Author - Sameer

What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Marriage

Somehow, some way, a bit over twenty-four months have passed while I’ve been doing this marriage thing. What the pez!? You’ll recall I shared some of the lessons learned after one year of being hitched, and I thought it would be important to reflect again now that we’ve hit another milestone. I’m not sure how the first couple years are supposed to be, or tend to be. Are we still in the “honeymoon stage”? Are we past it? Are we unique in any way? Are we like every other young married couple at this stage? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter.

Here’s what I do know. We’re doing great. I can say that without even the slightest qualification. And I’m so thankful for it and don’t take it for granted. My love for her is definitely growing stronger, not plateauing or weakening in any way. I shared in a letter I wrote to her before I went to Ireland this summer that I catch myself feeling increasingly vulnerable in terms of my love for her. Like, I’m losing control, like she has this power over me that makes me feel all liquefied inside. Not always, but definitely when I’m missing her a ton, or thinking about her in the midst of exhaustion or loneliness or work struggles.

At those times, if I were to let the emotions completely overcome me, I feel I would turn into a blubbery mess. Because in that moment, I want her, I need her, I love her so painfully much. I don’t allow my mind or feelings to go there, but that’s what marriage and doing life with her has done to me 🙂

But you’re not here to read about that. Let’s talk about what I have learned. Allow me to structure this in terms of two things I say to myself on a consistent basis. That will most profoundly illustrate how my thinking and my living have been affected.

“It doesn’t really matter.”

I say this a lot in my head. Early on, a handful of things bugged me. In my mind, she loads the dishwasher a little inefficiently. Almost every day, the floor and counter would have one or two small sticky spots from her cooking or making tea or something (I really hate stickiness. Really.)   She takes a while to do something that I would have already knocked out. She’s a couple minutes late getting ready when we’re off to be somewhere on time. Stuff like that.

But in the grand scheme of things, I have learned that it’s not a big deal.

And I believe she is doing her best and is well aware of what might annoy me, and I need to leave it at that.

She’s a separate person with a separate way of doing things, and it’s totally fine. It’s not fair for me to expect her to do everything in the exact same way as I would, at the exact same speed. Preserving harmony in the marriage takes precedent. “Us” is always more important than “me.” And seriously, I’m sure she bites her tongue every day when it comes to my idiosyncrasies and annoying habits. I wouldn’t want to do life with me. I’m so thankful she does. Being so intimately acquainted with my faults, it’s actually kind of miraculous.

Remember that the other person is doing their best. They are not trying to annoy you or irritate you in the least bit.

For those in long-term relationships or marriages, try to tell yourself often that “it doesn’t really matter.” There are very few hills you should die on. Yes, have convictions about the important things – the things that reflect integrity and industriousness and wisdom and kindness and faith – but try to let go about the comparatively trivial things. Remember that the other person is doing their best. They are not trying to annoy you or irritate you in the least bit. They are trying each day to be all you need them to be. And you should be thankful for all of the ways they are patient and gracious and ever-loving with you.

“Only one thing is necessary.”

I say this to myself a lot too. And it helps me to be a better person, which in turn helps me to be a better husband. It’s from Luke 10:42, when sisters Mary and Martha are hosting Jesus. Martha is running around the house trying to manage life and responsibilities and appearances and demands. Mary is just hanging out with the Lord, getting to know Him and His heart, and finding her worth and value in Him. And when Martha complains about Mary not helping her with all she has going on, Jesus lovingly admonishes Martha and praises Mary’s singular devotion and choice with the words, “Only one thing is necessary.”

It’s true. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in trying to stay on top of life. And pursuing that goal has the side-effect of pushing out my pursuit of God and my pursuit of Rachel. I start to think that sweeping the floor, or writing another paper, or preparing for tax season, or organizing my closet is more important right now than them. But they aren’t. Ever. Those tasks always come in second to the way I love my Lord and the way I love my wife. I’m not saying you have to let those things go; rather, you should make sure that your good intentions to get things done doesn’t undermine the best possible relationship you could ever have.

It’s so easy for me to get caught up in trying to stay on top of life. And pursuing that goal has the side-effect of pushing out my pursuit of God and my pursuit of Rachel.

I find this extremely tough. I hate mistakes and I hate problems because they get in the way of me living how I want each day (I do realize this is dysfunctional and selfish and prideful and controlling). And so I do all I can to avoid them by laboring in ways that prevent their possible occurrence. I’m always thinking ahead. I spray for bugs just in case we have a random infestation. I trim palm trees to keep them from possibly knocking down a gutter. I plan for old age. I maintain proper tire pressure in our vehicles. I stay on top of mail and bills and filing paperwork. There is always something else to do. Always. I’m never caught up the way I want to be. Ever.

But all of this takes so much time, time that I could be – and should be – giving to God and my wife. Obviously, I’m supposed to be a good steward, and take care of the domain over which He’s give me ownership. But I clearly need to trust Him more to hold everything together and not let the bottom fall out (which is fundamentally what I am afraid of). I’m trying. It’s going to be impossible for me to keep this up when we have children. I just have to trust more. And do less. And give myself to my most important relationships above all else.

It’s going to be impossible for me to keep this up when we have children. I just have to trust more. And do less. And give myself to my most important relationships above all else.

That’s it. Pretty simple, actually. There are so many lists in books and online with top tips for relationships and dating and marriages, but all of that can be subsumed under two succinct phrases for me: “it doesn’t really matter” and “only one thing is necessary.” Or, as Stephen Covey has said, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” I feel like when I’ve concentrated my energies on living out these two overarching statements, everything else falls into place. Not perfectly (because we are broken people in a broken world), but pretty dang well – and marked by a good measure of peace, harmony, and even joy. That is all I want as Rachel and I enjoy each other’s love, laughter, and companionship, and team up to accomplish epic things for His people, purposes, and renown.

How God Showed Me His Love While Mountain Climbing

connemara-lakes-and-mountains
I’ve been thinking recently about the ways that God endeavors to show us that He loves us, that we are the apple of His eye. Many times, we are just moving so fast as we manage our responsibilities and commitments that we miss or dismiss His gestures of affection, and then wonder why He doesn’t seem actively involved in our life. I’ve been there. When I slow down (or am forced to slow down), I feel I am much more attuned to Him, and see much more clearly evidence of His grace, kindness, and even delight in me. Sometimes it is hard to believe, but He does delight in me. And you. Just because we struggle to believe something doesn’t make it not true.

Sometimes it is hard to believe, but He does delight in me. And you. Just because we struggle to believe something doesn’t make it not true.

