The Message Romans 12:1-2, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
“May all your expectations be frustrated,
May all your plans be thwarted,
May all your desires be withered into nothingness,
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child,
And sing and dance in the love of God
Who is Father, Son and Spirit,
Brennan Manning, at the end of his sermon “God loves you as you are, not as you should be”, quoting his Spiritual Director Larry Hine
I’m staying a few days with my husband’s mother after a few hard weeks in and out of the hospital. When she has the energy we have great conversations reminiscing about the amazing work of God in our lives. Our brokenness, His grace, mercy and sovereignty.
As I think about the years of loving and being loved by this dear woman, who adopted, loved and raised my husband, the thing that bonded us the most (after loving the same man) was our love and benefit from the same books.
We took turns finding and sharing the recommendations. We spent hours discussing their challenging and encouraging truths. Here’s a sample of her bookshelf.
“Always someone else has to suffer because I don’t know how to suffer;..”
What Fear Can Do
Four Personas That Hide Women
“Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.” Proverbs 29:25
I want the safety of trusting the Lord but often I live fearing people and I do feel trapped by that fear.
“Every once in a while our Lord gives us a glimpse of what we would be like if it were not for him.” Oswald Chambers
Occasionally I let words slip out that expose how mean and dangerous I really am deep down. Or I retell parts of my story that I don’t live consciously aware of…just how far I fell and the emotional state I was in comes back and I remember what my life could have been like without him.
“When the fear of what another person could do to her controls a woman, she is walking into a trap. When she trusts her own wisdom and depends on her own resources to avoid the trap and overcome her fear, she will live ‘like a shrub in the desert,’ and bear no fruit that will bring anything good into her life or through her life……a fear-controlled woman will thirst for soul-satisfying water that she cannot find.”
The hard part for me with a lot of this stuff, is that I became a Christian at a pretty young age and had a lot of teaching so I always wanted to believe I was seeking God’s wisdom and not my own. So it was hard to properly repent and enjoy God’s grace. I either pretended I was satisfied in God or felt guilty that I wasn’t (thought I should have been more content).
“Her resources will be exposed as insufficient to create even the illusion of joy when disaster comes. For her, shattered dreams will mean a shattered life.”
I can really relate to this one. As someone close to me continued to spiral downward and my husband and I disagreed over how to handle it, and all the other areas of my life fell apart; I lost all joy…and then felt guilty again for not living the victorious life of the Christian.
“The woman controlled by fear will either die or merely survive. As long as fear rules her life, she will never know what it means to be fully alive as a feminine woman for the glory of God. She will realize in her heart that something is missing, that something is wrong. And when her resources fail, she will have her best opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus: that as a forgiven woman she can truly live.
I’ve felt like I could die (or wanted to) and I’ve merely survived (barely) for months, maybe years as I’ve struggled with all this. I was blind to how much fear was controlling me. I think of others I love with this paragraph also. Its possible the heart attack was triggered by severe anxiety. I can see it killing them one day. They are in survival mode most of the time. It’s hard for me to see that when my resources fail it’s actually God’s severe mercy for I still need to be reminded of the good news….that because I’m forgiven I can truly live.
“Glimpse 1: The Defensively Deranged Woman”
I did not see myself in this illustration. I can be quite defensive and I often feel ‘crazy’ but I don’t believe I’ve experienced those kinds of symptoms. I know someone who has bi-polar disorder has had delusional episodes where she thought she saw things she didn’t see and had memories that later she said were merely from the power of suggestion from reading a book about abuse. It’s understandable with the kind of trauma and other kinds that a split from reality takes place.
“Glimpse 2: The Prematurely Satisfied Woman”
I do relate to this second glimpse. “…they find their contentment in life’s blessings.” “If they feel burdened by responsibilities, they feel nobly overwhelmed…..their complacent satisfaction in blessing, a satisfaction they mistake for joy…..that their good deeds serve to suppress a deep fear…”
As I re-read the description though, I must say I’ve never been too easily satisfied even with lots of blessings…I tend to always be aware that relationships could be better. I don’t relate to the woman whose favorite word is ‘Good’, I’ve never had that kind of false optimism. I think I have a tendency to be envious of these kinds of women and falsely believe or pray for the blessings that seem to make them joyful. But I have too much pain associated to my own failure to keep me there for long. In a way I think I’m trying to live there now though. Just sort of an ‘eat, drink and be merry’…don’t think about all the problems that I cannot do anything about. I wonder when I’m really trusting God and when I’m just trusting his gifts/blessings (as I look out on the bay in my beautiful apartment, living this adventure in Japan).
