Tuesday, January 16, 2018

God Can't Do That

It was one of those times when everything seems to go wrong at once. A dwindling bank balance, broken or strained relationships, and dissatisfaction at work, among other things, had left me wondering about my future and struggling with discouragement, stress, and anxiety.

I would try to muster up my soul by reminding myself of encouraging quotes. “We have nothing to fear for the future unless we forget God’s leading in our past,” I would whisper to myself, paraphrasing a quote by Ellen White. The trouble was, although I sometimes felt my hope rising, and I did remember episodes of God’s guidance in my life, I still often dipped into worry and pessimism about my future. 

What God Can’t Do

One morning, I was listening to the Psalms during my hair and make-up routine, zoning out a little from one of Asaph’s poetic renditions of the Exodus story. Suddenly, the words grabbed my attention and seared into my consciousness:

“God can’t give us food in the wilderness. Yes, he can strike a rock so water gushes out, but he can’t give his people bread and meat.” (From Psalm 78:19-20)

I’m like that. That’s how I think.  With a start, I realized that the doubts of the Israelites echoed my own anxieties. The Israelites certainly remembered God’s miraculous provision in their past, but now they were faced with a different scenario, and they didn’t believe he could deal with it.

How many times do we slip, almost unconsciously, into the same way of thinking? God indeed might have been able to do this, but he can’t do that.

“Yes, he can provide sponsors for my missionary trip, but he can’t give me the money for my bills this month.”
“Yes, he can help me study for this test, but he can’t lead me to the right job, especially in today’s market.”
“Yes, he can give me wisdom in my career move, but he can’t help my relationships.”

I listened as the Psalm went on to describe God’s frustration at the Israelites because they “did not believe God or trust him to take care of them,” and how, “despite his wonders, they refused to trust him.” (vv. 22 and 32)

“I don’t want to be like that,” I breathed to God. “Help me to trust you more!”

How I View God

What lies at the heart of my inclination to worry?


"You are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary."
(At Jesus Feet by Nathan Greene) 

I have realized that my anxieties tend to spring from a subconscious belief that I have to make things happen. That all my happiness and success and getting the best out of life is down to me.

Of course, it's not that I have no role to play at all. I have power to choose and to act. But why the attitude that "it's all on me; I'm in this alone?"

I was shocked when I first understood what a practically godless approach to life this attitude signified—or at least an approach that acknowledged God’s existence but assigned him a somewhat impotent or uncaring character. Did I really think of him as so small and so distant?

My view of God is the foundation for everything else in my life.

When I believe that I am entirely responsible for taking care of myself and making things happen, when I am living purely out of self-reliance and leaning on my own understanding (see Proverbs 3:5-6), it is a very hard thing to “be still, and know that [he] is God” (Psalm 46:10). It is hard to trust.

Yet, when I understand more fully the incredible depth of the love God has for me—and when I really believe he loves me that much—my heart responds more readily with trust.

In so many ways, our view of God and our view of life revolves around grasping this love, being “rooted and grounded” in it, as Paul describes in Ephesians 3:17. It changes everything. It is changing my typically-fearful reactions to the challenges of life.  

I resonate with a prayer John Eldredge shares in his book Walking with God: 

“Jesus, I ask that your love would heal that part of me that feels I must make it happen, that all things—especially my happiness—are up to me… And, Jesus, I repent of that part of me that needs to make things happen. I transfer my trust from my ability to make things happen to your love and goodness.” (pp. 103-104)


Yes, He Can

Not every problem I have wept or worried over has been fully solved yet. But God has been working with me patiently to show me just how creative he can be in addressing my issues. He reminds me constantly, in all kinds of little ways, of the committed, personal love he has for me. 

And every day I have the choice of whether I will trust him in a new area, or whether I will respond negatively like the Israelites in the Psalm.

Are you facing a situation in your  life where you just don't know how God is going to come through  for you this time? What are you thinking God can't do?

Trust him. He can do that, too.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

And You Will Finally Know Me

Do you ever wish God would write His messages to you in flaming letters in the sky? Let you know His will through a booming, unmissable voice? Me too.

The same is true for our conversations with God.

This past year has been a journey for me in learning to listen to God. The good news is that He is speaking, and when He wants you to get something, He is persistent -- even if you don't see flaming letters or burning bushes. And you can learn how to hear Him better.

