Friday, August 26, 2011

A Balancing Act - to behave [as if one were] balanced

As promised, I am gathering some more thoughts on balance -

I used to think having my life in balance meant keeping in check all the things I needed to do on a daily basis. Even if one day seemed a bit out of whack, I could look back over my week or my month and see if it all appeared in order, in proportion, prioritized.

I would answer these questions in my mind: "Am I spending enough time in God's word? Did I spend too much time with friends? Is my job causing my life to be out of balance? Do I spend too much time reading, sleeping, eating?  Enough time with my son? Not enough time with my husband? Too little time in prayer? Not enough effort reaching out to my neighbors?  Not enough time serving in my church?" The list goes on and on...

Do these questions seem a bit...


While I would hesitate to call myself neurotic, I am getting anxious just looking at this stream of questions!  Oh, it's not that I am asking myself these questions out loud or that I even stop to ponder all of them all of the time.  But in those moments of feeling like I am failing in all the major areas of life, I begin to ask myself - what have I been doing, and how does it measure up to what I believe I should be doing?.

 That is my natural default mode - 
what have I been doing wrong?
what am I not doing right?
where have I failed?

Have you ever found yourself there - in a repetitive cycle of trying harder and doing more; then feeling guilty because your efforts to make things better or bring things into "balance" have failed?  It is exhausting isn't it?  I am convinced that balance is an illusion, an act.  It is only an appearance but not reality.  It is what the world sells us every day in a thousand different ways, but the joke is on us.  We fall for it...and then we's just not possible.

Did you catch that?  The good news? The very best news really...

"It's just not possible"

It is when I realize that all my striving and all my self-focused effort and obsession is not effective and not necessary, that I begin to rest.

When I am able to remove distractions, to do lists and busyness from the foreground of my life and replace it with the comfort and the assurance of all Jesus has done for me, I find true Rest. As I put down my task list for a moment, set aside my agenda and bask in the lavish love Jesus has secured for me, the desire for "balance" in my life fades.  I find Rest for my weary soul.

"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

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Thought I Would Be More Loving By Now...

One of the most beautiful pictures of love in the Bible is in 1 Corinthians - the "love" passage in chapter 13. It is an overwhelming and vivid display of what sacrificial love looks like. It is amazing and exquisite and flawless...superlative in every way. It is  simply divine...If it is so beautiful and amazing, why is it that so often when I have read this account of love I have felt despair, discouragement and disillusionment? Despair because try as I might I have not been successful at loving this way. Discouraged because after being a Christian for over 10 years I thought I might be more loving, yet I find that I'm really not. Disillusioned because the picture I had of being a loving Christian does not line up with the reality of being a not so loving Christian.

I am still a sinful flawed person living in a fallen world and so often like Paul, I find that I do what I don't want to do and I don't do the things I know I should do!

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; 
love does not envy or boast; 
it is not arrogant or rude. 
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, 
believes all things, 
hopes all things, 
endures all things.
Love never ends. 

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; 

but the greatest of these is love."  
1 Corinthians 13

I am realizing more and more these days that try as I may, all my efforts to improve aren't working. Trying to love like this is impossible. Then I remember...

Jesus, with outstretched nail pierced hands says to me "My love - you can stop trying to do this on your own. 

There's no need for this never ending cycle of effort and despair.  See - I have loved you with a perfect love that will never fade, never give up, never end.  In Me, you have the love your seeking, all the love you need.  I delivered up My body for you, and even though it looked like I was losing I gained everything by giving up.  I won for you, so you are free to give up.  In those moments when you fail at loving others, when you feel like you're drowning in guilt and shame remember Me.  Remember My love for you, remember it is not dependent on what you do or say.  Remember that I came to rescue you, to bring you back, to care for you. I love you, God gave you to Me and I will keep you always and forever.  

