A Blog by Jennifer Aulthouse


A heart for those who want more of God. A desperate plea for those who don't.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Wounds


 

“Christianity does not set faith against thinking. It sets faith against assuming.” – Timothy Keller

 

Every now and then, God pulls back a curtain within the heart which shows me that something I thought maybe wasn’t an issue for me anymore still is, or an assumption I’ve made about myself isn’t quite accurate. Typically these revelations leave me with the stark notion that I’m not as far along on my path of spiritual growth as perhaps I thought I might be. And then a sense of disappointment sets in for awhile and I wonder if I’ll ever grow into the person I feel I’m supposed to be and who I want to be.

Usually what I end up seeing after some reflection, though, is that all of this has not been about whatever lack of maturity I initially assumed (although often there certainly is truth in that), but instead it is that recognizing my lack of maturity is in itself a sign, after all, that I actually am further along. After this initial mourning period is worked through, I find I am less surprised by my failings than I was the last time I went through one of these periods. I am accepting more and more of my spiritual poverty. This, I know, is the road to a completely surrendered life.

This latest funk was centered on wounds: wounds within me that I thought had been dealt with enough that they wouldn’t really direct my thoughts and words and actions so much anymore. I didn’t think they would still interfere with the things I know I need to keep at the forefront in how I interact with others, for instance, or what I decide to do with my time and resources. As with this latest round, when the curtain within the heart is drawn back, I can see that these wounds I have still have some life in them, still have power, and still have their own ravenous sense of determination and demand on how to be healed. This serves to remind me that I dare not ever begin to think they are devoid of power over me. I think it was grace that God let me see this about them, even if their sense of entitlement and presence had seemingly lain dormant.

 

 

Your wounds speak loudly. They are the reverberating echoes of waves of failure and loss and rejection that have crashed against the shorelines of your soul at some point, shouting of what hasn’t being filled or fixed that your heart, your flesh, your very being tells you must be. They may indeed need to be filled or fixed, but your flesh is telling you it must be done so in a particular way that you have found tried and true in extinguishing the sting…...at least for a little while…….or in a way you’ve convinced yourself will work.

Your wounds come from a variety of experiences: your own sinfulness, how you’ve been sinned against, the pain you feel because of a loss or a deep-seated unmet need that leaves you gasping for relief in how it manifests in your everyday decisions and in conversation with the people around you. They are the arrows that hit a vulnerable place in your heart. And even if you may have very nicely moved on, they will always exist at least to some extent as tender spots, places within you that throb a bit when something draws near. Whether they have outright free reign over you or you’ve devised schemes to pretend they’re not there (through anything from substance abuse to strategic, self-deprecating humor), your wounds have tremendous power over you if they aren’t surrendered to God. Some days you will need to surrender both the wounds and their power on a minute-by-minute basis. They are always there to plant a sign, claiming that you are still under their ownership. Sometimes the greatest act of faith at any moment is doggedly refusing to believe their claim over you, even when all you see in yourself is a wound very powerfully proving its point.

 

 

Much of our spiritual growth is about redefining; that is, letting God redefine for us how He wants us to look at and approach certain things. Love, community, success…..our work is in trusting Him as He puts into process new definitions for these things that in our hearts have been skewed because of our tendency to idolatrize or romanticize them. We may think of the perfect spouse, for instance, as one who can always anticipate our needs and then seek to meet them.  We may ultimately see community as simply being with others who know us well and who we enjoy being around. We may think of success as that which brings us what we want, whether that is fame, money, or certain freedoms. There are good and accurate things usually within our own definitions, but if you follow their trajectories, they will not end with the desire to see God glorified because that isn’t what we ultimately long for most in our fallen, sinful state. (When we allow God to do His work of redefining, however, and cooperate with His plans, the end result will always be Him receiving the glory.)

Defining what it means to be lovable, for instance, through the prism of our experiences and observations regarding when we’ve felt loved by someone else, when we’ve felt love for someone else, and when we’ve witnessed what we think is love in the lives of others, will most likely leave us with an incomplete definition. Even if we have been loved well by someone, when left to our own selves to define these things, it will be at least slightly warped from the true intent because none of us ever do it perfectly. Our culture, for instance, tends to define love as never hurting someone and/or never making them feel badly. It is based more on a feeling of affection, a passion for someone’s presence and influence, a need to be near, and a sense of agreement. There may be elements of some of these things to various degrees in how love is defined for us in scripture, in all of love’s various forms, but the cultural definition is highly short-sighted and lacking. However, if this is how we define love and how we may think of ourselves as lovable or not, we will be aiming for things that are at best a diluted form of what God wants for us; at worst, outright opposed to His will.

Drawing conclusions, however, is how we navigate through much of life, how we think through the next step, do our best to make sense of things. But sometimes our assumptions - the personal definitions we’ve arrived at - then cause us to craft narratives we live out every day in our quest for meaning, our quest to protect ourselves, our quest to feel valued, and every other quest our heart directs us towards. It is in our wiring to expect things to feel like what they have for us in the past or what the experiences of others or cultural conditioning have taught us they will feel like. If family feels like “X” for me, then healthy family should feel like “X” then (too or instead…..depending on what you have yourself experienced or what culture in general has conditioned you to believe it will).

