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.♥
Since we are halfway through our readings, let’s re-cap before we continue our reflective adventure of getting to know how to order our private world. So far, we’ve discussed our motives and the why behind what we do (whether we are operating from being driven or being called) as well as how we allot the time we have (whether we are truly using it or losing it). Both sectors showed us that there is so much more to life than the world often tells us (the lie that we have to be ambitious and/or busy to have value) and that getting to the core of who we are to truly live out our calling and steward our time will promote an ordered private world of peace (sounds nice doesn’t it?).
When we re-focus our understanding of our motivation and time, it frees us to consider the next important part of our inner world: the mind and how we think. According to Gordon, “thinking is the amazing capacity God has given the human being to discover and observe the stuff of creation, to compare and contrast each of its parts, and when possible, to use them properly as to reflect the glory of the Creator” (p. 95). It is this thinking that sets us apart from other mammals, and allows us to investigate, explore, and create with the world around us. It is what is allowing you to read this blog, and then hopefully wrestle with the concepts discussed here, before coming to your own opinion on what to keep with you and implement (or not) as you go along. With this in mind (pardon the pun… I couldn’t help it), we must understand and utilize the gift that is our mind, or miss out on much of what God has for us in this life.
The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste
To truly order our private world, Gordon encourages that we must learn to discipline our minds for thinking with “strong mental endurance and intellectual growth” (p. 90). This is not an easy task in our quick-paced and information overload society. Endurance, by its very nature, takes time, and it implies working with something for an extended amount of time until it is completed (like a marathon or parenting or a career or any other long-term commitment). It is not a quick Google search or asking Siri to get an answer at a moment’s notice, although there is a time and place for this type of knowledge gathering as well.
Similarly, most growth processes do not typically happen quickly (although it may feel that way). For instance, my oldest son is now 3 and it feels like I have only blinked to find him walking and talking and becoming increasingly independent, but when I look ahead, I realize the next 15-20 years are still to come and have to be “endured” (LOL) to watch him grow. To really take advantage of all that our mind has to offer, it will take our efforts to endure (founded by our motivation) and our time to grow (which we must make available).
If we do not take the time and effort to train our minds and develop those higher order thinking skills, we will operate much like other mammals around us: we will live for primary functions (survival) and amusement (or “function without thought” p.97). We will tend to conform to those around us, without question or hesitation, because we have not exercised our mind to consider, evaluate, reason, and decide. Our mind becomes like a dull blade; not having the ability to cut through the weeds of deception or every so-called “truth” out there. This dullness of mind renders our private world weak and defenseless to protect ourselves from the many distractions we face each day.
Believe it or not, the type of thinking that we are talking about (the kind that employs both wisdom and knowledge without dulling) does not come naturally to us just because we are humans. These higher order thinking skills must be learned, and practiced over time to reap the benefits. In the educational realm, these skills are called cognitive skills, and there is a classification system known as Bloom’s taxonomy that allows us to understand how our mind works from innate to higher order methods of thinking (see illustration below). As teachers interact with students, they attempt to move students from remembering and understanding to the higher order skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
When we move to the higher ranks of thinking, we start to integrate the knowledge and wisdom we are acquiring into our selves, and then give it back with our own little twist. We sharpen our minds to thinking beyond simple memorization and actually interact with the material in front of us.
Imagine if we did this with most things in life: If I went beyond remembering and understanding how to eat healthy, and actually applied what I know, analyzed and evaluated what I was eating, and then started creating healthy alternatives to meet my goals. Or what if I went beyond remembering and understanding a sermon on Sunday morning and actually began to apply the principles, analyze and evaluate how those principles interact with my life, and create new choices or behaviors as a result? This is higher order thinking in play, and it is an amazing thing to both experience and watch.
How does this apply to me?
Confession time here: There are seasons in my life where I have witnessed the dulling process (or lack of mental endurance and growth) in my own life. These typically occur when I begin binge-watching large amounts of television (thank you Netflix and Hulu). I like a variety of shows, from the somewhat weird like Wayward Pines, to the reality home shows like House Hunters, to survival shows like Man vs. Wild, to shows with a flare for the dramatic like Nashville, or my ultimate favorite which is a beautiful culmination of all of the above: LOST. And while at certain times this is not an issue (like when I am temporarily sick and have to stay in bed), on the regular, it can become a fruitless endeavor that really is only for my amusement/entertainment. There is nothing productive about my time here: I tune in to tune out and turn off. If I allow this to become a habit, much like my time that can be full but still lost, my mind can be occupied but not growing.
