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Wednesdays are tough mornings for me.
Marshall leaves early, so I wake up with the kids and have to get all three of us fed, clothed, and ready to get out of the house by 9.
If you’re not a parent, you may be thinking to yourself “9:00? That shouldn’t be tough! I get to work at 8 every morning! Don’t your kids wake up at like 6:30 anyway? Piece of cake!”
One would think.
I swear it doesn’t matter how much time I have to get out of the house, what time of day it is, how much prep I’ve done ahead of time, it’s ALWAYS a struggle.
But I digress.
Yesterday Shook was just a ball of emotions. He’s in a really loud phase (Is it a phase? Ask my family and they would say I never grew out of this one), so even when he’s happy he’s inevitably yelling or singing or banging on something he shouldn’t be banging on, which can be trying on a tired mother who hasn’t finished her coffee. When he’s not happy, he’s somewhere on the spectrum between whining and tantrum, and for some reason there were a lot of things making him unhappy yesterday.
Some days I’m good at handling his emotions, and some days they just push me to the limit. When it hit 8:45 and I hadn’t gotten his lunch together for school or either of the children dressed, I was at my limit. When Marshall walked back in to get his lunch I released an exasperated “thank goodness” and immediately put him to work.
I finally got Shook in the car at 9:05 (gotta love that 15 minute grace period). I rushed him into his classroom and snuck down the hallway without a goodbye so I could get back home to get the baby ready to go to Bible study.
Before I made it halfway down the hall, I heard the pitter-patter of little feet and a familiar “Mommy!” followed by a frantic teacher running after her little renegade.
I turned to see Shook, arms outstretched, begging me to hold him.
I knew right then that he needed me. That I had ignored him and pushed him aside and gotten frustrated with him too many times, and that he needed me to hug him, to remind him that I loved him, to give him some undivided attention before I left him to play with his friends.
So I went into his classroom and sat on the floor with him in my lap, hugging him, kissing him, telling him I was sorry for not paying attention to him.
He wasn’t mad at me for ignoring him, he wasn’t bitter that I had been less than loving to him, he wasn’t resentful that I had tried to rush away without saying goodbye. He just wanted a hug from his mommy, because he hadn’t gotten enough of my love yet. And in turn I received love from him that I didn’t know I needed until I got it.
What an act of mercy on God’s part, to send my little toddler out one last time before I left him for the day, to allow me the opportunity to make up for a bad morning and give my little boy the love he needed. And what a display of the grace that God gives us daily in various ways.
I always say that when I became a parent, God unveiled his love to me in a new way through the unconditional love I have for my children. But recently He’s been showing me His love in a completely different way through the unconditional love my children have for me.
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since I’ve talked to God, how long it’s been since I opened my Bible, how long it’s been since I’ve come to Him with my thanksgiving, my supplications, my confessions, my worship. He’s not mad, He’s not bitter, He’s not resentful. He just wants me to turn to Him and give Him my love, and allow Him to give His love to me. It’s that simple. His love for me is truly unconditional, and no matter what I do to deflect it, He is always there chasing after me, waiting for me to turn around.
How many times have I been too distracted to see that God is trying to show His love to me? How often do I allow the worries of this world to cloud my vision, to let what seems urgent to obscure what’s truly important?
Sometimes I’m able to look at my children and dwell on the love I have for them, and how it is a reflection of the love God has for me. Most of the time, however, I need God to send my toddler running down the hallway after me asking for hugs, stopping me in my tracks to remind me of the love my children have for me, and what a beautiful reflection it is of the love God has for me.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)
The other day I was listening to the radio and a song called “No Longer Slaves” came on. As I listened to the lyrics, “I’m no longer a slave to fear; I am a child of God,” I started to think about what that really means, or what it should mean, for me as a Christian.
As I’ve mentioned before, I struggle with anxiety. I’m often unexpectedly captured by fear and worry. It can come on at any moment, without any warning, and it grips me completely. It’s irrational, it’s uncontrollable, and most of the time all I can do is pray.
I fear things I can’t control, things I can’t understand. I fear sudden loss or death of loved ones, I fear for the safety of my family, I fear unexpected catastrophes. I can go days, weeks even, without feeling these things, but when they come they are as strong and real as ever.
