well-lived, and try to nail down exactly what interfered with their plans for happiness. I also asked them to consider what they knew about themselves and what types of things they suspected they’d wrestle with as they moved toward the future.

Here are their descriptions of significant road blocks to a well-lived life:

  • Getting side-tracked by addictions
  • Forgetting what really  matters
  • Wallowing in bitterness, unforgiveness and anger
  • Toxic, dead-end jobs
  • Holding onto what’s familiar and being reluctance to make changes
  • Living to please someone else or fulfill their expectations
  • Toxic, damaging relationships and divorce
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Fearfulness
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Unwillingness to take risks
  • Lack of motivation

Lastly, I asked my Seniors to consider what might help to prevent these road blocks…and what powerful, motivational steps they could take to make sure nothing prevented them from living the kind of life they wanted.

Here are their descriptions of empowering choices which could overcome road-blocks to a life well-lived:

  • Taking ownership of your mistakes
  • Focusing on the things you can control
  • Believing you are capable of creating the outcome you want
  • Remembering who you are
  • Prioritizing the people you love and communicating frequently to avoid broken relationships
  • Moving forward and refusing to stagnate

Since these students of mine are taking courageous steps toward a life well-lived, I want to challenge us as adults to take stock of our own lives. In what areas of our lives are we role-modeling stagnation and regret?

 

Feature image by Alan Levine as seen on Flickr

 

Christian Coercion: Why Talking People Into Jesus is a Bad Idea

We live in a society where someone tries to sell us something every time we turn around. App ads on our cell phones, telemarketers calling during dinner, people knocking on our front door despite the “no soliciting” sign…it’s a never-ending endeavor to get us to believe in an concept or a product that we supposedly can’t live without. It’s a poorly disguised attempt to garner our money, our support, or our belief.

Tragically, in many cases, the sharing of Christian faith looks no different. 

I’m not talking about heart-level sharing of beliefs here. I’m talking about manipulating unbelievers into saying the sinner’s prayer. I’m referring to the ugly practice of using guilt, fear, intimidation or even promises of success, health, or healing to get someone to jump on the Jesus train.

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Photo by Adam Bornstein as seen on Flickr

In my opinion these are despicable practices. They aren’t loving. They don’t please God. Many times they are based on a sick need to prove someone’s Christian prowess or a sick belief that if someone half-heartedly mumbles the sinner’s prayer it will somehow count for eternity.

Coming into a life-changing, eternity-impacting relationship with God requires more than just empty words. Saving faith is a lot more than just putting a quick spiritual band-aid over our shame, fixing our fears about eternity, or desiring to make the Man Upstairs our genie.

Accepting Christ as our Savior means humbly acknowledging that we need saving and being willing to let God save us (every day, over and over) from the blunt blows of our poor choices and our feeble attempts to lead our own lives. In short, salvation is unconditional surrender. It’s death of the false self and all of its pride and plans.

Ladies and gentlemen, people don’t do this sort of thing on a whim! It’s not like deciding to give Netflix a try for a month. It’s a lifetime commitment to walking with Christ, reveling in His love, living for the joy of connection with Him, and allowing Him to lead our lives. It’s an all consuming, life-changing decision. It can’t and shouldn’t be made without counting the cost.

If people do make a spur-of-the-moment, empty decision for Christ based entirely on some charismatic person’s convincing words, time will wear those words thin. Prayers for salvation that were merely spoken as insurance against the possibility of hell or an attempt to quickly escape the discomfort of the discussion do not lead to life-changing faith. Nothing of eternal value is accomplished if a person’s heart isn’t involved.

True faith is not just a theological concept. Not an ideal to frame and hang on the wall. It’s so much more. It’s a relationship with God that requires the same two ingredients as a human relationship…love and choice.

When we try to force someone into faith, it’s no different than a shot-gun wedding. We may get a person and God together for a brief ceremony, but that ceremony is useless and meaningless without love and commitment on the part of those involved. People who feel coerced into marriage often hate their spouse and resent the fact that they had no choice. Do we really expect people who are coerced in Christian belief to feel any differently?

Decisions for Christ that are made to save face, impress a friend, create the illusion of compliance, gain God’s favor, or avoid His wrath don’t go deep enough to hold fast when the storms of life, the pride of life, and the worries of life come along. These types of decisions are quickly wiped away.