Take silence, for instance. We often don’t know what to do with silence. If we’re expecting an answer or an action or direction, silence acts as an obstacle, a thwarting that wrenches a sense of momentum away from us. This usually leaves us marinating in anything ranging from annoyance to agony, depending on the circumstances behind our expectations. There’s a nothingness we assume about silence, that it insinuates a lack of passion, a lack of responsiveness, a lack of ability, a lack of recognition…….a lack of love. Silence, we may believe, tells us that we’re not the priority. We usually then fill in the gaps with an assumption or two or 57, based on our prior experiences in whatever realm our situation falls under, and before we know it our assumptions have given birth to a narrative that we start clinging to as truth because we must have something to cling to. Maybe sometimes these narratives end up proving to be correct. My guess is usually not, particularly if they involve a person or persons we don’t know very well. We can easily forget that silence can also mean that whoever we are waiting on is carefully thinking through his best course of action, has an enormous amount on her plate, never received the initial request…….or is in prayer, desiring that God’s will be done and is waiting for a sense of peace before he or she moves forward. We may indeed be the priority after all, and that person is recognizing his or her enormous dependence on the Lord in order to handle our need exactly as He wants.

We are living these narratives on a daily basis within our relationships in what we read into and assume based on either what we fear is the truth or what we so desperately want to happen. This happens with highly personal issues and with larger, political and/or global matters. Both left and right wing political adherents do this consistently with a variety of issues in the news - the story must be a certain way, for perhaps both noble and selfish reasons, whether there’s anything in their particular chosen narrative that resembles the truth or not. We fear the loss of control we are threatened with if life doesn’t follow the narrative we’ve determined it must. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is a quote often attributed to Gandhi. But this easily morphs into “Force the world to change so that it conforms to what you wish.” In our narratives we either go on the offensive in attempting to force conformity or we turn to the defense of self-protection. Both fail to ultimately provide any healing at the root of our wounds and instead deepen the infection.

 

For the Christian this is sometimes where we feel our wounds aching the most: what feels like is going unsatisfied and unfilled and unattended to while God redefines our interpretations. He doesn’t seem to be working on the things we feel we must have in order to be fulfilled. They stay there as empty pools, gaps in the earth that we aren’t used to NOT seeking to fill. The pain of our wounds echoes and it can take all that’s within us to turn our attention to what God is doing when instead the blaring siren of an unmet need is begging us to leave what God is doing and tend to what we’ve spent our energy beforehand seeking to salve. For example, if we have always interpreted love as expressing tangible signs of affection, maybe the Holy Spirit is changing us so that we see it means, for instance, the giving up of oneself for the betterment of another. But the Spirit doesn’t usually choose to conduct such spiritual activity in a manner in which our transformation is nicely accomplished within the hour. We are in-process people, always in the midst of navigating through our changing beliefs, because spiritual growth takes lots and lots and lots of time. So we struggle with holding a real truth, a real truth which may be new to us, and how to allow that truth to minister to us while still feeling the old, familiar ache of a wound. This old wound may have deeply-worn treads to it that tell us that this new truth is not giving us the feeling that can counteract the pain of the wound we’re so used to catering to. It’s messy…….very messy……and life continues on.

Our wounds, however, are not things to simply move past. To pretend and force ourselves to never deal with them, never speak of the wounds, never share the wounds, is what I think sometimes we feel like we’re supposed to do as believers, as if in being new creations in Christ, our wounds and past sins will no longer dictate any part of our words or actions. We repent of our sins, we turn from them.  We rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to not be under the authority of sin anymore. Yes, we are commanded so! But we should never think we haven’t been shaped by sin or that sin no longer has any residue in us; we should never assume that upon conversion our sin residue will no longer affect us at all and that we will no longer ever have to wrestle with old thought patterns and temptations. Some people do have such dramatic conversion experiences where they are simply no longer drawn to a particular temptation anymore, but of the people I know, this is the exception and not the norm. It certainly isn’t my experience and it isn’t the experience of many others whom I know well and who have shared such preciously true parts of their journeys with me. Indeed, the most maturing Christians I know are the ones who are well aware and deeply sorrowed by the darkness remaining in their character. They long for the days they are ultimately, completely freed from it. It is one of many aspects of heaven that they can’t wait for.

 

Your wounds serve to remind you that spiritual growth is not a graduation exercise where you complete certain stages, aiming to exist finally in a place of arrival where you just know that your weaknesses have been conquered in Christ so you can now move on with His full cooperation in the pursuit of your dreams. Spiritual growth is not a linear journey of pressing ahead into the “higher” work of whatever defines popular Christian successfulness at the moment, henceforth freed from spiritual struggle, a life now objectively based on doing good works and saying good things in exchange for a lifelong holy feeling and a “get out of hell free” card.

But your wounds can be surrendered. They can be released. They can be denied authority in your life. They can be dethroned.  There is Someone there at the center of it who can reorder all things in your life around Himself, so that while the pain and scars of your wounds may still be present, they will no longer be your center, your gravity, dictating the rest of your decisions. Allow Jesus, instead of your wounds, to be the prism you are seeing things through in your world. Your wounds will still inform and give shape, for instance, in how you may communicate, but with Jesus as the center, you become part of His truth, which is so much bigger and powerful than any narrative you can possibly craft on your own.