Going on vacation overseas with Rachel also helps me to slow down and find Him in the newly created space. I’m not in my normal routine, and eyes and ears are more open to receive whatever He wants to show me, instead of simply moving to the next task, and the next task, until I’m done with the duties of the day. Recently, we were in Connemara National Park on the west Coast of Ireland, and on a whim decided to try to hike up to the top of the highest point we could see. After parking at the visitor center and following some signs, we found out that we could summit “Diamond Hill,” which had an altitude of almost 1,500 feet and a route length of a bit over four miles. Those stats might make it seem like a walk in the park, but it definitely was not because of a few variables.

bottom-of-diamond-hill

First, Rachel was six months pregnant. It’s like she was carrying a watermelon in front of her. She’s okay with me saying that, because it’s true. I personally cannot imagine carrying even a cantaloupe in front of me while I climbed up a mountainous hill, especially as we had to use our hands a few times to steady ourselves and pull ourselves up. Second, it was really windy. I mean, the wind was whipping hard on us and around us and there was simply no protection from it on the way up. Third, the Visitor’s Center was closed, there was no one else on the trail, and we were in a foreign country where no one knew we were doing this. Nevertheless, we soldiered onward and wanted to give it a shot, knowing all along that we could turn back at any point if necessary. 

The first half of the climb was a slight but steady incline. While Rachel needed to take breaks periodically to catch her breath and drink some water, we had no fear or nervousness. And as we got higher, we stopped often to take in the stunning views offered by the surrounding mountains and valleys and lakes under a cloudy sky backlit by the dusky sun. With no one else around, it felt like Diamond Hill, and Connemara, and even all of Ireland was ours and only ours to enjoy. This was also our first real hike of the vacation, and we love to hike – and so it finally felt like we had “arrived” and we were doing what we loved the most in what seemed like the prettiest countryside in the world.

sheep-on-diamond-hill

The second half of the climb was more difficult because we had to travel up a long and often steep pathway of rocky steps towards the summit. It was insanely windy, and I could tell Rachel was starting to struggle, but I also could tell that really wanted to do this. I kept offering to turn back, because I truly didn’t care whether we reached the top or not – all that mattered was that we were spending quality time together and getting some fresh air on the Emerald Isle. However, I think we both realized that this might be a watershed moment in our relationship and in our lives.

Though I had a tendency to hike about ten feet in front of her, she mentioned that it would be a good idea to stay next to her and practice coaching her up the mountain in preparation for coaching her through labor. I thought that was a great idea. She said that as long as she could feel my presence and encouragement, she would know that she could do this, and all would be well. I agreed completely, and those words energized me to make sure I came through for her in the most loving, patient, and supportive way I could.

And so that’s what we did, slowly, steadily, and with courage, all the way up until we reached the gigantic cairn marking the apex of Diamond Hill after two and a half hours. When we first saw it, I spontaneously cheered out loud in excitement because we had made it, and had accomplished the feat together through teamwork. I knew it viscerally conveyed to Rachel that we could do anything together, starting with the birth of our first child in a few short months. And if any doubts or fears subtly crept in – as they tend to do – we both would now be able to point to, and derive confidence from, this moment and epic accomplishment. I was thrilled, Rachel was thrilled, and I honestly felt like God was thrilled – I knew He had our back on this particular adventure, and did His part in helping us succeed.

It would have been enough of a demonstration of His love and provision to get us up and down Diamond Hill safely. However, He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, and as such had a few more surprises for us. Even though we were buzzing from the adrenaline high of summiting, and the knowledge that the hardest part of the climb was behind us, God chose to go above and beyond in amazing us with nature and creation by letting us see 1) lots of sheep up close along the trail, including a few really cute baby lambs 2) wild, old mountain goats with huge horns and shaggy beards 3) deer 4) cows 5) and a horse and pony that we could pet.

If that weren’t enough, the sun came out when we were almost back to the trailhead, lifting our spirits even higher. Then, both Rachel and I turned around to say farewell to the challenge we just conquered, and our jaws dropped to see a full double rainbow over our mountain. Rachel almost broke down in tears, and the emotion of it all filled us with so much gratefulness and awe towards the only One who could make it all happen.

panoramic rainbow

On the way back to the car, we marveled in astonishment at experiencing so much natural beauty all in a flush, all in an overflowing abundance. It felt incredibly personal, like a whisper between best friends, or a secret between lovers. Rachel and I were fully in the moment, and fully dependent on Him and Him alone during the climb. In that, He chose to communicate how much He truly loves us. And in that, we were able to receive His love overwhelmingly, and it has given us the reassurance we need that He is with us, goes before us, and has our absolute best in mind.

Life, as I know it, is ending

crying girl
My life is about to be turned upside down, because we’re about to have a baby. This is a wonderful, incredible thing, and I don’t take it for granted. It’s actually a complete miracle to have a child, and I am beyond grateful that it happened. And I am so very excited because I’ve always wanted to be a dad, and have always been great with kids. I’ve always done (and enjoyed) a lot of babysitting for families I know, and have worked with elementary schoolers at church almost every week for so many years. Plus, those of you who know me know that I am a big kid at heart.

I feel like this new role is going to fit me like a glove, and everyone seems to be in agreement based on their observations of my interactions with children and teens. I can picture myself as Phil from Modern Family, or Chip from Fixer Upper, having an absolute blast with my kiddos, being their best friend and hero, and driving my wife crazy in the most adorable and memorable ways (she’ll roll her eyes at us and our exploits, but she’ll fall more deeply in love with me at the same time!)

All of this said, I am a bit nervous about a couple of things. I know me better than anyone else, and I slowly shake my head in concern sometimes at some of my personal idiosyncrasies – especially when I consider them in the light of all that a baby will bring into my world. I actually like these things about me, but I fear they are incompatible with this new season of my life. Because it will no longer my world – it will be my baby’s world.

First, I like things clean.

boy cleaning

I really do. When I think about cleanliness, I close my eyes, breathe in the sweet air around me, smile contentedly, and let out a long, peaceful exhale. Cleanliness is a freshly washed white t-shirt sun drying on a clothesline in the middle of a breezy meadow. It’s soothing. It’s comforting. It’s downright lovely. My home is like this. While sometimes I have stuff laying around that I need to put away, you honestly could eat off any surface in my home pretty much at any time. Carpets, tile, countertops, tables, desks in my house – they are all clean. I sweep a lot, mop a lot, vacuum a lot (well, Rachel does, thank you love!), and go through antibacterial surface wipes like I’m a hypochondriac (thank you Amazon!) (I am not a hypochondriac). I just don’t like messes. In particular, I don’t like stickiness.

The problem is that babies are sticky. And they are going to make everything else sticky. My table and chairs and floors and bed and everything within reach is going to now be sticky. And after I wipe them down, they will get sticky again – probably within minutes. I am starting to tense up just picturing this. Whoa, I just felt a definite physiological reaction. I clearly have issues. Okay, let’s move on, quickly.

crying girl

Second, I like things quiet.

Actually, I love quiet. Oh, I love it so much. Just thinking about quietness right now makes me wish it was tangible so I could give it a big ol’ hug. There is nothing better. It allows me to think through my problems and emotions, constantly talk with and listen to God (my best friend), and come up with neat new ideas (and remember things I want to remember). I seriously don’t know how people do life well with so much noise and distraction and stimuli around them. Quietness is such a beautiful thing.

quiet girl

The problem is that babies are not quiet. Often they are the opposite of quiet. That is just reality.