I've recently been soaking in the book "Discerning the Voice of God," and today I read a brilliant chapter on God's persistence in getting His message across and how He confirms His message in different ways.
"When God has a message for you, He is persistent... When God speaks to you by the Holy Spirit within and also confirms it by other means from without, then be on the lookout for His directions. If you notice a consistent message confirmed through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Scripture, your circumstances, and other people, pay close attention. God is repeating Himself to make sure you get the message." (p. 78)
I put the book down as I sat curled up on the sofa, wrapped in my fluffy white blanket, lost in thought. This chapter confirmed so much of my experience with God. I took out my journal, and asked myself, "What have been the persistent, 'thematic,' corroborated messages over the past year?"

I could think of several. God had certainly spoken often. Thematically. Persistently. Through multiple avenues.


This journey of deeper friendship with Him had been sparked in January 2017, in the midst of a difficult season, when God had very clearly spoken to me from a text in Hosea.

One of His messages, oft-confirmed, had been about His desire for increased intimacy -- about His leading and speaking, which of course necessitated me learning to be still and listen. "I believe this journey is something He wants me to continue this year," I wrote in my journal.

Another message had been about hope and restoration. "That could tie into this year's possible theme of newness," I wrote. (The concept expressed in Isaiah 43:18-19 keeps coming up!)

It's tempting to think of restoration as simply God giving you back something you gave up or lost. But that's not necessarily the whole picture. "God goes one better than that," I continued to journal. "Restoration, whatever that means for a specific area of your life, is about... better than before. The way God had in mind from the beginning. Restoration is about healing. Beauty. Fulfillment. 'Restoring the years the locust has eaten' (Joel 2:25) and being in a better place for it."

I like to think of God's art of restoration being something like the Japanese art of kintsugi -- repairing something broken with gold to make it even more beautiful and precious.

True, the passage in Hosea talks about the things taken away being returned (pictured as vineyards in the text). It's easy to focus on the idea of the gifts and restoration that God has in store for the right time. But the heart of the passage is so much deeper than that.

The heart of the passage is all about the intimacy with God that is the surprising product of the wilderness experience.

As I wrote about last year, Hosea 2:16 talks about how we will come to call God our husband instead of our master. Whatever your gender, that is a picture of ever-increasing love and intimacy. I have certainly tasted that this year.

Today, after I finished the chapter in "Discerning the Voice of God," I went back to Hosea 2 and read a little further on. Although God's metaphorical language speaks as to a woman, again, the message is one of the ultimate, deepest, most permanent commitment, whatever your gender.
"I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know Me..." (vv19-20)
I could just hear the longing of God's heart in that. "And you will finally know Me."



That is the bigger purpose, the greater gift.

Maybe you've been in the wilderness. Maybe you're still in the middle of it, or maybe you're starting to walk through your "door of hope" (Hosea 2:15) and you're looking forward to what God will do and what He will restore.

But the return of the "vineyards," however nice that may be, is secondary to the gift of God Himself.

And He -- with all He is and all that means -- gives Himself to you... to me... forever. 💗


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ho Ho No

I am a fan of Grumpy Cat.



So as soon as I saw the Grumpy Cat T-shirt, I knew I had to buy it for my Christmas party; wearing it would be the perfect expression of my paradoxical attitude to Christmas.



On one hand, I do enjoy Christmas (when it's relegated to its proper month -- December). The food. The beauty of the lights and decorations and (if we're lucky) snow. The story. The pageantry of a Festival of Lessons and Carols in a cathedral. The music (again, only when it's played in December, as is right and fitting). The chance to dress up. The sense of goodwill and cheer and warm fuzzies. Oh, and the food.

Mmhm, those classy Christmas feels.

On the other hand, there is something of a Grinch or a Grumpy Cat in me. (Some would say that is reflected in my "December only!" attitude. But actually I would argue that this is because Christmas loses its special-ness if it's dragged out from October or November. Therefore, keeping Christmas in December guards its sense of beauty and sacredness. Just me? Anyway... Maybe it's a personality thing?)

The awful cheesy Christmas movies. Those inquires about your relationship status from relatives worried about why you aren't married yet and the state of your womb. The shopping in uncomfortably crowded stores. The stress. The bank balance. The inability to feel the magic or warm fuzzies of your childhood. (Certain friends would add "tearing ligaments slipping on ice" and "getting mild concussion from falling snow-laden branches" to this list.)