“Glimpse 3: The Angrily Hardened Woman”
Sadly I relate more than I care to admit to this kind of woman, especially when I’m in a ministry leadership role.
“This woman becomes hard, angrily determined to escape pain by controlling her life and everyone in her life that is important to her. She may become a demanding wife, a domineering mother, or a distancing friend.
Well, that pretty much sums up me as wife and mother. Seeing how my fear is what is really behind that demanding spirit I feel justified having (esp. regarding some of the ways my husband has hurt me in the past), doesn’t make it any easier to soften my heart. Truthfully, I think even in this move to Japan I had mixed feelings because I wanted to distance myself from people who weren’t letting me control them (for their own good of course, blah). I had dreams about the closeness we could experience and the mutual encouragement to be enjoyed.
“Although she may appear to be a charming, helpful, sincere Christian woman, she is constantly maneuvering to bring things under her control.”
“Glimpse 4: The Visibly Troubled Woman”
I relate to the first paragraph in this section. I try to be ‘self-aware’ and I’m often times troubled. Many more mature Christians want me to be more joyful and positive. I even remember feeling passed over by the young moms group, no one wanted to hear my story of parenting…too many honest examples of my own failure and my kids struggles, not the success stories they wanted.
“Because she knows that she is not the woman she was meant to be, her humbled soul never hardens.”
I think NEVER is a strong word. Maybe seldom would be a better choice. What fallen but redeemed woman never hardens? Of course I want this last description to be true of me and sometimes it seems to be. I do realize that I have the least control over what matters most. Sometimes my worst failures still bring shame and anxiety but there are times of staying alive to my longings and softly aching for the day all will be made right.
“In brokenness over both her failure and her helplessness to change, a prayer rises to God from the center of her soul: ‘God, I come to You. Do with me as You want. Embrace me in Your perfect love that casts out all fear.”
“Preoccupation with herself is slowly displaced by worship of God.”
I hate that I feel so cynical about the word ‘worship’ but that is my first thought. What is true ‘worship’? Arms raised and tears when we sing emotional praise songs? Maybe but maybe something more/different. In any case I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an example of this…a woman without fear and so preoccupied with God that she is free to be fully alive in her femininity for the glory of God.
“The beauty of Jesus becomes visible in the midst of ongoing trouble, precisely because she no longer is obsessed with whether she is beautiful. It is enough that Jesus is beautiful and that she lives in Him.”
I do long for that to be true.
This morning on page 14 of ’66 Love Letters’ by Dr. Larry Crabb, I read these words (it’s written as if God is speaking to us regarding the message of the book of Numbers): “You will experience terrible failure and crushing conflict on the road that leads to where I’m taking you, but it is the right road even when it feels like it’s killing you.
In My fourth love letter, I make clear that the road to life is rough. You will begin every new adventure in life with naive hope and excitement. Every wedding will begin with passion then move into problems. Every decorated nursery will receive a baby that will present unanticipated challenges. Every church plant, every new ministry, every small group that starts with happy hopes – everything you do, no matter how well organized and well intentioned – will run into trouble. If you are in touch with what I created you to enjoy, everything in this life will diappoint you, even the best spouse, the best kids, the best job, the best church, the best vacation.
And that disappointment will lead you to wonder if you’ve missed the right road, if perhaps there is a better, more satisfying, less bumpy road through your life. There isn’t, not one that leads to real joy. I wrote Numbers to tell you that. The road to life will expose you to terrible failure and crushing conflict. But only that road leads to the life you want, the life I give you.”
This was a good reminder for me as I enter the final days of preparation for my 50th Birthday trip to France. I have the hardest time letting go of the unknown and uncontrollable. I tend to go through life trying to prepare myself for every possible scenario. This trip is just a little window into how I deal with everything. ‘No matter how organized or well intentioned – will run into trouble’, I need to accept that and trust that this is part of being on ‘THE path to Life’, real life in a world that no longer functions as it should, with real people no longer loving as we were designed to love. But He is with me, He already knows what joys and sorrows and frustrations this trip will hold for me. My part is to find my balance between preparing and resting. I don’t need to be constantly paddling as if I’m going upstream nor do I want to drift with the current down over the waterfall.
From my Tumblr: “This morning I read this article: “The Key to a Purposeful Life. It’s not imitating Christ, but union with him that makes the difference.” by Sarah Lebhar Hall .
