I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in some serious need of perspective lately. From politics to pampers, my world has been pretty crazy these past couple of weeks (hence the late posting once again) and I have felt like I have been going crazy with it. There have been multiple moments where it seems that my mayhem is definitely not miraculous and is more like a meaningless mess that is moving me quickly toward madness more than anything else (loving all of those m’s).
If I allowed myself to stay in this state of mind reflected when my mayhem leads to madness, I would give into the lies that tell me “this will never change,” “I will never be valued or loved or cherished,” “everything and everyone is against me,” and “none of this is worth it.” You probably know your own lies that get you when you are down… they sneak in and distort your vision like an old, comfortable but incredibly scratched, damaged, and for the most part, ineffective pair of sunglasses. They might keep your eyes shaded from the sun, but actually getting anything accomplished without being able to see clearly is questionable. I get the false sense of being able to still “see” but my vision is disturbed and I may not always be able to accurately see what is in front of me or appropriately interpret what is taking place. I was definitely wearing these glasses at the end of February; no matter what I did, the mayhem had become the master, and I was a complete mess.
And while I could justify all of the above and spend this entire post complaining or throwing myself a pity party (which does happen from time to time), the TRUTH of the matter is that what I really needed was a good, healthy dose of new perspective. I needed a new set of glasses, a pair free from damage, clear of scratches, still effective at keeping out the sun but also allowing me to see clearly the things before me. And this is exactly what Days 1-7 of our readings were for me. A cleansing of sorts, the truths Rick presented and discussed spoke deep to my soul and provided the perspective from which to understand all that was happening and make sense of it all. I am guessing if you are reading this… that maybe you could use some new perspective too (and if not, all his points are still great reminders 🙂 ).
Whenever I think about the word perspective, I automatically see the food critic from the Disney movie Ratatouille, a movie about an aspiring chef who is trying to follow his dreams but also is battling the slight obstacle of being a rat (apparently I am a bigger movie buff than I thought 🙂 ). The food critic, whose name evades me, was renowned for writing horrific reviews even on good food, and having the highest of standards but in a bad way. He is considered one of the movie’s main antagonists, as he seeks to shut down the restaurant, mainly out of bitterness and pride and power instead of being truly about the food. In one of the scenes, he talks about the importance of perspective, and how all of a sudden he changed his mind about the food because his view had changed. Upon eating the special ratatouille dish, he immediately thought of a happy memory, his crazy critical personality melted, and he became happy for the first time in a long time. His perspective had changed, and along with it so did his interpretation, his attitude, his demeanor, and really the rest of his self.
In this first set of readings, Rick offers us an opportunity to change our perspective (and likewise, our interpretations, attitudes, demeanors, and selfs) by introducing a variety of truths. I want to highlight a few of these truths that really stood out to me (although each day was like a smack in the face/breath of fresh air with the equally important truths 🙂 ) and expand upon them for a moment:
- ITS NOT ABOUT YOU (or ME).
#truth. Yes, I just did a # and word as a sentence, but it was so worth it and it is so true. When was the last time someone stopped you and said: “Hey DUDE (sorry I live in a house of nothing but dudes)… ITS NOT ABOUT YOU.” I can tell you it is not very often for me, and that is probably because I would respond with an attitude or a punch or something in the negative. Fortunately, Rick decided to remind me in words and was not available for me to lash out at, and so I had time to let the statement sink in and speak to me before I reacted defensively. And when I really thought about it, this was exactly what I needed to hear.
Why? Because when I am operating from the view that it is “all about me” there is a huge amount of pressure on me and everyone/everything else around me. Everything begins and ends with me, it has to be perfect, everything has to meet my expectations (mainly myself and I am my own worst enemy), and when it all falls apart, it is all my fault. See all the me in that??? UGH! And this is when my mayhem gets me the most, because all of a sudden it appears that it is all about me and I am the center of everything and eventually I cannot handle it all anymore.
The TRUTH though is that (thankfully) it is not all about me (we will address what it is all about in the next point) because there was someone/something that existed before me (and you) and created me (and you). There is something bigger than me, something that can handle this world and its mayhem because He is miraculous, and does not enter into the same madness I do when it all goes awry. He knows me inside and out (I love the example Rick discusses of the Inventor knowing all the secrets of how to best use the invention; yes, this applies to us as well) and I can rest/find relief when the attention gets off of me and onto Him. What does the children’s song tell us: He has the whole world (including me and you) in His hands? This leads us right into our next point: If its not all about you (me), then it is all about Him.
- ITS ALL ABOUT HIM (which is cool, because He is all about you/me).
When I get caught in the “it’s all about me” trap described above, it is never good. While it might feel ok in the beginning, and sometimes even nice to be the center of attention at times, when I try to do it all, be it all, and have it all, I am always disappointed and quite honestly, it usually leads to severe personal and sometimes, professional distress.
However, when we shift our focus from being all about us to being all about Him, we start to realize that there is more to life than just what we want or what we do or how well we do it. We see that He has a plan, both for us and for others, and we play a pivotal role as we interact with Him and the things He puts in our path. While we are still held responsible for living and moving and obeying, we rightfully see Him as ultimately in control, ultimately responsible, and ultimately powerful. We can rely on Him, depend on Him, look to Him, trust Him, and expect good things from Him. He takes on the many pressures described above without ever tiring or weakening, and He has the power to miraculously master our mayhem (AMEN!).
This does not mean that we become nothing or meaningless or unthinking natives that just thoughtlessly worship without value or worth (my strong will often balks at the idea of making it all about Him for this incorrect but very valid concern). It is actually the exact opposite because we get caught in a positive, healthy, valuing cycle when we make it all about Him. Unlike the human relationships we know that can be healthy at times but will at some point be selfish and hurtful, a relationship with a perfect God means from His end, it will always be perfect. And this means, in true healthy relationship form, we can be ALL ABOUT HIM without concern, because He is ALL ABOUT US.
Read that again: HE IS ALL ABOUT US. We do not have to worry about anything at all because He does that for us. For Him, it is all about us: everything He has done since the creation of the world has been to show us His love and to take care of us. He created a place for us to live and grow, He gave us cool pets and friends and lovers and the ability to experience relationship and work and joy and excitement. And when we allowed sin and pain and death to enter the world, He made a way then too with forgiveness and reconciliation and hope. wow. He tells us not to worry because He will provide for us, He tells us not to fear because He protects us, He tells us not to take on everything and to exchange our loads because He can carry us, He tells us that He loves us with an everlasting love and has made a way for us in eternity… From start to finish, beginning to end, He is all about us. And for that very reason, even in writing this, I cannot help but want to be all about Him too (I just really need to remember this when I am in the midst of everything else!!).
- OUR PERSPECTIVE OF ALL OF THIS IS EVERYTHING.
Wow. If it is really not about me and all about Him, then as I said before, I am in great need of a change of view/perspective. I am not sure if Rick realized this or not when he was writing Days 1-7, but it appears to me that this first set of readings is really about how important this perspective is and discerning and deciding what glasses we want to wear to view our lives on a daily basis. Think of it this way: When we were born, we were given a pair of spiritual glasses with which we can view the world. They protect our soul, provide a filter for what goes in and out, and determine how we “see” the things around us (yes, I know I discussed this a little bit above). However, as we age and live through multiple events and experiences, these glasses become affected. Sin creeps in and distorts our view, lies and irrational beliefs crack and scratch the glass, and sometimes, we even come to believe that we HAVE to wear these glasses at all times or else something bad will happen. These glasses take on the “its all about me” mentality and everything we attempt to do and see is directly influenced.
The main point: when we wear our innate glasses, we cannot see clearly, and as you know when you physically cannot see clearly (try driving a car or hiking a trail without being able to see clearly), we are rendered ineffective and miserable (and possibly even destructive to ourselves and others).
