Monday, December 8, 2014

Stripped Bare (Just a desperate plea)

Lately, I've found myself slipping, becoming more and more separated from God. I go to Bible Study, and it lifts me a little, but I'm still stumbling around lost in the desert, searching for something. I sit in the Church pew on Sunday, wishing I could feel Him, at least a little. I open my Bible and find only words - no hope, or joy, or comfort.

My heart grows colder, darker, lonelier. I reach out, but there is no hand there to grab mine and pull me from this pit. There is no light, showing me the way out. No voice offering peace or comfort. I'm alone. Separated. Afraid.

I fall to my knees in desperation. I cry out in hunger. The pain inside slowly turns to numbness, to nothingness. And yet I still cry within.

Oh, Lord, where have You gone? Why have You left me alone, enveloped in shadows? Why have You stripped from me this love and joy? Why do You withhold from me peace and comfort? Why have You left me without a single strand of hope to cling to? Please help me feel Your presence once again. Bring Your light back to me. Dress me again in the warmth of joy, peace, hope and love.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Problem with Walls

The past few weeks, my Bible Study group has been engaged in another wonderful study series. I particularly like this one because it focuses on my favorite definition of love, as found in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.

Last night's focus was on envy and arrogance. I could probably write for ages on these two topics, especially considering I have often found myself comparing myself to others - most often wishing I could be as good as others, but also sometimes believing I'm better than others. But what really struck me was towards the end of the evening - a question in our guide asked us how letting others in keeps us from being arrogant.

Woah! I said What?! But... My Walls... 

There was a lot of discussion and ideas. And then, without realizing what I was saying, I found myself spouting off about how keeping others out is arrogance in itself... in a way. Or, at least, that it was for me. Others were quick to defend my walls (or, perhaps their own), by saying that it isn't arrogance - it's self-preservation. I tried to explain where I was coming from, although I'm not certain why. I love my walls. I have comfortably hidden behind them for years (or, at least, until a couple years ago). But I found myself hesitantly stating that perhaps the rest of them were right.

This bothered me most of the night. An annoying voice kept chirping inside my brain that I was on the right track. That annoying voice kept repeating two things:

1) if we don't open up, at least a little, we cut ourselves off from being God's hands helping others; and we prevent others from being God's hands helping us;

2) words a wise man once told me - Sin is synonymous with selfishness.

My Definition of Self-Preservation

In my opinion, most of the time self-preservation is not wrong or selfish. When we're spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or physically not well, we need to take time for ourselves. We need to hide away for a bit to refill our own sanity and well-being. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it's a good thing. We cannot hope to help anyone if we have nothing left to give.

But, what I was talking about last night is how I am - or, was. It's how many who have been traumatically hurt, especially when it's a repeated offense, get. You see it often in those who have been abused, or who have constantly had people abandon them. The self-preservation isn't temporarily, nor is it discriminating. The walls created, though invisible, are usually made of the thickest, strongest material. No one gets in. Not even a little. They didn't even get to look through the window. Ever. I could know a person for years, but still not open myself up to them. As far as I was concerned, I was the only one I needed, the only one I could trust, and everyone else sucked.

Arrogance at It's Finest

... I was the only one I needed...
... everyone else sucked...

Essentially, despite my low self-esteem, I had determined I was better than everyone else (or, they weren't good enough). Yes, it was for self-preservation. It still is for self-preservation. But when I lock myself away behind those walls, with those thoughts, that is arrogance or pride. It is selfishness. It's protecting myself and determining I'm the only one who matters. It's keeping others at a distance regardless of whether or not they may need help.

And, it is not love. It keeps away love. It keeps away the ability to love, and to allow others to love.

Retractable Walls

What exactly is my point?

My point is that to love without arrogance or pride, we need retractable walls. We need to be able to have a safe place to hide away for awhile to re-energize ourselves. We need to be able to hide part of ourselves from others until we're able to determine how trustworthy they are.

But we also need to be able to come out from behind those walls, and give of ourselves. We need to be able to allow others to give to us. We need to stop being so arrogant as to assume we need no one else (especially Christ!). We need to stop being so selfish as to believe we are all that matters. We need people.

