Week One: What on Earth Am I Here For? aka PERSPECTIVE

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PERSPECTIVE.

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 ūüôā ).

Perspective

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 ūüôā ). 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 ūüôā ) 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 ūüėČ ). 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?? ūüôā

Our Weekly Challenge:

I bet you know what’s coming ūüôā 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.‚ô•

 

Secret Five: Knowing aka “Come‚Ķ and Know Me Better Man”

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If you have never experienced the masterpiece that is known as The Muppet Christmas Carol, then you may be wondering what in the world the above picture is and/or that it is the strangest model of Jesus you have ever seen (which it is not Jesus or even meant to be Jesus, so no worries here). Even if you have seen the movie, which just happens to be one of my all time favorites (light the candle not the rat; light the candle not the rat ūüėČ ), you are probably still a little confused as to why this picture was chosen for this blog and if I have potentially lost my mind just a little bit. Well have no fear, the answer to all shall be revealed and probably is a combination of some of¬†all of the above.

During the past couple of weeks, while I was finishing reading Secret Five: Knowing and also recovering from a horrible flu virus that has been attacking our family for the last month (hence this post is quite late), I had some large amounts of time to reflect on this final chapter and its incredible gift of wisdom. And honestly, each time I would reflect, all I could see and hear (it might have been the cough syrup I am not going to lie) was the character portrayed above, also known as the muppet version of the Ghost of Christmas Present.

This second visitor to Scrooge, focused on the present Christmas moments, is by far my favorite. ¬†For those of you unfamiliar with this movie, this Ghost of Christmas Present is a jolly, bright, welcoming muppet with kind eyes, a warm smile, and inviting voice. He introduces himself by welcoming Scrooge to a large feast, filled with all the amazing and delicious foods associated with Christmas, and encouraging him to “Come and know me better man!” His job in the movie is to open Scrooge’s eyes to what is happening in the present as a result of his “bah humbug” behaviors and impart the knowledge of what Christmas is really about. I cannot help it: every time I see and hear this character on the movie, I just want to hug him and join in on the festivities (especially the feasting) because his presence is so inviting. I honestly cannot even stop from smiling while writing this and thinking about it.

And while smiling and thinking and hearing the muppet’s voice, it struck me:¬†Do I respond to Jesus the same way I do to this muppet character (a question I never dreamed I would ever ask ūüôā )?

For real though, do I see Jesus as warm, welcoming, loving, and jolly? Do I see Him as inviting me (and you) to partake in an amazing delicious feast and enjoy spending time together? Do I hear HIS VOICE saying “Come‚Ķ and Know me Better man (Sara)!” Because if we look through the Scriptures, I am pretty sure all of the above (minus the muppet part) is true. Jesus came not only to give us life, but also to connect with us in the here and now (the present) and help us to get to know God in the flesh so that we can also know God in the spirit. And herein lies the fifth and final secret to living: getting to know God.

“Come… and Know Me Better Man!!”

This one-liner that has been haunting me for the past couples of weeks (I obviously need to watch the movie again ūüôā ) has truly¬†been changing my perspective on getting to know God. When I started to examine the questions above as to my response to Jesus versus this fictional character, I realized that while I have always loved Go, it has been more from afar. I have never really viewed his invitation in such a welcoming, intimate, and inviting way. I have always seen it more as Him getting to know me (letting Him into my life, sharing my thoughts and dreams, looking to Him for my next steps and following His will) versus me getting to know Him (who He is, what He likes/dislikes, letting me into His life, getting to know His thoughts and dreams). He does not say, “Come and let me know you better”‚Ķ He says “Come‚Ķ and get to know me better!”

And yet, as Warren explains, this getting to know Him process is the whole foundation of everything when it comes to our life; both in terms of our original existence as well as our Christian living. Think about it: when we were first created, it was with the intent¬†to know and learn (for example, experiencing and naming the animals) about our world with a rational mind created with logic and the ability to ponder and analyze. We were also created from the very beginning to exist in relationship, both with God and with each other. So, from day one, we were created to KNOW things and to KNOW God by getting to KNOW¬†His creation as well as by being in relationship with and getting to KNOW Him. From day one, He was the first one to ever say “Come‚Ķ and KNOW me better man!”

And since we did not seem to grasp this and instead turned against Him and looked for other avenues of knowing (like sin and fruit and Satan and death), He even sent Jesus in the flesh to pursue us and invite us yet again to come and know Him. And this time, Jesus goes one step further and in my mind, embodies the invitation of the present because he welcomes us as FRIENDS. Can you believe that? Sometimes, it is actually hard for me to believe, but I am glad that Jesus used this picture because it creates a sense of invitation and intimacy much like the one of the muppet that has been used throughout this post. If Jesus and I are friends, then we are going to hang out, we are going to eat yummy food together, we are going to do fun things together, and we are BOTH going to get to know each other (not just Him getting to know me or me getting to know Him).

How does this apply to me?

Friendship with Jesus and knowing God better both sound great to me (especially if there is hanging out, yummy food, and fun things involved) but again, what does this look like practically? Last time I checked, I have not actually met Jesus in the flesh per se, and as I am typing this, He is not visibly sitting on the couch beside me drinking a cup of tea or waiting to go get nachos (although that would seriously be awesome!!!). According to Warren (and sounding very similar to Gordon’s idea of spending time in the garden), we get to know God when we spend quality time with Him on a regular basis (yep, sounds like a friendship to me). Practically, he recommends:

  • Knowing¬†God Through Physical Presence (our bodies): I don’t know about you, but there is something about being in the same physical space as someone that helps the “getting to know you” process. When our bodies share space, we breathe the same air, experience similar weather and sensations, and take part in sub-concious interactions with non-verbal and chemical communication. This allows us to get to know each other on multiple levels, and this is why most of the deepest human relationships require some form of physical relationship (such as going out to coffee, hanging out for a game/movie night, getting nails done, etc.) to really grow. I know I see this in my deepest relationships; even though the majority of my “best” friends are far away, we take every opportunity we can get to spend time together as much as possible. It is not just about being in the same space that is important, but it is being willing to sacrifice and take the time and effort to be in the space that matters as well. When I get to see my friends that are out of town, I usually have to travel too‚Ķ which requires moving my body and utilizing my body to honor our friendship. If I am willing to do so for my human relationships, it makes sense to me that this would be the case with our relationship with God too. If I really want to know God, and get to know Him in our friendship, then I need to be willing to physically spend time with Him as well as utilize my body and its abilities in support of our relationship. While this sounds weird to me as I am writing it, the example that keeps coming to mind is actually moving my body out of bed to do my quiet/prayer time in the morning. THIS IS THE TOUGHEST PART OF MY DAY!!! It is so hard for me to get out from under the covers while it is still dark and get to my prayer chair, but it is the giving of my body in this way that really helps me to know and grow in my relationship with the Lord. While I can (and do) still pray staying in my bed, I also have a tendency to fall back asleep and am less likely to get into the Word when this happens. My selfishness has decided that I win and my body works for me, instead of sacrificially using my body to support the relationship.
  • Knowing God Through Mental Presence (our minds): In addition to being “with” someone in body and being physically present, I think it is just as important (if not more so) to also be willing to share our minds with someone and be mentally present as well. I cannot tell you how many time, especially as a mom, I have felt so bad because while I am physically present and trying to have coffee with a friend while my kids are running around, I can barely pay attention because‚Ķmy kids are running around ūüôā It is very hard to truly get to know another person with distractions such as this, because even if I catch some of what is being said, I am not likely to retain any of it because he/she does not have my full attention. Once again, this hits me deep when I think about applying a similar principle to my relationship with God. So often, if I do make the time to be physically present (at church, in my quiet time, during small group), I am horribly distracted in my mind while I try to plan my grocery list, think about what needs to be accomplished tomorrow, or zone out because its the only time where no one is requiring my attention. And if I am distracted by these things when I am with God, just like being distracted with one of my friends, I am not likely going to be aware of what is really happening or going to retain any of the knowledge He is imparting because I am not really paying attention. My takeaway from this one: when I actually give my body to God and make it out of bed in the morning, I should probably check on my mind too and see if I can give Him my full attention as well. I might actually get to know Him a little better this way! ūüėČ
  • Knowing God Through Our Actions (our wills): If I am taking the time to be present, both physically and mentally with my friends, then it is very likely that I will get getting to know them and growing our friendship through our interactions. As this process takes place, I will get to know what they like and do not like, the things that make them smile, and the things that are most important to them. And if this is happening, then I will probably start to ACT on some of these things to be friendly and show them that I care. For instance, I found out years ago that my god-sister, whom I love dearly, loves caramel apples. They are one of her favorites and so anytime that we are together on vacation (our families vacation together on a bi-yearly basis), I do everything I can to find a caramel apple. Why? Because I want my WILL aka my actions to show her how much I care, that I know her, and I was thinking of her and loving her. Once again, when applied to my relationship with the Lord, this makes so much sense. If I want to get to know Him and grow our relationship, then I would look for similar opportunities to allow my actions to show Him that I know Him and care about Him. This might not involve a caramel apple, but instead might look like choosing to make financial decisions based on His principles of stewardship or sponsoring a child through a missions organization or even something like complementing a stranger on how I love her hair/nails/shirt. The point here is that I utilize my ACTIONs towards Him, just like I choose to do for my friends.
  • Knowing God Through Transparency (our hearts): This is probably one of the hardest ones for me in friendships, mainly because it is difficult for me to be vulnerable at times (I am working on this one). However, this one to me is where we choose to intentionally share ourselves with each other, meaning our thoughts and feelings and the deepest parts of our hearts. This is where true friendships really shine, because as we hang out, get to know each other, grow our friendships by acting kindly toward one another, we build trust and share the not so pretties with each other. And if we can do this and still choose to stick with each other, it creates a bond that grows stronger over time and can provide much comfort, encouragement, and support as we go through this life. I am blessed to have several of these friendships, where I feel safe and secure enough to share my heart with my friend and know that she can do the same with me. As I am writing this, I am envisioning that God wants us to know Him in this way too. That we can go to Him with our truest self, share our hearts, and seek out opportunities to get to know His heart as well. However, there is a question that keeps coming to mind on this one for me: Do I make myself available for God to share His heart with me too?? If one of my friends needs to talk, I do my best to make time for it as soon as I can. Do I do this with the Lord as well? Something for me to be thinking on as we continue‚Ķ maybe something for you to ponder as well.

Thus, as a re-cap, to practically get to know each other (as well as God), we can do so by being physically present, mentally present, using our actions to serve one another, and sharing our hearts with each other. Much like the way these  getting to know each other methods create a foundation for our human friendships that can then provide comfort, support, and enjoyment throughout life, the beauty of using these same principles in getting to know God is that it provides the foundation for everything else we have talked about with the other 4 secrets of living. Warren says it best:

“You can see how these four elements work together with the five secrets I have been sharing with you. The secret of living is fruitbearing, and the secret of fruitbearing is abiding. What is the secret of abiding? It is obeying: give God your will. What is the secret of obeying? It is loving: give God your heart. What is the secret of loving? It is knowing: give God your mind” (p.83).

So What do I do now?

There are so many directions we could go in for this last SMARTER not HARDER challenge for February’s book club, but I think I am leaning towards taking an inventory one more time. How well do you really know God? Would you consider Him a friend (all reverence still intended)?

If you have never seen the Muppet Christmas Carol (gasp), I actually encourage you to take the time to see it, especially the muppet I have mentioned so many times during this posting. What if you and I envisioned Jesus calling to us in this manner – inviting us as friends to dine at His table and get to know Him better?

If you are up for it (I know I am trying to be! ), I encourage you to say yes and try one or all of the four practical ways of getting to know Him better this week. For me, I started this morning, by seeking to know God with my physical and mental presence as I forced my self out of bed and into my prayer chair to give Him the first of my day in both body and mind. This has been the most difficult thing for me in the past few weeks, but after making it happen this morning, I can see such a huge difference in my attitude and demeanor when I start my day with Him. And honestly, my heart does truly desire to answer His call… and above all else… to come, and know Him better man‚ô•

 

March Book Club: The Purpose Driven Life

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*** 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 ūüôā BUT I WANTED TO GET THIS OUT FOR¬† MARCH SO WE CAN ALL GET TO READING THE NEXT BOOK TOO ūüôā ***

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. ūüôā

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 ūüôā ), 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).

Tentative Schedule

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!!!‚ô•

Secret Four: Loving aka “The Power of Love”

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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 ūüôā ). 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‚Ķ 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‚Ķ 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.

fuel-gauge-9274285

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‚Ķ 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‚Ķ and for that amazing, awesome power of love.‚ô•

 

Secret Three: Obeying aka “Actions Speak Louder than Words”

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So far in this teeny tiny little book, we’ve discussed some really big truths for our lives. First, we discussed the existential controversy of why we are here, and resolved that we were created on purpose with a purpose: to bear fruit. Then, we explored the how of fruit bearing: in that to truly bear fruit and be productive in living out this purpose, we must get as close as we can to our Creator (through Christ) and abide in Him. ¬†And while we were given four ways to abide (meditation, prayer, confession, and focused intent), there is a secret even to this practice that we must harness as well if we truly want to abide and bear fruit: we must learn to obey.

I don’t know about you, but the word obey sparks an explosion of reactions within me. First, my innate reaction is to rebel (yes, this is completely true of me believe it or not) as I am the epitome of being strong-willed. When someone tells me to do something (without asking or suggesting instead), my first desire is to determine what I want to do (regardless of why or what they said). This is definitely something I have had to learn how to tame throughout the years to live in peace with the important people in my life, like parents and husband, and even bosses (which is why I tend to work better self-employed LOL).