Fortunately, God knew that our glasses would get messed up by the mayhem all around us, and so He offers a new pair of glasses that have an eternal lifetime warranty and that are protected from all dust, drops, water, and any damage you can ever think of. They are the Lifeproof of glasses because they are backed/guaranteed by the absolute truth of who He is and His word. And even better, these glasses are free… we just have to take off the ones we are wearing and put these on instead. Like Cinderella’s slipper, these new glasses will always be a perfect fit, and allow us to see beyond the things of this world and beyond with clarity, understanding, and truth. They are coated in the truths above, and when we put them on, we can see that its not about us, it is all about Him, and that there is more to life than what we are experiencing in the here and now. Sounds good doesn’t it?! It sure does to me!!!
How does this apply to me?
It is no coincidence that I was reading each of these truths on those exact days when I was struggling. My heart, my mind, my soul, and my sanity all desperately needed the reframes of Rick’s interpretations of Christ’s words. Why? Because even though I know about the cool glasses God gave me (described above) and I have worn them for years, every now and then I set them down and pick up my old glasses instead. And I bet that you do too.
There is something about us humans that when things get rough, we look for comfort everywhere but the true, healthy source. We put on our old glasses, our old ways of thinking, because its what we know its what we are most used to, and it “feels” right in the moment even if it is not good for us in the long run. In the developmental world, we call this a regression, and we see it all the time with young children who have experienced some sort of crisis. For instance, when a new sibling is added to the family, there is often a regression of sorts: a previously potty-trained child starts having accidents again, a seemingly well-mannered child begins having tantrums again, and/or a previously all-night sleeper starts waking at night. All of these are considered normal because their little bodies revert to a previous time in which they have prior experience in order to regain attention and remaster the obstacle, thus promoting themselves amidst the chaos. It makes sense to me that even as adults we would do the same thing, just in a more abstract manner (I have yet to revert to not being potty-trained due to my mayhem, although I guess it is not outside the realm of possibilities 😉 ). So, we put on our old glasses because even though we know they aren’t helpful and we know we have moved on, we long for the false comfort of the familiar, the attention that even the negative brings, and a sense of mastery if and when we can overcome them once again.
But as we saw in this week’s readings and the main truths, as we mature and grow into adulthood, there should come a point when we make the choice not to regress and instead be intentional about how we choose to see the world. It really is all about our perspective and intentionally determining which pair of glasses we are going to wear. I will not lie: I wore those comfy glasses for a couple weeks last month. AND IT WAS HORRIBLE. I got to the point where I was dreading just about every moment of my day, and all I wanted to do was stay in bed and hide (FYI: this is different from clinical depression where someone does stay in bed and hides due to legitimate mental health concerns; I just felt like it but still was able to get up and function). I wanted everyone and everything to leave me alone, and I was definitely not fun to be around for my husband, my sons, or even my friends (although I am so thankful they stuck it out with me!).
Fortunately, as we have seen above, God has given me an alternative, a choice to wear the free gifted glasses that allow me to see the world through His eyes, and look for the miraculous among the mayhem. To see that when Liam goes for week 3 of his nap-strike, I can be overwhelmingly grateful that he has healthy lungs to scream, and an operating mind that is keeping him awake; to recognize that even though my husband has cancelled on me for the millionth time, it is because he is working hard at an important job that pays our bills and allows me to hang out with our boys and do things like write this blog; to reframe my momentary cough and flu-like sickness as being legitimately temporary, not life-threatening, and in the scheme of things, while frustrating, really not a big deal. When I put things into proper perspective (as my sister so kindly reminds me all the time with the picture she made me captured in the graphic above that is currently displayed on my desk), my mayhem seems much more manageable and even… dare I say it, a tad miraculous?? 🙂
Our Weekly Challenge:
I bet you know what’s coming 🙂 Big question for this week:
WHAT GLASSES ARE YOU WEARING???
Are you wearing the old comfy pair that may feel nice in the moment because they are broken in but you cannot see a thing because they are dented and scratched and dirty? Are you exhausted because no matter how hard you try, you just cannot seem to clearly see or complete even the simplest tasks because your vision is impaired? And honestly, sometimes its nice to hide behind the excuse of not being able to see because then you don’t really have to do anything?
Or are you wearing your crystal clear, eternally guaranteed glasses and you can actually see what is in front of you, see the truth, and actually complete the tasks set before you? Not only can you see what is there (even if it is not pretty or appears impossible), but you can also see beyond that to the meaning and truth involved in eternity, which provides faith and hope?
My challenge to you this week is to answer this question honestly and really determine how you are currently seeing the world. For me, it is how I see my family. I know I have taken off my new glasses and exchanged them for the old when I start dreading my mothering tasks… when Liam’s crying becomes nails on a chalkboard instead of an opportunity to love him with the love in my heart and Gavin’s constant “why” sparks annoyance rather than my own sense of curiosity. For you, it might be dreading another day of work at the office… because the tasks are mundane or the co-workers are annoying or the toxicity of the environment has permanently colored the lens of those old human glasses. Or you might notice it in a friendship or marriage relationship, when you begin dreading any and all interactions and the thought of even being in the same room as the other person fills you with anger or bitterness or anxiety and you are just plain done with trying again.
If this is you (and obviously it was me too), then I encourage you to review this post again, review days 1-7 again, and write out the truths that set you free from the tainted views above. Take off those old glasses… and trade them in for a pair that will never fade, never break, never distort what is in front of you. Put on that new pair of glasses, take a good look, change your view, and embrace a new perspective.♥
*** I.O.U: I KNOW I OWE ONE MORE POSTING ON SECRET 5 FROM FEBRUARY; IT IS IN PROCESS AND SHOULD BE OUT BY THE END OF THE WEEK 🙂 BUT I WANTED TO GET THIS OUT FOR MARCH SO WE CAN ALL GET TO READING THE NEXT BOOK TOO 🙂 ***
So far in our book club, we have focused on setting up your inner world (your soul if you will) for the best quality of life possible. From ordering your inner world to learning the 5 secrets of living, I believe we have already acquired an extensive amount of knowledge on what it looks like to truly live from the inside out and develop an inner stamina that helps us not only survive, but actually thrive. However, one thing we have not truly covered as of yet is what we are supposed to do while we are thriving. I know we have discussed “fruit-bearing” as our reason for living, and that we are meant to be “called versus driven” but what does that actually look like for me as an individual? What are you and I called to do? And thus, enters a book dedicated to answering this question of “what on earth am I here for?” with The Purpose Driven Life.
Why I Chose this Book
I am not typically about the latest trend in Christian writing, as you can probably tell from my hard to secure first two books on the book club, but occasionally, there is a popular book that catches my eye because it speaks to something I consider significant. This would definitely be such a book, as I am both personally and professionally a huge fan of having purpose. I believe in the very core of my being that each one of us was created with a divine design to live out a divine purpose in our lives. It is when we do not know what this purpose is, or when we are not currently pursuing it or living it out, that we often experience distress and personal disturbance. This is usually why I have a job as a counselor, because in the midst of broken marriages, hurting families, grieving hearts, oppression from addictions, and a variety of other mental health concerns, people have lost focus on their purpose in the midst of their pain and they are no longer functioning optimally together or apart. As we work through the pain in counseling, we also work towards re-defining and re-establishing this purpose, so that health involves more than just healing but hope for the future as well. As a result, any resource that helps you and I determine what our purposes are and how to get to them is something I want to know more about. 🙂
Although I cannot remember the exact circumstances that took place when I first found this book, I do know it was around my formative college years when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next with my life. Like many others, I was excited at the prospects, but I also wanted some form of guidance and direction about which path I should take next. Whether you are in a similar time in your life or not (now I definitely have the career thing figured out but there are new challenges and opportunities that could use some defined purpose 🙂 ), if you do not quite have sight of the goal of your purpose here on earth, then I encourage you to accept Rick’s invitation for a 40-day spiritual journey to really focus on what God’s purpose is for you in your here and now. And even if you have got it all together (which sounds really good right now so congrats!!!), I invite you along for the ride to be praying for those of us who do not have it all figured out and as a refresher as there may be some wisdom you can glean from these pages to share with someone else (I love it when that happens).