Consider Jesus’s explanation of the parable of the Sower that he told to make this very point in Matthew 13: 18-23:

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” 

If a person’s faith is going to be deep, meaningful, and transformative, it must come from a sincere heart (a place of trust, need and devotion) and that cannot be faked. It cannot be bought. It cannot be coerced.

If all we care about is the number of bodies occupying the pews of our church, or the number of people we can brag that we have “brought to Jesus” then our tactics don’t really matter. We can be as ruthless and manipulative as some door-to-door salesmen or telemarketers. We can attempt to get a YES without caring whether that person actually wants or needs the item we are hocking.

But if we are interested in truly loving people as Christ did, we will quietly and humbly live our faith. We will listen to their pain and protests. We will answer their questions. We will speak the truth in love.

But we will NEVER manhandle someone into faith. We will never override their free-will choice. We will never disrespect their journey and talk down their thinking. If we do these things, any faith they embrace likely won’t be authentic enough to last.

  • Faith in Christ requires love for Christ, and that cannot be manipulated or manufactured.
  • Faith in Christ requires trust in Christ, and that cannot be manipulated or manufactured.
  • Faith in Christ requires surrender to Christ, and that cannot be manipulated or manufactured.

We are agents of truth, not connivers and convincers. The Holy Spirit is more than capable of bringing a person to a place of love, trust, and surrender…of meaningful connection to God. Our place is to share truth and experience as another person is willing or wanting to hear. Period.

Even if the Spirit leads us to challenge another’s thinking, it must come from a place of respect and understanding. If we insist on strong-arming people into religious belief, we may fill our churches or increase the number of people who would check the “christian” box if asked about their faith, but we won’t inspire life-changing, world-changing belief. We will only inspire more legalism or more empty theology.

When it comes to converts, we need to stop preferring quantity over quality. It accomplishes nothing to inspire heartless, empty confessions of faith. Coercive, manipulative witnessing doesn’t produce authentic followers of Christ. It produces another generation of shallow believers and fruitless hypocrites whose faith is merely words, bereft of love or power.

 

Featured image by Jeremy Brooks as seen on Flickr

 

Who Gets to See the Real You?

Don’t you admire people who can laugh at themselves? Who can quickly identify a mistake and make an adjustment without berating themselves? Who are easy to relate to because they are just “real”?

I do.

I spent most of my life covering up my imperfections, believing that people probably didn’t want to know my problems or see my personal mess. The truth is that I was the one who was uncomfortable with my flaws. I felt ashamed of the parts of me and my life that didn’t exactly say, “I have it all together.”

To a degree, I think we all share that tendency. We hide what we believe is unlovable or unacceptable about ourselves. In so doing, we lose authenticity.

  • We disconnect from reality.
  • We leave behind parts of ourselves that make us who we are.
  • We lose the ability to connect to the hurting, imperfect parts of others.
  • We stop really living and settle for pretending.

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Photo by Bart as seen on Flickr

Our problems and character flaws aren’t useless junk we should keep in the shed out back. They keep us humble. They make us human.

When we stubbornly dedicate ourselves to hiding our less-than-perfect parts, the costs are high. We lose connection to “the real us”…and we lose connection to people we love. Both hinge on transparency and honesty.

Rather than choose authenticity, we use our energy to create a facade, an “acceptable” version of who we are, to share with the world. Our facade simultaneously keeps people happy with us and far from our hurts. Only our facade receives admiration and acceptance, while the “real us” remains silent…unknown and unloved.

In order to maintain the illusion that we are perfect, we are forced to lie, manipulate, and deny in order to cover our mistakes and appear flawless. We don’t own our mistakes, we don’t apologize, and we never, ever change because we don’t admit we need to.

We think appearing flawless will prevent rejection. Ironically, it guarantees it.

People would be fine with most of our flaws if we were humble enough to admit them. It’s the self-righteous denial that drives them away. It’s the irrational defensiveness. It’s the silence we offer instead of a heartfelt apology. People can’t relate to us when there’s nothing to relate to but a fictitious, empty shell.

When we hate our imperfections so much that we can’t be real with people, we won’t have authentic relationships. People won’t have a chance at getting to know us because our walls are always up to cover our flaws and prevent rejection. People will get frustrated in relationship with us because they just want us, and instead, they get smoke and mirrors.

Often, we hide our flaws to avoid being alone because we assume if people really knew us, they would abandon us. Ironically and unintentionally, we create the “aloneness” we fear by allowing the “real us” to go AWAL, giving people nothing and no one to relate to.

