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 🙂 ). 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.♥

 

 

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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 🙂 ) 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 🙂 ] 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 🙂 ), 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 🙂 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.” ♥

 

 

 

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 “bear fruit” in our lives. This “fruit” can take a variety of shapes and sizes, but basically “bearing fruit” means I am accomplishing my special purpose in this world, or in other words, being purposefully productive. It means searching for and then living out the calling on my life, and purposefully thinking, speaking, and acting in such a way that accomplishes the tasks I have been given in this world.

***Warning: This book has an unusual flow (LOL) in which it technically works backwards (at least from my point of view). It starts with the question of why are we here and the answer of fruitbearing, and then moves into the how of making that happen in the next chapter. So next week, we will be looking at how to bear fruit through abiding and then how to abide through obeying and so on and so forth. One day, I want to read this book from back to front and see how it changes my perspective, so if you enjoy it, this might be something fun for you too 🙂 ***

While talking about fruit-bearing is nice and pretty to think about, I personally need a little bit more to really understand and apply it. Fortunately, Warren describes six things we can look for in our own lives to see if we are or are not being “fruitful.” Take a look:

  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 “how” at this moment (that is next week) but the results: do the people around you know who you are, and does your interaction with them (quiet or loud) show them Christ and help them grow?
  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 “nothing else but the beauty and character of God displayed in our everyday lives” (p.19). In other words, are your insides turned toward what is good, what is honorable, what is positive (Phil. 4:8).  Are your hearts/minds in the right place? Do they seek to do good and have positive thoughts/feelings? Again, the focus is not on the how of making this happen, but whether or not it is something you are experiencing (I promise, the how is next).
  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 “character is who you are when no one is looking” and this rings true as an important fruit to consider. If you are truly a branch, and truly bearing fruit, it will occur no matter who is watching. An apple tree does not stop producing because no one is watching to see whether it will or not. This type of character has specific attributes to look for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galations 2:22-23). Do you see these things in your life or do you find yourself often experiencing the opposites (anger, unrest, impatience, maliciousness, etc.)? Do you maintain your integrity in all environments (work, home, ministry, play) or do you cut corners (no matter the reason)?
  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. “There is fruit to be produced where you are that nobody else can produce but you” (p.16).

This statement literally blows my mind. For every moment that I have been in a tough situation, when I have worked in toxic (relationally) environments or had to endure a frustrating season to breakthrough to the next, or even just lost perspective on my current circumstances, this concept gives me a convicting reality-check on how I am approaching my life.

Do I see each day, as mundane and routine and boring and frustrating as it can be at times, as the place I have been put to bear fruit (be productive and purposeful) in ways that NO ONE ELSE can? Do I really experience the significance and worth endowed by my Creator, the value that has been given in the unique being that is ME, the awe of being fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139) for my exact position, location, vocation?

Bear with me (LOL… sorry I could not turn down the pun) for one more word picture. If you are not digging the fruit aspect, think of it in this way instead: Have you ever worked on a puzzle and gotten down to the last piece, only to find that it is missing?   Maybe the dog ate it, maybe it never made it into the box from the factory, maybe it is lost forever under the couch; no matter what happened to it, the puzzle is now unfinished. All of that work has occurred, every other piece is in its proper place, and yet the absence of one piece leaves the entire puzzle incomplete, lacking, and undone. The size of the piece is irrelevant, whether it is big or little, there will always be something missing and because of the way puzzles are made, there is no replacing it with anything but the original.

This is what it looks like when you and I do not bear our special fruit or live out our piece of the puzzle. The whole of humanity is not complete, and we leave the big picture around us lacking and undone. You and I each have something to contribute, something to add, maybe big or maybe little but definitely something to produce in this lifetime. And this purpose/contribution/fruit/piece of the puzzle bestowed by our Creator gives our life meaning and value and direction (can I get an Amen?).

What do I do now?

The crazy thing about this whole fruit-bearing process is that outside of recognizing the importance of it as our reason for living, we really cannot make it happen on our own. As far as I know, a branch cannot and will not bear fruit on its own or out of its own work (nor does it have the capability to do so). It only bears fruit when connected to the vine and in harmony with the rest of the plant. And it only bears fruit when the core of the plant is healthy enough to sustain and give out fruitbearing life.