So this book adds an interesting twist to our monthly book club (which I did not think of previously but will be addressed now). Since it is actually a 40-day experience, I do not want to try to shove all 40 days into a 31-day month but am planning to let my experience overlap into April (the book for April is shorter and so we should still be able to do that in the smaller time window). Therefore, starting today on March 1, I plan to begin my Purpose Driven Life journey and commit to (as best as I can) reading a chapter per day for the next 40 days (following the plan outlined in the Table of Contents). As I am reading, I plan to reflect on each weekly grouping with the tentative schedule below:
What on Earth Am I Here for? Tuesday, Mar 8th
Purpose #1 Tuesday, Mar 15th
Purpose #2 Tuesday, Mar 22nd
Purpose #3 Tuesday, Mar 29th
Purpose #4 Tuesday, Apr 5th
Purpose #5 Tuesday, Apr 12th
My Hope for this Experience
One thing I love about this book is that from the very beginning, Rick sets this up as more than just a reading experience. It is meant to be a spiritual journey, one in which we do not just read the material each day but actually interact with it (p.9-10). As Rick encourages, my hope is that we can really do just that: interact with the material and underline and highlight and write up this book, even if you have already read it or done so in the past. I love to re-read my notes written at a different time, and see what new insights I have gained in my second (or third or fourth) reading as I find that different truths have a tendency to stand out at different times in my life.
I also hope that you will try your best to follow the schedule and read one chapter a day during this process. I know that it will be difficult for me, and may not happen (thank you for grace), but I do really want to set out to read and reflect on one chapter a day for the next 40 days. While it puts our scheduling a little at odds and overlaps into April, I believe the investment in time and effort is totally worth it. I am always excited to see what will happen when I set aside an appointed time and make plans to seek the Lord, especially when it comes to my calling and purpose and guidance. I am excited to see what He is going to do with you too!!!♥
This has thus far been the hardest posting for me to write. And although our family has been plagued with multiple illnesses including some flu-type virus (although not the flu according to the doctor) for the past month (which does account for why this post is tardy; sorry!), I think it is more about the heart of the matter than the timing (I know, imagine that right?!). My initial draft began with a witty and somewhat sarcastic description of Valentine’s day; observing the convenience of discussing love around this time of year and venting some of my own issues with such a commercialized expression of love (I really am ok with Valentine’s day, but I also like to make fun of it 🙂 ). But as the posting became wordier and wordier, I realized it was more about “me” speaking than really addressing the important subject at hand: the relationship between LOVE and obedience.
Not Valentine’s Day love, not romantic love between a husband and wife, and not even parental love between a guardian and child (which is often considered the purest of all). No, we are talking about the ORIGINAL kind of love, the kind we were ultimately created for, the truest love in the truest sense. It is the love that changes lives, that turns people around, that stops us in our tracks and pulls us back to our senses, that picks us up when we are broken and mends all of the hurt within us, that looks on us with beauty and grace when all we see is ugly and guilt; it is the love that envelops us and moves from the inside out and only exists because He first loved us. It is the love between Creator and created… and it can only come from above.
The whole point of last and this week’s reading is bridging the gap between this kind of love and our choices in life: there is a direct connection/relationship between our experience of this love and our obedience (actions). If we want our actions that speak louder than our words to truly show and say that we are bearing fruit, abiding and getting as close to Christ as we can, and obeying (following Him), then this all must come from an inner motivator. And the most powerful motivator of all is this kind of LOVE.
The Power of Love
As you can imagine, there are a variety of motivators behind why we do what we do. When it comes to the obedience we discussed last week, Warren singles out 3 motivators for us to focus upon and assess in our own lives to see what is driving our choices to obey or lack thereof. Take a look:
- Fear: Everytime I see this one I think about any big decisions I have had to make as an adult. From which college I should attend, to whether or not we should really get married, to buying our first car and then our first house, I am always motivated mostly by fear when it comes to obedience about these things. I want so badly to obey, mainly because I am so scared I am going to screw-up and ruin my life (and now the lives of my husband and children as well ) if I do not make the right choice. I cry out to God in desperation because I am in FEAR of what will happen if this is not the right choice. And while it may sound like crying out to God brings me closer to Him, I find that I actually feel distant from Him because when I am operating in FEAR mode, He is this far-away mean God waiting to punish me if I step out of line. I envision Him outside of His true character (which is not very nice) and only loving when I make the “right” choice. And there has to be a “right” choice, right? Well, during one of these “fearfully” obedient moments, I will never forget the counsel of a trusted Christian friend who encouraged me that maybe there was not only one “right” choice, but that God was giving me full liberty to choose from any of the choices and He would bless all of them. Say what?! I know it’s crazy, but it makes total sense now that I am a parent. On any given Saturday, I might ask my son: would you like to go to the zoo or the aquarium? And there is no right or wrong answer, just very cool but different things at both. Is it not totally possible that God looks at some of our decisions the same way? Would you like to live in Virginia or Texas? Would you like to work here or over there? Would you like to keep renting your apartment or move into a house? Would you like to attend this college or that college? Puts all of those big decisions into a totally different perspective huh? Now, while it still does not answer the question, it has always helped me move from FEAR mode to LOVE mode (which I will describe below).
There is another way to look at fear in terms of obedience that is worth mentioning. Some of us choose to obey because we are scared of the consequences of our decisions. We have been raised to believe that the second we step outside of the line, bad things will happen and so we stay as safe and secure and as far away from the line as possible. We always obey, but we do so out of obligation and being scared and we feel oppressed, imprisoned and like we are missing out. We probably also feel incredibly distant from a warm and loving and personable God because we only know rigid, harsh, significant rules with swift and just consequences. While our actions might be outwardly “obedient,” they still have not hit the mark for truly abiding and fruit bearing because we are still missing the importance of freedom and grace. Whenever fear is our primary motivator, it does not last and it causes both us and God pain.
- Rewards: This one is my jam (which is probably not a good thing; but truthful)! I love getting rewarded for things (#onlychildperfectionist). Whether it is a rewards program for the places I frequently shop or a rewards credit card or a reading rewards program or any type of rewards really, I love them! I have even mastered the art of self-rewards, which got me through my multiple degrees (I would focus on school work for a couple of hours, and then get a treat like Starbucks or something yummy to eat). And honestly, this is probably my default motivation for obeying. When I am nice to my husband, I get the typical reward of him being nice to me too. When I am nice to my kids, I get the typical reward of them behaving. When I obey what God wants for me, I know that over the years, it typically results in my favor so I might as well keep with it right? Of course?!
Except… what happens when that line of thinking does not work right away or at all? For instance, I have been praying for something for years now that has still not come into existence. Even though I have prayed in faith, walked in faith, heard things like “soon” and “it’s coming” which I know are all true, it does not yet exist. My reward is not here, even though I have obeyed. Or what about when you have been super nice to your husband, gone out of your way to make sure the house is clean, his favorite dinner is made to perfection, and made plans for the two of you to hang out after the kids go to bed only to find its been a bad day at work, he is in a bad mood, and he falls asleep before you are finished putting your little ones to sleep? Again, the intended reward did not work out. When we obey solely for the rewards, there will come a time when the reward does not happen or does not suffice, and we may be encouraged to either no longer obey or become resentful in any obedience that does still occur. Plus, this type of obedience is really, honestly, self-focused with a “what can I get out of this” attitude. While on the outside it might get things accomplished temporarily, on the inside the inner peace and security depend on the outcome and there is no consistency to who we are and how we feel.