When our priority is to live in denial of our imperfections, we can stop being willing to hear that we are wrong. So sometimes we push away people who love us enough to tell us the truth and remind us we need to grow. This is yet another nail in our relationship coffin.

EVERYONE ON THE PLANET IS FLAWED! WE ALL HAVE PROBLEMS!

We are all in the same imperfect boat. The only difference is whether or not we are willing to get real about problems and defects and deal with them directly. Some people admit their shortcomings and some people cover them.

I took a huge step away from perfectionism and toward authenticity in my life when I started to see my mistakes and problems as:

  • A chance to learn and grow
  • A connection point to the problems and imperfections of others
  • A chance to develop authentic relationships with others who wanted to change
  • An opportunity to embrace humility
  • A chance to model to my children how to be real and deal in reality

As Christ-followers, the worst habit we can develop is to deny our imperfections. We mistakenly assume our merit as Christians depends on our ability to perform perfectly. So we hide, and the world looks at our lives, unimpressed with our facade.

We are forgiven. We are loved completely. What reasons do we have to project a false image? To cover ourselves in shame?

Every time we humbly admit our defects, welcome constructive criticism, and chose to walk in authenticity, we become more enjoyable, more relaxed, and more of who we really are. We cultivate the closeness and love we long for instead of driving people away. We grow and learn.

If we want something real in a world of fakes, we must embrace authenticity.

Feature Image by mliu92 as seen on Flickr

Self-Sufficiency: Set-Up For A Let-Down

I was a pretty idealistic kid…passionate about what I believed and looking for a meaningful way to live it. I believed I had what it took to make my mark and change the world. My attitude was literally, “Bring in on, God.” Was that a good thing?

Well, yes. And no.

So much of parenting and education is aimed at teaching kids to believe in themselves and trust their own capability. I think that’s important. Self-doubt keeps us from ever getting off the starting line and must be overcome if we are to accomplish anything of value.

But there is another equally important lesson that I believe must be taught in conjunction with the ideology of “YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES

Here it is… “SOMETIMES YOU WON’T HAVE WHAT IT TAKES.”

Before you start making a mental list of your objections and composing hate mail, hear me out. I am not hocking negativity nor suggesting that we indoctrinate our kids with self-doubt. I am suggesting we adequately prepare our children to face those unavoidable realities which ask more from them than they have.

Everyone who walks far enough along life’s path reaches that point where the pain and difficulty of their circumstances exceeds their ability to cope. Significant trauma occurs as a normal part of our existence. Death, diseases, and disasters touch us all. No one is immune.

When the pain is deep enough (and it will be), our own determination, maturity, and intelligence alone won’t carry us to the other side of the trauma with our compassion, hope, and sanity intact. If we walk alone through our pain, we will come out the other side fearful, disillusioned, and hardened. We may survive, but we will never be the same.

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Image by Kate Russel as seen on Flickr.

If we want to do more than just survive a significant crisis, we must keep in mind the whole picture: we have what it takes AND we don’t have what it takes. What am I saying?

I’m saying that we are capable of successfully dealing with difficulty, BUT we will not do so alone, under our own steam.

Life has a way of teaching us that despite our dedication, capability, and resolve, we’ll eventually be dealt a bad hand. We’ll get a curve ball we can’t hit…a crisis so offensive, so unfair, so insurmountable that it has the potential to wipe us out. In these moments, our passion crumbles into fear. Our ideology succumbs to doubt. Our willpower fades into exhaustion.

Eventually, all of us reach that moment of truth…when we realize we cannot stand alone against the onslaught of life. We are forced to reach for something outside of ourselves for strength. If we know ahead of time that there are certain difficulties in life that cannot be overcome alone, we will not hesitate to reach out for the support and help we need.

If we are taught the doctrine of self-sufficiency as a child and are told that we are enough…that we can handle anything life hands us…we will face life’s tragedies bravely but we will be massively unprepared for the the shock of pain and its devastating impacts. Without knowing that there is a natural limit to our own strength, we will attempt to face pain alone.

  • We won’t acknowledge or admit our legitimate needs.
  • We won’t ask for the support or comfort of others.
  • We won’t seek professional help when necessary.

We inevitably reach outside of ourselves for strength when pain has eclipsed our ability to cope. If we believe asking for help indicates weakness, we may choose to reach for pleasure big enough to numb the pain. Rather than seek the help of others to grieve, process, and get back on our feet, we pretend the pain doesn’t exist or cover it up. We may numb our torment with substances or activities, but in this state we aren’t really living. We are just surviving.