For me, I stop this cycle when I start to come out of the TV-induced fog and think about what I have been filling my mind with. When I do this, it allows to me figure out if I have been spending my time looking to promote my mind through the process of learning, or if I have truly been dulling it with the distractions of amusement. To take inventory of your own mind input, Gordon gives us three objectives to consider (which you will notice that I slightly reword):
- Am I filling my mind with truth? This is a hard, but most important place to start. As a counselor, I am constantly working to help my clients discern truth from lies in their core being or self-talk so that they can be freed of things like fear, anxiety, and defeat. People are often keenly aware of the lies that have been coming from within, but we tend to overlook the lies that we allow to influence us from the outside each day. When we choose to watch and read things that are not based on truth, especially without those higher order thinking skills in play, we take the risk of not only being dulled, but being deceived into disorder like being driven or losing our time. Think of it in terms of, I am what I put in. If I am truly honest, when I am watching the television shows above in overwhelming amounts, there is little truth or redeeming qualities about them that I would want to shape me into who I am (other than the survivor skills that might come in handy one day LOL). Again, there is nothing wrong with the occasional escape into amusement, but I know I personally am more likely to escape completely if not enacting a disciplined understanding and filter for what I am letting influence me. As Gordon describes, our truth comes from Christ and the way of living described in the Bible. This should be my filter when I watch, listen, or intentionally chose the things I am using to fill my mind.
- Am I filling my mind by observing and exploring the world around me? I am a huge fan of getting outside and in touch with the world around us. Not necessarily hugging a tree (although I am not opposed to it and have done so in the past), but engaging all of our senses in the learning process. When we do so, our mind goes crazy: there are so many neurons firing as we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear the world around us. Engaging all of our senses is difficult to do by staring into our smartphones or watching the TV (even if you do have popcorn and headphones). If you feel out of practice with this endeavor, try going to a local park with your own or a family of young children. Let them lead the way! I have learned so much by observing and exploring with my little guys: the things that they see, hear, touch, smell, and yes, even taste :), are astounding.
- Am I using what I am filling my mind with to serve others? As we acquire knowledge and really begin sculpting our mind, the input will reach a point where it needs an outlet. If I am sharpening my mind for its intended use, then my output will be in line with my calling and useful to those around me. For instance, although she is not currently “employed” as a nurse, my mom went to school for and maintains her nursing license through continuing education courses to this day. And as a result, she is constantly being utilized as the community nurse and resource, getting calls in the middle of the night over a sick child, medication questions, wound care, you name it, she does it. She is living proof for me of taking her knowledge and using it in service to others. This is definitely not the case for me when I am watching hours upon hours of the shows listed above: while fun and entertaining, they do not equip me with anything to overflow into service for others.
Ok. So what do I do now?
If there is one thing I have have learned from being a student all of my life, it is that the more I am supposed to know, the more I realize I really do not know. There is still so much knowledge out there for me to learn, and fortunately, I have developed a love of learning that has sustained not only my higher education endeavors, but also my curiosity and love to explore, investigate, and continue learning outside of a classroom today. To fill our minds with the truth, experiences, and input that then overflows into the lives of others, we must engage in the learning process as much as possible. Practically, this looks like the following:
- Learn by listening: Get out in the world, ask people questions, and then LISTEN to their responses. What does your husband really think about his job and the tasks he has to face each day? What does your best friend really think about her current relationship? What does your 3 year old really think about the snow or the trees or the bug in front of him? What does your grandfather think about the current state of our country and our world? You do not have to agree with each one, but hearing ideas and thoughts from outside of yourself is a great way to start thinking outside of yourself and utilizing those higher order skills.
- Learn by reading: Or in other words, look for published forms of information to take in as well. Now I realize not everyone is a reader, and so there are great alternatives such as podcasts, documentaries, or sermons, to be able to still accumulate knowledge when others are not present. Having some sort of worthy input (refer back to guidelines above), at all times is essential for maintaining and encouraging growth. Reading this book and blog are great ways to start!