Your wounds may be of rejection, of shame, of loss. These are all components of the all-encompassing wound we are all walking around with, and that is what we have all lost due to the broad reality of man’s sinful nature, and what we have all lost due to our own personal sin. All things must be reframed around this knowledge, but wondrously, all things also are reframed around the staggering belief that Jesus offers newness and a breaking of the cycle to us. The wounds may take a lifetime to heal. But Jesus can and will heal a lifetime of wounds, if we cooperate. So many of our dreams and desires have to do with people being who we want them to be. Whether we put someone in our life on a pedestal supported by expectations that are much higher than he or she can possibly ever reach, whether it’s a group of people in the populace at large who we so want them to see things the way we ourselves do in regards to politics or faith or whatever else, our wounds often come when those people haven’t acquiesced to being who we want them to be. Even if our dream is about doing something specific or having something specific, there are people who will need to play a role in this in some form or another, even if it is simply one of affirmation and recognition. It is of immense challenge to allow people to be who they are, only wanting for them what Jesus wants for them. And we can only know what those things are by being close to Him in prayer, in worship of Him, in authentic fellowship with other believers, immersed in scripture.

 

For me, I begin to see change when I decide against needing to always feel a certain way to believe something is what God says it is; when I let go of demanding that things fall in line with my definitions before I move forward into the work God has for me; when I release the strong desire for people to be who I want them to be. With the power of the Holy Spirit at work in me, I continue to cooperate with this work as needed, whether on a weekly basis or every 15 seconds. The power of the Holy Spirit conforms me to His truth and brings healing to my own woundedness, in His own time and in His own way.

 

 “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”  -  Isaiah 55:8 (NIV)

 

***Note: I had some trepidation in writing this post for fear that my words about assumptions and what we desire other people to be would be interpreted in ways I do not intend. None of this is to suggest, for instance, that we are to merely tolerate abusive behavior or the like or not address things like oppression and injustice. This is not a call for passivity in the face of such things but instead a call for submission to the higher ways, higher thoughts, and higher sovereignty of the Lord.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Morning Prayer


Lord,

Today I release my gifts to you - and the temptations to use them to either exalt myself or to protect myself.

Today I release my sinfulness to you - and the temptations to either try and fix myself or to deny that I have a sinful nature.

Today I release my longings to you - and the temptations to either try and fill them myself by needing to control or to pretend altogether that I don't have them.

Please set me about Your work. Allow me the grace to completely trust You with all of these things, that I might be free from the anxiety of trying to manage them and instead pour my energies into the work You have for me in pouring into others. Give me a spirit of rest nestled within a passion to serve. May it all be done in worship of You. I am weary; breathe Your life into me.
Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Motives


“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”  -  Psalm 23:4(a)  NIV

 
The last couple of months or so have been ones of subtle internal upheaval…..some unexpected revelations, some confirmations to move forward in other areas, and a whole lot of waiting and watching and wondering what’s coming on the horizon. Nothing has rocked me, yet there’s an aura of suspense that seems to be circling, adding to this gentle upheaval. As always, I observe what’s going on within me while in the process: my responses to the people in my orbit and what God may be saying to me through them, my responses to the books I’m reading, my responses to ideas that are forming. In these things, what stands starkly glaring is the darkness still in my heart. And moving forward, the threat of that darkness overtaking the light looms and I imagine all the potential damage. It pauses me, freezes me.

I have the undeniable sense that the Lord is desiring my obedience and trust in new ventures, new magnitudes, without my really knowing what any of this will entail. But in this time of reflection, I’ve become profoundly aware of how unqualified I am for what may be lying ahead. Not so much unqualified in external credentials, but in my heart attitude, in the darkness still present in me, the remnants of a sin nature that while defeated, I will carry with me until I leave this world. I’ve become even more aware how “self-absorbed” is my default mode; in how my thinking becomes insular the moment stress enters into the picture or my very good plans are interrupted and I can think only of how this change will affect myself and my family. The Holy Spirit indeed transforms our character, on His time table, in His ways, and yet it feels so long, and some things remain in us for reasons we often do not understand. I have a heart for many things and many people. But most of all, I have a heart for me.

I spent a week a few years ago sitting under Larry Crabb for teaching and training, and one thing he impressed upon me, when speaking of our bad motives and how they interfere with our progress, is that there will always be a bad motive somewhere within us because we are fallen in nature. If we are waiting for the moment when there is nothing impure, nothing of selfish ambition in our longings, that moment is apt not to come. I used to spend much time seeing all the ugly in my intentions and not moving forward at all then because of the fear that these things would be my driving forces. This seemed necessary for me after a string of self-bent decisions made which all were quite bluntly for my own purposes (and none provided the kickback I assumed, by the way). Because of not wanting this to happen again – a very important thing to address, for sure – I stalled. The Self and her demands were too big of a threat, and so in terror, I did nothing. I’m several years removed from this now, living in greater depths of maturity, and yet that Self in all of her plastic glory is still there, still wanting to call the shots. Still threatening to hijack good plans for her own sake.

The art of managing our motives then becomes learning how not to let the bad motive be in charge – it is not to take the presence of a bad motive as a sign that you are not going to be used for anything Kingdom-worthy because of your humanness.  While you may not be able to entirely eliminate your bad motive(s), with deep self-awareness and complete dependence in allowing God to manage whatever the inner problem is, you can still move forward if you sense that you are meant to. Flee from temptation, indeed. There will be times you must flee, when an abrupt 180 is in order, because you are clearly being overpowered by the temptation to concede control to your bad motive. But if you’re waiting to be perfected before moving forward, you’ll never go anywhere. There will not be a time when sin isn’t crouching at your door (Gen 4:7), when the Enemy isn’t prowling like a lion (1 Peter 5:8). Perhaps the key to self-awareness is knowing that at any given moment you may not be self-aware.

