Faith and Worry

This kid has a theological pet peeve.

Actually, I have more like a million.  But tonight I will bring one of them to your attention.  Typically, I can’t handle cute Christianese phrases.  I shudder every time I pass a church sign that says “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.”  It’s like fingernails on a chalk board.  Homonyms are tacky.  Rhymes are possibly even worse.  And there is little to no theological depth behind any of these little maxims.

As such, one of my least favorite phrases is “Too blessed to be stressed.”  Even worse is its evil cousin, “Too anointed to be disappointed.”  Three-syllable rhymes are even more unacceptable than one-syllable rhymes, and the theology here is crushingly bad.  There’s no other word for it.  Just bad.

For one thing, it’s horrendously smug.  When you paste on a self-satisfied smile and tell a struggling person, “I’m too blessed to be stressed!”, it sends the following message: I am a super-Christian. You are ungrateful and have no faith.

Disappointment in this life is a very real obstacle, regardless of how “anointed” you may be.  But when you say that you’re above stress and worry because you have superior faith in Jesus, it makes a very normal person feel very alone in their struggles.  Now in addition to the cloud of worry hanging over their head, which is probably very legitimate and justifiable, they have a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach and the nagging thought, “I’m not a real Christian.”

When we don’t allow people to feel their feelings, we lose a vital sense of transparency — and thus, community.  Honest communication shuts down, and we get the fake little plastic smiles as we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to make ourselves super-Christians — happy little robots who are too anointed to be disappointed.  And somewhere in the midst of all this pretending, we lose the entire point of the gospel.

You see, Jesus didn’t come so that we would never experience these negative emotions, but so that we would have hope in the midst of them.

I have heard people before use Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 as a strict command, as if a dark and angry Jesus is towering over us gravely shaking his finger in our faces and saying ominously, “Stop worrying! That’s what the pagans do.”  I have heard people reason, “Worry signifies a lack of faith…worry is a sin!”

It was a cool concept.  It made sense to me.  I eagerly jumped on the bandwagon and quickly agreed, “Yeah! Worry is a sin!”  Whenever I worried, I would slap myself around a little bit and anxiously repent, “God! I’m sorry! I’ll do better!”  And I would shove the worry into a closet and slam the door and paste on a fake smile, hoping that all that worry wouldn’t build up and come bursting out in a panic attack.  What kind of witness would that be?  What would that say about my faith?  I would be an ungrateful, un-anointed un-Christian, that’s what.

But then one day I saw Jesus’ words in a new light.  I saw a gentle, loving Jesus stooping down and tenderly cupping my face in his hand, saying in a soft voice, “Don’t worry, beloved.  I have it taken care of.”

At this point in my life, I truly do not believe that faith and worry stand in opposition to one another.  Rather, I see worry as a chance to exercise faith.  I do not believe stress to be a sin.  If you’re insistent on viewing it in a negative light, you could see it as a temptation.  But instead, I choose to see it as an opportunity: not to shove it in a closet or pretend it isn’t there, not to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be a super-Christian, but to snuggle into the arms of the Savior and childishly, trustingly tell Him that you need help.

I’ve mentioned in another post, Dear Grace, that sin is less about doing something wrong than it is about a state of separation from God.  I’m open to correction, but this is the way I see it.  Jesus didn’t die because you parked illegally in a handicapped spot; He died to bridge the gap between God and humanity, to draw you back to Himself.  Following this logic, I would consider it more destructive to our relationship with God to pretend we’re fine when we’re not, than to allow ourselves to struggle.

The point of the gospel isn’t to ignore our brokenness; the point is to address it.  Salvation isn’t about denying our humanity; it’s about surrendering it to Jesus.  Don’t put Jesus off until you’ve got your act together; your messed-up-ness is the entire reason you need Him.

Don’t put contempt or condemnation behind words that are meant to be comforting and reassuring.  You don’t have to shoulder the burden with all the bravado of Superman.  There’s another way:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Dear Grace: On Wrestling With God

There is nothing more intimidating than being asked a deep theological question by a 13-year-old who looks up to you.  But there is also nothing I love more.  Sometimes I flounder a bit, and sometimes I have to admit that I don’t have all the answers.

Tonight, in the middle of a crowded and noisy restaurant with the youth band playing Christmas carols, struggling to be heard over the noise, Grace asked me one of these questions.

“I just learned the story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Was that…okay? I mean, is that a sin?”

