Friday, January 31, 2014

Tired Women



         Last week everywhere I turned, it seemed like I was looking in a mirror. I was seeing Tired Women and hearing in their voices the strain of living a too-large-life. These women were smart, organized, super-responsible. All were married and had kids. Some were balancing a career. Some were homeschooling. But all were carrying tremendous weights, pulled in a multitude of directions everyday. Each time I would listen to them and find myself  saying, “How do you do all that you do?” And each time a small voice inside of me would echo the question back to me: “How do you do all that you do?” To listen to another person talk about working a job, shuttling kids to activities, cooking, doing laundry, helping with schoolwork, serving at church, reaching out to neighbors, caring for sick parents. . . it seems crazy. How can one person do so much? How can other people (the not-so-ultra-responsible types) stand by and watch the Tired Woman carry so much? Why do others not help?

        Perched outside of someone else's life, I can assess and advise. But living inside my own story of weighty responsibility and chronic over-extension, I know it is hard to live any differently. My own compassion seems to have betrayed me and taken me prisoner. I care deeply. Compassion is a beautiful, God-given quality. But when it operates as an independent agent, even Compassion can be a cruel dictator.

My friend has cancer. She is illiterate and sub-functioning in this country. Her adult children are not caring for her in a consistent way. I sacrifice my time to manage her meds, arrange transportation to doctor's appointments and often accompany her. That is compassion. That is faith, I think.

Or is it fear? Fear that something bad will happen if I'm not involved. Fear that I will “be a bad friend” if I'm not on the front lines of advocating for her?. Fear that I am not reflecting the love of Christ to a broken world, someone might not find Jesus?   Fear of who I will become if I do not respond to the reflex of compassion?

The ugly underside of this responsible, compassionate woman is that I am angry and resentful. These are not the fruits of living out of faith. These are the fruits of living out of my flesh. I want to scream to the people I serve, “Why can't you take more responsibility for yourself? Why do you depend on me so heavily? Why do I sacrifice for you and yet you live selfishly?   It is not just with my Liberian friend. This is the internal dialogue with my children, my husband and sometimes my friends.

I know I live out of my flesh, because when there is no thanks or worse, complaint, indignation rises up inside of me. How dare you? Look at what I have done! Compassion morphs into a critical, callous spirit. I want to run. I want to shed myself of all responsibility. Some days I just want to stay in bed and never answer my phone again.

Can a soul be sick from too much caring? It seems like compassion has mutated into some beast that brings destruction more than life. What is the anecdote? Where is the cure?

I read an old-time favorite verse in Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and not not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” I think of Christ freeing me from bad behaviors – lying, impatience, selfishness, a critical spirit. Is it possible that Christ wants to free me from my strengths as well? Do I need to be freed from compassion and responsibility?

Paul is writing to the Galatians who have embraced Christ, but who are also telling each other to be circumcised. Circumcision is good thing. It has been a long-standing tradition of Jews – a sign given by God to mark His people. And yet, Paul is telling the Galatians to stop it: “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (5:3,4) Resting on traditional virtue is actually an impediment to walking with Christ. Could my compulsive compassion actually separate me from the grace of Christ?

For through the Spirit by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” The Spirit stops me. The Spirit prompts me to wait. This seems passive. It seems like an excuse. How do I “wait” when people need me? And how do I wait eagerly?

It is passive. I am to be waiting for righteousness. I am not to be working it out. I am not to be constructing righteousness in my own life, even with a foundation of compassion. The truth is compassion is a faulty foundation. That is why my “good works” are fraught with anger and resentment.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything but only faith working through love.” I guess I could also say, “. . .in Christ Jesus neither compassionate works or no compassionate works counts for anything. . .” It seems so counterintuitive. It is hard to discard a very fundamental Christian virtue. This is where I get stuck over and over again. It seems un-Christlike. But anything that I depend on for my identity more than Christ, ceases to be a virtue. Compassion-apart-from-Christ, becomes a spiritual godzilla that destroys.