- LOVE: While both fear and rewards are quick to lead to obedience depending on your experiences, there is one motivator that has been most powerful ever since the creation of all that we know. It has been written about, sang about, lived out and sacrificed for throughout the ages, and we know it as the concept of LOVE. It can be defined as adoration, pleasurable, positive, kind, affectionate, devoted feelings toward someone or something and when in its purest form (as described above) it has a life-changing, life-giving, life-sustaining power. When we truly love someone or something with this pure self-sacrificial love, we will do everything we can to move towards that person or thing no matter the cost. This love is so powerful because it does not matter if there is something to be feared or whether or not the reward manifests, because ALL that matters, hear me, ALL THAT MATTERS is the object of affection.
This is Paul obeying Christ right into prison and still singing hymns, out of his great LOVE for his Savior and knowing that even though the “rewards” were not evident, he was still going to love. This is Christ loving us all the way to hell and back, because the only thing that truly mattered was relationship and salvation with us. In something a little more little, this is you putting a blanket on your husband and smiling after your evening gets ruined because all that mattered was showing your love for him and now he is resting so at least he benefited (I wish I could say that was me; but there is a reason I used you in this example). This is me continuing to pray and trust and hope and obey year after year after year trusting in LOVE that God is going to come through in His perfect timing even though it does not seem like it in the moment. How does the scripture go? And the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Can I make a quick observation here? Both fear and rewards have been used for years to train animals through schedules of either pain (fear) or treat (reward) in scientific learning theory. Both are successful methods, which is why parents end up using them as well (spanking versus bribing LOL), although some schedules do work better than others (but that is for another time). But you know what is interesting: we are supposed to be more than just plain animals right? The thing that really sets us apart is our ability to reason and will, and with that, have the ability to LOVE and put that love into action. Now, I know from personal experiences that animals love too so please do not hear me saying that, but instead listen to the higher calling to search out your own heart and see if you are operating out of an innate, flesh, learned response (like that of a trained animal) or if you are obeying out of a chosen, desired, will to love the Creator of the universe?
How does this apply to me?
As you can envision, this secret gets to the core of who we are and our relationship with the Lord. Just like Ordering Your Private World, we have now reached the inner layer of the secret to living an abundant life, and that is all about how we love. And not just how we love others, because believe it or not, that might actually be easier, but how we love God, which includes our thoughts, feelings, and by default, our actions (obedience) when it comes to Him.
Since a lot of this conversation thus far has been abstract (things like fear and rewards and love oh my!), let’s see if I can make it a tad more practical (if not for you, then definitely for me). When I talk about love in a human sense, like for a couple or a parent-child relationship or even among two friends, I can always rely on the “love tank” picture. I cannot take credit for it, although I also cannot cite its original source because I have no clue who said or copyrighted it first, but its a well known metaphor in the counseling realm.
Much like the cars we drive have a gas tank that fuels the engine to make the car move, the relationships we invest in have a love tank that fuel the relationship to allow it to grow and progress and make positive gains. When we do things like spend positive time together, take care of one another, do things especially for the other person, it is like making a stop at the gas station to fill the tank. As life occurs and we move throughout events and circumstances, we expend our energy, and our love tank becomes depleted unless we make conscious efforts to refill it. And so on and so forth for as long as we own the vehicle, or participate in the relationship. To evaluate where we are in our relationships, I have partners draw a fuel gauge like the one below and rate where they would say their own feelings of love are currently located. Then, we brainstorm ways to get them closer to full and start a regular evaluation to maintain these levels.
When this same principle is applied to our relationship with God, we can definitely sketch out a fuel gauge and determine whether our love tank is closer to empty or closer to full. However, you, like me, may have been deceived in thinking that you are responsible for filling your love tank just like you are in your human relationships. While ownership is awesome when it comes to your human relationships (and I am all about it and encourage it as a counselor), when it comes to our relationship with God, it is actually supposed to look different. This is where the power of that original LOVE combines with the power of abiding and get its awesome life-changing, life-giving, life-sustaining powers.
When we abide; we hook our love tank up to the God of the Universe, and HE fills us up until we are overflowing. We do not have to buy Him flowers, get involved in expansive ministries, give huge tithes or spend all of our time at church or in Bible study or singing praise songs to fill our tanks. It starts with simply inviting Him to love in and through you, opening yourself to be a vessel (or branch) of this love, and letting Him do the rest. As our love tanks fill as we abide in Him, we want to do all of those things because we cannot contain all the amazing love (like a car that just has to race because it is full with the best fuel out there). We want to obey, not our of defeating or selfish motives like fear or rewards, but out of genuine desire to enact this love through obedience.
This may not be a big deal for you, but this is HUGE for me. I am a “works” girl; hence my tendency to obey for the rewards. All week I have been trying to work on loving God (even though I have really not “felt” it) because if I am going to write about it I should be doing it right?! Except, this is one thing that I do not have to and honestly, cannot work at (lightbulb!!). This is the thing that gets at so many “Christians” because it cannot be practiced, manufactured, or created on our own. This is something we have to let God do; something I have to rest in, allow in, enjoy in… and when I finally stopped working so hard to make it happen (about 5 minutes ago to be exact), my whole demeanor, countenance, and perspective changed. My God-love tank went from 0 to overflowing in about 10 seconds (OK maybe a little longer), when I finally surrendered the pressure and determination to make it happen and let Him fill it up. Not because of anything I actually did, but from the stopping of trying to do and just allowing myself to abide and be.
So What do I do now?
I bet you can already see where this is going. Using the graphic described above, I encourage you to set aside a moment each day or couple of days this week to check your God-love tank. It should not take very long, almost the same amount of time it takes for you to glance at the dash of your car and see if you need to stop by the gas station on your next trip out. Are you close to empty or overflowing? This question quickly leads to: are you connected and abiding or unplugged and trying to go it on your own? Are you obeying out of this love, or out of fear or rewards? Where do you want to be? What will you do to get there?
Believe it or not, after writing the above words last night about being “oh so full,” I not only disconnected from the computer as I closed up for the night, but I seriously disconnected from the Lord as well. Which meant this morning, I was desperately dry and my God-love tank was screaming EMPTY as I was attempting to care for my children. We all knew it, and so I took a few moments to look at my gauge, speak to the Lord, and breathe in a prayer to be filled. I thought about the picture of that branch in the vineyard, resting so peacefully and being sustained and filled by the vine, and I let the love flow into my tank. It was by no means a miraculous, quick fill, but it was steadfast and sure and I have been loving, obeying, abiding, and fruit bearing the rest of the day. And that picture has stayed with me so that I could share it not only with my boys, but with you too. I am so incredibly grateful for this gift… and for that amazing, awesome power of love.♥
Why am I here? What is the point of life? What does it all mean? Does it even really matter?
I think we all have asked these questions at least once, if not multiple times throughout life… I know I have. And there are a variety of voices that are quick to give us answers: we are here to have fun and pursue as much pleasure as we can (YOLO), we are here because we have evolved into the best animal ever (at least for now), we are here because some cosmic explosion occurred millions of years ago and we are the current result, and even that there is no reason we are here; it is just coincidental and does not matter so just do whatever (we are all going to die and be nothing anyway).
For some, these proposed answers might work for a time, but for me, they have always left me wanting. There is too much precision, too much obvious attention to detail and timing and happenings in this world for me to believe I am just the result of a cosmic accident or evolving amoeba or that there is no point at all. My heart and mind and soul all cry out in one accord:
THERE HAS GOT TO BE MORE!
And fortunately, there is a response that stands out and addresses my innate need for more: embracing the reality of being created by a Creator on purpose with a purpose for a purpose. Warren (expounding upon the original truth shared by Jesus) describes this process as bearing fruit, or being productive in the world around us, with the amazing metaphor of a vine and its branches. This picture provides us with a visualization as well as a foundation from which we can truly understand why we are here, and operate from as we live out the life we’ve been given.
Why We are Here
Jesus tells us, and Warren reiterates, that the main reason we are here is to “bear fruit” in our lives. This “fruit” can take a variety of shapes and sizes, but basically “bearing fruit” means I am accomplishing my special purpose in this world, or in other words, being purposefully productive. It means searching for and then living out the calling on my life, and purposefully thinking, speaking, and acting in such a way that accomplishes the tasks I have been given in this world.
