Tag - peace

When You’re Waiting for Your Miracle

waiting-for-miracle
On Tuesday , we were due to have our first baby. People say that with your first child, it’ll probably come late and so don’t get your hopes up for an early or even on-time delivery.  But you all know me – I definitely expected ours to not make us wait. She’s been so active every single day for a couple of months now, and it made me believe she was hankering to come on out and start exploring the world.

Approaching that day, I was definitely getting antsy. I was like, come on Baby, we want to meet you! We want to hold you! We want to squeeze you! But apparently Rachel’s womb is incredibly hospitable, and there have been no real signs that the process of labor is beginning.  And now, it’s five days later. And part of me is thinking that this is never going to happen.

But it will.  I mean, it has to.  Baby has to come out.  

Rachel and I are in between the promise and the fulfillment.  But it’s like we’re stuck, or paralyzed, or just caught in suspension. And it’s a feeling I (and probably you) know all too well from other pivotal experiences. Hoping for a girl or a boy to show interest in you. Longing for graduation when you’re barely a sophomore. Desperate to be an adult so you can do things your way. Waiting for retirement and the easy life.

Since Tuesday, I don’t even expect it to happen. In fact, I try not to even think about it. What’s the use?  I don’t want to be let down. When it happens, it happens, and until then we’re supposed to just live our life.

But I do have moments where I’m like, how are we supposed to just live our life? I mean, this is such a humongous deal! Like, one of the biggest things ever!

But I do have moments where I’m like, how are we supposed to just live our life? I mean, this is such a humongous deal! Like, one of the biggest things ever!

You can imagine (but you probably shouldn’t) that we’ve tried pretty much all of the suggestions that people have given us about naturally inducing labor.  Spicy foods.  Massages.  Lots of walking.  Sex.  Swimming.  Bouncing on a Pilates ball.  Eating pineapple.  Doing squats.  It’s not working.  Nothing is working.

And that’s familiar too.  Believing that something is going to happen, but seeing that God is taking His sweet time, and trying to force the issue. Haven’t we all been there and done that? I can’t just chill and go focus on something else.  I need to try to manipulate the situation so things happen on my own timeline.

<sigh>

All of this reminds me of one of the constant themes of my life: nothing happens for weeks and months and years and then BAM! God shows up. 

This happened with my schooling.  With my career.  With publishing articles.  With love.  Long seasons of waiting, and then suddenly, surprisingly, something amazing happened.  But this is what God does, it seems.  I have written about this verse before, but Isaiah 47:3 makes this clear: “I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.”

God knows what’s up even in the middle of the silence, the stillness, the why-is-nothing-happening moments. He has a plan, and it’s for our good. Actually, it’s for our best.  It’s not like He’s sitting on His Hands.  The truth is just the opposite: He’s been at work all along – laying the groundwork, orchestrating the details, and fine-tuning the outcome.  Because we can’t see any of that, we start to believe that no tangible progress is being made. And then get frustrated.  And impatient. And annoyed.  And sad.

God knows what’s up even in the middle of the silence, the stillness, the why-is-nothing-happening moments. He has a plan, and it’s for our good.

And then we try to take matters into our own hands, which doesn’t work out (or at least doesn’t work out as well as we thought it would). That’s fitting, because we should have just waited on Him.

This last month has been tough, tougher than I thought it would be.  And we still haven’t even experienced what labor will be like.  But as for waiting for Baby to make a move, I’m done thinking about it.  Obviously, I am ready and stoked for it to happen, but I am not going to struggle with figuring God’s timeline, and I’m definitely done trying to speed up the process. 

Another lesson in letting go.  You’d think I’d have mastered the skill by now, given how many times He’s tried to teach me.  But no, not yet.  He is gracious and patient with me, and I am constantly learning to be gracious and patient with Him.  There is a reason why Baby hasn’t come yet, and I don’t get to know. 

I get to trust.