God cannot work through us if we're locked away behind thick steel. God cannot work through others to help us if we don't let those others in.

God bless!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Watered Down" Christianity is the Hardest to Follow

I've heard it time and again...
- "This person preaches a watered down Gospel"
- "You believe a watered down Gospel"
- "That Church teaches a watered down Christianity."

What is a watered-down Christianity/Gospel?

Usually, those slinging that term around are talking about a form of Christianity which promotes love and following Christ, rather than fear and the wrath of God.

If we say we are to always love our neighbors, family, friends, and even enemies - we're preaching a watered down Christianity.

If we do not continuously stress that if one does not obey God, they will go to hell - we are preaching a watered down Christianity.

If we stress obedience by showing love rather than obedience to avoid the pit of fire - watered down Christianity.

If we engage, encourage, and envelop everyone (yes.... even the sinners....) - it's a watered down Christianity.

If we believe everyone is worthy of God's love and grace - yup, watered down.

If we promote correction of self and do not promote correction and judgment of others - it's watered down.

I could give several more examples, but I think you get the point. 

Watered Down Christianity is Harder!

I have a theory...
The reason people start screaming that the above is all watered-down Christianity (and therefore not true and we should not be promoting it) is because this kind of Christianity is just too difficult. It is the hardest thing ever.

It is easy to throw insults at sinners and tell them they're going to hell. It's easy to correct others and stand in judgment of them.

It is easy to exclude people because they do not fit the kind of person we think is the stand-up Christian. It's easy to isolate ourselves from non-Christians, or those who refuse to believe what we believe.

It is easy to recognize that certain people are not worthy of God's love and Grace (and be willing to tell them that).

It is sometimes almost impossible to stand behind someone who doesn't believe, or someone who is an obvious sinner and give that person comfort and love. It is sometimes almost impossible to extend love and comfort to those we believe are not worthy.

And it is insanely difficult to stop correcting and judging and criticizing other people, and rather look inward and recognize what needs to grow inside our own hearts.

So- is this Really Watered Down? 

No. Promoting, preaching and practicing love - towards all people and in every possible way we can in the name of God, in the following of Christ Jesus - this is not even close to being a watered down Gospel. It is THE Gospel.

So, what is a watered down Gospel? 

I stumbled on another blog post earlier that has some very good points. Instead of rewriting what has already been done, I urge you all to read this post: 10 Ways We Water Down the Gospel

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Teaching to Walk a Mile

I had the privilege of serving supper to the Confirmation class at Church last Wednesday night. As I was in the kitchen cleaning up, I listened to the Pastor and students. He asked them what is something they have a reputation for that isn't true. It was meant to be for the individual - for example, "Jimmy, what is something people say about you that is not true?" But instead of anyone answering that, one child chimed in about a different one, "Well, [she] always acts crazy."

This short conversation is what inspired me to write Walk a Mile. If you haven't already done so, please read it. If this was your life - wouldn't you act a little crazy? Or, perhaps you'd be more like a couple other children - you'd be very shy and reserved, withdrawn from everyone else, uncertain of how to respond in situations. Or, perhaps you'd be like another child, and be prone to panic attacks. Or, like another, and be subject to severe bouts of depression.

The Ease of Judgement

As we sit back, looking on from the outside, it is so easy to judge other people, including children. It's easy to laugh at someone else who is acting different than we think they should be. It's easy to pick on that person for being strange. It's easy to bully them, exclude them, have fun at their expense. It is particularly easy for children to fall into this, especially if they see other children (or parents/adults) doing the same. And, especially if no one bothers to help teach them empathy.

I remember many years ago when my eldest daughter was in elementary school, there was a young girl in her class. This girl was different. She acted weird. She stole from other kids. For some reason, she liked hanging out at our house, and one day I caught my daughter telling her she couldn't come over any more. When I asked my daughter about it, she said "she's weird, and she stole my crayons. No one likes her."