For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Christ wants to free me from the prison cell of Compulsive Compassion. Ironically, the fruit will be serving others in love. But right now, I am called to wait, to refrain from what seems most natural, to sink myself to God's love for me and the movement of His Spirit. My brand of compassion must die, so that Christ might grow in me His Compassion. It feels like death. But I suspect it is really the path to life and freedom.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Passion

   
     Passion is a nice student, but an overbearing teacher.  Passion is a beautiful child, but an unfit parent.  Passion is a lovely backdrop, but a center-stage disaster.  Passion is beautiful walls, but a lousy foundation.
     Passion brings color to my days and puts wind in my sails.  It inspires me and propels me forward.  It breaths hope and joy into life.
    But given too much power and  passion becomes a cruel taskmaster.  Passion puts me on  a chain and pulls me places I don't want to go.  One moment, I am happy, excited, in control.  The next moment, I am overwhelmed and despairing.  One moment, I am moving fast.  The next moment I am dead in my tracks.  I do not control my choices.  I have let passion take charge and the result is sure disaster.  Life presents a challenge.  Passion says, "You can't do this.  Don't even try."  And I despair.  People don't cooperate with me or treat me poorly.  Passion says, "You don't deserve this."  And I am angry.  Passion says, "People don't really like you."  And I am insecure.
     When passion is given supremacy, I am dropped down as easily as I am picked up.  I am jerked from joy to dismay with the click of a circumstance.  Passion becomes a prison that I feel incapable of escaping.  The gift becomes a curse.
      How can passion be restored to its rightful place in my life?  An occupant, but not the landlord.  A friend, but not a dictator?
     Paul felt passion when he writes to his Corinthian friends, ". . . we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death." (2 Corinthians 1:8,9)  Even the apostle Paul was overwhelmed by that hardness of life and felt the strong pull of emotional despair.  How does he counter passion?  How does he walk out of the prison of despair?
     The only antidote to passion is faith.  We counter passion with the truth of our faith.  The truth is that we belong to Christ.  The truth is that "with God all things are possible."  The truth is that "God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4).   The truth is that every one of us is "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Ephesians 2:9).
     Paul counters with truth when he writes, "But that (our struggles) was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril and He will deliver us.  On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again." (2 Corinthians 1:9b, 10)
    Unbridled passion is a bully who crumples in the face of truth.  Passion is a straw-man that is easily knocked down by faith.
    Let Christ be supreme and let passion have it's rightful place:  a palette of colors in the hand of the Supreme Artist.  Let us trust in Him and not our passions.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Canyon of Desire

We wait in the gap of wanting what we do not have.  That canyon of unmet longing is both deep and wide.  From where we stand, we can glimpse the other side and with all of our hearts, we long to be there.  It beckons us with its promise and beauty.

But the canyon is a formidable obstacle.  We hate it. . . and at times pretend it isn't there.  We  hug the periphery and look beyond at the loveliness of the other side.  We imagine ourselves there. . . no more pain, no more longing.  But inevitably our eyes return to the canyon.  Our enemy, it seems, threatens to consume us.

To descend into the canyon, to embrace our unmet desires,  seems the worst pain of all.   Beauty is swallowed up by darkness.   We descend and desire rises.  The tension seems unbearable.  Will we ever emerge from this canyon?  Will we ever reach the other side?  Every step echoes futility.

But deep in the canyon of desire, there lies a river.  Unseen by those standing at the top of canyon walls, this river lies deep in the dark bottoms.  It is a river that brings unexpected refreshment to the weary traveler, the discouraged soul.  It quenches thirst, revives hearts and imparts hope.  In the deep dark, desire becomes a door and hope lies on the other side.  Drink deep and linger in this place.  The walls of the canyon are still high, but here at the bottom of unmet desire, the paradox of peace envelops you.

The journey resumes. . . but you are not alone.  Desire has led you to the One who holds all desire.  And now, He holds you, supports you, steadies you and leads you.  The path is unclear and demanding; but you are held.  You cling and are comforted.  This "God-of-the-other-side," this "God-of-happy-endings" is with you in the dark.  The dreaded canyon has become holy ground.  You find hope rising in the midst of pain.  Desire has brought you here and now Love holds you.  You climb with your destination unseen; but each step is sacred.  You believe the One who leads you can be trusted.  And somehow, the journey itself takes on a bit of the beauty of your destination.

"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,  the holy place where the Most High dwells."  Psalm 46:4