And so it feels like I am losing something major in my life. Cleanliness and quietness. But yes, I know I am gaining something so much more major. I mourned the loss of solitude when I married the love of my life, but I got used to having someone else around. And now I miss Rachel tons when we are apart and I like doing life with her. Actually, I love doing life with her. I would gladly trade solitude to be with her.

But to be honest, that was kind of a leap of faith for me. I didn’t know for sure how I would be able to handle it. I just believed and trusted that God brought us together for His eternal purposes and our collective joy, and would take care of the details. And He totally did, and my struggle was very short.

I know I am called to be a father, and that He is actively involved in preparing me for this. I know He’s working on my heart and thought processes even as I write this, helping me to prepare, and helping me to get over myself. And though I am currently mourning the forthcoming loss of cleanliness and quietness in my world, I have to believe that He is going to help me overcome any struggles I face. And just like with marriage, parenthood is going to be so great, and so very worth anything I think I am losing or giving up.

I hope this doesn’t sound ridiculous and selfish to you. I do realize that the problem isn’t that babies are not clean and not quiet. They are babies, and that’s how babies are. The problem is me. But I need grace, from myself and from others. You may think this is small potatoes and that I am whining about the stupidest of things, but perhaps you also have small potatoes in your life that are magnified because of your personality and habits. Maybe you also make molehills into mountains, in at least some area of your life. Maybe we all do.

We’re about to have a baby. God’s got me, and I’ve got this, and all will be well. He doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called.

This is me, being equipped. 

Eight months in, and one month to go.

Image sources:

http://bit.ly/2uNQeYZ
http://bit.ly/2eFuKri
http://bit.ly/2uNQeYZ
http://bit.ly/2vyecp6

Judging by Appearances

judging by appearances 4
While living in a dorm room this summer at a university in Ireland, I was reminded about one aspect of human nature I really dislike. I had to get to another campus to give a speech, and went downstairs to the reception desk to ask someone to please call me a taxi. However, the person behind the desk really didn’t seem interested, and appeared put out by my request even after I clearly explained that I didn’t have a phone to make the call myself. She asked me to hold on, and while I waited patiently, she was keen to help other adults with friendliness, warmth, and her time. And I became a bit frustrated because there are signs everywhere around my dorm about how the staff are available to help with anything I might need.

When these sorts of things happen, my mind instinctively starts to churn with certain thoughts to reconcile the situation. Maybe the receptionist wasn’t comfortable with my American accent, and maybe she prefers chatting and helping those with Irish accents. Maybe she wasn’t eager to help because I was dressed down – in very casual clothes – and because I may appear to her to be a student instead of a professor. Of course, that shouldn’t matter, but maybe it did. When she finally turned again my direction, she shrugged her shoulders and gave me a pat answer. I thanked her anyway, and said that I would attempt to request a taxi through the cab company’s website from my room.

And so I tried that, but had no luck at all. Remembering, though, that God always responds even when no one else will, I just got ready for my speech by showering, shaving, and putting on my formal clothes, and then headed back downstairs with the hope that someone else would be at the reception desk to assist me. Unfortunately, it was the same woman, but this time she was quite eager to lend a hand. The only difference, based on what I could tell, was my appearance. I was suited and booted, fresh-faced, and professional-looking. And with a newfound enthusiasm to come through for me, she helped me get a taxi.

judging by appearances 5

I cannot express to you how maddening this is. It’s happened a handful of times to me, and I’m sure it’s happened to you. We live in a world where appearances matter. We’ve been taught this from an early age: the importance of first impressions during interviews, first dates, and other special events. Perhaps it’s related to the halo effect – the cognitive bias we all have where an initial impression we have of someone affects our overall thoughts and feelings we have about their character and value.

We’ve been taught this from an early age: the importance of first impressions during interviews, first dates, and other special events.

Also, it is perhaps second nature for us to judge others and group them in pre-established categories so that we know how to reflexively respond to them – based on our prior experiences with (or perceptions of) others in that category. We do this out of convenience, and for the sake of efficiency. Nevertheless, it drives me bonkers because I think it’s flat out wrong. I’m all about truth and justice, and something about it feels unjust. It feels…shallow, callous, disingenuous, and even manipulative.

What is our root motivation for judging based on appearances? From my perspective, I think it shamefully betrays that many of our new interactions are transactional. We enter them subconsciously looking to get something out of them. We are hoping, at least in part, that there might be some sort of symbolic or substantive personal gain from it. With some self-reflection, maybe we would honestly even admit that to ourselves.

When I have someone coming to our house to fix an appliance or perform a service job, I seriously take the time to put on pants and a button down so I look more like a professional and less like a kid.

Allow me to share something you may think silly and even pretentious. When I have someone coming to our house to fix an appliance or perform a service job, I seriously take the time to put on pants and a button down so I look more like a professional and less like a kid. This is because I am convinced I will be thought of less highly if I’m in a t-shirt and shorts, and that will consequently affect the quality of the service I receive. Is that crazy? Perhaps.

I do this when I go to the repair shop to get my car fixed too. And when I go to see a new doctor or health care provider. I guess I believe that I need to look a particular way in order to increase the odds that I will be treated better than the norm. It’s disappointing to me that I do this because it is transactional and contrived and insincere, and because these actions reflect a broken human condition of which I am a representative. This is my reality.

On the flip side, I honestly try to treat everyone exactly the same, regardless of how they look or dress. Really. I am actually obsessive about this. I believe that if you asked anyone who knows me, they would agree that I give my best to the person who is in front of me no matter who they are. I know I do this because I’m keenly aware of latent prejudices and biases that can often manifest in these contexts.

judging by appearances 12

But I also do it because of my faith. And because the life lessons I have learned through God’s Word have proven themselves infallible to me.

Jesus gave his best to the person right in front of Him every time. Without exception. It’s a defining trait, and one I find so admirable. I want to be like this, always. He blessed and healed those with wealth, and those without. He reached out to those the world considered beautiful and whole, and those the world considered physically ugly and diseased. He came to the rescue of the young and the old. He bestowed goodness, warmth, and sincere affection with unrivaled impartiality.

Why did He do this? I think it’s because He saw everyone with spiritual eyes and a heavenly perspective, and knew that every single one of them was made in the image of God. And, therefore, each person had inherent value.

He reached out to those the world considered beautiful and whole, and those the world considered physically ugly and diseased. He came to the rescue of the young and the old. He bestowed goodness, warmth, and sincere affection with unrivaled impartiality.

James – a brother of Jesus – penned the most damning words related to the classism we sometimes display in our actions: “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

We unequivocally need to treat everyone the same, regardless of what they look like. And since I am downright troubled by what I see and experience to the contrary, I can do two things.