Nothing can change My love for you...nothing...forever...and ever..."

but the greatest of these is Love.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mercy Attacks Slackness

Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal was an influential French mathematician, a physicist and a great religious philosopher.  He has been recognized for his most famous work in philosophy - Pensées - a collection of personal thoughts on human suffering and faith in God.  In it he writes:

"Against those who, trusting to the mercy of God, live heedlessly, without doing good works. As the two sources of our sins are pride and sloth, God has revealed to us two of His attributes to cure them, mercy and justice.

The property of justice is to humble pride, however holy may be our works, et non intres injudicium, etc.; and

the property of mercy is to combat sloth by exhorting to good works, according to that passage: "The goodness of God leadeth to repentance, and that other of the Ninevites: "Let us do penance to see if peradventure He will pity us." 

"And thus mercy is so far from authorising slackness that it is on the contrary the quality which formally attacks it; so that instead of saying, "If there were no mercy in God we should have to make every kind of effort after virtue," we must say, on the contrary, that it is because there is mercy in God that we must make every kind of effort."

[On November 23, 1654, Pascal experienced a "definitive conversion" during a vision of the crucifixion:

"From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve … FIRE … God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of the philosophers and savants. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace."

He recorded the experience (called the "Mémorial") on a piece of parchment, which he carried with him the rest of his life, sewed inside his coat...]

Friday, August 12, 2011

An Idol Exposed

The past couple of weeks have been particularly challenging for me and although I could say that about the last year, I think what I am feeling are the effects of "cumulative challenge".  Difficult situations that I find myself in the middle of and overwhelming circumstances all around me seem non stop these days.

As hard as I try to control what's happening and "minimize" the collateral damage, it is of no avail.  Maybe you have experienced this seemingly relentless "pressure" - a constant weight exerted upon your very soul?  I confess that every part of me wants to resist it, every part of me wants it to just be over, every part of me just wants an escape!

My reaction to unrelenting difficulties has for the very first time in my life caused me to seriously examine exactly what is going on.  Everyone experiences difficulty and challenge, and all of us (at some point in our lives) find that things are not going the way we had planned.  All of this "turmoil" has caused me to seek some wise council and ask one simple question: "What is the idol I'm clinging to?"  "What is it that is causing me to respond the way I do in seemingly impossible situations and circumstances?"  This "idol" otherwise known as the thing I am trusting in more than God, has so consumed me that I find I experience less hope, less joy and less contentment in the midst of struggle.

A couple of very good friends have helped me to see where my reliance falls.  We need each other to see things we don't have the perspective or clarity to see.   Although my list of "precious" (for all you Lord of the Rings fans :) substitutes for God is long, one friend was able to so isolate a huge idol of mine with the precision of a surgeon!  It is control!

a : to exercise restraining or directing influence over : regulate
b : to have power over : rule
c : to reduce the incidence or severity of, especially to innocuous levels

While each of the definitions above would be bad, put them all together and it's pretty ugly.  Rule, have power over, restrain!  And, if I'm not wanting to rule I am at the very least desiring to minimize or reduce collateral damage as I mentioned before.  Keep it contained, not out of control - I like tidy and neat!

Before there is a cure there must be a diagnosis.  Before the Surgeon picks up His scalpel there must be a reason for the surgery.  I am praying for the death of the desire to control that lies very deep within my heart.  Its' many many layers have yet to be uncovered.  I'm thankful for friends who have not shied away - neither from honesty and neither from love. As God in his mercy has intervened I see a bit more clearly the only cure.

This idol must be put to death!  It will not go without a fight, it is an invasive ruthless opponent.  It appears as the most attractive option in the moment, but offers emptiness and futility instead.  

That's what idols do - appear beautiful and fulfilling.  But they are merely an inadequate substitute for God.  Christ is the only one deserving of that position in my life. He alone is the Beautiful One.

When I go searching for acceptance, love, and praise of man through my efforts to control everything and everyone around me, I need to remember that in Christ, God has already given me all the love, all the acceptance, and all the approval I will ever need or want.  Christ alone is my sufficiency - I don't need to be in control.  He who died for me is in complete control.  I am free to give up!