It was timed very well for me. I was starting to sink a little. Down into that place of reflecting on my life choices. Wondering again which choices were motivated out of a good heart and which came from a place of fear instead of love.
I wasn’t concerned about sinking so low I couldn’t get back out. But I was weepy, saddened by how my life has adversely affected other’s lives.
At the end of the fourth paragraph I read these words: “Whether because of the limitations of time or circumstances many things we want to do in our lives, and with our lives for God’s kingdom, are often beyond our grasp. Life doesn’t unfold the way we expect.”
The next paragraph ends with this question: “How do we deal with the fear that our lives will be disappointing – to us or to God?”
“The good news from the Scriptures is this: No follower of Jesus is an isolated entity, living out a solitary, potentially tragic plot line. The life story of a disciple is inextricably linked with the life story of Jesus. Each of us connected to Jesus as a branch is connected to the vine,…” The Author goes on to explain how this connection to Christ can and does affect the way we view our life.
I’m going to write more about this on my www.tjtalks.wordpress.com blog. I want the truths to seep into my brain and melt my heart again. I want to rest in this connection to Christ and resist the striving, anxiety and despair that comes from trying to figure out how to do life ‘right’. ”
And so I begin my wordpress post:
Mrs. Hall, the Author, reminds us how “…the truth gets even more shocking: As the Father is in Jesus, so are we ‘in’ Christ, and he in us (John 17:20-26)….”
“But it is incredibly good news for those of us who wrestle with the uncertainty and disappointment of life on earth. Because we are ‘in Christ,’ because his life is ours, our fundamental life story has already been written.”
Six points are made by Mrs. Hall that begin with “If I am united with Christ,….”
1. “If I am united with Christ, my focus can be on staying connected to Jesus. I don’t have to obsess about the particulars of the decisions before me. Do I take this job? Move to this city? Marry this person?….these are not ultimately the defining questions of my life……..As far as life direction goes, the most important questions sound more like this : Am I feeding myself on Jesus? Am I hearing his words and putting them into practice? Am I loving him with all my heart?….”
2. “If I am united with Christ, then my life will take on not only the direction of Jesus’ life, but it’s quality. We spend a lot of time thinking about the ‘plot’ of our lives. God is apparently much more interested in character development.”
3. “If I am united with Christ, I get to enjoy his victory.” She tells the story of Sarah Hughes who “…skated as though it were a prize to simply be at the Olympics. She skated with an exuberant, reckless abandon. That freedom enabled her to give the best performance of her life. Our lives as disciples, united with Christ, should be a lot like that. Jesus has already won the medal for us. The prize is ours. We get to enjoy the event, to marvel at the privilege of being included in the games.”
Coincidence, Fate, Luck, Karma or God’s Sovereign Plan….we humans have many ways of looking at how timing plays a role in our lives. When I experience something that seems to have been timed to go together into some sort of theme or pattern, it catches my attention. This happened again recently.
The day after I wrote this blog post about seeing my face in the mirror, I read a chapter in a book that talked about how inaccurately we see our faces. When we moved to Japan, I brought a few books from our home in California, the rest were put in storage, and a few weeks ago I chose the Frederick Buechner book “The Hungering Dark” to begin reading.
The name of the second chapter is “The Confusion of Face” and the Bible passage on the first page is Daniel 9:1-8 from The Revised Standard version. This title and the theme of the chapter is taken from the 8th verse: ” To us, O Lord, belongs confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.”
Some of the quotes from this chapter that struck me follow here:
“You catch sight of your face in the mirror….and often you say, in effect, ‘Well, there it is again, the same old washed and slept-on thing I saw yesterday…’ But sometimes, I believe, there is another response which is deeply jarring and which involves your asking in effect, ‘Is that really me? Am I my face?’…..Beneath the face there are many layers of self, and the deepest layers are for the most part hidden from us.”
He quotes a poem by a Japanese poet named Yagi Jukuchi, I don’t know the title of the poem but it starts with “I first saw my face in a dream….” and ends with “About the face was a gold-tinged blackness. The next day when my eyes opened, the fever raged no less, but in my heart was a strange calm.”
Buechner talks about the need of looking into the depths of our true selves and the difficulty in doing that.
“The voyage into the self is long and dark and full of peril, but I believe it is a voyage all of us will have to make before we are through. Either we climb down into the abyss willingly with our eyes open, or we risk falling into it with our eyes closed – a point on which religion and psychiatry seem to agree. And I believe that what is said in the language of the Japanese poem is true also in the language of fact; that if we search ourselves deeply enough, we will begin to see at last who we really are, we will begin to see, very dimly at first, our own true faces. And then, although on the surface the fever may rage still, I believe a strange calm does begin to come, a peace that passes understanding.”
