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.”

Advertisements

Falling into the Reach of Glorious Grace

What a wordy title.

Well, I’ve always had trouble with the concept of falling of love, maybe because I’m such a perfectionist.  There’s a part of me that can’t take that deliberate step off the cliff to trust someone with my heart and let them love me, because then I have no control over what they love about me.  There’s a fear that they might love an imperfect part of me that I’m uncomfortable with anyone seeing.  A part of me that I myself do not love.  If someone loves me for something other than my accomplishments — my proof of value — the ways I have tried to make myself lovable — I’m not really sure why they love me at all.  And it’s uncomfortable not to be able to calculate my value or define what I’m worth to them.  If I don’t know why they love me, I have no control over it.  They could stop tomorrow, and I wouldn’t know why.  My whole life, I’ve tried to prove myself to people who already love me unconditionally, and it robs me of the joy and fulfillment that comes with being loved and loving them in return.

A while back, I let someone hold my hand for the first time in nearly two years.  It alarmed me at first.  There was some subconscious horror rising up in me that desperately wanted to voice the anxiety in my heart: “Why are you holding my hand?! I’ve never done anything for you, you know none of the things about me that I consider even mildly impressive, and you can’t hold my hand because I can’t handle you caring about me more than my accomplishments.”  It was such a ridiculous thought, and fortunately I didn’t voice it.  Instead, I made the deliberate effort to relinquish a little bit of control…and held his hand a bit tighter because I could either hold onto the unknown and hope it would catch me, or I could run away from it.

I think grace is the same way.  The risk of grace is not something we can carefully calculate.  Like love, grace is something we have to fall for.

And for us perfectionists, that can get a bit dicey.  We hold onto our accomplishments like a security blanket.  We like the thought of grace, so long as it supplements our works rather than replaces them.

Except…it doesn’t work that way.

Grace and self-sufficiency cannot coexist in ANY amount.  If you base 1% of your salvation on works, it’s 100% based on works.  If you haven’t taken that step of faith off the edge of the cliff, grace hasn’t caught you at all.  Grace is a gift that only the surrendered can experience in all its beauty.

There are at least two super uncomfortable parables about grace in the Bible.  The first is that really obnoxious story of the man who pays the same wage to the workers who worked 12 hours and the ones who worked 1 hour.  It’s uncomfortable because most of us identify with the offended characters.  Everything in us balks at the seeming injustice because it doesn’t fit into our worldview. Yeah — welcome to Jesus’ parables.  Perhaps this is one of the few that actually retains its rhetorical impact for modern readers.  Kingdom values are upside down and offensive to the proud.  The reason this parable irritates us is because a lot of us think we’re the 12-hour workers.  We’ve gone to church our whole lives, know the books of the Bible by heart, go on mission trips, and pray every day.  And we don’t get any more grace than the hopeless sinner who disgusts us? It’s not fair.

The other parable is that of the prodigal son.  It’s all too easy to see things from the older brother’s point of view: “I worked for you all these years, and you never even gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours who has squandered your wealth with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”  And we’re like, “Yeah, where’s the justice in that?”  Because we’ve been working all this time, but it seems an awful lot like drudgery when we see the rescued sinner rejoicing, and we wonder what he has to be so happy about.  If he gets off the hook, what have we been working for all this time?  That question, of course, leads to an uncomfortable conclusion: perhaps, all this time, we have been working for the wrong things.

No matter how hard we work, we will never be worthy of grace.  Paul says that our salvation is by grace, not by works, so that no one can boast.  Dear ones, God is not impressed by your talents; He’s the One that created them.  I can just see Him shaking His head and laughing as we eagerly say, “See what I’ve done!” and hold up empty hands.  For us 12-hour workers and older brothers, it’s time to face the painful reality that we have done nothing to earn His love.

It’s a frightening thing to take a step off the cliff and fall for grace.  But when you do, you’ll find a heavy weight lifted from your shoulders.  If nothing you do can earn you grace, nothing you do can take you beyond its reach.

As inconceivable as it may seem to us, God wants to hold our hand.  He wants us to grasp His tightly and trust Him when we have nothing else to hold onto.  He’s waiting there to catch us…if we’ll only fall.

Destroying Strongholds

Each of us has a stronghold built around our lives.  Each of us has a defense.  Some more apparent than others, perhaps, some more difficult to detect, but they are there nonetheless.  They are there because at some level or another, we each have deep underlying insecurities, and we want to protect ourselves from the world.