If order to overcome and really make it through a tragedy, we need love. We need hope. We need to find our way back to joy. Those things happen only in the context of relationship.

Some people prefer to trust themselves and only themselves. They are comfortable dealing with life completely inside the parameters of their own strength and wisdom. In my opinion, they either haven’t experienced a tragedy that exceeds their ability to cope, or they have found ways to cope with tragedies which don’t require relationship. Either way, anything they reach for to give them the strength to face another day is an unspoken admission of their inability to deal with life’s difficulties alone.

We can reach for something besides the strength and comfort of love, but if we do, we are likely to become dependent upon things which are destructive or addictive. Whatever predictably numbs our pain eventually becomes our god.

Yes, we may be strong. Yes, we may be capable. Resourceful. Resilient. Street-smart. But when our dreams are shattered, or our loved-one is ripped away, or we become the victim of extremely unjust suffering, those things won’t carry us through. Only love will.

I walked a long way down life’s path before hitting that wall where my capabilities weren’t enough. I battled life’s difficulties fiercely, bravely, until my strength gave out. For a moment, I believed I was a failure. Eventually, I realized that my inadequacy wasn’t unique. Everyone was struggling to cope. The only difference was what type of coping mechanism people were using.

When we experience significant suffering, we are very blessed if we have people around us who can walk beside us and encourage us and comfort us. Unfortunately, many people aren’t in close relationship with people who know how to support them or care to try. That’s when the question, “Why do I need God?” becomes so vital and relevant.

God never leaves us. God never stops loving us. Our pain is never too much for Him. His strength never expires. His love experienced through people is also effective at helping us traverse life’s terrain.

Either way, love is the only thing in the world strong enough to offset life’s pain. If we only teach our children to trust in themselves and depend upon themselves, we are setting them up to for bewilderment when they realize that what’s inside of them is insufficient. It’s not enough.

Who or what they reach for to find relief in those moments will determine whether they come through life’s difficulties more mature and empathetic or more cynical and empty.

Autonomy and dependence are both important lessons to teach our children. One without the other leaves us crippled in the face of pain. Believing that we don’t need anyone or anything is just as ludicrous as believing we can’t accomplish anything on our own.

The truth is that our level of capability depends upon our level of humility. When life gets tough, when we aren’t up to the task before us, will we stand alone or will we reach outside of ourselves for strength?

More importantly, who or what will we reach for?

Featured image by Tom Blackwell as seen on Flickr

Why We Lie

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Whether it’s little white lies or whoppers, we all engage in less than truthful communication. We can whitewash our deceptions, telling ourselves we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or that we can’t handle someone’s angry responses, or we can’t afford what the truth will cost us. While half-truths might grant us temporary safety or respite, they will end up costing us more than we can afford.

The lies we tell ourselves are just as damaging. Our purposeful denial, our misconceptions, and our grandiose excuses are all aimed at keeping us from having to deal with the realities we find unpleasant. However, reality stands whether or not we appreciate it. The more we shrink back from its demands, the more passive we become.

We think lies keep us safe and keep others happy with us, when they actually just prevent us from growing past the discomfort of truth-telling. They keep us from experiencing the intimacy that results from honest sharing. They keep us locked in a fantasy world where reality can’t check our denial. In short, they shelter us from the pain of growing.

(This is a really uncomfortable topic, no?)

Here are a few reasons we choose not be be 100% honest in our dealings with people and ourselves:

  • We prefer a happy lie over the sad truth. If we are committed to feeling good, the truth won’t always appeal to us. Many times, the truth is difficult and admitting it may require that we face harsh circumstances,  process negative emotions, or make tough choices.
  • The truth threatens our warped version of reality.  Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed or anxious, we re-frame negative events so they seem less bothersome. But lying to ourselves about our circumstances or choosing to live in a fantasy world guarantees that those difficulties will continue on indefinitely. We need the truth to motivate us to deal with the things we avoid.
  • We are too ashamed to admit the truth. Dishonesty often springs from broken places inside of us that we are ashamed of. We like to pretend we are fine, so we avoid admitting our errors. We let embarrassment about our inner condition dictate our transparency.
  • We are afraid people won’t love us if they knew the truth. It’s easy to tell our loved ones what they want to hear when we’re afraid of their rejection, especially when we learn at an early age that mistakes won’t be tolerated. Ironically, we are creating what we fear because the lies themselves create the distance we are trying so hard to prevent.
  • We don’t want to upset people or hurt their feelings. Of course we prefer to keep people happy with us and thinking the best of us. But if their approval is based on a lie, the “real us” never receives acceptance. We aren’t really protecting the other person…we’re protecting ourselves.
  • We don’t want to face what the truth requires from us. Sometimes our honest admissions will require something from us that we don’t feel equipped to give. We may need to apologize. Or make difficult choices about a relationship. Or risk losing something we value.