First, I can consistently represent a standard of interacting with others that is noble and above reproach, and point to unyielding truths that champion the best ways to interact with others. I hope that my life serves as a model that others strive to emulate, and conveys that I am simply trying to emulate Jesus – who did it perfectly and who can actually equip us to follow in His footsteps. We totally cannot do it ourselves, in our own strength and self-discipline.

Second, I can ask Him to open the eyes of my heart to see everyone’s needs and hopes with His perspective, and thereby increase my sensitivity to “the least of these.” If I am known for anything in this world, I want to be known for this. Not so that I can be commended and praised, but simply because every single person matters. And my actions fully need to reflect that fact, every single time.

Image source:

http://bzfd.it/2tXWsVn

My Cape

childlike cape faith
Rachel made me a cape!  A full-sized, heavy, satiny, superhero cape!  I am totally shocked and bowled over by how freaking awesome it is!  This is the best gift I have ever received in my entire life!

I’ve honestly always wanted a cape, ever since I saw the original Superman with Christopher Reeve.  We both had black hair, and wore glasses, and were a bit nerdy.  Clark Kent obviously had a unique gift and calling on his life, and in my innocence I wondered if maybe I did too.  I remember using a safety pin to hold together the short end corners of the biggest bath towel I could find to wear around my neck.  And then I would run through the house with my cape fluttering behind me, and jump off couches and beds and chairs and anything else I could find.  In my mind, being a superhero involved a lot of jumping, perhaps as practice to leap tall buildings in a single bound.   

My cape made me feel strong, powerful, courageous, and noble.  It made me feel like I was more than meets the eye, that I had a secret and special quality about me that no one else had.

My cape made me feel strong, powerful, courageous, and noble.  It made me feel like I was more than meets the eye, that I had a secret and special quality about me that no one else had.  And that it would help me to be the best version of myself, to battle evil and save lives and just naturally do great and awesome things to make the lives of others better and safer and happier.  I think everyone wants this, and not just while growing up.  We want to have something extraordinary about us to share, something that we can unveil to the world to fulfill a grand purpose.

I haven’t worn a towel like a cape since before adolescence.  But I have always delighted in what it signifies.  And since I’ve known Rachel, I’ve joked offhandedly about how I would love a cape because it represents what I am all about.  Childlike faith.  Truth and justice for all.  Awe and wonder.  Intrepid valor.  Romance.  Living from one’s heart above all else, for the greater good. 

childlike faith castle

She surprised me with it for our second wedding anniversary when she came to visit me in Ireland this summer.  I got out of the shower, and there it was laying on the bed for me.  I was completely dumbfounded and speechless when I first saw it, and didn’t know what it was, but then it hit me. 

I was like, “You got me a cape?  You got me a cape?!!  You got me a CAPE!!!!” And she was like, “I made you a cape!”  Even remembering the moment as I write this out makes me marvel anew at her act of love towards me. 

You have to see it in person.  I’ll even let you try it on if you want.  I didn’t want a cape with the Superman logo, something you could buy in a costume shop.  I wanted my very own, something that no one else had.  And no one else has this cape in the entire world!  I love that it’s red, with a gold stallion as the insignia (its meaning is personal).  I love that the inside of it is black.  I love that it has weight and class to it, as the material is just exquisite and really makes me think that all of the best capes out there – Superman’s, Batman’s, Dracula’s – were made just like this one.  And when I wear it, I don’t feel derpy or ridiculous.  Instead, I feel joy – simply and purely.

I want to remain curious, and wide-eyed, and risk-taking – and expect that things will work out in the end.  I want to feel mysterious, and dashing, and capable of tremendous feats.

While we were vacationing around Ireland, my favorite thing to do was to find the ruins of a castle, put on my cape, and go climbing around on it.  You might think that it took me back to being a kid again, but in my mind it was a wonderful reminder that I haven’t stopped being a kid – at least in the most desirable ways.  I want to remain curious, and wide-eyed, and risk-taking – and expect that things will work out in the end.  I want to feel mysterious, and dashing, and capable of tremendous feats.  This is how I always want to see myself, how always I want to be.

As I think about it, my cape is important to me for two major reasons. 

First, it represents a rite of passage.  In adolescence, we have bar and bat mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition, confirmation in the Catholic faith, Quinceanera in Spanish cultures, Seijin Shiki in Japanese customs.  Many times, some symbol or token is given to formally mark the transition from child to adult, and their calling forth into greater responsibility, maturity, and strength.  I’ve heard of examples where the token was a replica broad sword from Lord of the Rings, or a necklace of great significance and meaning. 

superhero cape faith

It may seem like an unnecessary formality, but it is a very special thing to commemorate a major life change in a tangible way that conveys encouragement, support, and nobility.  It also then serves as a clear, unquestionable marker and signpost to remind a person from where he has come, and where he is going.  I find that individuals need to know when a transition has happened, or else they flounder and flail while seemingly suspended between two stages. And they never really make the “jump” – leaving the past in the past and fully embracing the present and future. 

My cape encourages me to stiff-arm complacency, press through fear, and fight the good fight just like Superman or Batman or any other caped crusader would.

I’m about to be a father for the first time.  This is a humongous deal.  My cape serves as a token of remembrance that spurs me on to be a hero to my forthcoming child, and to my wife.  It also reminds me to view the world as my playground, where anything can happen and everything is possible (I still believe that).  It encourages me to stiff-arm complacency, press through fear, and fight the good fight just like Superman or Batman or any other caped crusader would.  It helps me to rise up, and be the best I can be.

Second, in 2 Kings there is a great story of when the older prophet Elijah passes on his mantle (or robe, or cloak) to his younger sidekick Elisha.  A mantle is very similar to a cape, and represented a covering from God that conferred authority and responsibility to one chosen to do great things.  When I see my cape – and honestly even when I think about it – it serves a tremendous purpose.  I am reminded that He has set me apart, to be a light in dark places, to know the words that sustain the weary, to offer hope, to reflect how to live life to the fullest, and most importantly to point others to His son Jesus through all that I do. 

childlike faith ireland

There’s so much in this world that destroys our innocence, and that breaks our will and even our heart.  There’s so much that pushes us in the direction of bitterness, cynicism, passivity, and resignation. We find ourselves in a downright war for emotional health and stability as adults just trying to make it, and the battles we must fight every day render us weary. 

I think we’d all face these struggles with more fortitude and hope if we could approach them with the mindset we had before our childhood was rocked. Or stolen. And often, we need something to get us there, to jolt us out of our self-defeating thoughts and attitudes.

My cape does that. It serves as the reminder I need to regain the perspective I always want to have in life. It helps me to remember my identity, my calling, and all that I am meant for – and meant to be.