But this song got me thinking about the reality of what it means to believe in Christ, to be saved through His sacrifice, to be brought into His kingdom and made a child of God. What does our faith and our salvation mean to us right now, and how should it affect our daily lives? It’s important that we have been saved from death and given eternal life. It is of the utmost importance. But there is also a very real benefit we receive the moment we believe in Him, and every day on this earth until we meet Him face to face, and we would be remiss not to dwell on it.
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:12-17)
By believing in Christ and committing our lives to Him, we are freed from the things of the flesh that once held us captive: fear, sin, death. In place of these things, we are given adoption as sons, and are therefore heirs to everything Christ has been given. We are freed to live for God, not for anything of this world.
But we must lay hold of these benefits and be intentional about seeking them, or we will inevitably fall back to fleshly desires, struggles and fears. We are freely given the Holy Spirit, yes, but as these verses remind us, we must then live by that Spirit and put to death the deeds of the body in order to truly live as heirs of the kingdom. I have to be intentional about not letting myself fall back into fear, and instead calling out to God and laying claim to my adoption into His kingdom.
Does this mean that nothing bad will happen to me if I believe in Jesus and follow Him? No. In fact, the end of this passage says that we are heirs in Christ if we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
What it does mean, however, is that there is nothing we as Christians need to utterly and completely fear, because in the end we have the hope of heaven and the promise of eternal life. No matter what happens to me in this life, no matter how much I suffer, I have life in Christ, and that’s all that matters.
I don’t think this is an easy thing for us as Christians to do on a daily basis. It’s certainly hard for me. It’s hard to keep my eyes on things above when so much is happening here on earth to keep me distracted. It’s hard not to worry about the safety and health of my loved ones, and I don’t think I’ll ever be completely free from that worry. But as a Christian, I have something that others don’t have: I have the comfort of God’s love and His promises to be with me through it all, and to one day free me from it all and usher me into His kingdom.
Even as I write this, it’s hard to make sense of it. Hopefully some of what I’ve said has made sense to you, and hopefully it resonates with you. If it doesn’t, please ask me to explain further, tell me what’s confusing. I guess what I want you to know, and what I want to remind myself, is that as children of God, we are really and truly no longer slaves to fear. Even when fear creeps up on us, we have Him to cry out to, “Abba, Father,” and He is there to comfort us. We live in a type of freedom that no one else has, and it should make us feel lighter, give us a deep and impenetrable joy that carries us through all of life’s circumstances. He will never let us go.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phillipians 4:6-9)
Life gets heavy sometimes.
Of course we all know this. Heavy things happen. Loved ones die. Terrorist attacks happen. Illness strikes. Relationships are broken. Life is hard.
But I’ve begun noticing recently a different way life can get heavy, especially when you live in close community with others. Life can get heavy even when things are going fine in your own life, if the people around you are suffering.
As Christians, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. Throughout Paul’s epistles he makes clear that we are to live for one another, to serve one another, to pray for one another. This week at Bible study we are studying James 5, in which he tells his readers the following:
“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16)
This is encouraging, that we can pray for one another and be healed and forgiven for our sins. But I find that it can also feel like a burden, the need to pray for those among us who are suffering, especially as the list gets longer and longer.
Last week, between what my husband was dealing with and the things going on in my friends’ lives, I just had this realization of, “Wow, other people’s burdens get really heavy sometimes.” I felt burdened by what was happening in the lives of people around me, and not in a good way. And then I realized, I’m not the one who is supposed to carry my friends’ burdens. I was never meant to take their burdens, place them on my own back, and attempt to walk with that weight. It’s my call, as their friend and partner in Christ, to bring those burdens to Jesus.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)
When we are heavy laden, no matter why, Jesus calls us to come to Him. The only reason we can bear one another’s burdens is because we are merely helping our friends bring them to the feet of the cross. And once there, we can place those burdens there, lay them down at His feet, and trust in His sovereignty. We still carry them, but we have a place to set them down, and we have Jesus to help us along the way.
And we have another helper too:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
We are weak, even in our prayers. But God knows that, which is one reason He gives us the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to worry about what we say in our prayers, whether we are praying for the right things, using the right words, being holy enough, using proper theology, and so on and so forth. Where we are weak, He is strong, and the Spirit himself intercedes for us…according to the will of God. Praise Jesus for that.