It takes courage to look at the heart-level issues behind our decision to sugar-coat or embellish the truth. Rather than be embarrassed, we need to roll up our sleeves and dig into the WHY.

Why aren’t we completely honest? What prevents us from “saying it like it is”?

The answers to those questions can tell us so much about our heart: where it’s been damaged and where it still needs healing.

Rather than seeing lies simply as something we shouldn’t do, maybe we should see them as windows into our soul—opportunities to get to the bottom of our own dysfunction.

In order to look that closely at ourselves, we need courage and fortitude. We must thumb our nose at shame, ignore the desire to appear “fine”, and take God’s Spirit with us into the dark places. That is where He does His best work.

Whatever His Spirit reveals to us in our search will be the truth. We can bank on it. We can rest in the certainty of it. We can replace the lies we believe with it.

May God assist us in our efforts to become Seekers and Speakers of truth.

 

Featured Image by Ella A as shown on Flickr

 

 

 

 

Finding an Elusive God

Ever wonder why God doesn’t make His existence a little more obvious?

elusive2

Photo by IIaria Franzese as seen on Flickr

Pretend for a moment that you are a perfect human specimen. Flawless in every way. So pleasing and desirable in face and form that people are mesmerized, drinking in your appearance like water in a desert. Paparazzi stalk you. Movie producers, modeling agencies, and magazine publishers clamor for your photo, your smile, your life story. Everyone wants you. Everyone wishes they were you.

Although that would be great for a short time, eventually the hero-worship and adulation would get old. Imagine the loneliness of not knowing if anyone really loved you for you. You would doubt the motivation behind everyone’s kindness or interest.

  • Do they enjoy you…or do they just enjoy being seen with you?
  • Do they listen to you to understand you…or do they listen to manipulate you?
  • Do they care about what you want…or are they using you to get what they want?

You’d wonder if people would treat you the same if you looked like an average Joe. You might decide to get plastic surgery…or pose as a nobody…or live behind a screen name just to get a glimpse of what it felt like to be admired and enjoyed for your personality, your character and your thoughts.

Eventually, you might become a recluse to avoid the constant barrage of stalkers, gold-diggers and shallow admirers. Ironically,  the attractiveness that drives so many to seek you will leave you feeling unknown. The cost of your perfection is isolation. 

Now imagine being God. You are perfect in every way. You have infinite power. Your beauty and strength are irresistible. If a human being saw you and experienced you in all your glory, their free will would be overcome. They couldn’t help but fall to their knees in worship.

That would be great if all you wanted, as God, was to be in charge and be worshiped.

But what if you wanted more?

What if you actually desired to have a relationship with human beings?

  • To seek and be sought out.
  • To know and be known.
  • To enjoy and be enjoyed.
  • To choose and be chosen.
  • To love and be loved.

What if you wanted intimacy, vulnerability, and authenticity? All the things that characterize a deep, loving relationship?

  • You might have to hide yourself so that only those who sought you determinedly would find you.
  • You might have to limit your gift-gifting so that people would look at your face rather than just your hand.
  • You might have to be silent at times so that only those who truly long to hear your voice will continue to converse with you.

Maybe then you could distinguish between those who seek you only for what you can give from those who seek you to know and love you.

I’ve always wondered why God doesn’t make Himself more plain. Why He doesn’t just show up in all His glory and end all doubt about His existence. While He’s at it, He could put a stop to all the godless non-sense going on. I mean, come on, He could shout the truth from the rooftops. Write it in the sky. Yet He chooses to remain somewhat anonymous. Here you go, my beloved. Enjoy this stunning creation I planned for you, and hear the whispers of my affection in the wind, the sunsets, and the vistas. 

Why does He not come roaring down from heaven and reveal His glory?

God knows better. He knows that would interfere with what He desires the most: a real, authentic love-relationship with us.

Why?