- Learn by studying: After you have listened and read, go one step further and study the material presented. For some of us, this sounds weird since we are no longer in school. However, it is really just a deeper exploration of something you have recently learned. My favorite form of “studying” is what I call “word study.” When I find a quote or scripture or experience that is especially meaningful, I take the time to investigate the definition of the words involved and see how it really integrates into who I am. Words that I am studying lately include discipline and intentional.
For this week, I encourage you to look at your mental input and ask yourself the questions above to discern if your input is really worthwhile. As a response, whether it is or is not, resolve to try one of the three modes of learning: listen to someone new or read something new or study something new and see what you encounter and how your mind grows. My hope for us is that by doing so, we will reignite and/or fan the fame of learning in our lives: to truly go beyond amusement and seek intentional thought, to question, to listen, to always be growing and stretching and exploring, to analyze, evaluate and create, and to truly maximize and not waste the mind we have been given.♥
The concept of time has intrigued me for years. When I was younger, I remember my parents and grandparents telling me that time was “flying” and “it was only yesterday…” But to me, it seemed like it always passed at a snail’s pace. There were so many things that felt like they would never happen: the arrival of summer break, getting my driver’s license, going to my first prom, graduating from high school, going to college, turning 21, getting married…day in and day out… TIME MOVED SO SLOW.
But the older I’ve gotten (cause that clock does keep a’tickin), there has been a drastic increase in my perception of the speed of time around me. All of a sudden, summer takes on a whole new meaning (because there is no more break), that driver’s license has been renewed multiple times, prom seems like forever ago (because it was), high school reunions have come and gone, 21 was way too many birthdays ago, and that marriage has moved beyond the 10year mark with a preschooler and a toddler to tag along. Think about it… Even January 2016 is halfway over… and I thought we just celebrated the New Year! 🙂
The reality of how quickly time truly does move is mind-blowing, and depending on how this time has been spent, we can either look back with reflective nostalgia or uncomfortable regret. And typically, how we feel when we look back on the time behind us will either accentuate or depreciate our excitement about what is to come. That is why this second sector on our use of time is so very important, and a definite struggle for most of us this day in age (ain’t nobody got time for that LOL).
In this section, Gordon describes that how we use our time and what we choose to fill it with (work, school, friends, family, church, Facebook, Netflix, exercise, blogging, etc.) is what really matters when it comes to having an ordered private world. Much like assessing our motives for whether we are operating as being driven versus being called, he gives us an understanding of what it looks like to either appropriately USE or inadvertently LOSE the precious time that we have.
Use It or Lose It
For my husband’s job, we (I say we because “his” leave is really “our” leave LOL) still earn so many hours of annual and sick leave per paycheck per year (I know this has changed for a lot of companies/organizations) that we can either use or carry-over into the following year. However, there is a cap on carry-over, so if you do not use a certain amount of leave within the allotted time frame, you cannot keep it. Essentially, you LOSE it and the company gets free work from you 😦 Nobody really wants that, so each year we sit down around Easter and begin accounting for all the leave we want to use in an effort not to “lose” any in the carry-over process.
This is exactly how Gordon encourages us to view our time: If we have it available to us, then we should be fully using it! But let us make an important distinction here: just because it is being filled does not mean it is properly being used. According to Gordon, even full time can be lost, and this is where we need to start being intentional about how we are either using or losing our time.
Specifically, if you are using your time, you are filling it with the things that matter most to you and your calling (going back to being driven or called). You are being wise, making the most of each moment and opportunity, and there is an intentionality to your way of life (Ephesians 5:16) and how you live out each day. While life still happens and things pop up (especially when you add things like work, spouses, kids, and ministry to the mix), your “normal” consists of organized, regular times that are focused and productive. You fiercely guard these times, because they provide the foundation for order that breathes life into the other, discretionary moments. You feel empowered because you start having an influence on your life and you can see things starting to happen around you.
In contrast, if you are losing your time, it may be full of things to do, but when you take stock… the fillings are not really that important. Gordon calls this being disorganized; meaning that your time is all over the place, and you feel out of control. You may feel overwhelmed as you think about each new day, new week, new month… even the next moment because you have no clue what it will hold and how you will make it through because of the million other things that need to be accomplished. Life is happening to you, and at times, you feel like you are unwillingly along for the ride and you are powerless to stop the madness.