However, I am getting to know this whole world of “obey” from a different angle now that I am a parent. So, once I get past my initial gut reaction, my second reaction is a mixture of frustration and desire. I seriously must say the words “listen and obey” about a million times everyday. And each time I have to give the reminder, I get just a little more frustrated. Yet, I yearn so badly for my littles to obey because most often (like 99.9% of the time) I do actually know what is best for them and am instructing them out of love. And while I understand the bend to rebel and disobey that obviously comes naturally to them, I desperately want them to know the good and safe and amazing things the world (and Mommy) has to offer when they obey.¬†I envision that this is also how God feels as he tries to guide and direct us on His path that has His best for us.

One of the biggest lessons I am trying to get across right now when it comes to obedience, both to myself and my kiddos, is that how we behave really matters in the big scheme of things. You may say you want to listen and you understand that it is time to pick up your toys and get ready for lunch, but if you do not choose to obey and actually follow-through with your behavior, then you are going to end up back in time out. You may say that you want to listen to the doctor and you understand that it is time to start eating a little differently and exercising a little more, but if you choose not to obey and actually follow-through with your behavior, then your health is just going to keep declining. I bet you can see where I am going with this:

You may say you want to bear fruit and you understand that this means taking the time and effort to abide and get as close to Him as possible, but if you do not choose to obey and actually follow-through with your behavior, then you will stay exactly where you are or even worst, move in a direction that is even less productive and further away from where you want to be.

In each of these situations (and I am sure you can think of many many more), there is something we are aware we should do (that is not unrealistic or unhealthy), we are aware of what it takes to do it (and actually want to do it), but it is in the follow-through or obedience that the something actually happens. In essence, when we do or do not choose to obey, our actions speak louder than our words.

Our Actions Speak Louder than Words

This has to be one of my favorite little cliche sayings of all times (I am not joking) ¬†both personally and professionally because it is so incredibly true and applies to most situations. And like with most truth, there usually comes a love/hate relationship (so if you do not like this saying, I do¬†understand). For me, it is “love” because I am all about my actions lining up with my words, and making sure that what I do is a reflection of who I am. ¬†If I want to be a “good” wife, then my actions should reflect that intent (with some margin of error LOL). If I want to love my children, then the way I interact with them¬†should reflect this love (again with that small margin LOL). If I want to be a good professor, then the way I grade and respond to my learners should reflect this endeavor. ¬†Similarly, when it comes to abiding and doing all that it takes to truly abide, we are given two options that show by our actions more than our words our true intent: to obey or disobey.

Our natural, human bend is towards disobedience (even if you are not strong-willed like me, your flesh is still imperfect and will move towards disobedience at times). Disobedience happens when we know what we ought to do (and I am not talking unrealistic or unhealthy “should’s” in our life) and we purposefully choose to go our own way. ¬†We observe this process as even the sweetest, most mild babies morph before our very eyes into screaming, tantruming toddlers that all go through the “mine” stage, the “that’s not fair” stage, and the “let me see how far I can press you stage.” And even some adults, like my admission above, struggle daily with disobedience and its awful consequences.

As we all quickly learn, from toddler to adult, disobedience typically results in both inner and outer distress. While there may be momentary pleasure in the excitement of rebellion, this is only temporary, especially if you get caught. From the original act of disobedience in the garden, which if you remember correctly destroyed perfection and brought death and destruction to our world (just a little ripple right?!), we humans have sought to do things our own way, instead of the obedient way, and have to endure the consequences¬†that come with those actions. ¬†Even little acts of disobedience, like¬†disobeying the speed limit by just 5 miles can result in a ticket, a fine, points on your license, and in rare cases,¬†jail, depending on the nature and context of your offense (not to mention the inner distress of the shame when you have to tell your parents or spouse).¬†And while there are exceptions to every rule, and some acts of disobedience to man made laws are acceptable out of obedience to a higher law (like Daniel continuing to pray even though it was against the law), even these acts of disobedience usually are met with painful consequences (like the lion’s den). Disobedience always has something negative that comes with it, even if done for the right reasons.

In stark contrast, although sometimes with a true struggle, obedience provides the opportunity for health and growth and peace from the inside out. Even though it might not always be easy, choosing to obey always has something positive that comes with it. Obedience, as Warren describes, is submitting our will (our way) to God (p.56). It goes beyond just giving Him our thoughts and feelings, beyond knowing about the world and how to operate in a healthy way within it, to actually DOING those things. It means looking to Him for guidance and direction, and then following-through with what we are instructed. In most cases, when we obey, we experience beautiful results. Just imagine if Adam and Eve had actually obeyed their one rule and not taken that taste; I would probably not be writing this blog but hey, I would be hanging out in Eden and that honestly sounds like a lot more fun.

Whereas¬†obedience does not always ensure outward positive results, such as the many Biblical examples of Paul in prison, Daniel in the lion’s den, Shadrach in the fiery furnace, and even Christ on the cross, I have no doubt that these men experienced an inner peace and health and steadfastness knowing that they were doing the right thing, and that their obedience was showing in their actions. I know that even when I have chosen to obey and the outer context was not so great, the inner victory was so rewarding that it outweighed any of the negatives. Although obeying is not always my favorite, the inner feelings of obedience are always worth it in the end.

Bottom line: Whether you choose obedience or disobedience, you can be sure that your actions will make it loud and clear no matter what your words or intentions say.

How does this apply to me?

When our actions speak louder than our words, it allows us to see what really matters to us. It shows to all the world what we care about, what we want, and who we really are regardless of what we might say or how we might describe ourselves. We all know someone who knows and says all the right things, but then turns around and acts in a completely different way. And to be honest, we all have moments like this in our own lives, which is why understanding the secret of obedience, even as adults, is so important.

I was really challenged on this point at the end of last year/beginning of this year. Not by any one thing in particular, but by the prompting of the Holy Spirit and my own self as I reviewed the ending of 2015 and prepared for the beginning of 2016. In spending time with the Lord and reflecting on the course of 2015, I realized that there were things I had been talking about for years that were just not happening in reality. I would express these desires and callings both internally and externally, but there were just never any actions to go along with them. I can give you all of my justifications for the why behind the non-action: partly out of the fear of the unknown/failure, partly out of creating a routine of mismanaged time, partly out of selfishness and laziness, and mostly out of a whole lot of procrastination.

But to be brutally honest, no matter the reasons above, my life at that time had really lapsed into a pattern of disobedience because I knew what God was calling me to do with my time, my giftings, my health, my finances, and with my life and I just kept doing what I wanted to do instead and hating the results: I was bored, in debt, unhealthy, stagnant and BLAH.

And all of a sudden I realized: I did not like that my actions were speaking things I did not want them to say.