Instead of answering, I simply asked Grace this question: “Have you ever wrestled with God?”

She thought about this for a moment. “You mean mentally? Yeah…yeah, I have.”

“Do you think that was a sin?” I asked her.

“I’m not sure,” she answered. “If it is, I guess I’ve sinned a lot.”

“Do you remember from the story what Jacob said to God?  Why he wrestled with Him?” I asked. “He said he wouldn’t let go until God blessed him.  Sometimes we have to doubt before we can believe, and sometimes we have to wrestle with God before we can receive blessing.”

She considered this. “I feel like the concept of doubt has been showing up in my life a lot lately,” she responded. “My mom and I were talking about it the other day, and now you just mentioned it.”

I shrugged. “We all go through doubt.  Some of the greatest people of the faith are the ones who have wrestled with the hard questions. Try reading through the Psalms and see if David didn’t do some of his own wrestling with God.”

Long after the Christmas party was over that night, I continued to think about her question.  Is it a sin to wrestle with God?  I pretty much told her no, but do I act like that’s true?  I’ve done a lot of hiding the past week because I’m afraid to voice some of my frustrations.  So my Bible has sat in my backpack for a few days, sadly neglected, because I can’t seem to read it while ignoring the elephant in the room.  So Grace’s question made me do a lot of thinking.  And praying.  And wrestling.

So, Grace, if you ever get a chance to read this, here’s my answer.

Dear Grace,

It’s okay to wrestle with God.  Don’t be afraid of messing up by wrestling with Him.  Sin is a far deeper problem than just messing up, than thinking or saying or doing the wrong thing.  Sin is disconnectedness from God.  Sometimes we have such a tiny view of sin that we think it’s something we do, something that we think we can manage or fix, but we can’t.  The very second that humanity chose to turn away from God, we lost the beautiful intimacy with Him that we were meant to have.  Sin at its core is just the gap between us and God.  So sometimes I think we try to pretend that we have a relationship with God by doing everything right, but pretending can’t bridge the gap.  We don’t want to get into fights with Him because that must mean we don’t love Him, but that’s not the way real relationships work.  Real relationships don’t pretend like there aren’t problems or miscommunications; they work through them. They wrestle with them.

You see, sin is anything that keeps us away from God.  And if you wrestle with God, you’re closer to Him than you’ve ever been.  You’re making physical contact, skin on skin, looking Him right in the eye, saying that you’re not letting go until He blesses you.  When you grapple with the God of the Universe, you’re being more open and transparent and vulnerable than ever before.

But if you leave your Bible in your backpack and hide because you’re ashamed of your feelings, the gap just got that much wider.  God bridged that gap by sending Jesus to experience life the same way we do.  He understands our feelings.  And He’s big enough to handle our questions.

So I think it was okay that Jacob wrestled with God.  And I think it’s okay if you do too.

Love,

Lauren.

i’ll abandon my defenses, and live to love again.

For years I’ve been guarded, for years I have fought,

But that which I battled was that which I sought.

I’m always aware of the way that I stand

(For the way I present myself says who I am):

Hands on my hips, feet planted firm on the floor,

I’m prepared for the battle, but alone in the war.

With a sword of indifference and wit like a knife,

My fierce independence is my shield — is my life.

I hide behind big words when I’m speechless

And because I’m afraid of you, act like I’m fearless.

But…

If I didn’t have to prove that I’m good enough,

Smart, independent, self-sufficient and tough,

If I could be open and honest and real

And forego this facade to explain how I feel,

It would be so much easier if I could just say

In an innocent, immature, little kid way

With a strawberry blush and cheeks growing hot,

That I want you, and need you, and like you….

…a lot.

Published in: on November 26, 2012 at 7:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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stories

In getting to know someone, we’re bound to hear bits and pieces of what made them who they are, and we start to piece it together to understand them. This is how relationships are formed. But it’s rare that we actually sit down and listen to someone’s life story as a whole. And it’s rare that we tell it, too. For one thing, we feel awkward telling people about ourselves without an invitation. For another, we’re not sure how it will be received. It’s deeply personal, and it makes us feel vulnerable, putting our entire lives out on the table for someone to scrutinize.

But I think sharing our stories with one another is a very healthy thing to do. Then we realize that none of us really has it together. We can better understand where the other is coming from. We can help each other recognize our own biases. We can learn from each other’s mistakes. And most importantly, we can accept one another for who we are. Not just the polished parts of our life, and not just what we’ve had control over. All of it. All of US.