He adds many other descriptors beyond those above, so see the chart below for a summary of how to know if you are truly using or losing your time:
How does this apply to me?
If we go back to that whole honesty thing, this sector (and really most of them as you will see), has always been a struggle for me. Since I already struggle with those lovely driven tendencies we looked at last time, I have always tried to pack in as much as I possibly can into each moment without actually discerning whether or not those moments were being actually useful to who I am and what I am about. There have been numerous occasions where I have taken on responsibilities that I was not excited about because I felt obligated or it would promote my career or I just did not want to say no and then realized I was in over my head and struggling just to complete things (not do them well or the way I would have liked). I would end up overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed… and have very little to show for it. I knew that “being busy” has been my way of life for a very long time, even though it was not always fruitful.
When I had my first baby, I was so relieved for the “vacation” of indefinite maternity leave. I knew I would eventually return to the working world (since I have the option to work from home), but it was according to my terms and how I wanted to do it. All of a sudden, I had full freedom to do whatever I wanted all day (within reason given the demands of my toddler and the fact that he did not always operate according to my plans; but that is another post). And if I really stretch here with the honesty, my initial response was to hide in the non-busyness/new-busyness of it all. To take the time off under the guise of motherhood (which do not get me wrong, has been completely amazing and I am not trying to invalidate that experience at all) was just like when I was super busy with not a moment to spare because I was filling my time with meaningless things and not being very fruitful… as a mom or as a me. 🙂 I knew I was being called to something else while enjoying all that motherhood has to offer and I chose a lot of times to push it aside because I had “things” to do. I went from one extreme to the other, and neither was really using my time wisely.
Maybe you can relate to either or both of my situations above, with your own unique twist. Maybe you are a working mom trying to juggle home and career but still feel a spark of something more and yet there does not seem to be enough hours in the day.
Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom that is tired of using nap time for mindlessly surfing Facebook and Pinterest (although there is noting wrong with either and I use both of them in moderation 🙂 ) and feel the call to something more but are unsure of where to start.
Maybe you have been in ministry for years and feel incredibly burned out because no matter how much you do and how busy you are, it is just never enough.
Maybe you are using your time wisely and love the balance of your current season but see others all around you struggling with the many distractions our world has to offer and you are trying to figure out how to help, how to pray, how to guide.
Wherever you are, Gordon gives us an example of someone who I could envision would have the most weighing on Him, yet utilized his time to the fullest: Jesus. And while some of you may tune out because the church answer was just given, if you could stay with me just a little bit longer, I hope you will see that there is amazing potential for life application here. Jesus, knowing his time on this earth was limited, could have been on a race to the finish to go go go his entire ministry. And yet, throughout the accounts of his life and interactions with people, there is no sense of rush or urgency but always a peace, a calm, and slow and steady pace that exudes from Him. I LOVE IT! He knew who He was, He knew what his mission was, and He ordered His time to ensure He had time alone, time with God, time for his family/disciples, and time for his work/ministry. This is truly what I want for my heart, for my family, for my ministry, and for those around me. I am guessing you might want that too.
OK. So what do I do now?
As Gordon would tell us based on his own experiences and studying how Jesus lived, the remedy for using it instead of losing it, is to recapture our time with an intentional, proactive budgeting approach. This involves three main characteristics:
- Figuring out your rhythms of maximum effectiveness (or when you do your best at what times). For me, I know I have to exercise first thing in the morning or it will not happen; while I know others who can only exercise after work or in the evening. When it comes to my writing or working, I am at my best in the morning or afternoon when I have no distractions (which means nap time or someone else is watching the littles). In the late evening, although sometimes I have to use this time, I am most ineffective, and what would take me 10 minutes to do in the morning will surely take me two to three times longer.
- Figuring out and writing out criteria for how to use your time (or having a filter for what you do and do not do). As Gordon explains, there are fixed parts of our time budgets: like time with God, time for self, time for spouse, time for family, work, ministry, etc. And then there are discretionary parts: hey, this event looks interesting or so and so asked us out to dinner, want to go? For me, my days are full with the kids and work during naps, so I really end up budgeting the evenings and weekends. I have developed an understanding that Mondays are discretionary, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays are for ministry and people; Thursdays and Saturdays are for my work (when my husband can have special time with the kids), and Fridays are usually for family. While of course things happen and even our best plans sometimes fall threw, this structure gives everyone in our house an understanding of a regular schedule, and allows us to properly place things that ask for attention without losing the things that are most important.