So, I decided to do something about it (hence this blog now exists ūüôā ). I decided to try something new and embrace¬†obedience no matter the cost. I focused in on 2016 as a year of intention and discipline and set out to let my actions truly reflect who I want to be, what I want to do, and how I want to do it.¬†I took it one step at a time (still am) and started with seeking first things first: God, what do you want for me in these next few moments, next few days, next few months, and what is your plan for me to get there? How can I walk in obedience and move towards you, instead of disobeying and walking in my own way?

As I sought the answers to these questions through those four principles of abiding (prayer, meditation, confession, and focused intent), I harnessed and submitted my will to act on them as well. And the result: I feel like I am truly alive for the first time in a very long time. I am seeing God move in and around me each day (even on the difficult ones and yes, those still happen), I am learning something new on the regular (which I love), I am watching the acts of obedience build positive things all around me, and I wake up most days (not everyday just yet) with an excitement and a hope and an anticipation for the cool things that are going to happen.

And best of all, I love love love what my actions are speaking to the world around me.

Maybe you have come to that point as well. You know why you are here, you have a good idea of what or where or who God wants for your life, but you have been stuck in a pattern of disobedience that has been causing distress on the inside and out. Your heart and mind have not matched up with your actions, and you are ready for a change. You are ready for your actions to speak louder than your words in a good way, and truly reflect who you are and who you want to be. If so, now is the time my friend! Harness that will, take ownership of those actions, and move into the obedience that brings hope and freedom and peace.

What do I do now?

So, let’s get straight to the point this week: What are your actions saying about you? What are they shouting to the world around you? Are they saying: look at time, I am abiding and getting as close to Christ as possible and bearing some delicious fruit? Are they screaming: Look at me, I only care about myself and what matters to me, and making money or having success in my life? Are they whispering: please don’t look at me, I do not want to be seen or noticed, I just want to do what I can to get by before I die? Are they not saying anything… just on mute because your actions are really not present; most of the days are spent with your head down and hiding because you are afraid you might fail, afraid to try, afraid that

This week, I encourage you to intertwine the last three secrets we have talked about into your daily life. Grab a sheet (or more) of paper and write down (change the wording if it suits you better) the following:

I am here to bear this fruit… [fill in one or more fruits you are aware of right now].

To bear fruit, I must abide (get as close as I can to Christ) by… [fill in one or more ways you can pursue abiding in your life].

To¬†abide, I must decide to obey¬†(put these thoughts and words into action) by… [fill in one more more ways you will live out your obedience through abiding and bearing fruit this week].

Mine looks a little something like this:

I am here to bear fruit in loving others (my husband, children, and the people around me) and using my gifts in service (through writing, mentoring, and teaching).

To bear these fruits, I must abide by meditating on Scripture, staying in prayer, and reviewing my focus when the evidences of abiding are not present (found this to be very important for an attitude adjustment last week).

To abide in these ways, I must decide to obey by setting aside the first of my day as my time to read Scripture and choose what I want to meditate on, looking for and utilizing opportunities to pray (meals, going to preschool, before naps and bedtime, if anyone is scared or hurt or in need), and prioritizing Monday mornings for my Sabbath rest (in which I review, renew, and refocus for each week).

Once you have written yours out, I encourage you to put it somewhere where you might see it throughout the day. For me, it is currently hanging by a magnet on the fridge¬†in our kitchen because that is where I spend the majority of my time. By writing it out, it allows me (and you) to set a focus and begin the first steps of obedience through a resolve to see these things become a reality. By posting it in a place we can regularly see, it serves as a reminder to take the second step in obedience and actually act upon our intent and resolve.¬†As we resolve and act, resolve and act, and actually live out the obedience… you might be surprised at how everyone starts to take note and things start to change around you (little by little or even big by big)… because as we all know, our actions really do speak louder than our words.‚ô•

 

 

Secret Two: Abiding aka “The Closer the Better”

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“The branch does not bear fruit by struggling, but by abiding” (p.29).

Envision you are walking through a beautiful vineyard right around sunset. The lighting is perfect and your senses are overwhelmed by the sweet smells of blossoming flowers and ripened fruits, the breathtaking views of green and purple and brown, the soft sounds of nature as they sing a melodious song, maybe you are sipping the sweet nectar of a recent harvest as you stroll along, and the air is light and clean and just slightly warm against your skin as a gentle breeze passes by. All is calm and at peace and wonderful.

Now imagine the same experience, but this time, instead of the soft sounds of nature, you hear the horrific screams of labor and anguish as the branches among the vines struggle to grow and create and bear life-giving fruit; much like a multitude of women all in the throes of labor with moaning, screaming, and wailing as life is born out of pushing, pulling, intensity and pain. Not exactly calm and peaceful and wonderful this time, huh?

Fortunately for us, branches do not have to go through birthing pains to produce life, and Jesus chose to use their example versus that of a laboring woman to show us what it means to truly live and bear fruit through this concept of abiding.¬†And while the graphic above was mainly chosen because I found humor in its existence (LOL), it actually¬†gives a realistic portrayal of what it means when we truly “abide” as the method¬†to¬†bearing fruit. Instead of struggling and working and trying to make the fruit happen on our own, we are actually encouraged to spend more time resting, calming, and getting as close to Christ as possible (just like branches on the vine in the peaceful vineyard) in order to bear the best fruit.

The Closer the Better

I don’t know about you, but the word “abide” is not a part of my normal vocabulary. In fact, outside of Christian conversation, I do not believe I have ever used it (who knows, maybe you use it all the time?!). ¬†So, to really understand it, I had to look it up and get to know its definition. According to a variety of dictionaries, abide means to stay, to continue, to accept, to follow, to remain close to or even within. It implies a measure of proximity, and in this way, to truly abide infers the closer the better. What an amazing concept¬†when¬†we think about our lives: to truly live a productive and fruitful life, we need to abide, to get as close to Christ as possible (the closer the better) and remain there as long as possible.

While this sounds wonderful, and paints a pretty picture for us to visualize, again I press in for the practical. And thankfully, Warren answers with four recommendations on how we can abide in Christ so that we can remain as close as possible and have this closeness, this abiding, infiltrate our every moment.