Why are these insecurities there?  They may be there because you’ve been abused.  They may be there because you feel inadequate.  They may be there because you have known poverty, or loss, or any number of worldly struggles or suffering.  But at the heart of it lies one simple reason: they are there because of sin.  They are there because this world is broken, because we all fall short and are incomplete without Christ, but none of us has been able to bridge the gap so completely that we are whole this side of heaven.  Desperately seeking safety that can never be assured on earth, we try to guard ourselves.

What’s wrong with being guarded?  Strongholds are walls that we have built to keep others out.  It may not seem that way, but sometimes we do it subconsciously.  Guarding yourself comes at the price of relationships, both with God and other people; the higher your wall, the more superficial your relationships will be.  First and most importantly, strongholds keep us from God because God is supposed to be our stronghold (Psalm 27:1).  Therefore, anything else that we depend on is an idol of our own making.  When we build walls, we replace God’s protection with our own.  Our lips say that we trust God, but our actions prove otherwise.  Second, strongholds keep us from having deep relationships with other people because we only let them see what we want them to see.  When they look at us, they don’t see the beauty of our soul; they see a wall.  And who can love a wall?  When we build strongholds, we forfeit the depth of love and acceptance for the shallowness of popularity.

What are your strongholds?  Some of you may know right away.  For others, they’ve so long been a part of you, so cleverly disguised and hidden even from yourself, that it may require discernment and guidance from the Holy Spirit to seek out these strongholds and destroy them.  Prayerfully consider the following questions:

What am I most afraid to let go of?

What do I turn to when I feel uncomfortable or threatened?

What do I feel like I most need to prove?

What makes me feel the most exposed?

What do I fear will happen if I lose my protection?

Answering these questions will give you valuable insight into what your strongholds are and why they are there.  If you can understand why you do what you do, it becomes easier to work through your emotions and get rid of the strongholds that keep you from God.  If you don’t, there may come a day when they are taken from you.  God is jealous, and His love is a tough love; if anything is keeping Him from your heart, He will stop at nothing to win you back.  When His people Israel continued to chase after other things, seeking security elsewhere, God decided to put a stop to it: “Israel has forgotten their Maker and built palaces; Judah has fortified many towns.  But I will send fire on their cities that will consume their fortresses” (Hosea 8:14).  With their strongholds burned to the ground around them, Israel had nowhere else to turn but to the Lord.  When all of their sin and weakness was exposed, they had to face their utter helplessness and depend on God.

Destroying strongholds can be a scary business, not only because we feel exposed, but also because we’ve worked our defense mechanisms into the fabric of our being for so long that we feel they’ve become a part of our identity.  If we strip them away, what will be left of us?  If our stronghold defines us, who are we without it?  The beautiful part is that God doesn’t leave us there; He transforms us into something new and beautiful.  As He did for His people Israel, He will replace our facade with a true identity, the security of which can never be taken away.  He will give us a new name: “I will say to those called ‘Not My People,’ ‘You are My People'” (Hosea 2:23).  Once the stronghold is torn down, we are no longer captives within our own walls.  We are free to know and be known, to love and be loved.

We are free when we are His.

On Sex and Emotional Consequences

“He was the only guy I’ve ever really loved,” she told me, tears sparkling in her eyes. “He cared about me more than anyone else ever has.”

“No, he didn’t,” I answered. “He treated you like crap, and you know it. Why in the world would you go back to him?”

“Because…there’s not anyone else for me. He’s the One. It’s like we’re meant to be.”

I sighed. “Did you have sex with him?”

“What does that have to do with anything?!”

“She” represents far more than just one girl; I’ve had this conversation more times than I would like to.  I can always tell when a girl has slept with a guy because it shows in the aftermath of the breakup when her heart is shattered and she’s desperately holding onto the past.

Girls, listen to me, and listen close.  Sex is not something to play with.  It has serious emotional consequences because it was designed to bind you to one person, for life.  And even though it’s abused and mistreated and taken lightly, it still serves its purpose.  Even when a relationship is broken off, that ghost of an emotional bond will always be there to haunt you.  The hurt runs deep, because you will never really forget your “first love.” Even if you convince yourself it wasn’t a big deal…it’s still a big deal.  Even if you’ve numbed yourself to the pain of loss, it’s still there.

Vulnerability creates strong emotional ties to people.  When we share with others our deepest hopes and dreams, fears and failures, we share something unique with them because they’ve seen a part of us that very few others have seen.  Why else did we love to play Truth or Dare with friends late at night when we were in middle school…especially in mixed company?  Because somehow, it changed the dynamic of relationships.  When you share intensely personal things, you come away thinking, “Oh my gosh, we’re like best friends now,” when really, you still hardly know each other.  You’re not just playing a game with your friends; you’re playing a game with your feelings by sharing too much.  Our innermost thoughts and feelings, the things that are closest to our hearts, should be shared with someone we trust; they shouldn’t be shared to create a shallow sense of trust.  Be careful when you share pieces of your heart, because you may not get them back.