Do you find the Christmas spirit a little more elusive for you now, as well? Sometimes I wonder why that is. Perhaps we all have different answers.

The four candles represent hope, peace,
love, and joy.
A potential reason, for me, struck me today as I was researching articles for a Christmas-themed radio broadcast. I suddenly realized that somewhere along the way, I have stopped celebrating Advent.

Advent (meaning "coming") is the period of four weeks of expectation leading up to Christmas. Although not every denomination emphasizes its celebration, for Christians Advent is traditionally a time to prepare our hearts for the season, to think about the deeper meaning of Christmas beyond consumerism and sentiment.

As a child, I remember the excitement of opening the windows of my little Advent calendar every day. We had a family Advent calendar too, that my mother had made, with a special story or activity for each day of December.

Then we kids grew up and moved away, and I stopped thinking about Advent. Certainly when I was in college, I had a million things to do and exams to take in the run-up to Christmas, and that took priority in my thoughts. Now, I am busy with work and various other projects and seem to stumble upon Christmas at the last moment. "Oh, is that the date?!" A few days ago, my mother asked me if I had come across any nice Advent readings I might share to welcome the Sabbath. "I don't read anything for Advent," I told her. And then I felt a tiny bit bad.

Pondering the meaning of the holiday isn't high on my to-do list. I don't try to make the season so special any more. Isn't this simply practical, adult life?

Life. Adulting. Bah humbug!

Perhaps that is a loss. Perhaps there would be merit in celebrating Advent again somehow. To take that time to slow down and genuinely think, "What are the deeper, spiritual meanings and lessons of this season? Who is Jesus? What does it mean to welcome Immanuel -- God with us, God with me?"

Perhaps we can't expect the magic of Christmas just to "happen" anymore. Perhaps Christmas, like a good relationship, a passion project, or anything worthwhile (as the saying goes), takes some work. But not simply the kind of work in putting up a tree or throwing a Christmas party. Some heart work.

Somehow, I think that real Christmas spirit doesn't have to be showy or sickeningly sentimental. Perhaps it can be a quiet, simple sense of peace, gratitude, hope, and joy. 

So, how will you fight for joy, not just in this Christmas season but in your life? How can you recover a sense of wonder and thankfulness, and your heart?

After all, even the Grinch recovers his heart for Christmas in the end.




Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Disarming Fear

Ever have those nights when you struggle to sleep because your brain just won't shut up? Me too.



I recently went through a stretch of tearful evenings because, as I lay in the dark willing myself to just go to sleep, my imagination would run riot. I would visualize real concerns. Bad memories. Imaginary scenarios and conversations that may never happen in real life, but which nonetheless filled me with pain or anger or stress as I played them out in my mind. Negative self-talk. Future fears. My mind seemed to snatch up each bleak thought, eager to obsess over it.

Rather like this.

Some nights I would struggle against the tide of negativity, praying for relief. Some nights I would be frustrated that I still felt tense and miserable even after presenting my woes to God. Some nights I would just give in to the waves of unhappiness.

Lately, though, God has been calling to my attention to how He wants to help me through adjusting the focus and framework of my prayers. Thus I will be better equipped to disarm my lingering fears.

Often, the focus of my petitions tends to be on my issues, frustrations, and fears -- or, at least, those are the emotions prompting a large number of prayers. This is not bad per se. We are told to pour out our hearts to God, to roll our cares onto Him, and to pray all kinds of prayers. The Psalms are replete with desperate cries to God about how much life sucks, about deepening depression, and about a desire to get out of the mire (see Psalm 69 for one example).

However, darkness or desperation isn't where our prayers are supposed to linger long-term.

Three points from my recent reading, the book "If Only God Would Answer" by Steven Mosley, have highlighted what the problem is in my case. I have a sneaking feeling many of us may share a similar issue.

Tossed About

The book of James talks about the prayers of the double-minded person who is tossed about like a wave. Mosley comments, "A double-minded person can ask for one thing while thinking of something else quite the opposite." (p. 53) I can be like that. I can struggle to find a solid footing and to pray with real trust, particularly when allowing myself to be tossed about and drowned by ever-changing emotions that may or may not let me feel strength and faith.
Catherine Marshall, one of my
favourite authors.