  1. Get Close with¬†Meditation: I think I have heard this somewhere before (I guess that means I should take note and listen), possibly in the last book we read. It makes sense that the same process associated with abiding would be involved with ordering our private worlds: both are about lining up our lives with Christ and living out His Will each day. As a reminder, meditation in this context is not the stereotypical yoga pose of clearing your mind for hours at a time. Instead, it is a purposeful, repetitive focus on truth that allows us to integrate whatever we are repeating to influence¬†our hearts and minds. A personal example is¬†from a time when I was actually in counseling (and not the counselor ūüôā ) dealing with a specific type of phobic anxiety. My counselor recommended that I meditate on a truth that I wanted to implement in my life when it came to my anxiety, and she recommended the¬†acronym of CALM, which stood for Christ Always Loves Me. Whenever I started to feel anxious, I was to meditate: close my eyes, repeat this word, reflect on its meaning, and let the truth of these words influence me in such a way as to decrease my nerves. As the practice gets repeated in a variety of situations, this response becomes second-nature and extinguishes the anxiety (which it did for me). To this day, it is a practice I have maintained and love to use with Scriptures, truthful cliches, and important lessons I learn for anything in life (not just anxiety).
  2. Get Close with Prayer: In addition to meditating, being in conversation with God draws us closer to Him. This just makes logical sense right?! Think of our most intimate human relationships like marriage or parenting (not the friend you only see once a year and can pick right up with; that is a unique relationship and while seemingly close, is a different form of intimacy): it is very rare to find healthy marriages or parent-child relationships when communication is lacking. In fact, I would easily say that this is one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest, that bring families and couples into my office as a counselor. Communication has stopped, and with it intimacy, respect, understanding, and peace have left as well. The same situation can happen in our relationship with Christ. When we stop communicating, we stop getting to know Him and sharing ourselves with Him, and over time, we will start to grow apart.  However, once communication has been restored, and when these families/ couples start talking and laughing and sharing once again, you can see the bonds of intimacy rebuild and remain. Again, the same holds true of our relationships with Christ: when we re-establish communication through prayer, in both talking to and listening to Him, its pulls us into intimate relationship with Him. If abiding or getting close is the goal, then communicating is key.
  3. Get Close with Confession: One aspect of communication that is not always easy, but incredibly freeing and healing, is that of confession. When we leave things in the dark or hidden, it keeps us from authentically sharing who we are when we communicate. And this always keeps us from genuine intimacy or closeness, which is necessary for abiding (remember, the closer the better). This is where another metaphor, the elephant in the room, helps us to understand the importance of acknowledgement and confession. Imagine God is inviting you to come and abide with Him in the living room of your house. You hear Him calling to you while you are in your bedroom, and you desire to go spend time with Him so you set out for the door to make it to where He is. However, the thing that you do not want anyone to know about (even though technically He does know about it) is an elephant blocking the door to your room. Until you acknowledge that the elephant is there and deal with its door-blocking presence, you will only be able to hear the Lord calling from afar. This is done through the process of confession, where we invite the Lord into our room, the most intimate of intimates, and let Him see the elephant and mess we call our own and find forgiveness and redemption and intimacy as we break through any barriers keeping us from Him. Once we confess and invite Him into these things, we can get as close as possible without these hindrances.
  4. Get Close with Focused Intent: Getting close to God does not just happen on accident (although it might be nice if it did). Because our God is all about free will and choice, He allows us to choose whether or not we want to abide in Him. Just like many things in life (obtaining an academic degree, remaining faithful in a marriage, losing weight/living a healthy exercise of proper diet and exercise, etc.) it all begins with a choice. I can choose to eat doughnuts all day long and hang out on the couch and watch my waist size increase while not enjoying the process (although the doughnuts and couch do sound tempting) or I can choose to have an occasional doughnut, enjoy occasional movie nights on the couch, and still exercise, eat right, and enjoy a certain level of fitness. ¬†Similarly, for many in the world, the choice to pursue a relationship with Christ is an obvious “No” and they utilize their intent and will for things outside of fruit bearing and abiding. However, if your heart’s desire is to have meaning through a fruitful existence, and you want to know and grow in God’s presence, then you have the ability to focus your intent on getting to know Him. You can choose to spend time meditating, praying, confessing, and intentionally seeking out opportunities to get as close as you can to Him this side of heaven.

When we make the time and space for each of these important practices in our lives, it allows us to stay close to Christ and truly abide in Him and His love. And according to both Jesus and Warren, the closer we get and the longer we stay, the more fruit we produce.

How does this apply to me?

So, not only do we have a why/reason for living in this goal of fruit bearing, but now we also have the how, or method of living, through the process of abiding. Sometimes having the how does not feel like enough though. Sometimes we meditate, pray, confess, and focus our intent but are not sure if it is really making a difference. Sometimes the world still gets to us and lies to us that God is far away or distant or maybe your abiding just really is not working. I know that sometimes I fall into this trap and faulty line of thinking, and so I am thankful that Warren speaks to that as well in this chapter.

As both a challenge and an encouragement, Warren reminds us that “we never have to ask ¬†‘Am I abiding in Christ?’ because there will be several [more like six ūüôā ] evidences in out lives when we are in communion [abiding] with the Lord” (p.33). If you are feeling discouraged in your abiding or have just started this abiding adventure, look for these things in your life to affirm that there¬†is evidence of “the closer the better” in your own life:

  1. There will be fruit: See previous post on fruit bearing (LOL). For real though, if you are truly abiding and getting as close to Christ as possible, it will be natural to bear the fruit we discussed in the first chapter. You will naturally start seeking to help others and show them Christ, begin operating out of a holy and honorable character, seek to share your possessions with others, produce good work, and assume a stance of gratitude in all things. If you see these blossoming within and around you, you are on the right track!
  2. There will be pruning: Aw yes… the dreaded d-word: DISCIPLINE. As you get closer to Christ and stay there, He will begin to reveal things in your life that are not helpful for your own growth process, maybe a weed here or there or a stem that it not being used or a bit of old fruit that was not picked, and He will prune them to allow further growth and health. Sometimes this process can be painful or discouraging in the moment. I know when my mom comes and prunes my rosebushes (I do not garden¬†remember), I always feel so bad for the poor things. They go from being HUGE and beautiful and flowering to being cut down almost all the way to the ground. After pruning, they appear small and naked and I am just a tad hesitant that maybe they will not come back. But every year, they grow back bigger, stronger, and more beautiful than ever, because the pruning process has allowed them to conserve their strength, survive during the winter, and flourish in the spring. If it is your season to be pruned, there¬†may be some pain involved and you may feel naked or small or question your own resiliency, but I encourage you to trust the gardener, as He definitely knows what He is doing. Take heart, your season of growth and health and flourishing is coming!
  3. There will be humility: Warren calls this a “growing sense of weakness” (p.40) and while I have always loved the idea that in our weakness, He is strong, ¬†I actually prefer the term humility here because it is really less about strength and more about recognizing we need more of Him and less of our selves. We are quickly understanding that in order to bear the best fruit and be the best branch we can, we have to be connected to something outside of ourselves that is thriving and healthy. We need something outside of us to care for us and give us all that we need, including a good pruning here and there. We admit that there are many things we cannot do on our own, and we humble ourselves with the recognition that He truly is the vine and we truly are the branches. Apart from Him, we cannot do anything substantial and so we recognize our place/position in life as one of humility.
  4. There will be answered prayers: When we are spending time in prayer and abiding in Christ, we will be able to take note of the answers to these prayers occurring in the world around us. We will see God at work in our hearts, our minds, our circumstances, our loved ones, and anything we bring to Him in prayer. Remember though, sometimes these answers will not be what we had hoped for or wanted. There are definitely¬†a few things¬†that have been on my prayer list for years and I know without a doubt that they are not going unanswered, but the answer is “not yet.” I know this, because I have observed the power of prayer in my life for quite some time, and I can see the confirmations of what is to come even though the answer I am looking for has not yet happened. Same with the answer of “no.” Although it is difficult to hear most times, a negative answer is still an answer, and if we are truly abiding, we will see this as answered prayer in our lives as well as guidance and direction about what not to do next.
  5. There will be love for others: If you have been in church or in Christian circles for some time, you will have probably heard the verse “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In fact, it is often one of the first verses I have seen children learn because it is so foundational and also nicely short and sweet. But this little verse has a huge truth behind it, that God not only loves us, but IS love and this love is so big that it is contagious. Thus, when we spend time with Him and in Him and get as close as possible to Him, we cannot help but overflow with this same love for others in our lives. This means we genuinely care for people we have not even met as well as the people that are closest to us (although sometimes loving strangers is easier) and this love influences our daily interactions. We operate with the loving characteristics described in 1 Corinthians 13 in that we are patient, kind, honorable, secure, selfless, protective, trustworthy, steadfast, and hopeful.
  6. There will be joy from the inside out: And finally, if we are truly abiding, we will have this crazy joy that starts from the inside out, regardless of whatever is happening around us. I always envision someone totally at peace and smiling in the midst of utter chaos (miraculous mayhem anyone?) or Paul singing while in prison when I think about peace and joy that surpass all understanding. When we are rooted and grounded by abiding in Christ, we are not moved by our present circumstances, but we get to operate out of the joy that comes from knowing Him and remaining in Him.