Does this mean we shouldn’t feel the weight of life’s burdens, be they ours or someone else’s? No, and we can see in Jesus’ own life that God himself feels the weight of our burdens. It is no easy task, walking through life and its hardships, whether we attempt to do it alone or decide to do it in community. But Jesus wants us to bring those burdens to Him, and trust in his ability to carry them for us, because He loves us, and because it brings Him joy to bear our burdens.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
“A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping, we are becoming.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I think about worship, I tend to think about it purely in religious terms. I go to church to worship on Sundays, Muslims travel to Mecca to worship, the Sabbath is regarded as a day of worship. I’m inclined to think of worship as a voluntary act, something I choose to do, and something I do only at specific times.
This quote defies all of my notions of what worship is, and it’s a bit unnerving. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? As a Christian, I believe we were made to worship. We were created to worship God, the only one deserving of worship. But if we were created to worship, and we aren’t worshiping God, it makes sense that we would need something or someone else to fulfill that innate desire in us.
Christian worldview aside, it’s easy to see what Emerson is saying here, if we just look at the world around us. I would argue that if you know someone well enough, you could guess what it is they worship by looking at their life. And anyone who knows you well enough could probably guess what it is that you worship, too.
What dominates your imagination? What do you think about most of the time? What, if you lost it, would devastate you, ruin your life? What do you plan your time around? What do you spend your money on? What defines you as a person?
It’s frightening to think that we can be worshiping something inadvertently. Worship is a heavy word, and it connotes a sort of ownership. If I worship someone or something, it is a submission on my part, a subjection of myself to that person or object. It’s as if I’m giving over a part of myself to the object of my worship. And what Emerson seems to be saying is that this can happen without our knowledge, without intention, without an express decision on our part. And he warns us to be careful what we worship, because what we worship determines who we are becoming.
So let’s take an obvious one: money. It’s tough because we need money; we have to have money to survive. So yes, we must think about money, we must find a way to make money, we must have dealings with money. But what if money is all I think about? What if all of my decisions are based off of how much money I can make, how much money I will spend, how much closer I can get to my financial goals because of this decision? What if I make sacrifices in my personal life because I feel like I need to make more money? What if all of my anxiety stems from the fear of losing money, or not having enough? When does this cease to become mere thought, and evolve into a sort of worship?
Jesus warns us against laying up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal. It’s good logic, because one day none of it will matter, and we can’t hang on forever to money or anything it can buy. It will leave us one day, one way or another. But he goes on to say something else. He says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
That sounds a lot like worship to me. It’s not just bad to hoard things on earth because they don’t last; it’s dangerous, because wherever our greatest treasure is, our heart will be there too. Whatever we treasure the most, that is what our heart will end up worshiping, whether we like it or not.
So can we choose what or whom we worship? Yes. But it’s not a matter of simply saying “I will worship God” or “I will not worship money (or beauty, or intellect, or popularity, or family).” It’s a matter of being intentional about where our treasure is, and where our heart is.
If I’m not spending time with God, thinking about God, talking to God, treasuring God and His promises, in my daily life, am I really worshiping him when I stand and sing songs in church to Him on Sunday? If I’m not allowing His word to penetrate into my heart and dictate how I live my life, am I truly worshiping Him when I sit down to read the Bible? Am I making decisions based on my relationship with Him, and what He wants for me? Or am I allowing something or someone else in my life to dictate my decision-making?
Worship isn’t just something we do on Sunday. It’s a condition of the heart. And as Emerson reminds us, if we aren’t careful about where our heart is, we may end up worshiping the wrong thing.
I have a confession to make: I don’t think I’ve ever voted in a Presidential primary. I joke that the only reason I voted in my first Presidential election was for the free Starbucks, and I voted for the guy my parents liked.
I’ve always kind of excused myself from voting because I’ve felt I don’t know enough about politics or the way government is run to be confident in my vote. Mostly because I’m lazy and don’t want to do the research needed to figure out who deserves my vote. And, in all honesty, I really don’t think I can educate myself enough to truly know who will run the country well. It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, and I have other ways I would like to spend my time.
All joking aside, I understand my duty to vote, and I think it’s an important one. But I also know it’s important to check my views, my actions and my reactions to politics against scripture.