With this in mind, our SMARTER not harder application for this week actually starts with just taking an inventory of our current season of fruitbearing. Since we cannot make fruit appear in our lives by ourselves (although we will learn about the “how” behind fruitbearing next chapter), I encourage you to take time this week (maybe during your Sabbath rest and reviewing process 🙂 )to look at the list above and simply take inventory of your harvest. What are the areas you see are producing? Is there anything missing or inactive? Are there ways where you are not being productive or inactive, but actually destructive (hurting others or being ungrateful)?

For me, this means checking to see if I am living out each day in light of my special purpose and positions: loving others (my primary calling), being a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and friend, choosing to use the gifts I have been given/equipped with to counsel, write, teach, and disciple, and serving others with my time, talents, and possessions.

As you are evaluating, take some time to also think through what you truly want in terms of your life. Do you want to bear fruit/be productive, and if so, does your understanding and focus of your life reflect that? The main goal here is resolving your own reason for living and if fruitbearing makes sense, then it gives you the foundational answer (as well as perspective and motivation) to why we are really here.♥

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! 🙂        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.♥

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. 🙂

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.

 

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 🙂 ).

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 🙂 ). 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. ♥

 

 

Sector Four: Spiritual Strength aka The Secret Garden

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One of my favorite movies growing up (and probably still now if I am honest LOL) was The Secret Garden. Telling the tale of multiple tragedies (the death of parents and spouses; illness and despair; loneliness on many levels), a triad of hurting hearts finds a sense of hope and new growth through the restoration of a neglected secret garden. Even the hardest of hearts in the story is softened by the beauty and potential of new life, and the transformation that takes place as each character spends time in the secret garden is inspiring.

As a little girl, I remember wishing I had my own secret garden, complete with hidden door and key, to go to when times were tough or celebrate in when times were good. A small bit of secluded earth to call my own, and only invite those in whom I could truly trust.

And sometimes, even as an adult now, I still do.    Maybe you do too…

Which is exactly why this week’s reading on spirituality hit so close to home. It is no coincidence that Gordon begins our discussion of the soul, and its spiritual nature, by using the picture of a garden. If you remember correctly, that is kind of where the story of humanity started in the very beginning. That perfect garden of Eden, which I envision had its own form of amazing gate and key, where humanity and deity lived out unbroken, untouched, PERFECT spiritual communion. Until sin came in and destroyed the perfection, we lived in overwhelming peace, security, and congruence: the spirit and the flesh were one.

However (no spoiler alert here), we know the story took a turn for the absolute worst when sin and selfishness entered the stage and destroyed the perfect peace. Distortion, disruption, and destruction ensued; and now we live in a world overrun by sin and chaos and hurt and tragedy. And our souls and our flesh are often at odds, and we yearn for that long ago fairy tale garden that was so simple, so sweet, and so sacred.

Sin continues to scream at us that the garden is gone forever, and while I am not saying we can return to the garden of Eden anytime soon, I do believe that a still, small voice whispers to us among the noise and beckons us to a remnant of the original creation He has placed within us… the secret garden that still resides within our soul.

My Own Secret Garden

Recognizing that there is a sacred space within me, a spiritual realm known as the soul, is still hard for me to fully comprehend. Although honestly, the little girl within me is jumping for joy at the thought of having my own secret garden. 🙂 And while for the most part, this is a metaphorical discussion, I love love love (yes, I meant for there to be three of them for emphasis) the picture of my inner soul as a garden. Why? Because there are so many lessons that can be gleaned from envisioning  our soul from a gardening perspective (you can probably think of more than I will discuss here if you really think about it).

First, when cared for properly, gardens are usually beautiful, breath-taking, peaceful places where people have celebrations, get engaged, get married, and have deep, romantic, intimate interactions. All of the senses are usually involved with an experience in a garden: you can hear the soothing sound of water falling from a nearby fountain, you can smell the sweet perfume of blooming jasmine, you can see the brilliant colors of a variety of petals and greenery, you can touch the soft green grass or smooth stones as you sit for a moment, and you can taste the refreshing sweet of a nearby fruit fresh off the vine (yes, in my garden there will always be food of some kind). Our inner garden can be the same way! According to Gordon, it is “a place of potential peace and tranquility. This garden is a place where the Spirit of God comes to make self-disclosure, to share wisdom, to give affirmation or rebuke, to provide encouragement, and to give direction and guidance. When this garden is in proper order, it is a quiet place, and there is an absence of busyness, of defiling noise, of confusion” (pg. 118). Sounds wonderful to me!!!