He created us, so he understands that at our core, we are selfish. We are looking to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want, and God is the ultimate means to an end. We surround ourselves with those who make us feel how we want to feel and look how we want to look. We form unhealthy attachments to anyone who predictably numbs our pain.

God knows that if He showed up in person, we would likely forego getting to know Him and preoccupy ourselves with learning how to get Him to act like our personal genie. In human terms, He would become our “drug of choice”, our shelter from whatever we don’t want to face, and the muscle behind our personal agendas.

Ladies and gentlemen…that’s not love.

So how does a God who longs for love…who IS love…go about cultivating honest-to-goodness loving relationships with such human beings? He can’t exactly show up on the world scene wearing a “Let Me Love You” T-shirt for a planet full of people who don’t really know how to give love or receive love.

I believe that’s why He chose to demonstrate His love to and through a particular chosen group of people called the Israelites…so that the world could see how meaningful and life-changing being loved by Almighty was. The stark contrast between the “loved” and “unloved” was supposed to show the world what God was like and what love was like.

But in order to avoid being loved by the Israelites only for His gifts and His power, God made a point of being mysterious and erratic. He rarely responded the same way twice to people or situations. Sometimes He showed up in a big way or spoke clearly. Other times He was silent and seemed withdrawn. He was completely and maddeningly unpredictable.

He still is.

Because God values our free will choice and desires not to become the object of our selfishness or obsession, He remains somewhat hidden. As scripture puts it in Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

God’s way are not our ways. We can’t nail Him down. We can’t understand  Him. We can’t predict His next move. Our minds are simply too small and our imaginations too dull to grasp His nature. Our jaded desire to harness His power and make Him a slave to our whims takes us on a path away from His heart.

Let’s stop stalking God for what he can give us and focus on the miracle of who He is. He is only elusive to those seeking to use Him for their own ends.

Deuteronomy tell us, “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

 

Featured Photo by Georgie Pauwels as seen on Flickr

Angry At Almighty?

I’d had it! I could no longer deal with life’s continual onslaught, and it was time to tell God how I really felt about it!  I grabbed a jacket and water bottle, and left my camper to go find a solitary place to pour out my anger at God. I walked in the general direction of the lake, aimlessly letting my feet pick a random path, seeking enough solitude that I could yell for awhile if necessary.

As I plodded forward, I let my mind replay difficult scenes from the past, fueling my anger further. I’d patiently endured so much over the years, including a difficult marriage and divorce, my child’s cancer treatment, and my own cancer treatment. But now my son had a mysterious illness that no doctor could unravel, and there was no sign of his chronic muscle pain ending any time soon. Did he have a debilitating disease that would steal away his strength and turn him into a vegetable?

I felt like a play-thing of the Enemy. It seemed there was no shelter for me and my kids. I had nothing left inside to cope with another illness…to helplessly watch another child suffer….to try again to make sense out of the senseless.

Many people had stopped talking to me altogether over the years because they just didn’t know what to say anymore. Others had blamed me for my family’s struggles with health, saying my lack of faith and impotent prayers were the cause. I had no more patience with people. No more patience with life. No more patience with God.

ENOUGH!!!

I looked up and spotted a path that broke off from the main road and meandered up a large hill. There was no one in sight, so I headed in that direction. Maybe if I got to higher ground, God would hear me better. And boy did I have some things to say!

As I approached the top of the hill, I began to mentally back-pedal. How dare I question God? How could I tell the Creator of the Universe He was wrong? That He had failed me? That He was not a fair God or a loving God? I considered turning back.

But I knew what lay behind me. Years of stuffing my emotions. Years of not feeling anything because I didn’t want to feel angry with God or feel the yawning chasm of my own despair and anxiety. Years of watching my relationship with God slowly gain distance because I couldn’t be real with Him about my frustration while maintaining the kind of positive attitude I felt I should have.

As much as I loved God and as much as I’d grown in my faith, I struggled to be authentic in His presence because I’d spent so many years performing to keep Him happy with me. I needed to give myself permission to be real and to bring all of myself (even my rage) to Him for healing. Maybe God wouldn’t like it if I told Him how angry I was…but at least our relationship wouldn’t be based on pretense.

As I approached the top of the hill, my breath caught in my throat. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The outline of a massive heart lay on the ground. It was about 10 feet long and 7 feet wide, built of very large stones. In the exact center of this heart grew a clump of large, red Indian Paintbrush flowers.