In her beautiful memoir "Meeting God at Every Turn," writer Catherine Marshall shares a story of her loneliness after the death of her first husband, U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall. Eventually, she received assurance from God that remarriage was His idea for her, and noted in her journal that she accepted this gift with gratitude and "all [she had] to do is give thanks to God that the matter is settled and relax until God's time comes..." (p. 159). This idea jumped off the page and burned into my consciousness. What a contrast to my usual mode of operation! Certainly some of my anxieties spring from a desire to be in control and a struggle to simply be thankful for what God is giving, and to relax in the waiting, whatever I am waiting for.

After all, we have the clear and startling promise that if we ask anything from God that is in line with His will, we can be sure of receiving it (see 1 John 5:14-15). The Bible is full of promises and passages that show us the will of God, and we also have His Spirit's intimate guidance in our personal walk with Him, which can lead us to peace in knowing that He hears and answers our petitions.

In pondering all this, I felt God whispering to me, "Instead of being tossed about, you can learn to relax if you turn from focusing on your variable circumstances and emotions to thanking Me instead that I have heard you and that the answer will be realized at the right time."

How Do I See God?

One of Mosley's chapters compared Bible passages about persistence in prayer. On one hand, we have parables and injunctions to keep praying and not give up. On the other hand, we have a warning against being like those who "think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again" (Matthew 6:7). Isn't this a bit of a contradiction?

Mosley points out that the passages are based on the same reasoning about the character of God. God the Judge is more eager to dispense justice than any human official; God the Father is more willing to give good gifts to us than human parents are to their child; and, after the warning about babbling, Jesus says our Father knows our need before we ask.
"Obviously there's a healthy kind of persistence and an unhealthy kind. The key difference relates to that common conclusion: God's generosity. Why we persist in prayer makes a big difference. The pagans Jesus mentioned as bad examples of prayer went on and on petitioning because they thought their god had to be talked into doing good; they assumed a certain quantity of prayer would create some kind of cosmic coercion, forcing their god's hand. In the back of their minds, they believed he was lazy or indifferent and had to be prodded into action." (p. 64)
When you pray, how do you see God? I know that sometimes my prayers are motivated more by this "pagan" mindset of seeing God as reluctant, distant, and needing coercion. Yet God is generous and eager and able, beyond what I can ask or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20 and Psalm 31:19).

Where Is My Focus? 

Another quote from Mosley resonated with me:
"Make God bigger than your problems. Don't go on and on moaning about how terrible your situation is and begging God for His help. Instead go on and on about how wonderful God is and express confidence in His ability to help you. This is a healthy, logical perspective in prayer." (p. 58) 
Even the most raw Psalms often turn in the end to praise, thankfulness, and hope. They affirm God's unfailing love and faithfulness. For example, after honestly declaring his deep discouragement and grief, the poet says to himself, "Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again --  my Saviour and my God!" (Psalm 42:11)

Disarming Fear

In order to help me disarm my fears, then, I have sensed God calling me not merely to be honest about my dark emotions, but to switch the focus of my prayers:

From fear to His faithfulness.

From the problem to His power and love.

From begging based on dread and a desire to control and coerce, to thankfulness for God's heart of abundance, His willingness to give good gifts, and the answers He has already given.

From sadness and frustration to hope.

From my circumstances to my God.

From the temporary to the eternal.

From my feelings to truth.

Good ol' pity parties
In short, to pray with much more praise and positivity, to "express hope, not just desperation." (Mosley, p. 70)

This won't always be easy. Old habits die hard. And honestly, there's part of me that likes to have the luxury of pity parties.

Also, the Enemy will want to keep me locked into fear and discouragement. He will use any opportunity to bring those pessimistic pictures into my mind.

But I am instructed to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to "let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think" (Romans 12:2). When my imagination starts down those gloomy trails, instead of going along with it, I can examine the scenario to see what exactly scares or pains me -- and then disarm that thought, and infuse into that picture the power, presence, and love of God.
"You tend to project yourself mentally into the [future], and you visualize yourself coping badly in those times. What you are seeing is a false image, because it doesn't include Me... When a future-oriented worry assails you, capture it and disarm it by suffusing the Light of My Presence into that mental image. Say to yourself, 'Jesus will be with me then and there. With His help, I can cope!' Then come home to the present moment, where you can enjoy peace in My presence." (Jesus Calling, Nov 9)

One of my favourite songs affirms, "I'm no longer a slave to fear...You drowned my fears in perfect love."

Thank you, Father. Your generous heart, your perfect love, is what I lean on.