What to do with all of this ugliness? I see it so clearly, the temptation to use people, the temptation to take advantage of situations so that I will primarily benefit, the temptation to twist a beautiful moment of service or splendor into a distorted self-glorifying memory. Will this never stop? The evidence is plain, clear, and indefensible. But Jesus tells me His grace is enough for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

The dark things revealed in us serve as a reminder that we are still in-process, still capable of being deceived. These reminders come to us as grace. It is painful and stunting to realize them, but it is in the knowing, deeply aware and saddened by their presence, that causes us to cling to the Lord as we move forward, certain that without Him, we are capable of great harm. In this we find humility, but we also find awe and hope: awe in soaking in the blessed reality that even as we are, He still longs to use us in His plans of restoration; hope in knowing that the day of our completion will come. We won’t be left in our sinfulness forever. As we stay near He recalibrates our focus and direction when our thoughts lead us off track, when we start thinking the goal is about the ministry we are pursuing or the relationship we are building or any of the other myriad good, godly things we are pouring ourselves into with holy intentions…….and that tend to grow askew as they take on meanings for us they weren’t meant to. The ultimate aim is always godly character; it is always preparation for eternity; it is always in making disciples; it is always for the Day we will come before Him. Always. All things. We stop several levels short when it becomes about the ministry itself, the relationship itself, the church itself…

So I’ve been wondering, and wailing, and waiting, and wishing, and weeping……when will the change come, the change in my heart and mind that seeks first the Kingdom, that desires His will above my own, that naturally longs to serve my neighbor…..that pays no attention to myself, one way or the other. People who are wired with deep introspective tendencies bear this burden in a unique way. The introspection can be a tremendous gift to others because we hold an insight into the inner workings and often can put words to things that others feel and sense but can’t quite find the way to express. I’ve been told this over and over in my life and have no doubt that is part of what God created me to do for others. It is indeed a gift. The dark side, though, is our tremendous bend towards the Self. I am envious to the nth degree of people with a servant’s heart. I don’t have it. I want it, but it is far from natural for me. Regardless, He tells me His grace is enough. Mark Batterson says to “Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention”. Maybe the dream then is as simple as not being selfish.

Psalm 23 tells us of the Lord’s shepherding of His people and what this looks like for us if only we can be still enough to notice. It gives us the assurance that evil is nothing to fear if we are close to Him…….including our own evil. For He is with us.

 
Quote taken from “Wild Goose Chase”, by Mark Batterson.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Reflection for You

One of the musical selections chosen for the upcoming Good Friday service at our church has a simple but profoundly powerful refrain, reminding us of the reward being prepared for believers. The ending line finishes each time with “…..around the table of the King”. Since I first read these lyrics several weeks ago upon receiving the music, they have stuck with me and provided rich visual, serving as a gravitational pull in re-centering my outlook onto what all of this is about here on earth for the children of God, in the midst of our messy and complex dealings with each other.
 
If you are struggling right now with hurt and pain from a wrong done to you, or perhaps you are the inflictor and you just can’t seem to see past yourself and your inability to make things right, I invite you to reach beyond all of it for a few moments and just imagine......
 
......A seemingly endless banquet table, dressed with an artistry beyond comprehension, filled with richly delectable foods, such as heaping bowls of perfectly ripened fruits, colors of a clarity and brightness earthly eyes could not behold. A place for you is clearly marked among the multitudes of invited guests.
Everyone here is complete in their perfection – yourself included. There is nothing you hunger for in your understanding, no emotional pain throbbing to be attended to, no temptation to use others like sponges and squeeze the affirmation and life you so long for out of them. No longer is the doubt about your worth in their eyes driving your words; no longer is there any worry over the dialogue and how you might be taken advantage of, what implications there may be from your body language. There are no mind games being played amongst the guests; no more endless relational chess matches in the quests for emotional victory…..as on fallen earth.
They are in complete enjoyment of each other, and they are complete in their unfettered knowledge, worship, and amazement of the King hosting this banquet. He raises a glass….
The one now, here in this life, who you are struggling in forgiveness with, who is hurting you, or whom you seem to keep hurting – whether you are meaning to or not – imagine him/her there at this banquet with you.
In our humanness, we disappoint each other so, whether it is through unmet expectations, a basic inability to truly understand each other because our particular wirings are so different, or even out-and-out intention to harm, based on our own self-absorbed demand for life to give us what we have deceived ourselves into believing we are entitled to. We use. We abuse. We are used. We are abused. This will not ever fully disappear on this earth as it is. But we can still choose even in the midst of painful moments to take a step towards stopping the cycle. We can choose to reach beyond in faith, preparing ourselves for the banquet by allowing its hope to inform and direct our vision of others now.
Perhaps one day, while around the table of the King, you will look across and see the one whom you are now struggling with, and you will catch his eye and you can share a smile in knowing that in your release and your brokenness, in your willingness to allow the King to be the King in this relationship and trust Him with your pain and misunderstandings and wellbeing, you can for eternity share with this person that the King received the glory and honor He was due, and you are now enjoying the fruits as the bowls are passed, and you are linked in the most glorious of ways in what you have laid down for Him.
 
Ask for the longing in your heart to grow to see this person at the table of the King with you.
Ask for the faith to know that you are desired at the table, too.
Ask for the longing to see the joy in the King’s face as He celebrates their presence, and He celebrates yours, too.
Ask for the longing for that day to come when the King will show you how He worked in all these messy, broken moments between you.
Ask for the longing to desire His will over yours.
 