Here’s a picture my daughter took before we left our campsite a few days later:

myheart

I blinked and glanced around me. This seemed a bit surreal. I’d come up here to rant at God and His love was here long before I arrived…waiting to embrace me. What were the chances of this happening?

Inside I felt so dark, but I was surrounded by bright sunlight, mountainous glory, and fresh breezes. And, of course, that huge symbol of love was planted squarely at my feet. How was I supposed to be angry when I had to look at it?

I sat down beside the heart, chewing on the inside of my cheek, trying to figure out what to do.  My eyes fell upon the red flowers at the center of the heart. God spoke softly, “I love you, Audrey. At the center of my love is pain. I have suffered alongside you. I bled when you were cut.”

All these things I knew, but this was a huge picture of that reality. How could I argue? I was a side-swiped by His next statement:

“Audrey, pick up 3 pebbles…one for you, one for Aspen, and one for Isaac. I want you place each one under the flower and leave them there. By so doing, you relinquish yourself and your children into my care.”

A simple request. Poignant and meaningful.

I found a 3 little colorful pebbles, each unique and distinguishable. The thought of placing them under the flower seemed easy, but as I contemplated the action, a rush of intense protest surfaced. How could I put myself and my kids into His care after all He’d allowed to happen to us?

Then the anger came pouring out. I spent an hour crying out to God. It wasn’t pretty. But it was a holy time. I connected parts of myself to God that had been hiding in the background, starving for their Maker for so long. And the whole time, I was keenly aware that the heart, God’s love, was the backdrop for my ranting. No matter how I felt or what I said, God’s love wouldn’t change or be moved.

Eventually, I was able to put all 3 pebbles under the flower. It took hours of resisting and praying and ranting. But at last my heart and mind and soul relented. His love wore my anger down until it was gone. And in its place was a profound trust and peace.

I am not a magical thinker. I don’t believe for a moment that the heart appeared out of nowhere. It had clearly been built long ago by some person for some obscure purpose. Or maybe no purpose at all. But Someone had guided my steps to that place because He knew I would need to be convinced of His love and His acceptance of me in that moment of honesty.

Those pebbles are still there, lying on the ground at the center of that massive heart. Every time I’m tempted to start obsessively worrying about the health of one of my family, I mentally travel back to that place and remember the decision I came to that day. I remember my fear and my anger, and I remember what trust felt like.

Job also ranted at God and questioned God’s judgment and His fairness. But God corrected his thinking and then restored him. Then God had Job pray for his friends, whom He wasn’t pleased with. What was the difference between Job and Job’s friends?

As the bible puts it in Job 42:7 (The Message) “After God had finished addressing Job, he turned to Eliphaz the Temanite and said, “I’ve had it with you and your two friends. I’m fed up! You haven’t been honest either with me or about me—not the way my friend Job has.” 

God appreciated and respected Job’s honesty because relationships don’t thrive when people aren’t real with each other. An angry wife, for instance, may rant and rave at her husband, but as long as she’s bringing her anger to her husband, it has a chance to be resolved and healed. It’s only when she chooses to hide her anger and let it fester that her relationship suffers.

God is big enough to handle our anger. In fact, He prefers it over our insincere lip-service. May we have the courage to be authentic with God. In the light of His inextinguishable love, we are safe to be real.

 

Feature Imagine by Jason Jacobs as seen on Flickr

 

Miracles We Choose To Ignore

Our opinions about what God should be doing sometimes blind us to the miracle of what He is doing.

God’s own people failed to recognize Messiah because He didn’t do what they expected Him to do. They assumed that if God-in-the-flesh showed up, He’d obviously deal with their most pressing issue: Roman oppression and taxation. In their minds, there was nothing they needed more from God.

When Jesus went to the cross rather than lead a rebellion, many refused to believe He was the Christ. How could God ignore their desperate situation?

While Jesus had compassion for the their plight, He was focused on solving a much bigger problem:

  • He came to end the anguish of their sin.
  • He came to make it possible for them to have a relationship with the Restorer.
  • He came to make a way where there was no way.

Have my perceptions of my needs blinded me to a greater need God may want to address?

Have I refused to appreciate what God is doing on my behalf because I am too busy complaining about what he isn’t doing?

Guilty as charged.

I remained silent during much of my daughter’s 2.5 year leukemia treatment. I depended on my sister to keep people updated through Aspen’s Facebook support page. I was in survival mode and couldn’t bear the thought of trying to explain to people the nightmare we were living through.