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Giving Up Control

     It is July and thoughts of my "words for the year" are a distant memory.   But today I returned to my January entry and realized that God has not forgotten and that He has not stopped plowing up cynicism and cultivating joy and expectancy in my life.  Two events have hugely impacted me in the last month.  One was returning to Guatemala for another missions trip; the other was coming home and being sick for a week.
    This year, Mark and I were given the amazing gift of being able to lead a missions trip to Guatemala out of our church.  We had gone with our family last year, but to lead a trip placed a whole new responsibility on our shoulders.  My hyper-responsibility glands went into high gear as I so desired to make this a great trip for everyone involved.  But from the beginning, it seemed like nothing quite went the way I planned.  The date was changed from what I wanted; the team make-up was smaller than what I wanted; the travel arrangements were hard. . .   There was no easy button to be found.  Maybe that's how it is whenever you embark of missions, but in my "got to get this right" worldview, it was frustrating to try so hard and have everything seem disappointing.
     Nonetheless, three weeks ago, our team embarked on our trip. . . albeit from two different airports!!  (Our family on two planes = major anxiety!)  We flew to Eagle's Nest in Solala, Guatemala where we led a morning camp for orphans living at Eagle's Nest and an afternoon camp for kids from the nearby village.  God decided to underscore for me over and over again just how capable He is!  The week we went was our second choice, but it ended up being the best choice, because the kids were out of school all week.  That allowed us to do 2 camps instead of one giant camp and gave us much more time with the kids!  I desired to have more musicians on our team, especially a drummer.  A couple and their son were staying at Eagle's Nest.  The father and son turned out to be drummers and helped teach the older kids drumming during our camp!  I had wanted some Spanish speakers on our team; God provided two college interns who not only translated for us, but were wonderful in directing the kids.  Further, the Patlans (missionary family who run Eagle's Nest) have 3 kids who stepped up and helped us in big ways.
     The sum total is that God gave us an amazing week.  He provided exactly what we needed.  Every member of our team proved valuable and indispensable.  and then God went beyond in knitting our hearts to one another, to the kids and to the Patlan family. 
     Perhaps one source of my cycnicism is my ultra-responsibility. . . which is really just code for "control freak"!  God took control away from me in many areas and then provided more abundantly than I ever could.  In His artistic way, at the end of the week, He gave me the experience of ziplining.  I had to let go of my fear of heights and trust I could survive being dangled from a cable thousands of feet in the air (okay, maybe just hundreds)!  It was terrifying, but it was ultimately glorious to experience something like flying through the air.  It was freedom. . . which is scary, but also very exhilarating.  And that is a life lesson for me.  Joy comes when I abandon the need to control.
    Coming home I had a week of illness.  I was "weak as water" to quote my mother-in-law and unable to do much besides sleep and sip sprite.  Again, I lost control.  I couldn't jump back into life.  And God provided through friends and family who stocked our fridge and filled it with meals to make our transition back easier.  My teenagers took over driving.  Friends watched my kids at the swim meet.  It was hard, but it was good.
    So joy comes in yielding to God's very capable hands and believing that He can be trusted with the details of my life.  And hard and beautiful aren't really that far apart.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Bouquet of Peace

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  Romans 15:13

As I ask God to combat my cynicism, today I am struck by this gift of peace.  I equate peace with comfort and long for that to be the norm of my life.  Sickness, arguing kids, panicked phonecalls, thwarted goals, burning green beans -- these are interruptions that I resent because they seem abnormal.  Comfort is pierced by chaos and disorder.

But today it occurs to me that I've inverted reality.  Perhaps chaos is the norm.  The backdrop for life is more black than white. The hardness of life prevails with occasional interruptions of comfort.

Rather than deepening cycnicism, this reverse perspective fills me with gratitude.  When I expect that each day will be full of stretching and stuggle, I am awed that God offers to fill me with "all joy and peace" and cause me to "overflow with hope".  I am looking and listening for His small gifts that pierce the hard with His joy, His peace, His hope.

Today God dropped moments of peace into my day.  Sitting quietly with a cup of coffee and His Word.  Having my cat sprawled across my lap, purring with contentment.  A gray day that seemed to slow the pace.  Soul connection with a friend.  Listening to my son play cello.  My busy girl, sitting still enough to read with me.  My big girl asleep on her bed, still wearing her boots.  An hour at the library. . . working in front of a fireplace.  Lots of crazy, lots of chaos in between, but periodic infusions of peace that defy the hardness of life and cause gratitude to well up in my heart.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Words for a New Year