Thursday, October 26, 2017

Vulnerable

"You rarely let me into your internal world. I'd like to support you more, if you want, but in order to do that I need to be let in more and know you are hurting. 

I can't read between the lines very well. I'd give you more support if you told me in the moment, rather than finding out through your blog later. I don't always know what you need, because you so rarely ask for it."

Ouch. I had just finished a rant to one of my best friends, Andrea, venting slightly unfair grievances I had over certain friendships I felt were too one-sided and lacking in support. She'd given me some sympathetic but objective perspective, and then she called me out -- she was glad I was being open now, but generally I was reluctant to be vulnerable and ask for help.

Dang, she's so right, I thought. Why am I like this?

Do you consider yourself the "strong one" in your relationships? Do you feel the need to always wear a "calm and collected" mask? Do you, like me, resist showing vulnerability? Have you ever asked yourself why?

By Catliv


For me, part of it is personality. "I am quite a stoic character," I acknowledged to Andrea. "I've always preferred to work through something quietly myself rather than 'making a fuss' -- which could be quite British, on reflection."

I can't blame my Britishness entirely, though, and personalities are molded by our experiences to some degree.



"Much of what we call our 'personalities' is actually the mosaic of our choices for self-protection plus our plan to get something of the love we were created for." Stasi Eldredge, Captivating

My past plays a significant role in my reluctance to be vulnerable, as I imagine it does for you, particularly wounds received and agreements made during turbulent teenage years, and in unhappy romances. I remember resolving, at one point, never to show when I was upset because then people would know my weaknesses and know where to hurt me.

Moving around a lot had an impact, too. I never knew how long a friendship would last. Even now, I expect people to exit my life at some point, so as a self-protective measure I can tend to avoid deeper connection.

For the friendships I did have growing up, I often perceived myself to be cast in the role of the "strong one." From around 8 years old, I remember having a string of friendships in which I seemed to be the level-headed one while the other was falling to pieces. Sometimes others seemed so caught up in their own drama (which was sometimes truly traumatic) that they didn't seem interested or capable of supporting me in mine.

Another factor, I realized, was my perfectionism. Trying to keep your best face forward and do everything possible to be good enough, to be worthy of love and acceptance, does not allow much room for anything that can be perceived as weakness.

Besides, doesn't it feel somehow extremely humiliating to admit to needing help? It hurts the pride.

However, constantly trying to self-protect, to be self-sufficient, to be strong on our own, can be exhausting and demoralizing. And it sabotages us in the area we truly long for -- real connection. We need community. We need to let another person see our humanity, our struggles, our pain sometimes. (Men, you too, not just women!)



"I still think there's merit in not always making a fuss, or in processing things yourself," I admitted to Andrea, "but I'm also coming to see there is value in vulnerability sometimes. That burdens don't always have to be borne alone. That sometimes people are safe enough to let them see behind the smile."

"True community is what we need the most and fear the most," I remember hearing once. (If only I could remember where.) This quote resonated with me then and resonates with me now. And true community involves giving and receiving.

Caveat: This does not mean you should start oversharing with all and sundry! It's important to establish healthy boundaries and find safe people. (There's lots of resources out there to help with this. Try Boundaries or Safe People by Drs. Cloud and Townsend.)

You don't need to be the mouse!

"Share each other's burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ." (Gal 6:2)
And what is the law of Christ? In a nutshell, as He explained it, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind...and love your neighbor as you love yourself." (See Matthew 22:36-40) 

So, based on my experience, what can I recommend if you see yourself as the "strong one?"

Know there are people who want to support you and will love you even when they realize you're not perfect (hint: they already know that, and they're still by your side). Realize it's OK to need help. Try taking off the mask sometimes. Embrace healthy vulnerability, even if you have to take it slow.

What do I recommend if you are the friend trying to help the "strong one?" (And this applies to you, my friend, reading this.)

Be a safe person. Build trust (and realize that trust is built in the small moments). Be patient, but don't be afraid to call them out gently sometimes. Ask them how they're really doing, and really listen. Show them, in whatever way they receive love best, that you genuinely care.



Ultimately, vulnerability is powerful. Vulnerability allows us to move towards the community, intimacy, and love that we all need. And I am learning this one tiny, trembling step at a time.