Sex makes us more vulnerable than any Truth or Dare game, especially if it’s the first time.  As women, we struggle a lot with body image, so when we expose ourselves physically, we’re also exposing ourselves emotionally big time.  You’re revealing everything you are, and giving them everything you are.  And when a guy accepts us, with our insecurities and imperfections, it makes us feel valued and validated.  But you have to realize that any guy who tries to pressure you is not out to make you feel valued. When you ignore that fact, there’s an emotional disconnect where you think he cares about you far more than he actually does.  And he can lie to you, cheat on you, treat you like crap and make you feel worthless, and you still can’t get over him, because in your mind there was a “connection.”

Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t.  It’s not worth the emotional heartache, the long lonely nights of regret and “what if” and waiting for him to come back around when there was never anything real to hold the relationship together.  It’s not worth crying yourself to sleep asking what went wrong, when maybe you were never right for each other in the first place.

If that’s a mistake you’ve already made, know that it’s time to move on.  Yes, even from him — the very guy you’re thinking about.  You’ll never find healing by holding onto the past; it’s not coming back.  Stop waiting and start living; give Christ the pieces of your broken heart and let Him make something truly beautiful out of it.

Planted by the Water

Jeremiah 17:7-8. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.”

Let your roots reach out for the things of God! You can’t find fulfillment in this world — only in the Living Water!

“It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Faith and fear cannot exist together; you will be full of one, or full of the other. When your roots are drawing from the Stream of Life, there’s no way you can be full of anxiety or fear. God has provided for you, so that you WILL NOT BE SHAKEN. Heat and drought may come, but YOU WILL STAND.

Hold on to that!

He is solid.

Always.

Published in: on November 27, 2012 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Little Things: Week 3

Believe it or not, it is actually possible to get used to the following: 100 degree heat. No caffeine. No makeup. Sweat. Cherry flavored cough drops. Ice cold showers.

I think the one thing I will never get used to is the amazing grace of God to keep going and the love and support of the staff and even my campers when it gets hard.

I can’t lie, I started week 3 with somewhat of a bad attitude. It was our first middle school camp, and I love middle school. It’s hands down my favorite age to work with, so I really wanted to do overnight camp. Instead, I was assigned as a day camp staffer with thirteen 8-year-olds. But looking back now, I know God had a reason for where He placed me this week. No, I didn’t get to develop super deep relationships with the overnight campers. But this week, God has shown me some amazing truth through the little things, through those moments that pop up in seemingly random places.

After doing overnight camp for two weeks, day camp was just very…different. At first, I didn’t like it as well as overnight camp because there’s not nearly as much spiritual depth as overnight. Instead of team-building activities and life lessons, it’s mostly recreation. And honestly, I was a little disappointed by the first day because it felt more like babysitting than actually making a difference. But moment #1 was a new perspective from one of the other staffers — “Day camp is just a different kind of ministry. Instead of teaching these kids, your job is just to love on them and show them Christ that way.”

There were also some new lessons that I had to learn being an adopted counselor in the evenings. Having been immersed in the mentality of leadership for the past two weeks, it was a completely new challenge to learn how not to lead. Because I’m more outgoing and generally just more vocal than the overnight counselor I assisted, it was hard to rein in my enthusiasm so I didn’t come across as trying to take over. Adjusting from one position during the day to another role at night was sometimes difficult, but I was reminded of the raging river low ropes element: it can’t be done without a leader, and it can’t be done without someone in the back picking up the pieces. Learning how to gracefully transition from one role to another was one of the big lessons I learned this week.

Another new experience for me was learning how to bring out the leadership qualities in another person. My jr. staffer was a year younger than me, and at first he seemed more interested in having fun than taking all the responsibility that comes with camp counseling. The second day of camp we sat down and talked about it, and he told me that he didn’t think he made a very good leader. I could see his strengths, though, and I really wanted to give him a chance to explore his potential and recognize those qualities. So for the last 3 days I made an effort to see him as my co-leader rather than my jr. staffer. He helped me lead Bible study discussions and went above and beyond to support me while still being super fun with the kids. Both our strengths and our weaknesses ended up balancing each other out really well; I may be a bit more mature and responsible, but that means I also have the tendency to stress out over ridiculous things, like a kid paddling a canoe into the bank or being late to an activity or making 75 trips to the bathroom because my kids didn’t have to go 5 minutes before. He doesn’t take everything quite as seriously, which could be frustrating when something needed to be taken seriously, but most of the time he helped me to chill out and live in the moment, and the kids loved him because he was crazy fun! On the last day of camp he brought a carton of my favorite ice cream that we shared over lunch, along with a super awesome ring that has now left a tan line on my thumb. When I asked why, he answered that he wanted to thank me for giving him the opportunity to step up and be a leader. Mission accomplished.