The beauty of these six evidences is that they are very difficult to create on our own (they have to come from an external source) and they are seasonal (much like fruit bearing). Thus, it is rare, but possible, that we will be experiencing the full force of all six at once. However, as you continue to abide, you will be able to observe all six present in your life at specific times. For instance, I am currently in a fruitful season in my life where love and joy and being humbled by what God is doing and all of the answered prayers are all around. This is not my season of pruning (last time I checked, it is not wise to prune something while it is bearing fruit), but I had been in a difficult season of pruning leading up to this time. And I know that I will enter into a pruning season once again, but for now am going to enjoy the fruit for as long as I can!

What do I do now?

As a recap: Last week, we were challenged to spend some time pondering our own meaning of life and determining if fruit-bearing was a good fit (while I believe it is, this is a choice we each have to make and determine for ourselves). ¬†If that decision has been made (even if it is only for a trial run ūüôā ), then you get to move on to the next step which is to look at abiding as the means to which we bear fruit. In doing so, I encourage you to take time this week to review your life (maybe during your Sabbath time??) and see if any of the six evidences above are present and how. Are any not present? Any thoughts as to why?

Maybe, like me, the majority of the six are present, and you are excited because you have been desperate to be abiding with Christ and have really been getting as close as you can and are seeing the fruits of this time with Him. Enjoy this realization, but also be cautious! I find that when things are going great like this, I need to PERSEVERE in my abiding time, as it often gets pushed aside because things are going so well. I do not want to stop abiding because things are good (could you imagine if the branch just left in the middle of the harvest?) but instead want to press in deeper and bear as much as I can during this season of productivity.

Maybe, like other times in my life, you are in the middle of a pruning season, which I know from experience can be difficult and sometimes discouraging. I encourage you to take heart and continue to abide, even if it is out of desperation. I have often found that these are the times when I really build up my spiritual reserves, when I find the joy welling up from the inside out (even though it does not make sense), and the humility that presents is actually a relief because I can rest in the fact that God is in control and there is nothing I can do but wait on Him, abide in Him, and get as close as I can during this time.

Maybe you have never really understood or heard of this whole abiding thing, other than in passing, and have noted that pretty much all of the six or at least most of them are missing from your life. This would not surprise me at all, given the current state of our world and even the current state of most Christians. Abiding is not something we talk about very often, especially since it requires time and rest, two concepts we know are significantly lacking in most of our lives. Be encouraged; if you are reading this then the option to abide and draw close to Christ is still available if you are willing to embrace it and move towards Him.

Regardless of your current situation, I challenge all of us to focus our intent ūüôā on abiding in the next month (feel free to keep it going for the next year and beyond but it is good to start somewhere) as we finish out this book. Refer back to the four ways we abide and resolve to intertwine them in your daily life. Start with only one if that is most manageable, but then look to add in the others until all four are regularly present. In doing so, my prayer is that we will all begin to enjoy¬†abiding in its fullest sense… and experience the truth of “the closer the better.”¬†‚ô•

 

 

 

Secret One: Fruitbearing aka Why We are Here

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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 ‚Äúbear fruit‚ÄĚ in our lives. This ‚Äúfruit‚ÄĚ can take a variety of shapes and sizes, but basically ‚Äúbearing fruit‚ÄĚ 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 ūüôā ***

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 ‚Äúfruitful.‚ÄĚ Take a look:

  1. 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 ‚Äúhow‚ÄĚ 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?
  2. 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 ‚Äúnothing else but the beauty and character of God displayed in our everyday lives‚ÄĚ (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).
  3. 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?
  4. 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 ‚Äúcharacter is who you are when no one is looking‚ÄĚ 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)?
  5. 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?
  6. 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. ‚ÄúThere is fruit to be produced where you are that nobody else can produce but you‚ÄĚ (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 ‚Äúhow‚ÄĚ behind fruitbearing next chapter), I encourage you to take time this week (maybe during your Sabbath rest and reviewing process ūüôā )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.‚ô•

February Book Club:5 Secrets of Living

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“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.

Tentative Schedule

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:

  1. Introduction/Preface: This Post right here! ūüôā ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†2/1 Mon
  2. Chapter 1: Fruitbearing                                            2/5 Fri
  3. Chapter 2: Abiding                                                   2/8 Mon
  4. Chapter 3: Obeying                                                  2/15 Mon
  5. Chapter 4: Loving                                                    2/22 Mon
  6. 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.‚ô•

Sector Five: Rest aka True Rest is Best

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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?

  1. 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!!!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. ūüôā

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. ‚ô•

 

Out of the Mouth of Babes: Better Out than In

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“Mommy, I want to run away from you again…”

This was the comment that I never expected to hear come out of my son’s mouth as we pulled into the driveway. Yesterday, for the first time ever in our three years of life together (of course, he has only been walking/running for 1.5 years of them), he had run away from me outside when I told him to go up on the porch. At the time of his “great escape,” I had been working with his little brother, and he knew I was occupied. What he did not know is that moms are built with go-go-gadget arms and superhuman speed, and so with littler one in tow, I was still able to grab him and get him before he got away (not so funny then; but now I can smirk a little at the thought). After some pretty intense¬†discipline (we do not play about safety issues), I felt I had made myself clear that running from Mommy, especially when I have instructed you to do the opposite, is never ok.