There is forgiveness for them and for you, and there is power to help you through, that you might experience the fruit of spiritual blessing in both this life and in the life to come, around the table of the King, through the Cross.

 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Trajectory


A word of grace for you, particularly if you are in a season of questioning:

I’ve a handful of people I’m close with right now who are filled with questions and disillusionment as they are trying to grapple with an odd-shaped, grotesque “something” that has landed in their lives; that is, it just doesn’t belong and it fits within no narrative as to where they appeared to be headed. It may be a professional issue, relational crisis, physical difficulty, or any other such unwanted intrusion. Whatever it is, they can’t get rid of it and are seeking to understand what it means for them now to live with this horrid thing that has descended into their worlds. With one such friend the word “trajectory” came out of me in speaking about how none saw this particular intrusion ever being in his orbit, because of the direction he seemed to be headed in. And yet it is there, wreaking havoc, pointing to nothing discernable, insisting that it alone is the true reality. The specifics may be different, but in all of my friends’ situations, the sense of bafflement is the same: How is this part of my journey? Lord? Why? How on earth does it fit in with where I thought I was headed?

Allow me to share my own such place of questioning, although I fully acknowledge that mine is nowhere near charged with the grief and pain that others are experiencing. Mine is filled more with confusion and absence than pain, for sure. But nonetheless, where I am right now does not seem to fit with where I thought I was heading, and the same traces of bewilderment and searching are present.

As I look back over the past 5-6 years or so, there was a direction I appeared to be heading in as my gifts developed, in which a slow but steady momentum formed, and one step after another seemed to bring me closer to a dawning horizon teasing with the light of clarity. But somehow I ended up in a land of vast, plentiful…….nothingness. The momentum has quietly unraveled and I feel directionless. And so I am in a place now of waiting, I suppose. Whether I am waiting on the Lord or He is waiting on me remains unclear.

I’ve spent much time lately seeking to discern what else this might mean and mentally replaying the recent past, not only in my own current questioning but in the lives of my fellow questioners. Competing, dissonant thoughts hurl around my mind as I seek to wade through the enormity in observing the spiritual life, and I find what I refer to as my faith gaps sometimes to be far more broken apart and wider than they may have initially appeared.

Faith gaps: the elements in my beliefs that just don’t seamlessly fit together. These range from the big universal intellectual questions - why, if there is a loving God, are there are abused and starving children in the world in places where it’s likely they’ll never even have a chance? - to the superficially personal, such as why, if You are a loving God, did You give me a slow metabolism and a deep affinity for rich chocolate? – to the painfully personal. You know those questions. These and others are the gaps that I have to sometimes simply jump over in my walk and leave a sign up for myself when I return to ponder them again that I still don’t get this……this still isn’t settled for me. I’ve experienced the presence of the Lord working in my life in far too many ways now for me to just stop when I encounter one of these gaps and turn around and leave Him. I know the Lord is the Lord. I believe His Word is true and the things He says about me are true. I’ve also learned I don’t need to fear that the gaps are there. I wish they weren’t, but I’ve also learned that spiritual growth isn’t about intellectually figuring God out so that nothing can be argued with. His thoughts are not my thoughts, and His ways are not my mine (Isaiah 55:8). And yet, if I’m honest, perhaps I will one day arrive at a faith gap that paralyzes me for a while, rendering me incapable (and unwilling?) in my own power of stepping forward. Maybe that’s where you are. It’s okay to stop and weep. Longing and trust do not have to be opposites.

Maybe this is a season where nothing has turned out quite as you assumed would be so, whether there is tragedy and pain or simply questions and uncertainty. Whether you have had something unwanted come storming into your life or you are experiencing the agony of nothing changing when deep change is desired so, the struggle lies in accepting the truth of your trajectory despite what is or isn’t occurring. How much of what is real and really happening right now stands as a sign post for where you are headed?

Perhaps God is drawing you to a time of examination: Where did you think you were headed and where you are now? Do not assume this season is about discipline, though it may be. Do not assume it is because of some failure on your part, though there may be truth in this, too. The most important things to never assume are that you bear the Lord’s omniscience or that He has given up on you.

As you search and examine, life goes on, and your journey then shrinks down to the very next thing in front of you, and how you will choose to encounter it. Regardless of the nature of our struggles, I believe the release of our needing to know right now how this unexpected intrusion fits is key to moving forward. We obviously have great influence over what transpires on our journeys, and yet ultimately we are not in control. There is only so much we can maneuver, try as we might. - "Signature Sins", by Michael  nd a mountain. I come back to the same side of the mountain and see what is essentially the same view, except that now I see it from a different height and with greater clarity. Our growth is cyclical like that. It is not a ladder but a winding staircase. It is not a straight line but more like a helix. We need to purge our house of idols not once but repeatedly throughout our lives."- "Signature Sins", In my own little story here, it took some weeks and months of processing, but three moments of revelation hit me where truth was dusted off and new light shone as I began to understand where the Lord was and is working.

I had assumed the trajectory of my path was leading towards a grand unveiling, I guess, of His purposes for me. Opportunities to use my gifts had been broadening before me, and I put much learning and practice into cultivating my skills. I believed He was opening doors for something concrete to be placed in my pathway. This isn’t what has transpired. And so while I had come to believe that my trajectory was leading to fulfilling work and purpose, what I’ve come to now see is that God’s trajectory for me was to bring me to the end of myself.