I heard, like, 2 testimonies growing up. And it was more about the terrible lives they lived before they found Christ, and it seemed to be a way to admonish the younger folks not to make the same mistakes. Hence I developed a bit of “conversion envy” — feeling like I had nothing to share because I’ve always been the “good kid.” And because of that, it sort of blinded me to the incredible things that God has done in my life. So when I was asked to share my testimony during training week at Deer Run, I kind of panicked: “But…I don’t have a story!” As I put my notes together, though, thinking about the places and people that have influenced me, I came to realize that I did have a story. It may not be full of fireworks and awesomeness, but it’s a story that no one else has. It makes me uniquely me.

I’ve shared my story three times now. Not a super long and detailed version, never over 20 or 30 minutes’ worth. But each time, I think it provided a very healthy framework for establishing a relationship with other people. The first time I shared it was to a room full of 30 people, who became the most supportive team I have ever worked with.

The second time was on the concrete steps outside the bath house at Deer Run at 11:00 at night.  I was sitting outside journaling when one of the junior staffers came up and asked, “Um, now may not be the best time to ask you this, but…what is your story?”  I was kind of taken aback at the simplicity and sincerity with which he asked.  He was asking me to talk about…me!  So we shared our stories with each other, and we ended up developing a close friendship.  When he junior staffed with me a couple weeks after that, we worked well together because there wasn’t anything we couldn’t be super open and honest about.  Weeks later, when we parted ways, I may or may not have cried my eyes out.  Granted, a good deal of that was camp emotion; but it was more than that, too.  I wrote in my journal later that day that he had gotten through my defense mechanisms in a way that nobody else ever had, and now I see why.  It was that simple question: “What is your story?”  He didn’t want to know what I hoped to do with my life, or what I’m good at or what I could do for him.  He wanted to know me.

The third time was actually quite recently.  I walked into Starbucks to meet a classmate, wearing tacky thrift store jeans, a hoodie, no makeup, glasses, and my hair thrown up in a messy bun.  For a few minutes we worked on a class assignment together, and then I was like, “Hey, uh, can I hear your life story?”  So he shared it with me.  I’d heard snapshots of it that made me want to hear the whole thing, and hearing it gave me a renewed appreciation for where he has come from and how to understand him.  Then he asked me about mine, and we just spent time talking and asking questions and being real with each other about our lives.  He later told me that I had a beautiful story and that it was a privilege to hear it.  My story?  A privilege?  There was powerful affirmation in those words.  It seemed to convey that he wasn’t evaluating my looks or intelligence or potential — that maybe he saw something of value, not in any of those things, but in who I am.

I say all this to say that nothing builds community like openness, and nothing generates openness like a simple invitation to tell one’s story. If we as Christians are to be a community of people that live and love and work together, we need to dig a little deeper than surface-level talk. If we know each other on the story level, I think there would be a lot less judgment and a lot more understanding. That “annoying person” would become an understandable person. It would be a lot easier to cry with someone if we knew why they were crying. It would be easier to correct someone if you knew why they acted the way they did, and it would be a lot easier to accept correction if you knew you were understood.

So let’s get coffee sometime. I’d love to hear your story.

P.S. Paragraphs 5 & 6 were edited by my mother, the English major. This is why there are two spaces between each sentence and more commas than I usually use. “Being real about your lives? What does that even mean? That must be an extrovert thing.” Haha I love her.

Published in: on November 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Norman Elrod on Transparency

By Norman Elrod

Its not weakness to be afraid of the battle.
Its weakness to run from it.

Its not weakness to make mistakes.
Its weakness to blame them on others.

Its not weakness to be a sinner.
Its weakness to ignore it.

Be open. Be transparent. Don’t lie to yourself, but instead EXAMINE yourself. See the sin that you don’t want to. As a fallen human, it is our tendency to ignore our sin, blame others, and to in general be a coward. But let’s strive to be honest real people, first with ourselves, and then with God and others.

I am a fool. I am a rash, impulsive, immature, and awkward stumbling fool. I need to be gentle, I need to learn patience, I need to control my temper better, I need to serve others more than I do myself.

I fail to do these things.

But pretending like I dont have issues in these areas won’t help me change.

Owning up to them and turning my eyes to Christ will.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
(Romans 12:2 ESV)

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
(Romans 8:13-15 ESV)

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”
(Hebrews 3:12-19 ESV)

Published in: on April 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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