So what does scripture say about government? I found this blog post by Tim Challies that gives a great summary with scripture references. He breaks it up into five main points: Every government is put in place by God; God uses even sinful governments to do His will; we ought to pray for those who govern us; we should honor and submit to those who govern us; all human governments will eventually end and Jesus will reign over everyone forever.
I’ll admit the prospects for the next President are not looking good, especially for Christians. We have the right as citizens to speak out about immoral behavior in our leaders, and the right for our voices to be heard about political issues. And as Christians, I think we have a moral obligation to fight against injustice and seek God’s will when it comes to our country and its leaders. But I struggle to find the line where our Christian calling veers away from our rights as citizens and calls us to something more, something different.
So thinking about Tim Challies’s list, I want to try to break his points down and apply them to the current situation.
1 – Every government is put in place by God.
This may be a hard one to swallow, but if we believe in His sovereignty over human history, we must believe this. As ungodly and lawless as the current political landscape in America seems, God has known from the beginning of time that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would be leading in the polls on this day, March 3, 2016, in the running for President of the United States of America. And if He didn’t want it that way, He could stop it in an instant. So I can vote, like I did, and I can speak out if I feel the need, and heck, I can move to Canada if I feel like it, but I shouldn’t be afraid that somehow things have spiraled out of God’s control and He’s up there somewhere on the phone with all of his angels trying to figure out how this whole thing went so wrong so fast.
2 – God uses even sinful governments to do His will.
If we believe the first point, that God puts rulers in place, we must believe this one, because until all things are made new, all governments will be sinful. Some more than others, but any government run by humans will be sinful, and that’s a fact. And guess what? God still uses them. In fact, two extremely sinful governing figures played essential roles in Jesus’ crucifixion, which had to happen in order for him to conquer death that we might be saved from it.
“Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you [God] anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27-28)
So what does that mean? We may not like it, but God is using Hillary Clinton, and yes, even Donald Trump, for HIS PURPOSES. We may not know how, or what those purposes are, but we can be sure that He is, because all things in this world are used for His purposes, to His glory.
3 – We ought to pray for those who govern us.
Well, this is just convicting. How many times in my life have I prayed for our President? I could probably count them on two hands. I’m so self-focused, so myopic in my prayers, that this barely ever enters my prayer radar. But you know what? I bet the current political situation has brought a lot of Christians to their knees in prayer for our leaders even if they’ve never thought to do so before. Well would you look at that, evidence of God’s will being done, and we haven’t even made it to the end of the blog post! Keep praying. Always. Prayer changes things, more than my vote, more than sharing an article on Facebook, more than debating with my peers, more than this blog post, prayer has the power to change things. Keep praying.
4 – We should honor and submit to those who govern us.
This is becoming more and more difficult as the tides turn away from the “Christian Nation” we once claimed to be. It’s not as simple as it sounds, and I don’t know the answer to questions like “when do we stop obeying a government when they are clearly going against God’s laws?” But it is clear in the verses Tim Challies cites that we are called to submit to our leaders, and it is because God has put them in place and has done so for a reason. But it is also clear that we are to submit to God first, and it is only because we submit to God first that we can then submit to those human institutions. Peter puts it a lot better than I do:
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)
It’s almost as if he is saying that because we are God’s, we are free to obey human institutions, even if they are sinful or ungodly. We know who our true ruler is, our ultimate King, who is sovereign over all, so we can freely submit ourselves to governments because ultimately He is in control. And how do we put to silence the ignorance of foolish people? Not by rebelling, not by arguing with them, not by being louder, not by making sure they know they voted for the wrong person and because of them the world is going to end, but by doing good.
5 – All human governments will eventually end and Jesus will reign over everyone forever.
If nothing else in this list reassures you, I can only hope that this last one will. If you are afraid for our country, your children, your grandchildren, and nothing else allays those fears, I hope and pray that this last truth will sink into your heart and give you some sense of ultimate peace. The fact that God appoints governments, even sinful ones, and uses them to do His will, does not mean that governments will not sometimes commit great sins, atrocities even. There are real, tangible fears that come along with certain rulers being in power. But, as with every fear we have in this world, we must return to the one truth that we can cling to in any circumstance, which is that one day all things will be made new, and the only ruler worthy of our full allegiance will reign supreme, forever and ever.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. … From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11, 15-16)
So should we vote? Yes. Should we speak out? Yes. Should we take action when necessary? Yes. Should we fear? No. We should know in our hearts that God is in control, we should submit to our leaders, we should pray for our leaders, and we should long for the day that Jesus reigns not only in our hearts, but over everyone, forever, in all of His glory.