What My Pregnant Wife Needs From Me

pregnant wife needs
My wife Rachel is six months pregnant with our first child, and we’d both tell you that we’re enjoying this uniquely special time in our lives.  Part of me wishes Baby were here already so I could play with it.  It’s like, come on already, I want to hold you and cuddle you and love you to pieces!  The other part of me understands we need this to stretch out to the right number of weeks so Baby is as healthy as possible.  Rachel helps me keep things in perspective, and has a very mature and thoughtful outlook on this entire process.  This is probably because she’s spent a lot of time learning and researching about pregnancy and birth and newborns and motherhood over the last year, and I have spent a lot of time watching sports. 

Pregnancy hasn’t been a breeze.  I guess it’s probably not a breeze for anyone, ever.  Rachel had a really rough first fifteen weeks marked by a whole lot of nausea and vomiting, and it made me feel so helpless, and – yes – partly to blame.  When I could hear her in the bathroom hunched over the toilet sobbing and throwing up and coughing and spitting, I was like “I did this to her, this is my fault!”  But I understood that sometimes morning sickness happens, and she understood it too, and we got through it.  She was seriously such a champ in riding out the first trimester with such a good attitude.  I tried to love her well then, and seeing her “take one for the team” has inspired me to redouble my efforts to keep doing so.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

1) Rachel needs to feel emotionally safe.  Even more emotionally safe than ever before.  What she is going through is – to put it bluntly – traumatic.  It is.  You have something growing inside of you. You’re always thinking about it.  And if you stop for a moment to get back to doing life, it reminds you by taking from you – oxygen, food, and all kinds of energy and thought.   Or by kicking you.  All of this tires you out, runs you down, and leaves you very feeling very vulnerable.  Plus, if it’s your first baby, all of these feelings are so new and you get freaked out really easily.  The insides of your body are stretching and straining, hormones and chemicals are rising and falling and basically going haywire, and you have random weird pains all over your abdomen and nether regions.  It’s super scary. Mommy has no clear idea what all is going on inside of her, and just wants Baby to be okay.  I want that too as Daddy, but I’m not experiencing all of the super heavy physical and emotional stuff that Mommy is. 

It’s super scary. Mommy has no clear idea what all is going on inside of her, and just wants Baby to be okay.

And so I have to be extra thoughtful and sensitive in what I say, and how I say it.  I don’t want to pile on to her emotional load in any way, but instead just want to help her offload some of it onto my shoulders by being supportive, understanding, super patient, and simply a great listener and friend to her.  I need to avoid coming across as judgmental or questioning her decisions or choices (Note to self: don’t say stuff like “Chinese takeout and froyo AGAIN tonight?”). I need to reassure her in subtle and obvious ways that she’s physically beautiful and altogether lovely, that I’m always going to be here through thick and thin (you know what I mean), and that I’m strong enough to love her and keep pursuing her heart through all of these changes. 

In this environment, she can rest against the stability I provide.  She can let her guard down and just be herself without having to fake it.  And she can keep her own heart soft without having to harden it simply to get through.  Honestly, don’t we all want to live and love and grow in an environment like this? It’s freeing.

It’s nurturing. 
It’s without condition. 
It’s how family should always, always be.

2) Rachel needs practical help with her responsibilities and tasks, and I need to be available and eager to pitch in.  Before pregnancy, we sort of both knew our roles in terms of who took care of what.  Of course, we’d always offer the other a hand, but I’d say that we had a good system in place to avoid unnecessary stress and stay on top of life (as much as is humanly possible).  Since pregnancy, I just have to do a lot more.  Rachel would love to contribute in exactly the same ways as she did before, but on some days she physically and emotionally cannot.  She just can’t. 

I need to not think to myself, “Dangit, I’m totally exhausted too, and now I have to do all of these other things as well?!??!”

I need to not think to myself, “Dangit, I’m totally exhausted too, and now I have to do all of these other things as well?!??!” or “What the pez, she’s been lying on the couch all afternoon and we have so much to knock out!” or “Holy crap man, we just stopped for a bathroom eight minutes ago and she needs me to stop again!” I need to think to myself, “Wake up, you shortsighted goober. Remember the promises you made at the altar.  Your wife is contributing in gigantic ways every minute, every hour, every day by CARRYING YOUR CHILD IN HER WOMB.”

Rachel is shouldering pretty much everything in this pregnancy.  I did very little to start the proverbial ball rolling, and I’m doing pretty much nothing to feed or take care of Baby over these nine months.  I haven’t read any books on parenting yet, nor have I gone to any newborn-related classes.  I haven’t even built a crib.  I will do those things, but I haven’t yet.  My contribution so far has been like 1%. 

When we were dating, I didn’t love her best by focusing on her needs.  I loved her best by catching glimpses of her wants and surprising her with them.  The things that made her eyes light up, or made her burst out into laughter, or made her heart melt.

And so I need to keep my eyes open for ways I can serve her.  And not just when she asks, but sometimes before she asks.  And not just tackling things so her needs are met, but also working to remember her wants.  When we were dating, I didn’t love her best by focusing on her needs.  I loved her best by catching glimpses of her wants and surprising her with them.  The things that made her eyes light up, or made her burst out into laughter, or made her heart melt.  That stuff matters so much, and conveys love more powerfully and reassuringly than anything else because it reminds her that she isn’t an obligation or a responsibility, but a joyous treasure.  Now even more than before, I should meet not just her needs, but also her wants. 

This takes hard work. And time. And a lot of intentional thoughtfulness.  And margin. If I’m doing life at 100% (or 110% – which is my norm) I am going to be irritable and annoyed when she needs me.  And this has happened (although I hope she hasn’t noticed it because I try to push it down and always do the noble thing). I need to allocate space – and purposefully make more space – in my life to have room to be thoroughly patient and loving at all times. 

If I’m doing life at 100% (or 110% – which is my norm) I am going to be irritable and annoyed when she needs me.  And this has happened.

I’m thinking I need to do this so much more over the last three months of pregnancy. Because it’s going to get harder as she gets more uncomfortable in her own skin. I need to be ready. I’m spending way less time on Twitter and Instagram, even for work purposes.  I’m following my favorite sports team less (which is a singular joy to me, like food or conversation or Netflix is to others).  But these are small potatoes. These matter so little, comparatively speaking, to what lies before Rachel and me. These, and other matters, are going to fade in importance as Baby gets ready to burst onto the scene.

I’m ready to rise up and be the husband I’m called to be. These aren’t just words. I know I have a strength deep down given to me from God to do this.  I haven’t done it perfectly, and I know I will fall a bit short as these months elongate in front of us before we can celebrate Baby’s birth. But I’m determined to do my best.  I mean, what is more important in life than this?  When I consider all of the other out there that vie for my attention and affection, nothing should even come close to the priority of my marriage – and the miracle of the blessing being formed and finished inside my bride.

The teachable moment in the viral BBC interview video

bbc-interview-video-interruption
By now, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the viral video of a political expert being interviewed via Skype by the BBC, and the comedy that ensues when his two daughters boldly and innocently enter into his home office before being corralled and yanked out of there by their completely embarrassed mom. I saw the video early on Friday morning, and immediately showed Rachel (who loved it because that could happen to us one day!). Then, I retweeted it and tagged Justin because we both do a lot of phone and video interviews with the media and I knew he would be able to relate.