***Warning: This book has an unusual flow (LOL) in which it technically works backwards (at least from my point of view). It starts with the question of why are we here and the answer of fruitbearing, and then moves into the how of making that happen in the next chapter. So next week, we will be looking at how to bear fruit through abiding and then how to abide through obeying and so on and so forth. One day, I want to read this book from back to front and see how it changes my perspective, so if you enjoy it, this might be something fun for you too 🙂 ***
While talking about fruit-bearing is nice and pretty to think about, I personally need a little bit more to really understand and apply it. Fortunately, Warren describes six things we can look for in our own lives to see if we are or are not being “fruitful.” Take a look:
- Winning Others to Christ and Helping them Grow: As Christians, we understand that our mission is invite others to Christ and disciple them as they live out their faith. For some, this means being incredibly outspoken and in the spotlight about who they are and the God they serve. For others, this means playing an important role in the background, working one-on-one in building relationships, and being quietly encouraging as they live out their faith. As you will see throughout this chapter, the focus is not on the “how” at this moment (that is next week) but the results: do the people around you know who you are, and does your interaction with them (quiet or loud) show them Christ and help them grow?
- Practical Holiness: My best understanding of this fruit is the idea of being transformed from the inside out. It is going beyond the actions we can see in our interactions with others (mentioned above) and getting to the heart/mind of the matter. Warren describes it as “nothing else but the beauty and character of God displayed in our everyday lives” (p.19). In other words, are your insides turned toward what is good, what is honorable, what is positive (Phil. 4:8). Are your hearts/minds in the right place? Do they seek to do good and have positive thoughts/feelings? Again, the focus is not on the how of making this happen, but whether or not it is something you are experiencing (I promise, the how is next).
- Sharing our Possessions with Others: This is probably one of the easiest fruits to recognize. Warren makes the point that a branch does not bear fruit for itself to eat (so true right?!) but for others to enjoy. Could you imagine an apple tree gobbling up its fruit before you could pick it (LOL)? The same principle goes for us when it comes to accumulating possessions: we do not get all we can just to satisfy ourselves, but we look for opportunities to share what we have. Do you share well with others? Are you cheerfully generous?
- Developing Christian Character: Closely related to practical holiness (whether or not we are becoming Christlike on the inside), this fruit focuses more on the outward expression of who we are and whether we walk in integrity at all times. Most of us are familiar with the saying “character is who you are when no one is looking” and this rings true as an important fruit to consider. If you are truly a branch, and truly bearing fruit, it will occur no matter who is watching. An apple tree does not stop producing because no one is watching to see whether it will or not. This type of character has specific attributes to look for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galations 2:22-23). Do you see these things in your life or do you find yourself often experiencing the opposites (anger, unrest, impatience, maliciousness, etc.)? Do you maintain your integrity in all environments (work, home, ministry, play) or do you cut corners (no matter the reason)?
- Completing Good Work: Believe it or not, this work actually refers to our particular vocation or occupation. In our jobs, no matter what they are (hotel clerk, McDonald’s cashier, engineer, CEO, police officer, teacher, dentist, stay-at-home mom and everything else), if we are bearing fruit, we will be producing good, cheerful work and see our everyday tasks as important. We will view our current workplace as a place to do good, a place to invest in those around us, and a place to live out the other fruits (winning others to Christ and helping them grow, living out practical holiness and character, being generous, and operating out of gratitude). How do you see the work that you do?? Do you see your job as an important environment for bearing fruit?
- Praising and Thanking God: The final fruit to look for is gratitude. This often stems from purposefully viewing life and all of its good and bad as an amazing gift and taking time to praise and thank the Giver. Do you know how to say thank you? Do you operate out of gratitude, recognizing that even this very life and opportunity to bear fruit is a gift?
How Does This Apply to Me?
All of this is so important because the fruit I was created to bear (not just my amazing kiddos) is special just for me. Just like the fruit you were created to bear is special just for you. As Warren describes, you have been put exactly where you are in life that you might accomplish a special purpose all your own. “There is fruit to be produced where you are that nobody else can produce but you” (p.16).
This statement literally blows my mind. For every moment that I have been in a tough situation, when I have worked in toxic (relationally) environments or had to endure a frustrating season to breakthrough to the next, or even just lost perspective on my current circumstances, this concept gives me a convicting reality-check on how I am approaching my life.
Do I see each day, as mundane and routine and boring and frustrating as it can be at times, as the place I have been put to bear fruit (be productive and purposeful) in ways that NO ONE ELSE can? Do I really experience the significance and worth endowed by my Creator, the value that has been given in the unique being that is ME, the awe of being fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139) for my exact position, location, vocation?
Bear with me (LOL… sorry I could not turn down the pun) for one more word picture. If you are not digging the fruit aspect, think of it in this way instead: Have you ever worked on a puzzle and gotten down to the last piece, only to find that it is missing? Maybe the dog ate it, maybe it never made it into the box from the factory, maybe it is lost forever under the couch; no matter what happened to it, the puzzle is now unfinished. All of that work has occurred, every other piece is in its proper place, and yet the absence of one piece leaves the entire puzzle incomplete, lacking, and undone. The size of the piece is irrelevant, whether it is big or little, there will always be something missing and because of the way puzzles are made, there is no replacing it with anything but the original.
This is what it looks like when you and I do not bear our special fruit or live out our piece of the puzzle. The whole of humanity is not complete, and we leave the big picture around us lacking and undone. You and I each have something to contribute, something to add, maybe big or maybe little but definitely something to produce in this lifetime. And this purpose/contribution/fruit/piece of the puzzle bestowed by our Creator gives our life meaning and value and direction (can I get an Amen?).
What do I do now?
The crazy thing about this whole fruit-bearing process is that outside of recognizing the importance of it as our reason for living, we really cannot make it happen on our own. As far as I know, a branch cannot and will not bear fruit on its own or out of its own work (nor does it have the capability to do so). It only bears fruit when connected to the vine and in harmony with the rest of the plant. And it only bears fruit when the core of the plant is healthy enough to sustain and give out fruitbearing life.
With this in mind, our SMARTER not harder application for this week actually starts with just taking an inventory of our current season of fruitbearing. Since we cannot make fruit appear in our lives by ourselves (although we will learn about the “how” behind fruitbearing next chapter), I encourage you to take time this week (maybe during your Sabbath rest and reviewing process 🙂 )to look at the list above and simply take inventory of your harvest. What are the areas you see are producing? Is there anything missing or inactive? Are there ways where you are not being productive or inactive, but actually destructive (hurting others or being ungrateful)?
For me, this means checking to see if I am living out each day in light of my special purpose and positions: loving others (my primary calling), being a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and friend, choosing to use the gifts I have been given/equipped with to counsel, write, teach, and disciple, and serving others with my time, talents, and possessions.
As you are evaluating, take some time to also think through what you truly want in terms of your life. Do you want to bear fruit/be productive, and if so, does your understanding and focus of your life reflect that? The main goal here is resolving your own reason for living and if fruitbearing makes sense, then it gives you the foundational answer (as well as perspective and motivation) to why we are really here.♥
“Life is your most precious possession. Don’t take it for granted. Right now, you are either wasting your life, spending your life, or investing your life. It is you who determines which course to follow” (p.9).
This book is the perfect example of the reality of not judging a book by its cover. In fact, my copy does not even have a cover (I am not joking) because this gem has been out of print for as long as I have known about its existence and the best I could do is a secondhand copy that already had much wear and tear before it ever made it to me. I promise you though, the worth of this book far outweighs its appearance. From the outside, it looks like a worn out, teeny-tiny book that has nothing to offer. It is not even big enough to prop up a table or hold open a door. However, the truth that it holds within its 88 pages (yes, that is all) is life-changing, life-giving, and life-sustaining. As you can tell from the quote above, this little book is all about TRULY living life to its fullest, and it shows us how to do so with an in-depth study of John 15: 1-17.