Brene Brown's stuff <3 p="">

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Trust

Wednesday evening I sat sobbing on my bed under a cloud of hopeless despondency. It was an outburst provoked by a picture and a message, and undoubtedly fuelled in part by floods of helpful hormones. There was a guest waiting downstairs, my mother was about to serve dinner, and here I was having a mini breakdown, hating myself for it, and throwing jaded, hurt-laden questions to the heavens. I sniffled my way to bed that night, feeling unreasonably despairing.   

"Disney taught me the best way to express sadness is to throw yourself on the bed and cry dramatically."

You know those moments when you realize God is really trying to get your attention? When something keeps coming up again and again and again?

A particular verse had been appearing repeatedly, whether verbatim or simply in concept. Social media feeds. Messages from friends. Books. "Verse of the day" in my Bible app. The text was everywhere.

It's a verse I could recite in my sleep, and perhaps for this reason I hadn't paid it much attention, but when it popped up again on Thursday morning, this time it spoke to my heart, which was still slightly fragile from the night before.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."
 (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT)

"OK, God, what are you saying with this repeated passage?" As I pondered the verse, journal and cup of tea in hand, two thoughts occurred to me.


First, this was God's encouragement to me. In my moments of discouragement, I had thought, "Can I really trust that God is guiding me?" It had been one of my tearful questions the night before. Now, I knew this verse was whispering an answer. I sensed God addressing my heart:

"Haven't you been seeking my will? Haven't you been open to whatever that was, with all the honesty of your will you could muster, regardless of your feelings?"
"Yes, I have."
"Then I have honored that; you can trust that I am leading you. Stop second guessing all the time just because things aren't always going as you would like or expect! You are learning to listen to my voice, and you know that I am actually guiding you, and that it's not a product of your imagination. You can trust Me to direct you."

Second, this verse was also a much-needed reminder not to rely on ("lean on," as some translations phrase it) my own understanding. I think that's a huge issue for many of us. It is for me. How easy it is to look at our lives sometimes and compare our current circumstances with how God has been leading or speaking to us -- or even just to look at one or the other without the comparison -- and think, "I don't understand!"

Often, we're relying on what we think we know to try and figure things out.

"The key to receiving answers to prayers for guidance is to let go of our constant attempt to 'figure things out.' Really, it is almost incessant; I will be in the midst of seeking the God of four hundred billion billion suns on some issue of guidance, and in the midst of asking him, I am thinking through the options, trying to figure it out as I pray." (John Eldredge in Moving Mountains)

Often we're relying on our own ken, our perspective, our interpretation of situations, even when we purport to be trusting in God. I know I do that, and I can get frustrated and discouraged as a result.

In fact, the concept came up in my reading a couple of days ago: "Learn also to wait on God for the unfolding of His will. Let God form your plans about everything in your mind and heart and then let Him execute them. Do not rely on any wisdom of your own. For many times His execution will seem so contradictory to the plan He gave. Simply listen, obey, and trust God even when it seems highest folly to do so." (Streams in the Desert)

Learning not to lean on my own understanding is a struggle, but for every time I complain, "God, I don't understand why..." this verse reminds me of how God responds: Trust Me.
"But in my perspective, this is..." Trust.
"God, You said this, but it looks like..." Trust.
"But so and so thinks...and they may have a point." Trust.
"Are You sure I shouldn't/should do this?" Trust.

As if I needed a little extra confirmation or emphasis to the message, the same thing has been circling round my head for the last couple of days in Portuguese. The lyrics of a song I hadn't heard in ages popped into my mind, and I pottered round the house humming to myself, "Confia, confia! [Trust, trust!]"

It's a good song. 
Today I looked up all the lyrics to the song. They say, in part,

"Trust Him who has chosen you, in Him who has promised you, trust, trust, trust.
Trust, even if there is no way out -- even if there is no more life -- even if everything went wrong -- trust.
Trust, even if He is on the cross -- even if the light is buried -- trust, for on the third day death will not hold you.
Trust, even if He is silent -- even if the world is over -- trust, He will arrive in time to bless you."

What is the secret of being able to trust, of being sure that God is directing your path? There is a clue in verse 6: "Seek His will in all you do," or "In all your ways acknowledge Him..."

This is not only about asking for guidance, though, or tagging on to your prayers the phrase, "Your will be done." The Hebrew word translated as "acknowledge" or "seek" is actually the word for "know."

Thus, the verse could also be rendered something like this: "Know God in all of your ways, and He will direct your paths."

It comes down to relationship. To friendship. God wants that personal, intimate connection with you. He wants you to know Him as He knows you. He wants to speak into your situations. It is possible.