I had also assumed the trajectory of my path was leading towards a continual, steady maturity as my faith grew. I was becoming more learned and wise so that a real substance behind my gifts would make me more usable and effective, therefore bringing Him greater glory as He placed me with those He so desired. No doubt this has happened to some degree. No doubt. But what I’ve come to now see is that while I had assumed God’s trajectory for me was that I would deepen and strengthen and broaden in my capacities, His trajectory was and is to teach me to walk with Him, my Father, and help me learn what it means to find my mustard seed of faith after a season of wondering where it might have gotten to, in the absence of seeing any of the fruit I thought for sure He had planted within me to bear. (See Matthew 17:14-21 for scripture on mustard seeds.)

And third, I had assumed the trajectory of my path was leading towards a growing quiet confidence in who I am and in His hand actively guiding my life, as an iron-clad faith would form, making me one who would stand firm and not be shaken. But I now see that God’s trajectory for me was to bring me on my knees, poor in spirit, in prayer and worship, at the foot of the cross.

None of these assumptions I had made were wrong or bad. They are all good, healthy, biblical things. Knowing whether this is discipline or training or whatever else is unnecessary. I suppose it can be many things all at once. But one thing I do know is that it is a loving Father insisting on nothing but His best for His child, even if He knows His child cannot understand. It doesn’t mean the evil things that may be happening to you aren’t evil. It also doesn’t mean what appears to be good isn’t good. It doesn’t even mean that the things I assumed aren’t after all part of what He plans to do in me and through me. In fact, I’m certain otherwise. It simply means that He is the Lord, and I am not.

 A God-authored trajectory may or may not bring you success as you define it, clarity at your desired time, or internal tranquility with every decision, but it will always bring you to the foot of the cross.

The narrow road of Jesus is paved with faith, but what lay under the faith, perhaps, is simply these daily questions: Where are you in this, Lord? How can this be? What is going on? The uneven terrain of our questions will lead us home as we trust that none of this needs to be fully answered before we take the next step in front of us. Perhaps when you, as His follower, reach the end of the road and the Lord is holding His hand out to you as you take that last step, you will turn around, and with perfected eyes, see that the imprint of your footsteps are worth more than the purest gold, for to Him they said “Yes”.

God sees. God hears. A blessed new year to you.

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Cornerstone Overcame my Heart of Stone

This written piece is part of a larger exhibit presented by Living Word Community Church, entitled "The Names of God". The exhibit consists of both written and visual artistic pieces and is currently on display. My piece provides a glimpse into the progression and nature of my spiritual journey.


My Heart of Stone
It is quite possible to sit in a church every Sunday for many years and completely miss Jesus; though there may be many visual likenesses of Him, if you do not have eyes to see, you will simply see with unchanged eyes, and He remains as a comforting thought, an abstract doctrine to nod to, little more than an historic relic to remind us to “be good” and dismissed again from thought until the following Sunday. He never leaves the canvas or the sculpture or even the worship song or hymn, whatever media He may be beholden to. He certainly doesn’t accompany one home.

Such it was for me. It isn’t that I was particularly cold or uncaring or, frankly, rebellious. I just didn’t see my great need for Him, even though I heard stories and sermons every week telling me otherwise. I prayed often, but the prayers of one who needed someone to talk to at night, as I prayed that my home would be spared from fires, and sometimes I would ask for help in dealing with a nuisance in my life, or desiring that my favorite team would win its next game. I look back now and don’t remember if I actually thought there was anyone really listening. I suppose I did. I liked God, and I liked that He loved me, but it never occurred to me that He was more, that I was more, and that there was more to discover about both of us. I don’t think it ever dawned on me that He might want a “relationship” with me, or would ever demand something of me that I didn’t want to give up. I came first, always. Why wouldn’t I?


Jesus, my Stumbling Block
Though I had certainly claimed Jesus as my savior and had at least a superficial awareness of my need for one, He was off in the margins somewhere. I would move Him closer at times, but largely Jesus and His ways were things in My way. I desired comfort, fun, and affirmation – but not out of any conscious desire for spiritual health - and I tried to use Him to give me these things. And He would continually show up, blocking my path. He would not yield to my will. I would beg Him to get in line with my dreams of being important to and appreciated by others. He had a different way of giving me such things, one that took much time and much pain, and would not tolerate my seeking such things in anyone or anything besides Him. If I was going to disobey, He insisted I know He was not going to change. He would not conform to me. But He dealt with me gently. There was not a sudden swipe of my idols, as a thief swipes a purse and leaves a woman breathless and disoriented. He pried them out of my hands, removing one finger at a time, until they simply slid out from under me.

I saw this as I tried desperately to maneuver life so that I could claim Him and still live as I pleased, pursue what I believed wholeheartedly would give me the good things I longed for. Just as others did not cave in to my emotional demands, He did not cave in either.

I stumbled over Him often. I cried and argued and begged. But He did not let me fall. I would have jumped right off a cliff to follow my idolatrous dreams, and He provided barriers for me I never even realized were there until later on.