- Figuring out how to apply above rhythms and criteria IN ADVANCE (or taking that proactive approach and planning ahead). In this lovely digital age where you can have a calendar on your phone, your computer, hard copy, and now, I even have it on my watch, scheduling in advance should really not be too difficult. Gordon said he plans eight weeks out, but that is too much for me. I usually go a month (so about 4 weeks) at a time, but specifically focus on planning a week at a time. With the normal routine noted above, it is easy to look at the next week and have a good idea of what is already in place. The nice part about doing this is that when things come up, I can often schedule them around the things that are most important because I already know what they are. The biggest challenge here: just actually doing it.
This week, I challenge you to take time (LOL) to ponder your own sense of time. Look through the chart above to assess if you are using it or losing it, and act on one of the three characteristics. I recently had to do this at the start of the year, taking stock of my criteria and what my schedule could realistically hold in embarking on this writing adventure. This meant having to say NO and turning down an extra teaching gig this quarter so that I would have time to invest in writing this blog and budgeting my limited exercise time for first thing in the mornings (which sometimes means with the kiddos… another post there too I’m sure).
What will it mean for you? What needs to change so that you can recapture your time? Is there something you need to say NO to so that you can say YES to what really matters? My hope and prayer is that we will all challenge ourselves in this year and beyond to take the time we have been given and truly USE it, not lose it. ♥
The first stop in our reflective adventure into the private world is to examine our motivation, or why we do what we do. This underlying “why” is the foundation for every action we take, and it can either help or hurt us as we live out our lives. It provides the the basis for our spiritual energy, and how we find gratification in the world (p.29). In some cases, this is simple and beautiful. I choose to spend time with my kids because I am motivated by my love for them. Other times, it is not so pretty. I lash out at my husband because I am motivated by selfishness and wanted the evening to be about me, not him. When it comes to our private world, Gordon has grouped the primary source of motivation into two categories: driven (focused on man and success) and called (focused on God and obedience). Understanding these categories, and what they mean for us, is where we will spend our time today.
Driven versus Called
In chapters 3-5, I love the way Gordon dives in deep to describe the differences (wow… that was a lot of d’s) between being driven and being called. From his perspective, driven people are definitely disordered; they are all about themselves, what they can achieve, and what they can accumulate. Everyone and everything outside of accomplishment takes last place in priority; it is not about being productive, but being the most productive, the most successful, and having the most stuff. He even goes as far as to describe them with the picture of being trapped in a lavishly golden cage: it looks gorgeous from the outside, but inside it is cramped, lonely, and nothing in it will last. Driven people live primarily for the self, and in the end, this is usually the only thing they have left.
In stark contrast, called people have a sense of inner order; they have a good idea of who they are, what they are doing as well as the why behind it, and are still productive, but are more concerned with quality versus quantity. They can prioritize the things in their lives, with God and people at the top of their lists, and have peace when they are following the path laid our for (not by) them regardless of the results. There is no cage, but a sense of freedom as they know they are not in control, but know and trust the One who is. Driven people live primarily for God, and in the end, enjoy the rewards of a fruitful and meaningful existence on the inside and out.
For a comprehensive listing of the distinctions between these two motives, see the chart below:
How does this apply to me?
Reading the differences between being driven and called has always struck a cord deep within me. This may be because earlier in my life, I was definitely driven. From elementary to high school (yes, it can show itself as early as childhood), my grades and my accomplishments were everything. When I did not make the perfect grade or win the outstanding award, I was crushed and my world would cave in. My mom (who reads my posts regularly; thanks Mom!) had to pick up the pieces the day I came home from 4th grade with a B in handwriting; and this was just the first of many “difficult” days.
It was not until a 10th grade English course with a beyond difficult professor, that I had to face my driven demons and determine for good whether I was going to continue to pursue empty, stressful, never-ending and never-good-enough accomplishments, or pursue the path God had for me. It was one of the darkest times in my life, but it was also one of the best things that has ever happened to me because out of my angst birthed a calling that has stayed true and steadfast and foundational to this very day.