     Six days into 2013 and I am still contemplating what my "word" for the year will be.  At the suggestion of a friend, last year was the first time I exchanged a  list of resolutions for a single word.  The word for 2012 was "yieldedness" and I suppose God gave it to me as a life raft for theyear.  At the beginning of the year it was a quality I felt like I was lacking in my relationship with God.  It was something I desired, but did not possess.  And quite  honestly I could not muster up the wisdom and stamina to make it happen.  But God very generously and creatively wove circumstances that gave me repeated practice at yielding. I can't check a box.  I won't say "I've mastered yielding to God".   But I am in process and I loved seeing the artistry of God in carrying this theme throughout the year.
     So far no single word has pierced my heart with utter clarity.  What I keep coming back to, however, is the ugly word "cynicism".  If I could clean the closets of my soul, I would take this dirty word and kick it to the curb (along with its friends "negativity" and "dread").  For me, cynicism is a soul cancer that expects little of people and God, that sets expectations so low, that they can never be disappointed.  Cynicism feels safe, but it is a lens that drains the color out of life and reduces all to grays and beige. 
     As I've thought about what would displace cynicism, I keep thinking of a pair words:  "joy" and "expectancy".  I want to change the lens.  I want to be able to lift my eyes to see the joy moments.  To stop and wallow in them.  To be willing to part with efficiency and laugh more and longer.  To celebrate little victories that are too often eclipsed by looming goals and deadlines.  "Joy in the journey" is cliche, but I was to smile at the process as much as I strain for the accomplishments. . . and maybe more.
     Expectancy feels very risky.  I can remember my broken, 16-year-old heart drinking the koolaid that would numb my heart and relieve pain:  "Lower your expectations" became my mantra.  Anytime people disappointed me, I could take control by lowering my expectations of them.  Thus I kept my heart protected.
     But the containment of pain was bought by the forfeiture of hope.  It is impossible to protect the heart and nurture hope.
     Hope is wild and unpredictable.  It springs at the most unpredictable times and in the most unlikely of places.  Hope is tied to expectation. . . specifically expectation that the God of this universe is really who He says he is.  That He loves me, chooses me, forgives me, redeems me and in all things is advocating for me.  Expectancy is eager, anticipating and optimistic -- believing that God is writing a very good story through my life and the lives of those I love.  I can labor in relationships and endure messy disappointments, because God is the consumate midwive, bringing forth new life from all pain.  I can safely rest all my expectations for myself and those I love on Him. . . and let Him breath hope and joy into my heart.
     Joy and expectancy casting out cynicism and dread.  This is what I would love for God to do in my heart this year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Facing the Mountain

     It is never a good sign when, after drinking two cups of coffee, I am dozing off as I pray.  This morning I read two chapters in Tim Keller's Reason for God, closed my eyes to pray and woke up 45 minutes later under a quilt on the couch!  (This is no indictment of Tim Keller -- his book is excellent!)  Sadly, this happened has happened before. . . in my recent past. 
    Right now I am facing a mountain and rather than feeling exhilarated by the climb ahead, I am flat exhausted.  Tired before I even start, looking for a chairlift, wondering if I could find a coffeehouse and just enjoy the mountain from a distance, hot drink in hand.  I have had people tell me I don't need to climb this mountain.  There is an easier way to the same destination.  There are other people more skilled and conditioned to do the climbing for me.  I agree with all of their words and have explored every escape option.  But it is clear and unavoidable:  God wants me to climb this mountain. . . and I don't have the skill or strength.  This is where God steps in and provides the supplies I need.  As usual God is not conventional, so instead of physical strength and a detailed mental map, He is giving me rations of courage (I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength), hope (all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes) and unquenchable love (greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends -- or kids or husband).
     My mountain has many names, but I am calling it "Fool's Peak" or "The Mountain of Teenage Angst".  Lots of other people have climbed it and lots of others are climbing it now.  But this is my teenager and so this mountain is very personal for me.  To climb it means to engage with a teenager who seems to want nothing to do with engagement.  The destination is his God-given potential, so to climb the mountain is to believe every day that God is working in him.  He is in process and every day is a new page, not the end of the story.  To climb means to speak words that affirm his worth.  To extend respect when he does nothing to deserve it.  To respond with kindness when he is surly and belligerent.  To hold him accountable with words of hope, not condemnation.  But most of all, to climb this mountain means to stay in relationship with him when my natural impulse is to run, distract and distance until he's "come through" these turbulent years (translation:  don't sit in the coffee house!).
    My energy bar is God's word.  God loves my teenager more than I do.  His life is a miracle that God orchestrated.  God is a master at working out stories of redemption.  No one is too foolish or messed up for his redemptive work.  I need to be reminded every day that there is more in play than I can see with my eyes.  I see the steep climb; God sees the beauty.  I see the rocks; God sees the destination.  I see foolishness; God sees His image.     
     God also sees me.  He equips me.  He travels with me.  He gives me what I need.  I am climbing a mountain, but I'm not alone.  And God knows when I need to rest under a quilt.

   "The LORD is the everlasting god, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or
     weary and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the
     power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
     but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.   They will soar on wings like eagles;
     they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."  Isaiah 40:28-31