“Selfhood in the sense that you are one self and I am another self begins to fade. You begin to understand that in some way your deepest self is the self of all men…You begin to understand….as a reality, an experience, that their pain is your pain, their need your need; that there can really be no getting ahead at their expense, there can be no joy for you until there is joy for them.”
“I believe that by God’s grace it is our destiny, in this life or in whatever life awaits us, to discover the face of our inmost being, to become at last and at great cost who we truly are.”
And then Mr. Buechner ends with a prayer, it’s too good to shorten so I will add it here…it’s a prayer I would like to pray for myself.
“Thou God in Christ,
There is no ground anywhere that is not holy ground, for in the cool of the evening thou has walked upon it and in the heat of the day thou hast died upon it, and at the coming of the dawn thou hast returned and art always and everywhere returning to it and to us who walk upon it too, this holy ground, though heedless of its holiness. O make us whole. Set us free.
Thou didst shape us each in the darkness of a womb to give us life and thou knowest us each by name, and not one is forgotten by thee, not one but is precious in thy sight – the ugly and the beautiful, the criminal and the child, the enemy with the friend. Lord give us eyes to see each other and ourselves more nearly as thou seest us, to see beneath each face we meet, and beneath even our own faces, thy face.
Help us to know that for each thou hast died as though he were the only one.
“The Scriptures employ a wide scale of metaphors to capture the many facets of our relationship with God. If you consider them in a sort of ascending order, there is a noticeable and breathtaking progression. Down near the bottom of the totem pole we are the clay and He the Potter. Moving up a notch, we are the seep and He the Shepherd, which is a little better position on the food chain but hardly flattering; sheep don’t have a reputation as the most graceful and intelligent creatures in the world. Moving upward, we are the servants of the Master, which at least lets us into the house, even if we have to wipe our feet, watch our manners, and not talk too much. Most Christians never get past this point, but the ladder of metaphors is about to make a swift ascent. God also calls us His children and Himself our heavenly Father, which brings us into the possibility of real intimacy – love is not one of the things a vase and its craftsman share together, nor does a sheep truly know the heart of the shepherd, though it may enjoy the fruits of his kindness. Still, there is something missing even in the best parent-child relationship. Friendship levels the playing field in a way family never can, at least not until the kids have grown and left the house. Friendship opens a level of communion that a five-year-old doesn’t know with his mother and father. And ‘friends’ are what He calls us.
But there is still a higher and deeper level of intimacy and partnership awaiting us at the top of this metaphorical ascent. We are lovers. The courtship that began with a honeymoon in the Garden culminates in the wedding feast of the Lamb. ‘I will take delight in you,’ He says to us, ‘as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will I rejoice over you,” so that we might say in return, ‘I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me.'”
From The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis & John Eldredge
rating: 5 of 5 stars
Beautifully descriptive portrayal of Northern CA, insightful look at relationships, especially fathers and sons.
Some of my favorite quotes:
“I’ve studied and maybe learned how things are, but I’m not even close to why they are. And you must not expect to find that people understand what they do. So many things are done instinctively,..”
“At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?”
“Maybe we all have in us a secret pond where evil and ugly things germinate and grow strong. But this culture is fenced in, and the swimming brood climbs up only to fall back. Might it not be that in the dark pools of some men the evil grows strong enough to wriggle over the fence and swim free? Would not such a man be our monster, and are we not related to him in our hidden water?” (This reminds me of Gollum in Lord of the Rings)
“The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels.”
“…It is a beauty – a dreadful kind of beauty…”
“…I wonder whether you ever fell that something invisible is all around you….”
“(___) was not beautiful. Perhaps she wasn’t even pretty, but she had the glow that makes men follow a woman in the hope of reflecting a little of it…..(___) did not simply throw up her hands and give up. It was much worse than that. She went right on doing and being what she was – without the glow. The people who loved her ached for her, seeing her try, and they got trying for her. (___)’s friends were good and loyal but they were human, and humans love to feel good and they hate to feel bad….It is easy to find a logical and virtuous reason for not doing what you don’t want to do…..And the women who had thought they wanted dresses never realized that what they had wanted was happiness….”
“Perhaps the best conversationalist in the world is the man who helps others to talk.”
“And once a boy has suffered rejection, he will find rejection even where it does not exist – or, worst, will draw it forth from poepole simply by expecting it.”