Why I Chose This Book
It was January 2008 (wow… exactly 8 years ago), and I was struggling. I was one semester in on working towards my PhD, one semester graduated from earning my Master’s in counseling, and I was undone. I was still in school (not my original plan but definitely God’s plan and a blessing in disguise), and I was still not doing what I really wanted to be doing (counseling) and I was really not liking my current state of affairs (no babies, no full-time work, no big plans). So one night while my husband was working late, in a simple act of desperation, I cried out to God in prayer and challenged Him that I would not move from my place on the floor until He spoke to me. In hindsight, I really do not recommend this as a way to interact with our God, but if you knew me personally, you would know I have a bit of a Jacob streak in me and tend to have to limp to truly learn things.
After hours on my knees (no joke) and potentially dozing off, a simple statement came to mind: “be a branch.”
Be a branch?? I know it sounds crazy. Believe me, I thought it was crazy too. But the moment the thought entered my mind, I was calmed with a sense of peace and release, I journaled it right away, and the next day I started researching what in the world it meant to be a branch. My research led me to John 15:1-17 where Jesus describes the true Vine and its branches, and that is what led me to this book. And honestly, my life has never, ever been the same. Through the 5 simple truths and practical applications delivered in the comfortable writing style of Warren Wiersbe, this book has infiltrated my soul with wisdom and knowledge that I draw upon each and everyday. I am so excited to read it again, and even more excited to be able to share this reading with you.
In contrast to our last book, this one is a bit shorter which seems appropriate for the shorter month of February. With that in mind, I am planning on publishing most posts, other than Chapter 1, on the 5 Mondays of this month. If you would like to follow along with me (which I would love!!), here is the schedule I am using:
- Introduction/Preface: This Post right here! 🙂 2/1 Mon
- Chapter 1: Fruitbearing 2/5 Fri
- Chapter 2: Abiding 2/8 Mon
- Chapter 3: Obeying 2/15 Mon
- Chapter 4: Loving 2/22 Mon
- Chapter 5: Knowing 2/29 Mon
My Hope for this Experience
One of my greatest desires for myself as well as everyone I come into contact with (personally and professionally) is that we would learn how to live life to the fullest, to really THRIVE, not just survive. Christ calls this the abundant life and I strongly believe this is the type of living we were created for, even though the majority of us are still searching for it. If you are still searching or not searching but not thriving either, which we all do from time to time even if we have found it, than this book is for you. When I was searching, and definitely not thriving, I was told to “be a branch” and the truths intertwined in this simple, crazy phrase have transformed my life. My hope is that through this month of examining the Vine and the branches, the 5 secrets as revealed through Warren’s interpretation, and spending time looking at our own lives, you would also experience this transformation. Who knows? Maybe you will hear a similar call to be a branch too.♥
Rest. It seems so beautiful. So precious. And for many of us: SO DISTANT.
When was the last time you felt truly rested?
If you are anything like me, that question may be difficult to answer. When you are in a season of life where littles often determine how much sleep, food, and activity you get to experience, REST seems like a foreign concept reserved only for people who do not have children or have live-in nannies or are independently wealthy or all of the above. However, I have found that even those people, the ones without children (who are working and going to school to figure out what they want to do with their lives), the ones who have live-in nannies (and are working like crazy and trying to succeed at home and career and everything else), and even the ones who are independently wealthy (and use this wealth to do whatever they want whenever they want), still long for being at true rest within themselves.
Why? Because true rest has nothing to do with actual hours of sleep (although this is important) or how much down-time you have without demands tugging and pulling at you. It has everything to do with what you do with whatever “restful” moments you do have, how you fill them, and the inescapable results of the doing and filling. And thus, we have reached the final sector of the private world: how we experience an authentic rest that renews, refreshes, and revitalizes.
True Rest is Best
As Gordon describes, it is difficult for people, especially in our current culture, to rest. Even our “vacations,” which are supposed to be a break from “working” are packed in with activities, excursions, and amusement to the point that I know I often feel like I want a real vacation from my vacation (LOL). That is because true rest is different from the leisure/amusement the world tells us about and in which we have become accustomed. In fact, while leisure and amusement are fun (and there is nothing wrong with them when used in moderation), I sometimes wonder if they have strategically been designed to present a false sense of rest and keep us distracted from the true Sabbath rest in which we were created.
As Gordon explains, “leisure and amusement may be enjoyable, but they are to the private world of the individual like cotton candy to the digestive system. They provide a momentary lift, but they will not last” (pg. 164). Like the momentary pleasure and seeming satisfaction of candy, when substituted for a real meal, we will be left wanting. And if there are too many meals where only candy is consumed, we will not only be unsatisfied, but we will probably be encountering sickness and a myriad of other concerns. Similarly, if we are so busy during our rest time that we do not or cannot focus on the Lord and embrace the rest He created for us, than we will continue to be exhausted, both physically and spiritually, and ultimately, decline in our effectiveness.
Fortunately for us, God didn’t just tell us to rest, He actually acted it out for us so we could have an example to follow. After taking six days to work and labor creating the earth and all that is in it, including us, the God of the universe intentionally set aside an entire day just for REST. Not just one hour, not just a breather here and there in between making a giraffe and an elephant, but AN ENTIRE DAY devoted to the resting. And not just any type of resting, and especially not the “resting” as we know it that is actually filled to the brim with leisure or fun activities, but purposeful, deep, renewing rest called Sabbath rest.
Sabbath rest, as I have come to understand it, is different than any rest I have ever heard of because it incorporates our mind and body to provide an intentional resting experience. What makes this Sabbath rest so different?
- Routines, activities, and labors purposefully stop: Amen! True Sabbath rest is not a seven day fun-filled adventure where you are rushing from place to place to get it all in with only moments of downtime in the car. It is also not the time to play catch-up (this is honestly how I tend to use it if I am not careful) on everything you did not get to last week, like laundry, dishes, cleaning, and house projects. This really hit home with me when reading that for some cultures, Sabbath means you do not even cook, but have prepared the food ahead of time. This sounds awesome to me! Could you imagine an entire day per week where there is no cooking, no cleaning, no working, and just time to be spent on spiritual things?? Personally, while it sounds next to impossible for my current stage of life, it gives me something to hope and work towards for the future!!!
- Worship, both corporately and individually, is an essential piece of the experience: Yes, this means that we spend some of our Sabbath time in relationship with others. For many of us, this looks like attending a Sunday morning worship service where we sing, learn, and encourage one another in our faith walks. But it could also be attending a mid-week Bible study or Wednesday night service where we get to interact and worship with people around us. Involving others in our spiritual lives is so important because we were never intended to go through life, even our spiritual lives, alone. From the very beginning, starting with Adam and Eve, we were always meant to have relationship and community with others as we live out our spirituality. Doing so gives us opportunities to learn from one another, be encouraged by one another, and hold each other accountable. It also gives us things to take to the Lord in our individual worship time on the Sabbath, where we can wrestle with the latest sermon, dive deep into a verse that was recommended, or re-play a worship song that really spoke to us.
- Peace reigns and guilt (over lack of “productivity”) is not allowed: This may take some practice, but it is OK that the laundry is not done, that the dishes are not clean, and that there is still work to do tomorrow. If you let guilt creep in over the things that are still undone, it will rob you of the peace that is meant to take place with a Sabbath rest because you will be so focused on your to-do list that there is no attention or time truly devoted to rest. Since I tend to fall into this trap myself, I am so glad that Gordon reminded us that our work is often un-ending, and if we waited until it was completed to reward ourselves with Sabbath rest, we would never experience the rest God intended. Makes sense to me: although God was finished with the creation portion of our world, there were still obviously things to do (interact with everything, name things, feed things, etc.). and yet He still took an entire day to rest in the midst, which is a reminder I definitely need on a regular basis. I NEED Sabbath rest in the middle of my never-ending loads of laundry, dishes, cooking, work, etc., to be able to continue to complete them at my best.