Jesus, my Rock
Something dawned on me; a realization that things weren’t working. There wasn’t any momentous external event that happened. Simply an awakening that if I was professing to be a Christian, my life should surely look differently than it did. And I became aware that a long, slow transformation was happening in which I desired that Jesus not only be my Savior, but my Lord. So I sought to align my will with His. I recognized that the things I had been falsely pursuing were not in His will for me, no matter how much good there may have been within them in their purest forms. I was a new creation, and thus a new approach to all things in my life was needed. I struggled with this tremendously, but ultimately submitted to the relentless process of reordering and reshaping, dismantling and retooling, demolition and rebuilding that the Lord, steady and sure, was already undertaking in me. My heart became a construction zone. This work is lifelong and as any construction zone resembles, it is unfinished, with caution tape covering some areas where healing is still in process, piles of rubble from old things that have not yet been fully removed, and the dust of confusion clouding the air at times. But there is continual progress; signs of newness and a vision of what’s coming as I notice my desires and perspectives changing. And hope.

 
Jesus, my Cornerstone

The Cornerstone is what all else is built upon. It is the foundation that holds everything, and without it, all would crash into nothingness. It is here where I see anew, what it means to live completely submitted to Jesus. All things are dependent on Him, surrendered to Him. I fight this still. The heart-of-stone nature still haunts, still taunts. It threatens to harden every time rightful anger morphs into bitter judgment, joyful celebration morphs into gluttonous excess, beautiful fellowship tempts with disordered heart longings. But it cannot defeat me. In grace, I cling to my Cornerstone, though the clinging resembles a life filled with learning how to live in tension. He shall not be moved, and I shall not be shaken.

As my heart grows larger towards the Lord and His purposes, my love for the church and the realization that this Cornerstone is so much more vast and weighty expands. I seek to build and weave into the life of the Body, both local and global, both tangible and invisible, both practical and extravagantly overflowing. I discover contentment in being small, delight in knowing He will bring me to completion; a fresh longing for His joy as His children draw close.
He shall not be moved, and the church shall not be shaken.

 


 

 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Learning to Rest within Tension: The Art of Spiritual Growth


Tension: the act of stretching or straining; the state of being stretched or strained – www.dictionary.com


I offer an invitation to you to step back for a moment, distance yourself from the world buzzing around, and allow me to share with you how the Lord has been at work in my life. Specifically, I’d like to tell you about the breadcrumbs of transformation that Jesus has left; the signs that He was there and still is, and how I’m learning to bend and conform around Him instead of trying to force Him to conform around me.

The journey of sanctification (the life-long process of a believer becoming Christ-like in character) is largely spent cultivating the art of living in and with tension. What I mean by tension in regards to spirituality is simply that some aspects of our faith walk will not appear to seamlessly fit together, and thus as we work on sorting through our beliefs and what’s going on around us, there are some things that won’t seem to nicely resolve with each other, thus leading to tension in our inner selves as we seek to figure out how we are to live in what remains unrelaxed, if you will, and unresolved. Many issues in the Bible present themselves as apparent contradictions: free will versus predestination, for instance. A practical example, then, of learning the art of living in tension is the realization that as we toss these debates around in our minds and earnestly seek the truth, the reality is that needing to have this figured out starts to matter less as we grow closer to the Lord. Not because it’s not important to understand scripture! But because I realize I don’t have to have it figured out in order to love Jesus and enjoy my relationship with Him right now in this present moment. I can live just fine with this not being solved on this side of eternity. I can rest even in the tension of this truth being unresolved in my understanding because I am His child. (See Psalm 131.)

Other tensions form in our relationships with others. Because I am more aware of my need for grace, I find I am more grace-filled towards others. Not all the time, and not ever perfectly, but much less do I now assume that the other person I am encountering is going to be some flawless ideal, whether this be a friend or a stranger in the checkout line. I am less surprised by the failings of others, but no less saddened by them - as I am with my own failings. And when someone’s flaws are exposed, the temptation to draw attention to them in order to personally benefit has lessened. I find myself more and more desiring to see people as Jesus does and noticing the gifts He’s put in them. I am learning to rest in the tension of dysfunctional relating in a sin-ravaged world because in Jesus there is unlimited hope and potential for reconciliation and renewal.

There is tension in parenting, in learning how to completely trust that your children are in the loving hands of God every day and yet live in awareness that they may encounter suffering. The tension here is in resting in the full belief that God is good even in our children’s suffering. He treasures them more than we ever could or could imagine and yet gives no promise that they will not have hardships to endure.

Consider this: I pray in my children’s rooms every night after they are asleep. Sometimes it is heavy, frantic prayer, and sometimes it is light, sweet words of gratitude. How very natural it is, though, to pray out of the wrenching concern that God may not bless them (with safety, provision, excellence) as we so desire – or perhaps it is better said that the blessings we pray they will receive may not end up looking like what we feel they should, at least in the process of receiving them. What He has invited me to consider over the past months is that He would enjoy my praying for His joy and for His name to be blessed through my children in His relationship with them, and to desire it for Him, as their Creator and Shepherd and Father, along with and above my desire that they have the joy and blessing of being His children. This is harder than it may sound. It is desiring God’s joy over what feels like the best you can imagine for your children. It transfers authorship of what that best looks like. It gives God the right to define what “blessing” will look like for them. And if I’m honest, it exposes to me how little I truly trust Him. (See Matthew 7:9-11. God promises that He will not give us a snake when we ask for a fish. Sometimes the things handed to us resemble snakes in every possible way in the pain that they bring. It isn’t that there are no “bad” things that happen. Perhaps one way we can interpret these words is that when a “snake” is thrust upon us, we can trust that in His perfect will and way, He will make a “fish” out of it.)