I love that reminder. 


"The Way of Joy" by Greg Olsen. I love what this picture expresses about friendship with God.

"If you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will find Me." (Jeremiah 29:13)

"I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me... My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10: 14, 27)

So here I am. The cloud of despair and of doubtful questioning has lifted this morning. I am reminded, and I am aiming to obey -- to trust God and not rely on my own understanding, to know Him in all of my ways, and to rest in the resulting surety that He is showing me the right paths to take. 

"4 Choices" by Adam DeClercq

Monday, September 11, 2017

Guilt

The soundtrack to young adult life...
"Have you got a full-time job yet?"
"So, what are you doing now?"
"Have you got work lined up?"

I squirm.

The queries are always well-meant. Sometimes they're even thoughtless conversation starters. Yet I often have a sneaking suspicion that they are disguising the real questions: "What are you doing with your world-class degree? Why aren't you on a firm career path? What are you even doing with your life?!"

In many ways, I have the ideal set-up. Part-time teacher, part-time proofreader. I often get to work from home. I get to see people, then I get to hide away for a while. I'm not overwhelmed by the aspects of the teacher lifestyle I hate -- the System, the inability to switch off, the planning and marking and paperwork that steals me away from other people and activities I love. I'm not a slave to the 9-5 (and overtime).

The downside of part-time or freelance work, particularly at this stage of my career, is that it is not always consistent. It is also not expected, particularly of a 27-year-old with honors in her undergraduate and post-graduate degrees.

(There is also the temptation of succumbing to the easy entertainment of Netflix and mindless Internet scrolling.)

So I often feel guilty:

I'm not making enough money.

I'm a burden on my family (typical Millenial, having moved back home for financial reasons).

I'm not doing enough. (I seem to have inherited a tendency, from all the women in my family, to have a compulsion to do things, and a sense of guilt when I am not doing. Although who defines what "doing things" actually means?)
"I'm not doing enough!"
I'm not where I should be in life.

I'm not on a typical career path.

(Does anyone else remember hearing Twenty-One Pilots' song "Stressed Out" and really resonating with it? "Now they're laughing at our face, singing 'Wake up, you need to make money!'")

It is a little disconcerting to find that you're not actually that passionate about what you thought was going to be your entire career path. (Although who knows, this may just be at this point in my life.)

It does make me feel a touch guilty when I look at my teacher friends in good jobs right out of college, and I do not share their palpable excitement over classroom decoration, lesson plans, and other expectations and preparations for the school year.

I do experience the odd twinge of self-reproach for wanting to continue to explore my options, to have my finger in more than one pie, instead of committing myself to a steady, regular teaching position.

Yet, when society's ideas of success and (sometimes legitimate) concerns about cash flow attempt to crank the guilt higher, I try to remember the importance of staying true to myself and my values.



There are reasons I have chosen to stay where I am for now. They are several and a little complex, but suffice it to say that I have always felt it was the right decision. It may not be typical. It may not be what's expected of me. But it feels right. It is true to what I want. And in spite of my bouts of guilt, I am content.



Contentment counts for a lot.

"What are you even doing with your life?!"

I am being present for friends and family, building relationships with people I love.

I am taking time to deal with personal growth and healing, instead of getting busy enough to ignore my issues. (And believe me, that takes a lot of time and energy!)

I am expanding my professional and personal interests.

I am working with words, which I love.

I am travelling.

I am attempting commitment to a church family and its accompanying responsibilities (which I haven't had to do for ten years!).

I am learning to appreciate beauty in little things and commonplace days.

I am trying to rediscover my creative side.

I am working on finding my passions and creating new goals.

Sometimes, when people's questions and my own comparisons make me feel guilty or inadequate, I have to remind myself that these are all worthwhile pursuits.

It's true that my entire life's path has been atypical. But it is my path.



It's true that at some point, probably next year, I will have to take a different path. I'm trying to decide what that path will look like and where it will take me. (Brazil? Asia? England still? Somewhere else entirely?! "The world's your oyster" presents too many options!)  

Perhaps the next path I take will again be somewhat unexpected. It may look unusual or even risky. But, as James van Praagh says,

"We have all been placed on this earth to discover our own path, and and we will never be happy if we live someone else's idea of life."

Find your vision. Know your values. Stay true to yourself and your own path.

One of my favourite promises for contemplating my path.

God Can't Do That

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