With that being said, not a day goes by that I do not struggle with the driven motives that are my innate, selfish nature. So when I read the list above, there are quite a few in the driven category that I can still check off if I am being completely honest. Maybe you resonate with some of the driven descriptives above too. As Gordon shares, “any of us can look within and suddenly discover that drivenness is our way of life” (p.47).
If this is you, take heart! You are not alone, and there is hope for all of us as we recognize our driven motives. I love that Gordon uses the example of Paul to bridge the gap between being driven and called. After his life-changing encounter with God, Paul went from the epitome of the driven man to the testimony of living out a called life. If you are seeing some of the same qualities in your own heart and inner world, be encouraged that it is not their existence, but what you do with them that really counts.
OK. So, what do I do now?
Gordon ends this part of our adventure by looking at John the Baptist as an example of how to find and walk out a called life. If you are not familiar with John, his role in history was to introduce the people of his time to Jesus (technically he is still doing that today) and he is renowned for ushering in the time of Christ with a new take on baptism and religion. He even got to baptize Jesus!!!
However, the focus of this section is not on his actual calling, but how he was called. As Gordon (and the Bible) tell us, John spent his time in the desert (a dry and difficult and I would envision quiet land) and was called from this place into his ministry. While this was definitely not normal (I am also pretty sure he ate locusts), the overarching picture here is that John took the time to be alone, get away from any distractions, and wait on the Lord for when and how he was to proceed.
My SMARTER not harder 🙂 application from this, and what I want to encourage both you and myself to do, is “get in the desert.” When was the last time you got away and spent time with God? When was the last time you removed yourself from any distractions (yes, even your iPhone… hard copies of the Bible still exist and are actually quite nice if you want to take notes or underline with a pen) and spent time in God’s word in both prayer and listening? When was the last time you heard God speak to you and what did He say? Are you waiting on Him or moving ahead on your own?
I challenge you to set a specific time to spend in your own “desert” this coming week: Go away and get with God. This might be to a specific room on your house, a nearby park, or even your car (yes, sometimes this is the only place I can find that is quiet and available). Pray through the chart above and take inventory if there are things that God is revealing to you about your own life and current path. Listen and journal God’s voice about you and your calling. And if you do not hear Him right away, WAIT until you do and then proceed accordingly. Take the time to truly evaluate your motives… and determine how you are going to live… driven or CALLED? ♥
“In this world, you will have trouble…” -Jesus (John 16:33)
… and disorder…and disobedience…and chaos… and MAYHEM.
Isn’t that the truth? There really is not a day that goes by that I do not see some sort of trouble, disorder, disobedience, chaos, mayhem, whatever you choose to call it, swirling around me. Even the innocent disorder of the playroom beside me reminds me that we live in an imperfect world (I swear… no matter how many times I clean it, it always is a mess! 😉 ). Jesus knew this and warned us from the very beginning that this life would be hard and that trouble with a capital T would be something we would have to face.
The wonderful part, and the thing I love most about this story of life, is that there is a constant thread of redemption among humanity that allows there to be inner order among the outer chaos. Jesus finishes his speech above with these words: “But take heart; I have overcome the world [and in me, you may have peace].”
Beautiful words to highlight and underline and carry with us when we face the troubles of this world, but sometimes, I also want the practical side of what these words really mean. What does it look like to take heart? What does it look like to truly live in peace? Thus, the birthplace of books just like Ordering Your Private World 🙂
So far, I have read and journaled through all of the intro stuff: the Preface and Chapters 1 and 2. Already, I am blown away by the many points that speak directly to my life and the truths that I want to remember day in and day out. However, for the sake of time and sanity LOL, there were 4 big takeaways that really stood out:
1. “I believe that one of the greatest battlegrounds of our age is the private world of the individual.” (p.15)
AMEN!!! And I will say it again: AMEN!!! In a world where there is so much temptation partnered with so much isolation, the true battlefield of whether or not you will have inner peace is your very own private world. It is not so much a struggle of the flesh, although it may appear that way at first, but most things really do start with a struggle of the heart/soul (Ephesians 6:12). I am a true believer that an ordered soul is a strong soul, and a strong soul can take on anything: extremes of torture, illness, grief to the everyday obstacles of disappointment, stress, and irritation.