As a single mom of 3, I worried about my sick daughter as well as my other children who were parent-less during the countless chemo treatments and hospitalizations.

medicine

I had no words for caring people who kept asking, “How’s it going?” I didn’t trust my interpretation of events because I was so crushed and confused by what God was allowing. I struggled to keep the horror of my daughter’s treatment in perspective so that I could be strong enough for her to lean on.

Over the years, God performed countless miracles to keep my daughter alive and on the path to recovery. I made a mental note of those miracles, but didn’t really let them hit my heart. I didn’t revel in them or spread the word. Why?

I wanted God to heal her, and honestly, anything less just seemed trivial. God keeping her alive seemed cruel in some way because her treatment was so torturous. I struggled to be thankful when she was wracked with pain and misery.

I couldn’t fully appreciate God’s attentive involvement or trust Him with the outcome because by allowing her to get sick, He’d already done the unthinkable in my sight.

People thoughtlessly threw out trite phrases like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” and “Just pray and everything will be alright.” I was so angry at their lack of empathy. I was also angry at God, but at the same time I realized there was no way I was going to make it through this crisis without Him. So I kept holding His hand.

I had a lot of growing to do in my faith in order to see and appreciate His involvement.

Let me tell you the story of one incredible miracle God performed on her behalf…

About one week after her diagnosis and port placement, Aspen was still in the hospital. She wasn’t responding well to chemo. I’d told the doctors repeatedly that she had severe allergies to chemicals, but they had dismissed that as nonsense.

As the treatment progressed, she developed psychosis and eventually became comatose. She didn’t open her eyes, speak, or respond in any way for days.

The doctors had never seen anything like it and decided to do a scan to see if she was brain-dead. She wasn’t, but they couldn’t explain her reaction and didn’t have any idea how to stop it from progressing.

I felt like there was no way she would live…either the cancer would kill her or the chemo would.

That night, I told my dad I felt like God was telling me He would make a way where there was no way—like how he parted the Red Sea to save the Israelites from the Egyptian army. This was not a result of stellar faith on my part…it was simply an idea that resonated in my spirit and refused to be squashed, like God’s voice often does.

My dad held a straw (the only object in the room that resembled Moses’ staff) over Aspen’s bed and prayed for that miracle.

The next morning, her eyes were open and she spoke. The day after that, they said she could go home.

Amazingly, when we told this story to Aspen a year later, she said she remembered seeing Papa holding the straw and hearing him pray….even though she was still comatose during that event. There was no physical way for her to see or hear it.

It was an incredible miracle, one that I couldn’t fully appreciate at the time because I was taking home a daughter with an infected gall bladder, liver and kidney damage, intense leg pains, and temporary diabetes from the steroid treatment. She could barely walk. She couldn’t even turn the pages of a book because the nerve damage to her hands was so bad. Sadly, she would need me to constantly administer more poison, which would keep her alive to suffer another day.

Aspen’s type of acute leukemia required the longest chemo regimen of any cancer, and because she had been diagnosed after age 10 and was extremely high risk, she got twice the chemo a younger child would receive.

Genetic testing later showed she carried mutations in about 80% of the genes responsible for detoxifying chemicals, so she wasn’t able to rid herself of the chemo like a normal person. She never should have survived treatment by medical standards, but God had other plans.

Looking back, I am amazed and thankful that God did the impossible to preserve her life. I am thankful that He walked with us through every terrifying moment of that first two weeks. I am beyond grateful that she is still with me today.

I confess that I downplayed this miracle because I was drowning in the anguish and uncertainty of the circumstances. I admit I did not give God the glory He deserved for intervening on my daughter’s behalf. I missed the joy of His work because I was too focused on what I thought He should be doing.

As time passes, I am just starting to recognize some of the incredible things that God accomplished as a direct result of Aspen’s illness. While it’s still a huge stretch for me to say that any benefit could ever be worth what she went through, I can finally admit that if God didn’t heal her, He had His reasons. Good reasons. He loves my daughter far more than I do, so I know He was dealing with her most pressing needs first, whether or not I will ever understand what that means during this lifetime. Whatever He allowed her to suffer was somehow critical to her becoming the person she was meant to be.

Of this I am sure: God will redeem and restore all her years of pain and anguish. He has already begun. 

May God expand our vision.

May He open our eyes to see the bigger picture of His plan.

May we learn to trust His heart even when we can’t understand or accept what He’s doing.

 

Feature Image by Sybren Stuvel as seen on Flickr