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Monthly Archives: January 2016
“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8
I’m generally an anxious person. You might not know it looking at me, but I’ve struggled with anxiety basically my whole life. I’m all up in my head, I have crazy thoughts, I’m a doubter, I’m a worrier…I’m a bottle of emotions.
One of the things I’ve always struggled with is sleep. Nighttime is when my anxiety hits. All of the stresses from the day that have been piling up are finally able to come crashing down, and my brain starts to freak out. Needless to say, it’s not very compatible with sleep.
I came across this verse around the time Shook was born, and I was immediately drawn to it. I wanted this for my son. I wanted him to know peaceful sleep, to be able to rest easy.
The thing I love about this verse is the reason behind the Psalmist’s peaceful sleep. It’s something I struggle with constantly, and probably one of the main reasons I am so anxious is that I have a hard time believing it. But I do everything in my power to believe this truth. That “You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Before I became a mother, I worried about safety. I’ve always had this irrational fear of catastrophes, particularly as it relates to my family. I remember when my parents would go out of town when I was little, imagining all sorts of scenarios where they didn’t make it back because something terrible happened to them. I was maybe a little bit crazy.
When I became a mother, oh gosh did those fears multiply. I don’t think I’ve made it through a whole day since I found out I was pregnant without fearing for my children’s lives. It’s a constant battle for me.
What I’ve had to remind myself continually is that no matter how much I worry, no matter how many times I check on my children while they are sleeping (we all do it), no matter how tight I buckle that car seat, none of it is truly in my control. I am not the keeper of my children’s souls, the protector of their lives. It is impossible for me to keep them from pain, from suffering, even from death.
What a terrifying reality.
Unless God is in control. Unless He is in charge of my children’s lives. Unless He is the one who protects them, who makes them dwell in safety. How much better, in fact, for Him to be in control than me? I am so limited in my abilities to keep my children safe. God is not. He is not only in control of my children’s lives; He is in control of everything that happens in the world. And He is good. He is loving. He is powerful and mighty to save.
So how can I give my children the gift of peaceful sleep? By teaching them, and by believing in my own heart, that “You, alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” I want to instill in my children the belief, the knowledge, that God is with them.
As the ever-quoted Psalm reminds us,
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
I had a bad parenting day a couple of days ago. My baby hadn’t slept the previous night, and my toddler woke up early and was in rare (or I should say not so rare) form. I woke up irritable, and I couldn’t shake the sensation all day.
I was mean to Shook. I was tired, he was whiny, all I wanted to do was get the house somewhat clean, and all he wanted to do was throw toys everywhere. I yelled at him, I put him in his room, I took toys from him, I refused to laugh at his antics. It was a bad day, and I was a bad mom.
Last week I talked about the “various trials” I face daily as a mother. This day definitely held trials of various kinds. And let me tell you, there was no joy involved in my response to it.
As I lay in bed that night, finally able to sleep but not capable of actually sleeping, I asked God for forgiveness. For being impatient, for being mean, for being a bad mom. I asked Him, as I do often these days, for grace. I asked that He would give me grace, and that I would be able to give my child grace. I prayed for patience for the following day. I prayed for sleep for all of us.
And you know what happened? We didn’t all sleep a solid twelve hours, but we slept pretty well. I woke up less than exhausted, and the kiddos slept until 7:30. There was nothing categorically different about the day, aside from fewer meltdowns and a decent nap. But I felt different. I was patient, the toys all over the place didn’t make my heart race, and I actually sat on the floor and played with my son.
I forget sometimes that prayer works. God’s not Santa or my Fairy Godmother, just sitting there waiting to grant me my every wish, but He’s listening. And He’s faithful. He’s capable of changing circumstances, but more importantly, He’s capable of changing hearts. And while He might have changed the circumstances the other day, He definitely changed my heart.
I wish my first instinct, before anything went wrong, were to pray. I wish I could start and end each day with prayer, and not just the kind where I ask for forgiveness and for my toddler to stop being a toddler. I wish I were more inclined to turn my heart toward Jesus, to spend time in His presence, no matter how my day went. I wish it didn’t take a wreck of a day to bring me to my knees in front of his throne. But maybe, after enough days like this one, I’ll be a little bit better at remembering how much I need prayer, and how much I need Jesus.
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
This is a pretty well known verse, one we pull out often during times of trial or suffering. And it’s easy for me to read it, ponder it, and immediately set it aside for sometime in the future when I really need it, when I’m going through trials.
In fact, it’s sort of easy for me to romanticize this verse, to look at it and say to myself, “Gosh, when I go through all of those great trials God will send my way (because I’m such an awesome Christian and awesome Christians go through great trials), God will test my faith and it will be amazing because I’ll come out of it so much more mature and complete.” Am I the only one who does this?
When I read this the other day, however, I looked at it differently. I got stuck on the “various trials” part, and suddenly it hit me. This verse isn’t just about certain types of trials, big ones or crazy ones or really obvious, out of the ordinary ones. This verse is about various trials, all sorts of trials, including the little, nagging, seemingly inconsequential trials I encounter every day.