Second, an amazing garden like this takes regular maintenance and hard work to create and maintain. That is the exact reason I do not have a real garden in my backyard (even though there was one there previously from the last owners of our house) and why I truly admire those that do keep one. Even in the small flower bed I have kept close to our house, there are ALWAYS things to be done: rake up the leaves that have fallen, prune the rosebushes, mulch the rosebushes, pull up all of the weeds because we can no longer see the dogs when we let them out (I am not joking), and this is just routine maintenance. This is not even trying to get them big and beautiful and amazing. True gardeners spend hours upon hours tilling the soil, working the soil, trimming and pruning and raking and hauling, expending both time and energy on hands and knees before taking the time to enjoy the beauty around them. The same goes for our inner gardens (which exist whether we want them to or not): it will take the time (when we are using it properly 🙂 ) and the efforts (good thing we have that mind to help us out) of regular inner work to create and maintain.

Fortunately, there is typically a reward for all that work: a gardener that is putting in the time and effort to create a thriving garden can expect productivity and harvest. Blooms in season are anticipated, and you can see the pride and joy of any gardener when they can display the beauty they have cultivated. We on the outside like it too; hence the desire for fresh flowers at weddings and celebrations and even funerals, as symbols of love and friendship and condolences… to encourage and enjoy in the deepest of moments. Similarly, our inner gardens will produce a harvest in season as well: fruits of the spirit including “courage, hope, love, endurance joy, and lots of peace. Unusual capacities for self-control, the ability to discern evil and ferret out truth are also reaped” (pg. 120). We will grow in wisdom and knowledge and character, and those around us will enjoy the beauty displayed.

Finally, even the most amazing of gardens can fall into disarray when left unattended for too long. If the gardener is unable to keep up the necessary maintenance, weeds and overgrowth of the plants will take place. What once was beautiful, organized and peaceful will become a knotted, chaotic mess that may ultimately lead to plant destruction and death. There will be few, if any fruits, and the awaited harvests will no longer take place. Gordon warns us that our inner garden is no different, and that it “cannot remain uncultivated for long before it becomes infested with the sort of growth that makes it uninviting, both to the indwelling Lord and to us ourselves” (pg. 157). However, the alternate is true as well: even the gardens that are in most disarray can be brought back to life with the right amount of time and care.  If we truly want to experience the inner peace that comes from within, we will need to remain vigilant and not let our garden slip into this overgrown state and if it has, then it is time to take action.

How does this apply to me? (aka How does your Garden Grow? )

As we discussed above, a beautiful, thriving garden does not get that way by accident. Even if there is a form of beauty in the overgrowth, the health of the plants and the soil may not be what it seems. Even weeds can be pretty at times, but in the end rob both the earth and the plants of their life-giving properties. With this in mind then, how then do we cultivate or re-cultivate our gardens to bring forth substantial, vivacious, and thriving life?

Gordon tells us that there are four main disciplines we can start with (there are many more that are not covered in this book but can be found elsewhere; a good friend of mine just recommended the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster and it is on my to-read list) to take action and stimulate growth within out gardens. A summary of each is provided below:

  1. Silence and Solitude: Taking time just to be with no noise, no distractions, and no other living thing. This might be a local park where you can find a secluded place, the inside of your car in your driveway (I use this one a lot), or the inside of a closet or bathroom (as long as it is quiet). Depending on your circumstances, you may need to use ear plugs (LOL) or close your eyes, but the point is to get as quiet and focused as possible. For me, this means no kids, no husband, no dogs, no cell phone, and no mess (I get easily distracted by mess). There is sometimes an initial culture shock at the lack of noise and bustling, but once you take some time to embrace the lack thereof, there is also something refreshing about the silent space. It allows you to take a deep breath, and transition from listening to everything else our next discipline: listening to God.
  2. Listening to God: This is probably the hardest of the disciplines for me to practically explain, even though I have experienced it many times. I have never audibly heard God talk to me (although I think it would be incredibly scary and cool at the same time), but I have seen Him speak directly to my needs and situations through reading the Bible, reading Christian literature, and even through the words of a trusted friend, sermon, or worship song. Gordon recommends that to supplement the listening process, we can utilize a journal to record what we hear God saying. While I do not journal daily as he describes, although I am seriously considering an earnest attempt after being inspired from this reading, I have always been a note-taker. For every class or sermon or even in meetings, I am always taking notes because there are things that I want to keep with me when I hear them. This is often when I hear God speaking, as I have been asking specifically for guidance or direction about something and a verse or quote appears to speak directly to that matter. Then, I can record it, confirm that it matches God’s character and will as described in the Bible, and act upon it.
  3. Reflection and Meditation: Once we have created the time and space to be alone and quiet with God, have listened to Him and recorded what He is saying, we have the ability to integrate it into who we are through the tools of reflection and meditation. As Gordon explains, this is the process of “pressing enter” in our spiritual computers and inputting the new information into ourselves (pg. 140). This is literally thinking about the thing God told you over and over and over again until it becomes second nature. For instance, my word from the Lord for this year is discipline. As I seek to “enter” this word and practice into my life, I am purposefully thinking of it as much as I can in multiple contexts. I have looked up the definition, looked up verses, and posted the word throughout my house and places I will be as reminders. I reflect and visualize and meditate on this concept of discipline, until it becomes a part of my regular existence. When God speaks to you and you hear Him, you can do similar things to let His word integrate into your life as well.
  4. Prayer: This is our part of the conversation with God, and how we actually communicate with Him. I love that God is not just one-sided; He does not just give out orders and then leave us to complete them. Instead, just like in the original garden, He longs to live in relationship with us, hear our thoughts and our dreams, both positive and negative, and encourages us to take an active tole in our relationship. Since we do not live in the original garden though, prayer can often be difficult, especially since it can sometimes feel like talking to empty space, but if we can begin to cultivate our inner gardens, I bet we will start to feel differently about this too. I know even envisioning myself in my garden with the Lord changes how I view prayer, as something that has to be done or is empty to an actual conversation to a present participant. Gordon tells us that prayer is a combination of timing, posture, and content. Timing is different for each person, but setting aside time for intentional prayer is essential. My time is best in the morning (I tend to fall asleep at night) but yours may be in the evenings or even on your lunch break. Posture is a matter of preference, and to be honest, it depends on the content of my conversation (just like any real relationship). Sometimes I am standing, sometimes I am on my knees, and there have been those most desperate times when I am all out, face down on the ground, crying out to God. Content is what we pray about, which I personally think can be anything and everything. But for those who like structure, Gordon lists adoration(praise and thanksgiving), confession(anything that is bothering you or sin you have observed within), and intercession(praying for others and self) as the main components of his prayer life.

When we make time for silence and solitude, listen to God, reflect and meditate on what He says, and then pray to speak with Him as well, we do the hard work of tending to our inner gardens. With the powers of these combined, we can truly cultivate our secret gardens to reflect the original one we miss so much, to be the sacred place where Spirit and soul collide, and to truly walk with the Lord as we once did.

Ok. So what do I do now?

First things first, I know I am desperately in need of some one-on-one time with the Lord. I can feel it in the very core of my being, this desire to know Him more, to connect in the way I’ve been writing about in this entire post. Yes, even I can write about these great things and then recognize my own want for them because to be honest: I am doing great at confronting my drivenness, taking hold of my time and using it versus losing it, and even stretching my mind through this book club and other means, but I am struggling with cultivating my secret garden. Struggling with actually spending time in my secret garden to walk with the Lord and commune with Him in that personal, intimate space. This is my heart’s cry… and I am guessing that if you are just now realizing you have a secret garden or remembering it because you have not been there in a while, you probably feel it too.

So, my first step: I need to get back in my garden; take inventory of what is flourishing and what could use some tending, and then get to it.

When was the last time you visited your garden and what does it look like? Are the plants fresh and blooming? Are the trees full and strong? If not, are you up for the challenge of tilling the soil, weeding the overgrowth, and planting new seed?

Do you know where the entrance is, or like in the movie, do you need to search for the key (no worries; you are the one who owns the key, so I promise you it will be found) and open the door for the very first time?

I encourage you this week, as we read through the last sector and finish this inaugural month of the book club, to pick one of the disciplines above to work in your own garden. Maybe you can focus on spending some time each day in silence and solitude to find and begin visualizing your secret garden. Maybe you can invite God within the walls and ask Him to speak to you in that sweet, whispering voice so you can listen and take notes. Maybe you can take time this week to intentionally reflect and meditate on what you’ve been hearing from God, so that we integrate His voice into our everyday lives. Maybe you can set aside time specifically for prayer, with a list of thanks, confessions, and intercessions as a guide.

Whichever you choose or however you do it, my hope for all of us is that each step we take will allow us to reap what we are sowing: to bring restoration, renewal, beauty and strength to our inner worlds and the most precious of places… our own secret garden.♥