What I wanted to now discuss was some of the thoughts I had after reading a breakdown of the video by Ben Thompson. You should read it too, because it’s a splendid and tremendously entertaining writeup, and also because some of his insights cut me to the quick (and perhaps will do the same to you).

While commenting on why Robert Kelly (the protagonist) tried to do all he could to maintain decorum during the interview even after the host pointed out that his daughter had entered the room, the author states:

What you may not know about these TV spots is that you don’t get paid a dime. Why, then, does the BBC, or CNN, or MSNBC, or all of the other channels have an endless array of experts who are willing to not just call-in from their home office but will also go to the trouble of putting on a suit-and-tie and arrange books just so? BECAUSE YOU’RE ON TV!

Here’s the deal: the male ego is both remarkably fragile and remarkably easy to satiate. Tell said ego he will be featured as an expert in front of a national or global audience and he will do whatever it takes — including 12 years of academia and wearing a suit at home—to ensure it is so.

While I have never put on a full suit to field a Skype call from my home office, I have absolutely put on a dress shirt and tie (while wearing athletic shorts from the waist down) and sat at my desk to video chat with an interviewer. When the requests come in (primarily via email), I am definitely guilty of running around and inconveniencing myself and my family to take the call. Justin is pretty much the same way. We both agree that it will help to get our research and best practices out to those who need it. We also feel that we only have a limited amount of time to build our careers, and this is one of the ways which require some sacrifice – especially if it is a big-name media outlet.

I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it).

What the author’s commentary pointed out to me was that I am largely doing it to feed my ego. I’ve done media interviews on weekend mornings, during the evenings when I should have put my laptop to bed, and sometimes even on vacation (though, thankfully, rarely). And I justify it over and over again – because it will be relatively simple to knock it out (just shave and put on a button-down!), because I know the answers to the questions they are going to ask, and because others will meaningfully benefit from the information I share. But if I’m honest, those are all secondary reasons to the primary motivation: others will see it and hear my name, and I’ll maintain relevance as a sought-after “expert” in the field. And my ego will have been fed.

Ugh. Just typing that out loud feels gross. Slimy. Yucky.

I don’t want that. I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it). I do believe everything good and perfect comes from the Lord, and that I don’t need to exhaust myself in human effort to “make things happen.”  But it is clear that belief has not yet permeated all aspects of my life, as much as I want it to.

And if I am objective about it, the primary reason why I am so keen on doing these interviews (again, to the detriment of my own schedule, peace of mind, and family prioritization) is because of the fear of becoming irrelevant. And it’s weird because I really don’t want fame or notoriety – I just want to be able to provide for myself and my family.

But if I’m irrelevant professionally, I feel like all opportunities (and provision) will completely dry up.

And no one will care.

And life will fall apart.

That is ridiculous. That clearly demonstrates a lack of faith in the Lord as my source and my provider.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Matthew 6:28

To me, it doesn’t matter whether the political expert was working during normal business hours, or inconveniencing himself and his family by fielding the interview just because of his ego. What matters is that I personally found a teachable moment in the video, and see its application to how I am currently living. And how I want to live as a man with childlike faith.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place. We just need to pay attention, and then apply those insights to our lives. If I am caught up in busyness, and just keep going through the motions without heeding what He is trying to teach me through my everyday observations and experiences, it will be such a shame.

I don’t want to fear missing out on ego-building opportunities. I want to fear missing out on faith-building opportunities. Because as my faith grows, so does my relationship with Him – from which flows the fullness of life I want and need above all else.

Image source: http://bit.ly/2lQL374

Life’s Sharp, Quick Turns

childrens-church
Have you ever been humming along in one direction, and then all of a sudden life takes a sharp, quick turn? And while the effect may not be disabling or deadly, it does throw you for a loop. And leave you wondering “what now, God?”

That is what has happened to me – and by no means is it crippling, nor does it induce a state of depression or rage. And I do realize that it doesn’t come close to more profound heartbreaks – like losing a job, or breaking up with your lover, or having a health emergency arise out of the blue. But it is leaving a hole in my life. And I am left trying to hear from Him to figure out what to do with it.

My church campus has had to stop offering childcare services to families as of today, simply because we were renting a space that has become inordinately expensive. It’s a bit complicated, but services are held in a performing arts theatre for adults, and children by their parents at a completely separate building across the street (a movie theater). The bottom line is that our church can’t afford the crazy high rent hike at the movie theater, and so we are shutting down our kids’ services.

I’ve been doing this forever. I seriously can’t remember what a Sunday is like without children’s church. And I have loved serving the elementary schoolers with all my heart.

I’ve been doing this forever. I seriously can’t remember what a Sunday is like without children’s church. And I have loved serving the elementary schoolers with all my heart. I’ve watched a good number of them join us as toddlers, graduate from our kid-friendly services as 5th graders, followed their growth and ascension through middle school, high school, and now – for a few of the oldest – even into college.

We would have so much fun every single week. I have loved jumping up and down with them during praise and worship, and helping them (with other volunteers who I care so much about) learn dance moves and hand motions. I have loved asking them about how school was going, and if they were dealing with bullying or sick grandparents or pets that were getting old. And I have loved trying to convey in the sincerest, most earnest and relatable way that God is real, that He loves each one of them so very much, and that they don’t have to try to be anything but who they are as they live to bring a smile to His face.

You know how when you think about your life, you’re not sure about some things, but you’re totally sure about others? Like, you might doubt your physical attractiveness, but you know you have a really good heart? Or you are not sure if the job you’re in is long-term, but you know you’re a really good friend and colleague to your co-workers? Or you don’t know if you’re ever going to fall in love, but you know for sure you’re not going to jack it up if it happens?

Well, I don’t have much of life figured out, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was meant to do “God’s Kids” (our church changed its formal name a couple of years ago, but this is how I always describe it). I just “fit” there. The best of me was being used – to be a blessing to others, to honor God, to play a meaningful role in a community of wonderful people doing life together. Even though it required me to rise up early on a Sunday morning, I never minded. And yes, some mornings I was definitely tired and had to drag myself to the movie theater. But when I got there, the energy and excitement returned. I saw the kiddos. I wanted to talk with them, play with them, have fun with them. And I felt like I was meant to teach them, inspire them, motivate them. To me, it was a calling, and it fit like a glove. In that place and in that position, I thrived so easily. And along with the hearts and efforts of my co-laborers, we helped the kids thrive.

I don’t have much of life figured out, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was meant to do “God’s Kids.” I just “fit” there. The best of me was being used – to be a blessing to others, to honor God, to play a meaningful role in a community of wonderful people doing life together.