I also must learn, then, how to live in tension within my relationship with God. Over the past several weeks, and extending into the next handful of months, I have been and will be involved in deep study over sin – in general theological and academic ways, and most importantly, in examining my own. This is imperative for the Christian. You will never begin to grasp the enormity of God’s grace for you and for all of us if you avoid looking at why you need it or pretend that the notion of sin doesn’t matter anymore. But if you do this with sound materials to guide you and spiritually healthy people to support you, nothing will open your eyes more to the reality of His great love for you and how wanted you are, how jealous the Lord is for you.

It used be something I felt was impossible to find: the perfect convergence of grace and accountability, of feeling the weightiness of my sin and yet living with inner peace every day, wondering how it is, exactly, I am supposed to feel. But what I am realizing is that there is no place of convergence here where you can pitch your tent of optimistic settled emotional finality and go forth with one mindset onto the rugged terrain of spiritual growth. Here is another tension we must learn to live in: in the truth that you are loved beyond measure and He desires you to trust Him in all things and love Him and enjoy and cultivate and nurture this relationship and give Him complete lordship so that He can work to conform you into the image of His Son and use you as His tool in bringing others to Himself……and at the same time live in the knowledge that He is disgusted - to a degree we don’t begin to allow ourselves to fathom - by your sin and the relentless wandering of your heart for something besides Him to worship.

This is the place, then, where the words of “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12-13) seem to clash and leave us in bewilderment. Grace doesn’t mean that our sin doesn’t offend Him anymore. Grace means He desires us to be His children so much that He created a way that we could be. I used to see no way this could come together. But as He draws me closer and increases my faith, I am becoming less afraid of this bewilderment now and I am stopping my search for the point of convergence. It is tension and I am safe within it. What I am not called to do is wallow in doubt, wondering if He is loathe to approach me because I won’t or can’t seem to get my act together. But neither do I believe there is an invitation to live as if the sin we continue to engage with doesn’t bother Him in the least.


That means sometimes - perhaps all the time? - I live with regret and hope, sadness and trust, reverence and intimacy, aware of who I once was……and who I am now, in Him.


It is His grace that holds me in place. It is the strongest force there is. I need not be afraid it won’t hold. I need not be afraid to come boldly before Him as His child.


My personal belief is that God leaves so many things as apparent contradiction and tension so that we will always be searching, never coming to the point where we’ve decided we have Him all figured out or we’ve come far enough; that we feel we’ve grown and changed enough and can disengage from spiritual matters and get back to the “real life” happening in front of us. This is for our own protection. Those with eyes to see realize that the further they journey on the narrow road, the road left to traverse is far longer than they ever realized.

The Christian walk is hard and messy. But there will be moments that take your breath away, even in the mundane ordinary stuff, when you’ve realized that the Lord has heard you and worked through you and brought you to places you were never quite sure you would ever see, such as realizing you have forgiven someone who hurt you in ways you never thought you could forgive, or walking away from a destructive activity that you never thought you could live without partaking in. These are likely the things that won’t serve as the “proof” that naysayers require. They will be what the people close to you attest to because they knew who you once were and who you are now and what you are headed towards. A sampling of my own journey:

We so easily make people, things, feelings, and even our churches to be idols in our lives. We do this by attempting to craft them in the “images” we want them to be to fill an emptiness and longing that we convince ourselves are necessary to our emotional survival. I have done this. I still struggle against doing this. But the Lord has shown me how to identify when such things are taking an unworthy place in my heart. And He’s shown me when I must “smash” them and completely release them to His control.

Dreams have been dashed, and I’ve had to see that glorifying God was more of a secondary goal next to attaining what I wanted for myself, no matter how hard I had convinced myself of the reverse. I have learned that making plans are good but having agendas are rarely of Him. The need to control “outcomes” has lessened considerably.

I have learned what Psalm 37:4 means. You must trust that God will reveal the things to you that you truly do desire (forgiveness, sonship, and an ultimate purpose, for starters). Those are the things that He promises to give you. They are ultimately what you’ve been longing for.


The earlier years of my marriage, though basically content, were grounded more in ignorance in regards to our spirituality and distance towards that which we could not understand about each other. This morning my husband took my hands in his and led us in prayer, as he has done for many years now, and thanked God for our marriage. This did not magically happen, nor have we arrived at some imaginary land of eternal marital bliss. But the closer I grow to my Savior, the more I want what He wants for me, and this spills out in acts of love and grace, which in turn strengthen my relationships. In this, I have been blessed by having a man who seeks to grow in the Lord for himself, too.


Friendships were once mostly about finding people who could fill and affirm me. Today they are much more about building each other up, enjoying each other’s presence, and looking for ways to see God’s hand in the other and how we can serve. Joining in intimate prayer with others, unafraid and unashamed to together call on the Lord to hear us and help us, binds people together in unimaginable ways.


Learning how to live in tension is (s l o w l y) teaching me how to be busy without hurry, urgent without worry, broken-hearted without being troubled, bound and yet free. All the good growth that has happened here is from the hand of the Lord and His power, and that’s the point. The road of transformation is life-long, but we are given the promise that we will be brought to completion, and that is the hope that we cling to as the desire to be more like Christ continuously, if slowly, takes center stage in our hearts. That the desire is there at all is a work of the Lord. If you do not sense the desire in you but you want it, ask Him for it. I many times have to pray for the desire to pray, for the desire to desire change, for the desire for even more desire. Start right where you are, just as you are, and come. He will not give up on you.


“’Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” – John 6:68-69 NIV