POSTED IN: Christianity, Donald Trump, Elections, Faith, Hillary Clinton, Politics, Voting
POSTED IN: Christianity, Donald Trump, Elections, Faith, Hillary Clinton, Politics, Voting
It’s been a long week. I’m at the beach with my mom, my sister, and my two babies, and I’m exhausted.
I was hoping this would be a somewhat relaxing week, that I could be refreshed in mind, body, and spirit by the warm weather and beautiful surroundings. But gosh, as I sit in our condo listening to the ocean right outside our window, all I am right now is tired.
And then all I can think to myself is wow, Wesley, you are a spoiled brat. Here you are in the middle of February in 70 degree weather within steps of the beach, and you’re complaining because you’re tired? Come on.
It’s times like these that I realize how truly weak I am. I like to consider myself a fairly strong, capable person. I’m smart, I can be a hard worker when I need to be, I’m level-headed, I take life as it comes and try not to complain much. But when I’m honest with myself, my heart is spoiled.
I read something the other day by Paul David Tripp about envy. There were two phrases that really stuck out to me. The first was, “Envy denies grace. The assumption of envy is that we deserve what another has been given, when, in fact, you and I deserve nothing.” And the second was, “Envy forgets who you are, forgets who God is, and is confused about what life is about.”
I think the same can be said for almost any sort of complaining. When I whine about my circumstances, what I’m really saying is that I expected, that I deserve, something better than what I have. I should be able to go to the beach and enjoy myself and have my children behave and get a break from the hard work of being a mother for a little bit. My child should sleep through the night for me. My toddler shouldn’t be so whiny. I shouldn’t have to work so hard. I shouldn’t be tired.
Who ever told me these things should be so? Where did I get the idea that I deserved any of this?
I read another passage yesterday out of the same book, this time about the idea of success. Tripp writes, “Everyone wants to think that his or her life is or will be successful. But what is success? Is it judged by the size of your house, the prominence of your friends…or the list of your achievements? The problem with all of these things is that they quickly pass away, and because they do, if you have lived for these things, you will eventually come up empty. Contrast that view of success with the success of God’s work in and through you. God offers you things of supreme value (his forgiveness, his presence, welcome into his kingdom, a clean conscience, and a pure heart). These things will never pass away…This leaves you with the question: ‘What do I really want in life: the success of God’s agenda of grace or the fulfillment of my catalog of desires?’ At the end of the day, what do you long for: for God’s grace to do its work or for more of the stuff that this physical created world has to offer?”
Without God, I am weak, and driven by my “catalog of desires,” as Tripp calls them. I want comfort. I want rest. I want luxury. I want not to feel pain, discomfort, displeasure, exhaustion. But these are earthly desires, and they have only earthly implications. They are fleeting pleasures that in the end will always come up empty.
Last week I wrote about the promises of God. As I remind myself of those promises, I have to ask myself, as Tripp suggests, what do I really want in life? At the end of the day, shouldn’t my greatest desire be for God’s grace, and the promises He gives me, and not these fleeting worldly comforts? I can only pray that my heart would be more inclined toward the right desires, toward the desires that will truly fill my heart.
I don’t know what it is about me, but I’m always gathering information. I’m always looking to find the next big thing to improve my life, to learn how to do things better. I currently have about ten books on my nightstand: one or two baby books, a book on parenting, an organization book, a theology book, my Kindle, and of course Real Simple Magazine, the true source of all great information on how to live life. I’m an information gatherer, a learner, and maybe (I’ve suspected recently) a bit of a self-help junkie.
I took a strengths test a while back (I actually highly recommend it! I think it’s only 20 bucks), and my top three strengths were Input, Ideation and Intellect. Here are the first lines from each description:
“People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.”
“People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.”
“People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.”
Obviously there is a theme here. And that’s great. It’s helpful as a writer, since writing is basically all about gathering information, distilling it, and distributing it to others. And it’s helpful for when I have a problem I want to solve, because I know how to gather information on just about any subject.
The other day, however, I was thinking about all of these information-gathering quests I’m on, and I started to wonder whether I’m using my time wisely in these pursuits. I tend to get caught up in the little things I can do to make my life better, believing that if I can just be good enough at everything, or know enough about everything, my life will improve.