But it’s over now. And at this moment, God hasn’t made it clear what He’d like me to do. I do see Him at work, though, because since I’ve been married I have been praying if He wanted Rachel and I to do something together – maybe host a couples group at our home, maybe get involved with some other service activities. But truly, He kept making it clear that I should keep doing God’s Kids. I found it a little strange, because I presupposed that He’d want me to spend more time with my wife. But nope, I felt very strongly He was telling me to stick it out. And now I realize He wanted me to help it end well.

It is the most precious thing ever to stumble upon something that you’re good at, and for it to positively and enduringly impact the belief systems and actions of others (regardless of their age). I cannot think of anything else that is more rewarding. You don’t want to be paid for it, or celebrated for it, or even noticed for it. You just want to be a part of it, because finally – in one aspect of your complicated and confusing life – you’ve found your niche. I wish that for everyone. I really do. It makes my heart come alive, and adds value to others – which provides incomparable meaning and purpose. It takes the edge off the perpetual struggle, reminds you don’t have to always be grinding and hustling to be fruitful, and simply feels right. Like this is how all of life was meant to be, and should be.

It takes the edge off the perpetual struggle, reminds you don’t have to always be grinding and hustling to be fruitful, and simply feels right. Like this is how all of life was meant to be, and should be.

Right now, I want my heart to be open to what’s in front of me in this new direction. Maybe He wants me to hang out one-to-one with some kids in my community, but outside of church. Maybe He wants me to babysit more, and spend time investing in children whose parents I consider friends. Maybe He wants me to start getting together with more adults and seeing how our lives intersect as we try our best to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

While my heart is heavy because a door has closed, I know He has been up to something while this season was coming to a resolution. If I am to embrace childlike faith and believe for the best, I have to expect something good – something awesome – is going to open up soon enough for me. And since it relates to my ministry, and service to others – and God is all about ministry and service to others – it’s easy to believe that everything is going to work out in time. But let’s say the sharp, quick turn in my life was much more dreadful. What if I instead was let go from my job, or had my heart stomped on by my lover, or received a terminal diagnosis? Could I maintain my hopeful expectations about the future so easily?

Probably not. But as I think about it, the God who loves me is as involved with those aspects as He is with my ministry and service to others. It’s all the same to Him. It’s my life, the live He gave me. And He loves me, and He’s with me, and He goes before me. In fact, I would argue that He’s even more intimately involved, because those tragedies would devastate me, and He promises that He is close to the brokenhearted, and rescues those who are crushed in spirit.

When the bottom falls out, when I feel lost and directionless, when I have nothing but questions and no answers in sight — He’s still working.

He is good, and He is still working. When the bottom falls out, when I feel lost and directionless, when I have nothing but questions and no answers in sight — He’s still working. When the silence around me is deafening, and no one is texting or calling or checking in — He’s still working. When I haven’t got a clue if life will ever get back to good again — He’s still working.

And deep down in my heart, since He’s got a much better plan and perspective on all of this than me, that’s all I really need to know.

He is good, and He is still working.

My Valley of Futility

futility-sign
I  am in a deep, dark valley. I know that sounds really dramatic, but that is my reality. The current season of my life has been marked by incredible futility. Pretty much everything I am trying to do right now is met with failure.

As an example, I’ve been wanting to find a mentor – praying about it, reaching out to people, seeking out connections, making sure it’s not contrived or forced – and nothing is working out. I have been trying to do the things I love – reading, fitness, guitar – but I’m so uninspired and when I try to do those things it feels empty, useless, and pointless. I’ve been tackling some home improvement projects and there always seems to be some problem I can’t sort out. And when I reach out for help, help doesn’t come. Even the date nights and sweet things I attempt for Rachel are falling way short (for example, the food was not good at all, or the gift I got didn’t really work out)). Plus, I can’t seem to get physically well from sinus infections no matter what I try, I can’t seem to protect my extended family from preventable hardships, and I can’t seem to get traction on any attempts to make new friends.  I’m so tired of constantly striking out.

The current season of my life has been marked by incredible futility. Pretty much everything I am trying to do right now is met with failure.

I’ve been here before. Multiple times. If I look back on the trajectory of my life, there are regular cycles of a couple good years followed by a couple of bad years. And I also remember that my past has been marked by intense periods of failure and futility.

One embarrassing example comes to mind: between my first love and my last love, I remember trying so much to connect with a girl (seriously, any girl that I thought had potential), and every effort was a flop. A complete fail. I even wrote out of a list of all of the girls, and all of my attempts (I’m going to be incredibly vulnerable here and tell you that it was over 20 girls – hey, at least I was doing my part!). It was just comical – not because of the way I approached them (I was cool and normal and not creepy about it at all, I promise) – but because it was so very clear that God was thwarting me. I knew He was behind this. Because logically and statistically – one of those attempts should have worked out. For at least a little. For at least a minute, or an hour. For at least one quick coffee date, or even an extended conversation.

journal-pen

But they didn’t. Not a single one. Not even a little bit, not even an iota of possible interest. Why? Because I am absolutely repulsive to the opposite sex, and have zero redeeming qualities? Nope, that is not it.

Because God is on the throne, and He loves me, and He had a different plan. A perfect plan, where He wanted to take care of things and where it wasn’t all up to me.

In retrospect, I am super thankful not one of those attempts or advances worked out because it protected my heart, mind, and emotions before Rachel came around. However, it was absolutely brutal to live in such a state of perpetual disappointment while trying to make something happen with the best and purest of intentions.

During that time, I just shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and resigned myself to the fact that nothing I could do would bring about any change unless He was behind it. And only after He decided to move, and after His plan came to fruition, was I able to see why I was mired in futility for so long. SO LONG.

It was absolutely brutal to live in such a state of perpetual disappointment while trying to make something happen with the best and purest of intentions.

And now, it’s happening again. I’m attempting anything and everything with the best and purest of intentions, inevitably failing, and returning with a sigh to that familiar place of painful resignation because nothing makes sense right now. Logically and statistically, something I attempt should work out. At least one thing!

As you might imagine, I’m trying to reconcile all of this just so I can figure out what to do (or not to do). In my devotional this morning I read over Ephesians 4, where it talks about futility.

To paraphrase, it basically says that I can’t live life as many others do – in the futility of their minds, who are darkened in their understanding and alienated from God’s way of doing things simply because of ignorance and also due to hardness in their heart.

That feels pretty spot on. One of my favorite pastors and speakers (Tony Evans) once said that if we are living life to the fullest, we should regularly experience spiritual realities (His power, presence, peace, guidance, wisdom, and joy) in our life. Even though I have in the past, I am not right now. In fact, He feels very far from me, even though He doesn’t move away (ever) – I do.

I do feel caught up in the futility of my mind. As I am not single anymore, building and taking care of a family has become my priority, and everything about that takes up a lot of space in my brain. I guess it’s a good thing because I do want to feel the weight of such a noble responsibility, but it is also a bad thing because I constantly catch myself leaning on my own smarts and wit and ambitions and ideas and abilities and efforts. Not His. And I don’t want that.

sisyphus street sign

Everything in this world tells you to lean on yourself to make things happen. But I know me. I’m not God – not even close. I can’t and don’t want to live under the pressure that everything is up to me. That’s why I’m so thankful God is God, and He is in charge – not me.