I’ve been pretty tired recently (can I get an Amen?), so of course that means I’ve also been pretty irritable recently. My house is never clean, the laundry is never ending, and I swear my dog is shedding excessively just to spite me. I get in these moods where my heart starts to race and I clench my jaw and I go into rage-cleaning mode, where nothing or no one is safe in my path. Somehow this always happens at the same time my toddler wants me to play catch with him, so he follows me through the house with his baseball and glove screaming “You ready? You ready Mommy? You READY??” as I race around in an attempt to rid my house of any remnant of mess. Being a mom is full of little tasks, ever-changing duties, and an endless cycle of caring for and cleaning up after little ones.
What I realized when I read this verse the other day was that right now, these are my various trials. They may not seem like much, but they are constant, and it matters how I respond to them. God isn’t calling me to joy in some far off, hypothetical trial. He’s calling me to joy now, in the little trials I experience daily.
If I reserve my biblical response to trials for those big, crazy trials that I expect to come my way in the future, I’m really missing out on an opportunity for my heart to be transformed. It’s in the little things that God will test my faith, in the little things that He will produce endurance.
So how can I work to consider it a great joy when my house is a mess and my toddler is screaming at me and my baby hasn’t slept and my German Shepherd is molting? It definitely comes back to prayer for me. The only way I can allow my heart to be open to anything other than anxiety in these moments is to stop and pray. I don’t do it nearly enough, but when I do, He is faithful to respond, to calm my spirit, to let me breathe, to remind me that no, the world is not ending because I have to sweep for the third time in one day.
When I pray, I’m letting God in. I’m saying to Him, “Okay God, here I am. I’m here, and I know you’re here, and I need your help.” Sometimes I think that’s all He wants us to do, just admit that we need his help. It’s so easy to clench our jaws and try to do it all by ourselves, but then we miss the chance to let God in, to let Him test our faith, to let Him transform us.
“New Year, New You”
This was the title of the Real Simple Magazine issue I received in the mail mid-December. It was beautiful, and it held promises of this year being different, this year being about me, this year finally having an organized closet with one of those trendy capsule wardrobes where you only own five pieces of clothing, this year being the year of a “new me.”
New years are fun. They offer a sort of built-in reset button, a time to step back and look at your life and evaluate whether things are going the way you want them to. Christmas decorations come down (eventually), Christmas presents are set in place, and old and unused items are purged to make way for all things shiny and new.
But gosh, can I just admit that new years can also be really stressful?
This year, our holidays consisted of a two-week break from school that started with a sickness that ended up lasting pretty much through the entire break. Amidst the sickness, we managed to still have lots of time with family (and I mean lots), events almost every other night, and a steady stream of presents coming in for about a week. Once Christmas was over and we were all feeling a little bit better, we had a couple days of rest before heading on a little mini-vacation with two other families over New Years. Relaxing? Maybe. Exhausting? Definitely.
Despite the fact that it was exhausting, we had a great time with our friends and their kids, and it was an awesome way to start the new year. Not so awesome? Coming back to a house that had been largely neglected for two weeks and now had several piles of new stuff that was in desperate need of organizing, or worse, returning.
And then there’s this magazine. New year, new you. Yes, it’s inspiring, but it’s also a little bit stress-inducing. I don’t know why this happens, maybe it’s a woman thing, but we are so good at turning potentially healthy advice and opportunities into crushing to-dos and must-haves.
I read these things about organizing my closet and thing “oh my gosh look at my closet! It’s so unorganized and cluttered! I need to get this fixed!” Or I start reading this book and think “what am I doing with my life? I need a job! We need a budget! It’s the new year, we’ve got to get on this stat!” Every morning on the Today Show Matt and Natalie are talking about one more thing we can do to be healthier, happier, richer, fitter (okay, technically I think it’s “more fit,” but fitter sounds better), nicer, younger looking, better rested…oh my goodness, it’s exhausting.
I’m seven days in to the new year, and I’ve already run myself ragged trying—no, merely thinking about trying—to revamp my entire life. And I’m thinking, surely this isn’t what God would want for me.
Remember this post I wrote a while back about quietness? I certainly need to remember it. It’s so easy for me to fall back into striving, to pile on to-dos until my head spins when I look at my lists upon lists upon lists of things I’ll never get around to. I hate it. And you know what else? I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be a “new me” this year purely because I clean out my closet and start making my own baby food.
No, I think, that’s not what God has for me. And then a verse pops into my head, “one degree of glory to another.” And I look it up, and I’m reminded. This is what God has for me.
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
…But when oneturns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,5 are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6, 16-18)
The “new me” that God has for me is in Him, in the confidence that I have in Christ and what He has done and is doing for me. When I turn to Him, I can see clearly, and there is freedom. Freedom from the law, freedom from the striving, freedom from the claiming that anything comes from me and the feeling of never being enough. And He is transforming me, from one degree of glory to another, to become more and more like HIM. Not like the woman Real Simple wants me to be, not like the woman the Today Show says I can be, but like Christ.
So if there is to be a “new me” this new year, I hope and pray that it will come from The Lord. Sure, I can clean out my closet and throw all of my kids’ toys away (kidding, sort of) and I’ll feel better, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I know the one thing that will truly sustain me is the reconfiguring of my heart, the turning of my face toward Jesus.