Earlier this week I made a point to use naptime to read the Bible. Of course this was the day that Shook never actually went to sleep and started screaming “I wanna wake up!” after thirty minutes and head-butted me when I went into his room to get him to go to sleep, but I did get a good twenty minutes of study in before it all broke down. And I thought to myself gosh, if I could just channel all of my “learner” energy into my relationship with God, what would my return on that investment be?
All of my books promise big results, life changing even. If I can just get my baby to sleep through the night, teach my toddler to obey my every command, organize my spices alphabetically and only have thirteen items of clothing in my closet. Even if I could accomplish those things, which I can’t, where would I be? Would my life really be any better, would I really be any happier?
The Bible makes promises too. Throughout the Bible, God makes promises to his people, to those who follow Him and seek Him.
“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:12-14)
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 12:24-27)
This is just a small sampling of the promises God makes to us throughout his word. And the difference in these promises is that they won’t come up empty. Why do I seek after worldly promises, when these promises are so much better, and actually true? What if I threw away all of those books on my nightstand and replaced them with the Bible? I wonder what changes I would see in my life, and more importantly, in my heart.
Thankfully there’s grace, and God meets me every time I come to Him, no matter how long it has been, and no matter how many other things I have been chasing before seeking Him. But I know He wants me to seek Him first. I know He knows how much better off I will be if I start with that.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25-33)
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:1-9
I don’t know about you, but I have the constant feeling that nothing in my life is ever truly “finished.” I’ve heard of people making to-do lists and feeling such gratification when everything is crossed off of them, and to me this is about as realistic as seeing a unicorn. Do people REALLY cross off everything on their to-do lists? REALLY? It seems impossible to me. Before I can even get through half of one, I’m already writing another. I have them in all forms – notes on my phone, physical notepads, post-its, phone reminders, calendars…they’re everywhere.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not great at tackling tasks. I’m a procrastinator, I’m distractible, I give myself WAY too many tasks. I would give anything to be better at completing my to-do lists.
But part of me knows that no matter how productive I become, no matter how hard I try to get everything finished that needs to be finished, it will never be enough. There will always be something else to do. There will always be more laundry. The floor will always need sweeping (How?! I mean honestly. Can I just have one day of clean floors?). My toddler will always pull all of his toys out of all of their places all of the time, always.
Every day is a new day of to-dos, a new day of lists, a new day of tasks to be completed, or to be left incomplete.
I think it’s particularly hard as a stay-at-home mom, when my workplace is also my home. There is no escaping my to-dos. There’s no “okay let’s call it a day, pack it up and lock up the ole office and leave it for tomorrow.” I wake up in my office, and I go to sleep in my office. It’s hard to feel like I ever have a break.
So what do I do about this?
I’ll tell you what I do most of the time. I stress. I get anxious. I go on freak-out cleaning sprees, or I collapse into myself and say “forget it” for a whole day, making the next day exponentially worse. I’m a roller coaster of emotions, the most common one being low-grade stress. I long for just one day when everything is done, when I can truly relax.
But you know what? That’s not reality. Our days, our lives, entire generations, they come and go, we toil and toil, there is nothing new under the sun. That’s just life.
So I’ve got to find a way to be okay. To be at peace with my ever-evolving to-do list, with my never-ending laundry pile. I’ve got to find a way to manage my life, and to manage my expectations, so I’m not a constant ball of stress.
I am nowhere near conquering this (Alas! Another task to complete). I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is I’m not doing myself or anyone else any favors by constantly lamenting the fact that there’s always something else that needs to be done.
I do think the desire for completion, for rest, and for order is a Godly one. God loves beauty and order, it’s obvious from the way he created the world, from the way things were in the Garden. But I also know that we can never expect these things to be fully realized in this world. So we must find a way to cope, but we must also always be looking ahead for what is to come in the next life, when we finally reach glory, and everything is as it should be.
So maybe what I need to do is allow this tension to fuel my desire and my longing for heaven. God wants us to be joyful, but He doesn’t want us to be of the world, even as we are in it. Our treasure is in heaven, and we should always be longing for that. With the little frustrations of day-to-day life, maybe He is trying to remind me that this is not the world I was made for. As C.S. Lewis so eloquently puts it, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
“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.