There’s this great verse in 1 Corinthians 3 which says “for the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.” And that “He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.”  Most days, if I were to be totally objective, I really do think I am wise and clever in what I tackle and try to knock out for the good of my life. But I recognize that it’s not totally guided by Him, but instead by what the world is telling me I should do. Honestly, I do feel trapped in the snare of my own cleverness. But it’s my own fault, not His.

The very next verse says “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless.”  It’s like He’s just waiting for me to STOP. “Just STOP already!” I hear Him say to my heart. But I can’t stop, it seems. I am a hot mess right now.

Everything in this world tells you to lean on yourself to make things happen. But I know me. I’m not God – not even close. I can’t and don’t want to live under the pressure that everything is up to me.

As I keep trying, and failing, I can sense that my heart is getting hardened. I can really feel it. I’m starting to think things, and say things under my breath and out loud that betray this sad reality. And it’s awful. I don’t want to be like this, I don’t want to move in this direction even slightly. It’s just like the verse from Ephesians 4 says:  the futility of my mind’s thoughts is increasingly darkening my understanding (about Him and the way life works when led by Him). And it’s causing me to be alienated from God, my one and only true source. This is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to me.

I need a way out. Badly. Nothing I am doing is working, and I am convinced He is thwarting me for my own good. I hate how I currently feel, but I’m glad He doesn’t want me drifting away, and clearly is fighting for my heart. Because He loves me.

I’m fighting for my heart too.

Image sources:

http://bit.ly/2lxcUrS
http://bit.ly/2laOtQs
http://bit.ly/2laUTif

Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

New-Years-Resolutions-Faith
New Year’s Resolutions are normal, healthy, logical, and helpful. They springboard and incentivize us towards positive change. I understand why we make them, and why I made them for a good portion of my life. But when I consider the driving motivation for me personally with these January commitments to myself, it clearly reminds me why I stopped.

Resolutions are typically prompted by a feeling of discontent. At the end of December, something feels unsettled, unresolved, and lingering. Like “more” could have been done, or should have been done. This largely manifests in two ways:

  • More in the professional sense (better job, higher income, growth of business, more property, more investments)
  • More in the personal sense (wiser spending habits, being a better person, more time with family and friends, getting organized, enjoying life to the fullest, higher levels of health and fitness)

I am a fan of all of these. A huge fan. I want you to do them. But I just want you to remember that next year – while you’re doing all of these things, after you’ve done all of these things – you will still struggle with discontent. Even after accomplishing the really noble ones. Really. You will.

Maybe you already know this, but it took me a long while to really get it. Year after year, I kept thinking that if I just got better and better and better in all areas of my life – through more commitments to myself, more tweaks to my system of doing things, more goals and triumphs, more esteem and approval from my employer and peer group, more good times with family and friends – the discontent would go away. Forever. Never to return. And I’d be finally fully satisfied because I was now Sameer v2.0, or 3.0, or 10.0.

And so I made some New Year’s Resolutions, where I:

  • gave up soda
  • worked out more
  • earned my degrees
  • published papers
  • got promoted
  • bought a home
  • gained more followers on social media
  • went on more adventures
  • finally set up a 401K
  • watched more TED talks
  • read more books
  • learned more life hacks
  • spent more time with family
  • began guitar lessons
  • volunteered in the community
  • drank more water

But the discontent remained. I could tell myself that it was gone – that I was living out my days in the best possible of ways, pursuing excellence and accomplishment and fitness and adventure and success – but it would slowly show up again. I could forcefully shut the door on my discontentment, and barricade it out with a litany of goals and achievements and rationalizations and arguments, but it would still creep in under the sill and find its way back into my life like a mold.

And so I have gotten back to basics over the last handful of years – not perfectly, but in large measure. I’ve gotten back to a committed pursuit of God, and the priority of daily intimacy with Him. This is my number one mission, no matter what. Now to be honest, it doesn’t happen every single day. But He knows that it is my heart’s desire, and that I am doing my best. And that is what matters to Him.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” ~ John 4:14

To followers of Christ, this makes sense, and you realize that this is the answer. You’ve experienced Him being your everything, and all that you need and want, and how glorious and truly satisfying it is. But it’s so easy to lose it, to have lost it. Especially with so many daily and hourly pressures and pushes and pulls, along with cultural and societal messages that indirectly and directly cause us to lose focus.

To those who have never walked with Christ, I know this sounds weird and churchy and completely out of touch with the way the world works, and with all that you know (and all you’ve been told) about doing life. I totally get that.

But if you struggle with some level of discontentment every year, and you continue to assume that the answer has to be “more” (fitness, money, degrees, popularity, relationships, you name it), I just want to suggest that it will likely leave you right where you started when it comes to fulfillment, and when it comes to peace. From my experience, what you truly want and need will ultimately remain elusive. Maybe from your experience as well, as you look back over the last handful of years.

“If we have not quiet in our minds, outward comfort will do no more for us than a glass slipper on a gouty foot.” ~ John Bunyan

But perhaps you’re thinking, “WAIT – this time could be different. This new year – if I can just make certain things happen – everything will finally work out, and be awesome, and I’ll have arrived.”

You’re welcome to try. I hope it works out for you this time. Or the following year. Or the year after that. It just never did for me, and for basically everyone else I know with a few decades behind them.

What I have found is that His love and presence and closeness is better than life. Better by leaps and bounds. And it doesn’t leave me missing something, or searching for more to resolve the tension between where I am and where I think I need to be.

And here is the kicker, and what I think is so amazing as it relates to the end-goal of New Year’s Resolutions: an intimate, abiding relationship with God inspires and directs and guides me to pursue the personal and professional goals that I want and that He wants for me. And when both of us are fully on board, it’s so much better because I know He’s in them, and they’re the best He has for me, and that He will help make them happen. It’s not just me, all alone – year after year – deciding to chase after this, that, and the other to keep a gnawing but pervasive sense of dissatisfaction at bay. And I’m not left to just spin and sputter in futility. He’s helping set the goals, orchestrate the action plans, and always there along the way to bless, encourage, and support me.

“You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.” ~ St. Augustine

Don’t make resolutions in another well-meaning attempt to resolve the discontent you currently feel. You’ll soon enough find something else you think you need to have, or do, or become. Instead, inquire of God – not blindly, but thoughtfully, considerately, and genuinely. Take a chance on Him being real, active, unconditionally loving, and wanting to be meaningfully involved in your life. And, if He shows Himself strong (as I know He will), resolve to pursue Him and His heart above all else. The personal and professional success will take care of itself along the way, but will pale in comparison to what you find truly matters, and truly fulfills.

Give this a go in the new year. You have nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain.

Image source: http://bit.ly/2h99FEt