When we take this one day (or time) a week to stop our normal routines and work, replace them with purposeful worship, and seek peace instead of guilt, it sets us up to spend time ordering our private worlds (imagine that) through intentional Sabbath rest.
How does this apply to me?
Confession time again: It is very rare that I get the opportunity to experience true Sabbath rest on a weekly basis. Even Gordon acknowledges that there are seasons, like when you are a parent of young children requiring your daily attention and effort, when Sabbath rest will not come easy. I truly believe that God understands this (I mean, He created me and my boys so I am going to trust He knew they would need me LOL) but it does not mean that I cannot still incorporate some elements of Sabbath rest throughout my week as I create time and space to do so. If I want to truly rest (which I desperately do), than I need to find and take advantage of specific moments I have set aside for Sabbath rest to intentionally review, renew, and re-focus.
- Review: The first step in Sabbath rest starts with a review of the past. This may be the past week, the past month, or even the past hour, depending on what is coming to mind as you look back on what has occurred or been accomplished. Gordon tells us it is an intentional evaluation, a time for us to “interpret our work, to press meaning into it, and to make sure we know to whom it is properly dedicated” (pg. 165). When you look over the past couple of days or weeks, what did you do? Why did you do it? Do you want to keep doing it and if so, why and how? If not, is there something that you want to change? What? This review gives us the opportunity to affirm the things that went well, learn from the things that went not-so-well, and sets us up for the next two steps.
- Renew: The second step in Sabbath rest focuses on renewing the present by ensuring our thoughts, actions, and lives are operating in truth. When we take the time to review the past in the first step, it leads us to the present and the recognition that our current path may feel a little off-course or our hearts may not be where we want them to be. And so, through the worship included in Sabbath rest, we can take time to search out truth (through reading the Bible, listening to a sermon, claiming the truth from a worship song, etc.) and seek to apply it to our current state of being. This closely connects with the idea of spending time in our gardens, and making sure we are pruning, weeding, and caring for them with spiritual truths. Gordon calls this a “re-calibration” (pg.67) where we look to God’s standards in determining our direction for the present and future, and if off-course, make the needed adjustments. This renewal flows into the next step of looking at what we want for the future.
- Re-Focus: The final step in Sabbath rest is an intentional re-focus for the future (the next week to come). Once we have reviewed what has already taken place and renewed our present state, we can proceed to making intentional plans for tomorrow. This process involves applying the lessons we learned from our review, integrating the truths we affirmed in our renewal, and moving forward into the coming moments with a sense of purpose and mission. We can ponder “What is our mission today” (pg. 169) and answer it with confidence and determination to guide our daily thoughts and actions. This mission may change depending on circumstances and seasons, so implementing this step with each Sabbath rest is important to remain current and steadfast in who we want to be and what we want to do.
OK. So what do I do now?
Best. application. ever. 🙂
This coming week, I challenge you to purposefully set aside and guard a specific Sabbath rest spot in your schedule. It may occur on Sunday as most of us associate with the Sabbath, but if you find that this is not conducive to true rest, feel free to make it any other day of the week. As long as you make it happen, I do not believe the actual day is important.
Then, make it a priority to enter into this Sabbath time and utilize Gordon’s guidelines to review the past week, renew your present moment, and re-focus for the future week to come in light of what God is doing in your life. Maybe even journal these things to keep a record of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going.
Plan to follow-up this Sabbath rest with another allotted time in the next week, and rinse and repeat. I have to admit that I am excited about the prospect of doing this in my own life, even if it is only for the few moments I can carve out on Sunday morning. I am quite confident that as we implement this concept of rest as God fully intended, we will agree that yes, true rest is indeed best. ♥
One of my favorite movies growing up (and probably still now if I am honest LOL) was The Secret Garden. Telling the tale of multiple tragedies (the death of parents and spouses; illness and despair; loneliness on many levels), a triad of hurting hearts finds a sense of hope and new growth through the restoration of a neglected secret garden. Even the hardest of hearts in the story is softened by the beauty and potential of new life, and the transformation that takes place as each character spends time in the secret garden is inspiring.
As a little girl, I remember wishing I had my own secret garden, complete with hidden door and key, to go to when times were tough or celebrate in when times were good. A small bit of secluded earth to call my own, and only invite those in whom I could truly trust.
And sometimes, even as an adult now, I still do. Maybe you do too…
Which is exactly why this week’s reading on spirituality hit so close to home. It is no coincidence that Gordon begins our discussion of the soul, and its spiritual nature, by using the picture of a garden. If you remember correctly, that is kind of where the story of humanity started in the very beginning. That perfect garden of Eden, which I envision had its own form of amazing gate and key, where humanity and deity lived out unbroken, untouched, PERFECT spiritual communion. Until sin came in and destroyed the perfection, we lived in overwhelming peace, security, and congruence: the spirit and the flesh were one.
However (no spoiler alert here), we know the story took a turn for the absolute worst when sin and selfishness entered the stage and destroyed the perfect peace. Distortion, disruption, and destruction ensued; and now we live in a world overrun by sin and chaos and hurt and tragedy. And our souls and our flesh are often at odds, and we yearn for that long ago fairy tale garden that was so simple, so sweet, and so sacred.
Sin continues to scream at us that the garden is gone forever, and while I am not saying we can return to the garden of Eden anytime soon, I do believe that a still, small voice whispers to us among the noise and beckons us to a remnant of the original creation He has placed within us… the secret garden that still resides within our soul.
My Own Secret Garden
Recognizing that there is a sacred space within me, a spiritual realm known as the soul, is still hard for me to fully comprehend. Although honestly, the little girl within me is jumping for joy at the thought of having my own secret garden. 🙂 And while for the most part, this is a metaphorical discussion, I love love love (yes, I meant for there to be three of them for emphasis) the picture of my inner soul as a garden. Why? Because there are so many lessons that can be gleaned from envisioning our soul from a gardening perspective (you can probably think of more than I will discuss here if you really think about it).
First, when cared for properly, gardens are usually beautiful, breath-taking, peaceful places where people have celebrations, get engaged, get married, and have deep, romantic, intimate interactions. All of the senses are usually involved with an experience in a garden: you can hear the soothing sound of water falling from a nearby fountain, you can smell the sweet perfume of blooming jasmine, you can see the brilliant colors of a variety of petals and greenery, you can touch the soft green grass or smooth stones as you sit for a moment, and you can taste the refreshing sweet of a nearby fruit fresh off the vine (yes, in my garden there will always be food of some kind). Our inner garden can be the same way! According to Gordon, it is “a place of potential peace and tranquility. This garden is a place where the Spirit of God comes to make self-disclosure, to share wisdom, to give affirmation or rebuke, to provide encouragement, and to give direction and guidance. When this garden is in proper order, it is a quiet place, and there is an absence of busyness, of defiling noise, of confusion” (pg. 118). Sounds wonderful to me!!!
Second, an amazing garden like this takes regular maintenance and hard work to create and maintain. That is the exact reason I do not have a real garden in my backyard (even though there was one there previously from the last owners of our house) and why I truly admire those that do keep one. Even in the small flower bed I have kept close to our house, there are ALWAYS things to be done: rake up the leaves that have fallen, prune the rosebushes, mulch the rosebushes, pull up all of the weeds because we can no longer see the dogs when we let them out (I am not joking), and this is just routine maintenance. This is not even trying to get them big and beautiful and amazing. True gardeners spend hours upon hours tilling the soil, working the soil, trimming and pruning and raking and hauling, expending both time and energy on hands and knees before taking the time to enjoy the beauty around them. The same goes for our inner gardens (which exist whether we want them to or not): it will take the time (when we are using it properly 🙂 ) and the efforts (good thing we have that mind to help us out) of regular inner work to create and maintain.