2. What is my private world?
Your private world, the descriptor that Gordon uses throughout his book, is your heart and/or soul (p.23). It is that innermost part of you that no one can every really understand, even if you try to explain it to them, because it really belongs to you and you alone. “It’s the private part of life where we know ourselves best of all: this is where self-esteem is forged, where basic decisions about motives, values, and commitments are made, where we commune with our God” (p.7-8). It involves the beautiful and the ugly, the truth we have chosen to acknowledge as well as the lies that have taken root and the interweaving of the two that we live out each day. It is also the place we invite Christ into when we give our lives to him, and the location of the indwelling that can bring true peace, true life, and true order within us. According to Gordon’s perspective, this private world is divided into the five sectors that we will focus on for the rest of our readings: our motivation, our time, our wisdom/knowledge, our spiritual strength, and our restoration.
3. We were created to “work most effectively from the inner world toward the outer” (p.23).
And this is the crux of the matter. So often in life, I find my outer world encroaching on my inner world. Usually, its when I am having “one of those days.” You know them: when absolutely nothing is going your way, sometimes to the point of sarcastic hilarity because the mounting disorder is unbelievable and can really only be handled with a desperate laugh. Or maybe the response is unbridled anger; harsh words that hurt both you and the listener, and create a wound that will have to be both forgiven and reconciled. Or maybe the response is withdrawal, to the lonely place that seems safe but really only multiplies the issue as you quietly cry out to be free and known and understood. Whatever the response, when we allow life to happen to us, when we allow our outer to have undue influence over our inner, we will most definitely experience crisis and a decreased quality of life that was never the intent of our Creator. We will end up spending our lives only surviving, and not thriving.
Instead, we were created for our inner to have influence over our outer. This is where growth and movement and true strength and victory reside. This is where we start to thrive. Think about even a plant: it pulls all of the nutrients and water and everything it needs into itself and then grows outward. Think about those people you know that have conquered the odds against them: the friend that lost weight and kept it off because she developed a healthy mindset (inner) that influenced her lifestyle (outer); the couple that resolved in their heart and minds to be good stewards with their money (inner) and paid off all of their debts (outer); the man who shows up every Sunday at church even though his body is fighting cancer and aging because his heart (inner) wants for more even though his flesh (outer) is fading.
One of my greatest examples, that comes to mind all the time, is Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, who wrote about his experiences and noted that it was his inner world, his resolve and faith, that really determined his experiences. It was the one thing that the Nazi’s could not determine, could not destroy, and could not influence without permission. He chose not to let his outer influence his inner, even in the most horrible of circumstances, and it is a testimony that is still influencing lives today. As Jesus said above: we can have peace in the inner, because He has overcome the outer. When I really think about this, it encourages me that I can probably (most definitely) handle one more of “those days” in my home with my kids and my husband and my job.
4. “Am I taking the time to regularly order my inner world?” (p.16)
Time for being honest. When was the last time I checked in with myself and my thoughts and feelings that are driving my actions? When was the last time you checked in with yourself and your thoughts and feelings that are driving your actions? If I had answered this question even a month ago, I would not have been able to give a specific answer. Why? Because I had not been regularly taking the time to check in and make sure that even though things are going crazy around me, my private world is secure. Just like anything thing else worthwhile: playing an instrument, learning a new language, excelling at a sport or subject, etc., ordering your private world takes regular, intentional time, effort, and a word we will see more of: discipline.
So, going back to making things happen, how can we be intentional, how can we work SMARTER not harder 🙂 when it comes to practically dealing with our private worlds? Specifically, I like to ask myself: What is one thing I can do to regularly start ordering my private world TODAY? For me, reading this book and blogging about it are where I am going to start, but I will be asking myself (as well as you) this question for each sector as we continue our reflective adventure. This way, we are not just having a great reading experience (although I do love Gordon’s stories and points) but we actually apply what we are learning to our life journeys.
Who knows… we might actually end up with a newfound sense of order, a peace in our inner world, and a new way of living that comes from the inside out. My hope for me and for you is exactly this: that we might actually experience, not just read about, this amazing, life-changing, peace-giving, overcoming ORDER.♥
Our first book of the year is one of my favorites (you may hear that a lot): Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald. It is no coincidence that for my blog that focuses on making the most of the mayhem around me, the first book I would want to read would be about order. 🙂 However, I think you will agree after reading (spoiler alert) that this book is more about grounding yourself amidst the chaos, rather than trying to manage the disorder around you.