So, you can imagine my surprise¬†when I heard that sweet little voice say those honest, yet incredibly disobedient words. Apparently, this was a practice makes perfect lesson, and so I settled in for a learning moment and discussion (and made sure my shoes were ready to go just in case). I told him I was thankful for his honesty, we talked about his reasons for wanting to run (it is fun), and we talked about what happened last time he ran (mommy got real upset… yes son, she did). We also talked about how he could make a different choice this time (to walk inside like he knows how to do), and then I encouraged him to show me how he could do it. What started off with the potential to end with tears and discipline as it had once before, ended with a wonderful celebration moment when he successfully walked to the door and waited, chose obedience over disobedience, and felt good inside and out about his decision.

While all ended well, and you may be thinking “thanks Sara… what a great story but what’s the point,” this interaction between mother and son has stuck with me all week to the point that I need to write about it and share it with you. In fact, as I have seen God work before, this writing¬†may be intended specifically for you, so please hang on and see how it unfolds (to be honest, I am curious too LOL ūüôā ).

You see, what has been haunting me all week about this interaction, is the awesome confession that came forth (unprompted mind you) from my little one. While it may have been surprising to me in the moment, it has transformed into an incredibly humbling and inspiring lesson of how we should approach our own lives, and the disobedient/destructive/detrimental thoughts and actions we harbor in our own hearts and minds. That’s right: we were created for confession, and as my son so nicely demonstrated in his obedient walk to the door, it can have amazing positive effects for our lives.

Confession: Better Out than In

In our current society of independence, isolation, and anonymity (thank you technology), things happen everyday that no one knows about. You or I can easily cheat on a test, watch something we know we probably should not, or give false pretenses about who we are and what we are about (yes, this is still a lie) with just the click of a button. And NO ONE knows what we are doing, so the little kid in us feels somewhat justified because if no one sees, it cannot really be as bad as it seems. Plus, if you have not been caught yet, you probably think you can continue with it because what everyone else does not know is not really hurting them. Deep down though, we know the truth on the inside and when this truth does not match up with the thoughts or actions we have on the outside, we begin to operate in a state known as incongruence.

When we begin to experience incongruence, it¬†always leads¬†to distress. Why? Because when our inner and outer are at odds, we cannot enjoy¬†life to the fullest due to¬†the often invisible but monumental struggle taking place within us. Think about the child’s toy of fitting a square block into a round hole: it does not work and you can continue to frustrate yourself by trying to make it work but usually this just ends in tears and damage. The same is true when we are acting¬†like someone we are not; when the outer does not properly align with the inner,¬†we¬†describe these feelings as¬†guilt, shame, and angst, and we cannot settle because who we¬†want to be¬†on the inside does not match who we are being on the outside. The longer these thoughts and behaviors in our lives stay hidden and in the dark and we remain in a state of incongruence, often the bigger it appears to become and the less we seem to be able to stop it. What started as something seemingly small and innocent may grow into something big and ominous, leaving us feeling helpless and powerless.

I have witnessed this time and time again throughout my life as both friend and counselor. It may start with a subtle and passing thought that “hmmm… that co-worker is handsome” even though the thinker is currently married (although not incredibly happy about it) and yes, a passing thought like this can¬†by itself¬†be very innocent and happen to anyone at anytime (even those happily married). Then, “randomly” she and he happen to sit by each other at the next work meeting, and wow, he is also funny. No harm though right, because she is married and took vows and even though it is not what she expected, she has no intentions of being unfaithful. But then they get tasked with the same work project, and now she has to spend the next couple of weeks with him working, and in the process they begin to share pieces of their lives about family and marriage and things in conversation and soon she has moved from innocent thoughts to wondering what it would be like to be on a date with him, or if her husband could just listen like him, or look at her like him, and the second she moves from her initial innocent thought to comparing to her husband or something more, she has taken the first step on a slippery slope of potential infidelity and marital destruction. Her outer (starting to look at her co-worker and her marriage differently as well as her role in both relationships) has started moving away from her true inner (wanting to have a healthy, strong, faithful marriage) and if she is not careful to confess, the incongruence will continue to grow from thoughts into action and the ultimate result: despair and distress.

And this can happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime in any situation. If you are thinking “not me,” I pray that you are right but in my personal and professional experience, watch out. Maybe you are at the gym instead of work, or a bible study (yes even there), or in a late night chat room. Maybe it is not infidelity but feelings of “man, I wish I could be like her… she is super mom..” or giving in to feelings of insecurity “I am worthless and could never really achieve what I had hoped for..” or self-medicating to try to feel better “I know this does not solve anything, but it is the last time… for real this time…” Any circumstance where our outer experience begins to deviate from our inner truth can lead to incongruence,¬†hurt, and heartache. And until we¬†find a way to¬†get back into alignment, pretty much everything we do will be tainted by the incongruence in or lives.

Fortunately, this is where the beauty of confession and the title of this post truly rings true (and is not just applicable to bodily functions ūüôā ). Confession, as God intended, is the first step in bringing about the¬†congruence, relief, and freedom that so many of us are longing for. It is bringing all the stuff we want to keep hidden into the open, where we can experience the relief of “better out than in.” When we confess, we acknowledge or admit that things are out of alignment or incongruent, and we begin the process of re-aligning so that who we are and who we want to be match up. Confession is so important because it brings the things we have kept hidden, sometimes that absolutely no one knows about, into the light where others (not necessarily everyone; but trusted others [see below for more on this]) can see.

This is usually where I hear a resounding: Wait. You want me to tell someone about this? Are you kidding me?!?

Why? Because while the concept of being congruent, free and at peace sounds beautiful, it also involves overcoming the risks involved with uncovering a secret that may actually hurt more than just us: it may hurt the ones we love most. And while I would love to keep this post mostly happy and upbeat (not sure if that is really happening right now anyway), I also want to keep it honest. Sometimes confession is hard, and sometimes it hurts us and those that are involved, but it ALWAYS is better to do as early and as thoroughly as possible because NO TRUE PEACE, let me say it again, NO TRUE PEACE can happen without it.

***Important Disclaimer: This post, as many others, is directed towards thoughts and actions that are not healthy, but not typically illegal or outwardly harmful to others. If you are struggling with something that is harmful to your self or anyone else or is illegal in any form, I still support confession as the number one response. Unfortunately, as with any confession, there are also consequences that may result (such as legal actions or needed assistance to maintain safety/sobriety) but facing the consequences truly outweighs the captivity of incongruence. If this applies to you, I encourage you to seek a certified professional, such as a counselor or pastor or lawyer or law enforcement, and start there with your confession.***

You cannot work on authentically healing your marriage with something that still needs to be confessed; because the trust that is destroyed when you are caught will do more damage than you are envisioning from a proactive confession. You cannot work authentically on growing a ministry if you are constantly acting out of fear or jealousy or insecurity, because you will be driven by your own selfish needs and building a foundation on hurt and fear rather than strength and truth. Think about it: If I try to build anything using square blocks in round holes, it will be uneven, unstable, and ultimately, ineffective.