On Tuesday night while my overnight girls were in the shower, I went in the kitchen to finish off some tiramisu ice cream. Another jr. staffer was in there as well, so we ate ice cream together and talked about how the week was going, and then we prayed together before going our separate ways. Moment #2. It’s the little things — I love getting to spend one-on-one time with people and getting to know them, and this guy is such an awesome model of Christ’s love. His joy is contagious.

Thursday morning I got up early to have a few minutes of quiet time before breakfast, and for some reason I just started stressing about the details of my life and asking God, “Is this going to work out? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” Mostly in regard to relationships, because for some reason that’s something that is very difficult for me to surrender. And then moment #3 hit me: I sound exactly like my campers wanting to know my schedule. I learned early on that if I tell my campers my schedule, they won’t pay attention and they’ll ask me like a thousand times. So finally I just stopped telling them altogether.

“Babe, are we doing archery today?” “Maybe.”

“When are we going to the camp store?” “Sometime today.”

“Why can’t I see your schedule?” “You don’t need to see the schedule. I’m the one who has it, and that’s all that matters. I’ll tell you what you need to do when you need to do it. Do you trust me?”

Oh God… do I? Talk about a good dose of humility.

Thursday night I had a really awesome talk with one of the guys just sharing our stories and talking about what God has done in our lives. He told me that he has struggled with homosexuality for the past 5 years. Homosexuality is something that really isn’t talked about much in the church, and Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction dare not talk about it for fear of being judged, or they can’t reconcile their sexuality with their faith and so end up leaving the church altogether — so I was fascinated to hear what his journey has been like. He also shared with me that he feels like it’s part of God’s plan for him to be married one day, which wasn’t something I was expecting to hear, because I wasn’t really sure how all that works out. So I was like, “This sounds super awkward, but I’m trying to understand what’s changed…what are your desires now?”

He answered simply, “My desire is for God. I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality either way.”

BAM. Moment #4 hit me in the face. Should any of us be defined by our relationships, straight or otherwise? Our identity should always be found in Christ alone regardless of “orientation”, and that’s something that I have to work on learning just as much as he does.

So yeah, that’s my week in a nutshell. There are so many other little details that I would love to share with you, but these were the moments that helped me to grow the most spiritually. For now, it’s bedtime.

Published in: on June 30, 2012 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Minefield

“Katie! Katie, I can’t hear you!” I hesitated, not sure what to do. I adjusted my blindfold and took a tentative step forward.

“Take a step to the right!” a girl’s voice shouted. Was it Katie? I wasn’t sure. They sounded alike from 15 feet away.

“Katie, is that you?” I called. I stepped to the right and ran into a tree. Then I heard my name.

“Lauren, keep coming forward!” More confident now recognizing her voice, I took a few steps forward, straining to hear her next instructions. “Duck down a little…now step over a rope…”

When I finally made it to the other side and removed my blindfold, I looked back at the minefield and high-fived my partner who had guided me across by shouting instructions over the voices of 5 other people.

Once we had all made it through the minefield, Andrea told us why we had done that particular activity as a team. “Life is a minefield,” she explained, “And we have so many different voices shouting at us. Sometimes they just make it difficult to hear over the noise, but sometimes they can sound deceivingly alike. To make it across the minefield, you had to know your partner’s voice and trust that they would get you across. In life, we have all kinds of voices shouting at us: parents, peers, teachers, the media. But there is only One person whose instructions are meant exactly for you and for your unique situation. Only One voice is going to get you across the minefield.”

The minefield was one of many team-building games we played our first day of training at Deer Run, but to me it was the most powerful. I had just experienced the awkward feeling of standing there, unsure where to go or whether I should move until I was sure I heard Katie’s voice, so with the memory of those feelings fresh on my mind, the application truly moved me.

God, where do I go when I can’t hear You? There are some times when all I can do is wait in the silence, trying to block out the other voices, becoming frustrated and scared when I can’t make out Your voice. But in the end, two things will get me across: I have to know Your voice, and I have to trust that You will lead me safely through life on the path that You have planned for me.

Published in: on June 2, 2012 at 10:03 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,