Ignore, Accept, or Teach

When we, as parents, hear something like this, we have 3 options - ignore it, accept and contribute to it, or use it as an opportunity to teach our children to walk a mile in someone else' shoes.

It's easy to brush it off as just kids being kids. We don't want to tell our kids who they should or shouldn't be friends with - especially if it might affect our own child's popularity. And, it's equally easy to say "yeah, she is different. I can see why you wouldn't want to be friends with her. No one needs a friend like that."

But we often fail to recognize the opportunity that arises for us as adults when we witness something like this - an opportunity to teach love and the message of Christ, the opportunity to possibly impact another life, the opportunity to help our children grow in compassion and empathy.

Christ teaches us repeatedly to be compassionate to others. We are to love all, including our enemies. Should someone take our coat, we're to also give our shirt. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (all of these are from Luke 6 - good chapter... give it a read). These are things we can (and should) be teaching our children.

We as parents, teachers, Pastors, etc need to take opportunities to teach our children empathy. We need to teach them to imagine life from the other person's perspective. What is he/she going through? How difficult must that be for them? How would you feel if you were in their shoes? How would you act? How would you be different?

Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Hebrews 13:1-3)
We need to teach them to think about the other person's interests. Ask your children what they think this other child needs. What will help this other person?
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5)
 We need to take opportunities to teach our children to be Christlike in our thoughts and actions towards others... to not judge by what we see or hear... to be compassionate towards all. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Walk a Mile

I have a favor to ask of each of you reading this... I'd like for you to take your time reading these words, and taking them in, and letting yourself into the character's shoes. When you're done, close your eyes and truly image yourself in his/her shoes...

Imagine you're a young teenager. You are awakened early, after another restless night's sleep. Your first thought is "blah... I don't want to go to school..." but is immediately followed by listening in the silence for your dad's voice. Is he throwing up again, as he's doing so many mornings? Is he in pain? Is he even awake? Is he alive? Please let him be alive!

You stumble down the stairs to check on him. Sometimes, upon hitting the bottom of the stairs, you remember he isn't even home - he's in the hospital again. Sometimes, he is home. But often, when he is home, he's either sick or in pain. And when he's sleeping, you stand by his bed checking to make sure he's breathing.

Finally accepting that he's ok, you get ready for school and head off. Like any teenager, you have a million other things on your mind. Did you finish your math homework? Why didn't your boyfriend/girlfriend text you this morning? Do I really have to go to phy ed today? But, unlike most teenagers, amidst those common but stressful worries, your thoughts also go to other things. Will Dad be ok? Can Mom handle helping him, and work? How's he going to get to his doctor appointment? What if the doctor finds something else wrong, and Dad's going to be in the hospital again?

You come home, knowing you need to help with the chores, and the siblings. And with taking care of your Dad. You can't go out with your friends because he needs someone to help him out. You don't want to go out a lot of times, because you're worried something will happen while you're away. 

You go to bed each night praying God make him well... praying God end his pain... praying God make your life easier, though you often feel guilty for this desire. Your sleep is broken up as he calls for someone to help him in the middle of the night... or because you are worried he will call for someone.

The stress becomes almost unbearable. Tears threaten to fall, even though you've tried so hard to keep them away. You've had to become so strong, and yet you constantly feel so weak. You try turning to a good friend... again. But, you've apparently turned to her so many times, she doesn't have time for you anymore. She'd rather hang out with the "fun" crowd. You try another, knowing you desperately need a shoulder to cry on, or at least an listening ear. But, he doesn't have time for you either.

You try to be understanding. Everyone has their own issues to deal with. You recognize this. And you know you've abused the friendships so much by always being in need. But, dammit, you need someone now. Again.

In selfish, needy anger, you lash out at those who abandon you.
Eventually, you cut yourself off from them all.
You learn to toss on masks - acting strange and psychotic and goofy. It's not for attention (or, not exactly). It's to hide from the pain that no one wants to hear about. It sometimes is also for someone to see you  and listen to you - they won't listen to the real you anymore. But, it's still a mask. The pain and stress and anger and frustration still lives within.....