Why I Chose this Book:
To truly make the most of my mayhem (my marriage, mothering, and the miscellaneous other things in my day), I must have some sort of foundation to my inner world that helps me maintain my sanity (anyone thinking about building a house on a rock versus sand here?). When I first read this book, almost 10 years ago now (woah.), I was a walking testimony of disorganization. Everything looked great on the outside: I was a newly accepted Master’s student working for the dean, a newly wed wife who still had stars in her eyes, with a new set of adult responsibilities including rent, utilities, cars, etc. I was young, smart, and all of that “new” was full of potential.
But on the inside, I was caving in.
Pressures and doubts were all I could think of, and it kept me up at night. Everyone had such high hopes for me, but could I really do it? What if I failed a class? What if I missed paying a bill? What if I could not complete my program and had loans to pay with no degree? Was this even what I really wanted? What if my new husband stopped loving me, or lost his job, or the honeymoon wore off too soon and things got stale? What if I made a mistake and everyone found out that I really had no clue what I was doing?
You may notice that some of these same thoughts/questions are addressed in the preface of the book. Gordon, the author whom I will refer to familiarly by first name although I have never actually met him, wrote this book as a response to these questions in his own life and the lives of those around him. He acknowledges that these doubts and pressures exist, and then offers both practical and spiritual wisdom on how to confront and conquer them. I love his conversational writing style, amazing metaphors and stories to illustrate his points, and the foundation of his writing that constantly points us back to the rock solid foundation of Jesus.
When I found it, I embraced his writings as a life preserver, bringing me back to Christ and back to sanity, equipping me for the many challenges I had no clue I would face in the future, and helping me to help others order their private worlds both personally and professionally. I still love to re-read it; to address the disorder that pops up here and there as well as to be a great reminder of the importance of continuing to attend to my private world when things seem to be going great on the inside and out.
How the Book Club Will Work:
With this being the first book of the year, I want to outline my thoughts on how this will tentatively work (which can be modified if needed; SMARTER not harder right?!). For each month, I will come up with a reading and posting plan that works for my scheduling as well as the book content, and let you know this plan so you can either follow along or make your own. No pressure either way; I know some of you will not be reading the books but might still be interested in the posts. Then, I will do my best to post according to the schedule I laid out. As we all know from our own mayhem, life sometimes has other plans 🙂 , but at least this will provide some direction as we go along. For January, this is my outline:
- Introductory Post: This one right here 🙂 Wed. 1/6
- Post 1: Preface, Ch 1-2 Thurs. 1/7
- Post 2: Sector One Motivation Sun 1/10
- Post 3: Sector Two Use of Time Thurs 1/14
- Post 4: Sector Three Wisdom and Knowledge Sun 1/17
- Post 5: Sector Four Spiritual Strength Sun 1/24
- Final Post: Sector Five Restoration Sun 1/31
In addition to what I post, please please please feel free to comment!!! One of Gordon’s goals in writing this book is mine as well: “to begin a dialogue among a few curious people” (p.11). I would love for you to share anything in particular that stood out to you, any feedback (both positive as well as constructive 😉 ) you have, or maybe even your own struggle with the content. With all of the posts on this blog, this is truly my heart: to share my journey with you as you journey so that we can learn from and encourage one another along the way.
My Hope for this Experience:
Gordon ends his preface and starts the book in this way (p.11):
“To all those who think there is a more organized way to live within: join me on this bit of reflective adventure. At the end there may just be an opportunity for a deeper experience with God and an understanding of our mission in serving Him.”
My hope and prayer for this inaugural book club experience is that this would be the start of just such an adventure: a monthly way of reflecting upon and caring for ourselves and others by intentionally choosing to focus on the things that are most important, like the inner world from which we operate day in and day out. I am a huge fan of setting myself up to succeed, from making meals each day to the bigger things of life like motivation and resiliency. 🙂 By reading the books on this list, like the one for this month, we are choosing to fill our hearts and minds with truth that will reinforce, restore, renew, and refresh our souls to truly make the most of and embrace the miracles in our mayhem. ♥