Fortunately, there is typically a reward for all that work: a gardener that is putting in the time and effort to create a thriving garden can expect productivity and harvest. Blooms in season are anticipated, and you can see the pride and joy of any gardener when they can display the beauty they have cultivated. We on the outside like it too; hence the desire for fresh flowers at weddings and celebrations and even funerals, as symbols of love and friendship and condolences… to encourage and enjoy in the deepest of moments. Similarly, our inner gardens will produce a harvest in season as well: fruits of the spirit including “courage, hope, love, endurance joy, and lots of peace. Unusual capacities for self-control, the ability to discern evil and ferret out truth are also reaped” (pg. 120). We will grow in wisdom and knowledge and character, and those around us will enjoy the beauty displayed.
Finally, even the most amazing of gardens can fall into disarray when left unattended for too long. If the gardener is unable to keep up the necessary maintenance, weeds and overgrowth of the plants will take place. What once was beautiful, organized and peaceful will become a knotted, chaotic mess that may ultimately lead to plant destruction and death. There will be few, if any fruits, and the awaited harvests will no longer take place. Gordon warns us that our inner garden is no different, and that it “cannot remain uncultivated for long before it becomes infested with the sort of growth that makes it uninviting, both to the indwelling Lord and to us ourselves” (pg. 157). However, the alternate is true as well: even the gardens that are in most disarray can be brought back to life with the right amount of time and care. If we truly want to experience the inner peace that comes from within, we will need to remain vigilant and not let our garden slip into this overgrown state and if it has, then it is time to take action.
How does this apply to me? (aka How does your Garden Grow? )
As we discussed above, a beautiful, thriving garden does not get that way by accident. Even if there is a form of beauty in the overgrowth, the health of the plants and the soil may not be what it seems. Even weeds can be pretty at times, but in the end rob both the earth and the plants of their life-giving properties. With this in mind then, how then do we cultivate or re-cultivate our gardens to bring forth substantial, vivacious, and thriving life?
Gordon tells us that there are four main disciplines we can start with (there are many more that are not covered in this book but can be found elsewhere; a good friend of mine just recommended the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster and it is on my to-read list) to take action and stimulate growth within out gardens. A summary of each is provided below:
- Silence and Solitude: Taking time just to be with no noise, no distractions, and no other living thing. This might be a local park where you can find a secluded place, the inside of your car in your driveway (I use this one a lot), or the inside of a closet or bathroom (as long as it is quiet). Depending on your circumstances, you may need to use ear plugs (LOL) or close your eyes, but the point is to get as quiet and focused as possible. For me, this means no kids, no husband, no dogs, no cell phone, and no mess (I get easily distracted by mess). There is sometimes an initial culture shock at the lack of noise and bustling, but once you take some time to embrace the lack thereof, there is also something refreshing about the silent space. It allows you to take a deep breath, and transition from listening to everything else our next discipline: listening to God.
- Listening to God: This is probably the hardest of the disciplines for me to practically explain, even though I have experienced it many times. I have never audibly heard God talk to me (although I think it would be incredibly scary and cool at the same time), but I have seen Him speak directly to my needs and situations through reading the Bible, reading Christian literature, and even through the words of a trusted friend, sermon, or worship song. Gordon recommends that to supplement the listening process, we can utilize a journal to record what we hear God saying. While I do not journal daily as he describes, although I am seriously considering an earnest attempt after being inspired from this reading, I have always been a note-taker. For every class or sermon or even in meetings, I am always taking notes because there are things that I want to keep with me when I hear them. This is often when I hear God speaking, as I have been asking specifically for guidance or direction about something and a verse or quote appears to speak directly to that matter. Then, I can record it, confirm that it matches God’s character and will as described in the Bible, and act upon it.
- Reflection and Meditation: Once we have created the time and space to be alone and quiet with God, have listened to Him and recorded what He is saying, we have the ability to integrate it into who we are through the tools of reflection and meditation. As Gordon explains, this is the process of “pressing enter” in our spiritual computers and inputting the new information into ourselves (pg. 140). This is literally thinking about the thing God told you over and over and over again until it becomes second nature. For instance, my word from the Lord for this year is discipline. As I seek to “enter” this word and practice into my life, I am purposefully thinking of it as much as I can in multiple contexts. I have looked up the definition, looked up verses, and posted the word throughout my house and places I will be as reminders. I reflect and visualize and meditate on this concept of discipline, until it becomes a part of my regular existence. When God speaks to you and you hear Him, you can do similar things to let His word integrate into your life as well.
- Prayer: This is our part of the conversation with God, and how we actually communicate with Him. I love that God is not just one-sided; He does not just give out orders and then leave us to complete them. Instead, just like in the original garden, He longs to live in relationship with us, hear our thoughts and our dreams, both positive and negative, and encourages us to take an active tole in our relationship. Since we do not live in the original garden though, prayer can often be difficult, especially since it can sometimes feel like talking to empty space, but if we can begin to cultivate our inner gardens, I bet we will start to feel differently about this too. I know even envisioning myself in my garden with the Lord changes how I view prayer, as something that has to be done or is empty to an actual conversation to a present participant. Gordon tells us that prayer is a combination of timing, posture, and content. Timing is different for each person, but setting aside time for intentional prayer is essential. My time is best in the morning (I tend to fall asleep at night) but yours may be in the evenings or even on your lunch break. Posture is a matter of preference, and to be honest, it depends on the content of my conversation (just like any real relationship). Sometimes I am standing, sometimes I am on my knees, and there have been those most desperate times when I am all out, face down on the ground, crying out to God. Content is what we pray about, which I personally think can be anything and everything. But for those who like structure, Gordon lists adoration(praise and thanksgiving), confession(anything that is bothering you or sin you have observed within), and intercession(praying for others and self) as the main components of his prayer life.
When we make time for silence and solitude, listen to God, reflect and meditate on what He says, and then pray to speak with Him as well, we do the hard work of tending to our inner gardens. With the powers of these combined, we can truly cultivate our secret gardens to reflect the original one we miss so much, to be the sacred place where Spirit and soul collide, and to truly walk with the Lord as we once did.
Ok. So what do I do now?
First things first, I know I am desperately in need of some one-on-one time with the Lord. I can feel it in the very core of my being, this desire to know Him more, to connect in the way I’ve been writing about in this entire post. Yes, even I can write about these great things and then recognize my own want for them because to be honest: I am doing great at confronting my drivenness, taking hold of my time and using it versus losing it, and even stretching my mind through this book club and other means, but I am struggling with cultivating my secret garden. Struggling with actually spending time in my secret garden to walk with the Lord and commune with Him in that personal, intimate space. This is my heart’s cry… and I am guessing that if you are just now realizing you have a secret garden or remembering it because you have not been there in a while, you probably feel it too.
So, my first step: I need to get back in my garden; take inventory of what is flourishing and what could use some tending, and then get to it.
When was the last time you visited your garden and what does it look like? Are the plants fresh and blooming? Are the trees full and strong? If not, are you up for the challenge of tilling the soil, weeding the overgrowth, and planting new seed?
Do you know where the entrance is, or like in the movie, do you need to search for the key (no worries; you are the one who owns the key, so I promise you it will be found) and open the door for the very first time?
I encourage you this week, as we read through the last sector and finish this inaugural month of the book club, to pick one of the disciplines above to work in your own garden. Maybe you can focus on spending some time each day in silence and solitude to find and begin visualizing your secret garden. Maybe you can invite God within the walls and ask Him to speak to you in that sweet, whispering voice so you can listen and take notes. Maybe you can take time this week to intentionally reflect and meditate on what you’ve been hearing from God, so that we integrate His voice into our everyday lives. Maybe you can set aside time specifically for prayer, with a list of thanks, confessions, and intercessions as a guide.
Whichever you choose or however you do it, my hope for all of us is that each step we take will allow us to reap what we are sowing: to bring restoration, renewal, beauty and strength to our inner worlds and the most precious of places… our own secret garden.♥