So, while the thought of exposing your deepest darkest secrets (potentially¬†much more serious than my son’s wanting to run away from me again)¬†may seem overwhelming or even terrifying to you, the truth of the matter is that once something like this has been exposed to the light, it invites healing, accountability, and empowerment. What once was a burden¬†that may have been controlling you because you are trying to deal with it alone and in the dark and hoping and praying no one finds out, becomes something you begin to deal with one piece at a time with those trusted others are praying for, encouraging, and challenging you to continue. ¬†And while it may hurt those around you when it first comes out, resolving that hurt will be the first square block in a square hole that results in a solid foundation for the healing, restoration, and growth that is to come.

I have also been blessed¬†to witness and experience this process as well. I gave you an example from my own life in my last post (yes, I still “heart” my husband) when I confessed my horrible thoughts and feelings of hatred, which did not match my true desires or feelings of my husband and marriage, to a trusted friend for wise counsel. I then also confessed those things to my husband, which I know hurt him deeply, but also allowed both of us to be honest and work on true reconciliation instead of me trying to reconcile while still harboring hate in my heart (not effective). I have had other friends confess to me their own concerns: lapses in judgement regarding members of the opposite gender, issues with maintaining integrity at work or in school, jealousies and insecurities spurred on by various circumstances; all examples that involved themselves as well as others and in which they were crippling under the pressure of their own incongruence but experienced the amazing relief and insight that comes with confession.

It is by no means easy, but as we walk through confession and move towards congruence, our inner and outer worlds can begin to exist in harmony, and the distress that was once tainting our moments is now released and replaced with peace and potential.

So Where Do I Start??

Confession is not always as simple as it was for my 3 year old (it helps that this is one of his first real times, it was a proactive confession and not after the fact, and it [thank you Jesus] went well). Many of us as adults have had years, sometimes decades even, to cultivate incongruences that are dark and ugly and have been holding us captive under their weight.  However, there is no time like the present to move towards congruence, and I promise you, while it may appear to get worst before it gets better (confessions are always scary and difficult), the benefits of congruence and living in the light far outweigh the oppression of the darkness. Here are a few tips to get started and begin working towards your own congruent relief. I truly believe you will be excited with the outcome, even if the process is difficult and involves some initial tears and hurt:

  1. Confess to Self and God: As with any sin or issue in our lives, the first step is acknowledging to ourselves that there is actually a problem. However, most of us get this step down without an issue, because we know from the beginning that something was wrong, that the thought or action was not helpful or healthy, but it still stays in the dark because confession to self allows understanding without accountability. Fortunately, along with confessing to ourselves, we can partner this step with also confessing to God, and starting the process of admitting to someone outside of ourselves the truth of the matter, which invites outer responsibility, acknowledgement, and accountability. And the wonderful part about confession to God before anyone else is that there is no surprise because He already knowns, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) only recognition of truth and grace, and in our confession, He is quick to forgive and purify¬†us (1 John 1:9). In confessing to God, we get to begin again with a clean slate, and invite in the empowering of HIs Holy Spirit to be with us at all times to say “no” to whatever we had confessed and say “yes” to the better truth that awaits us.
  2. Confess to Someone Else: After confessing to ourselves and to God, we need to take the hardest step of finding another person to confess to as well. Notice I implied one person, although 2 or 3 is acceptable but I would not extend it beyond this in most cases (unless there is something that is affecting a large group of people, such as a pastor in need of confessing to his congregation; but that is for another post). The reason for keeping it small is to guard yourself in terms of who gets to speak truth into your life as well as to manage your own vulnerability in sharing something so intimate about yourself. This confession should only take place with a TRUSTED person or persons, so as not to tempt anyone for gossip or in turn, add damage to you as you are in the process of healing.  Depending on the nature of the confession, this may be a close and trusted friend (like it was for me) or it may need to be a counselor or pastor (which I have also sought out and utilized for confession in the past). Whomever you choose, the goal of this confession to another human is to acknowledge out loud what you have been dealing with, process it out (just like my son and I did) including your and their current feelings and thoughts, brainstorm together a plan of moving forward toward congruence, and then inviting this person or persons to hold you accountable to walk out the plan you have established. It is amazing the life-change that can result, and that I have seen time and time again, when we let trusted others know those deep, dark things, and then purpose together to walk in the light!
  3. Confess and then seek¬†Congruence: After you have confessed to your self, God, and someone else, the next step is to begin the re-alignment process. If my son had just stopped at letting me know what he was thinking, but continued to operate in that same line of thinking, he would have ended up in the same place as the first time he ran: in tears and being disciplined. For some of us, this is the way that we learn and it takes us a few times of confessing and doing it again and confessing and doing it again before the next step of congruence really starts to take hold. However, do not be discouraged; congruence is always within reach! We move towards congruence when we look at what we have confessed and determine to step in the other direction. In essence, we follow my son’s example and choose to show how we can walk in obedience and make it to the front porch (not run away again).¬†The best way to begin working towards this¬†is to take a moment and write out (yes WRITE or TYPE so it is in written form and not just floating around in your head) what you want for yourself on the inside. Things like “I want to be pure in my internet usage” or “I want to be content in my own circumstances” or ” I want to be sober from [insert your confession here]” or “I want to be faithful to my spouse in my heart and mind as well as my body” or “I want to uphold my integrity both within and outside of the [classroom, workplace, etc.].” You might even find scripture or quotes that affirm these statements and provide added encouragement and motivation to actually pursue them.¬†These written declarations then give us the guidance and direction in which we can re-align our thoughts and actions. When you begin to think or do something in opposition (remember square block in round hole), it is time to stop, evaluate, confess if needed, and try again.

This week, I encourage you to take some time for soul-searching and see if anything prompting confession surfaces. If you are thinking it “might be” something, odds are that it is, and a safe rather than sorry approach is what I¬†typically take when this happens.

For some of us, congruence is out current state of living, and those around them can see it through the inner joy and peace that seems to overflow into others. If this is you, I ask that you would spend some time praying for those that are not currently enjoying congruence as I am sure quite a few people in your own circle could come to mind.

Some of us, like my son, have little things that pop up here and there that when confessed, help us to learn and grow and continue to operate in the light without too much difficulty. If this is you, enjoy the ease of the confession process and use it to its fullest before something small becomes a bigger concern.

And still for others of us, this will be a life-changing, earth-shifting process where we finally have the courage to expose our deepest, darkest secret to the light, overcome any potential risks, and dive deep into the pursuit of congruence that will ultimately lead to wholeness and harmony within.

Whatever your situation, I pray that we will all heed the wisdom of a small child just being honest with his mommy and take it to heart that it is totally worth it to seek healing, congruence and peace. I promise you, as even my son innocently recognized, these things are always better out than in. ‚ô•