And I get to practice having childlike faith in a perfectly loving God. 

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When You’re Trying to Protect Yourself from Pain

bracing for impact
Driving on the backroads of Ireland is very stressful and downright scary sometimes. This is no exaggeration. Americans like me are already at a bit of a disadvantage because the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and the Irish drive on the left side of the road. Secondly, Irish roads are notoriously curvy and hilly – and the signs say you can go a lot faster than I think is actually possible. Maybe the locals can do it, but when I saw a curve up ahead with a sign indicating 100km/h, I pretty much had to slow down to 50km/h just to not wreck my car. I’m not kidding. It’s not just me – ask other visitors and they will tell you the same (I overheard other tourists discussing this crazy reality).

Aside from these factors, many country roads are single-lane flanked by walls made of some type of foliage (shrubbery, bushes, or trees) or some type of stonework (properties fenced in by piles of rock) you could easily reach out and touch. The close proximity of these walls to the road also means there is very little shoulder to pull off onto. So, you’re in an unfamiliar country in an unfamiliar car on extremely curvy, hilly roads where you can’t see what’s around the bend or over the hill, and there is very little margin for error because veering slightly off road leads to a collision, which will probably lead to another collision because other vehicles might not see you before they are right on top of you.

wild-Atlantic-way-cliff-road-100km

In case you are wondering, when a car is coming your way on a single lane road, both drivers quickly survey their surroundings to determine the next step. If the other person seems to have a tiny bit more shoulder room than you, they flash their lights to bid you forward, try to pull off as far left as they possibly can, and wait for you to pass by (with your side mirrors almost clipping each other) before reoccupying the road again. You would do the same if you are able to pull off the road a bit. As they say in the United Kingdom, it is really dodgy.

It took five strangers from multiple vehicles to see that we were in trouble, stop, come over, and then physically rock and lift our car out of the ditch and back onto the road.

One time, Rachel and I were on one of these roads, and I thought I had about 18 inches of grassy sod onto which I could pull over and let an oncoming vehicle pass. Unfortunately, the sod was actually a ditch with really tall grass growing inside of it – and we got stuck. It took five strangers from multiple vehicles to see that we were in trouble, stop, come over, and then physically rock and lift our car out of the ditch and back onto the road (note to tourists of Ireland: rent a small coupe and not a big SUV – you will thank me later!).

I share all of this with you because these single lane country roads in Ireland were nerve-wracking for me, and especially for Rachel. With me behind the wheel, I felt much more in control since I could steer and I could brake, but in the passenger seat I’m sure she felt helpless and had her life flash before her eyes more than a few times. I kept telling her to relax, and that there was no use in both of us being super anxious and wound up about not crashing. But if I were in her position, I am sure I would have felt the same way. And for a good portion of our drive around the southern and western coast of the Emerald Isle, Rachel was on understandably on edge as we navigated these narrow roads.

ireland-road-car-narrow

I could see her brace for impact every time we got too close to a wall of stone or shrubbery on our left, or a car passing on our right. Her body would shift into a protective position and she would close her eyes tightly, and then inhale sharply and quickly. There were lots of gasps. Lots. And in my mind (and sometimes out loud) I would be like, “Love!!!!!!!” “Relax!” “I got this!” “Don’t worry!”

And she would exhale and untense her body for a moment, and all would be well, but soon enough she would reflexively return to the same posture and perspective, gasping and quietly freaking out. Old habits die hard, it seems.

Eventually, though, Rachel had a breakthrough.

It started to become exhausting to keep tensing up and then relaxing her body and nerves, with her blood pressure rising and falling. And as she began to process her thoughts out loud in conversation with me, she by herself came to the conclusion that nothing she could do would affect whether we crashed or didn’t crash. She was just working herself up for no good reason. I was behind the wheel, she had entrusted her safety to me, and had to have faith that I would take care of her, and that I had her best interests at heart. This is because I love her – more than she will ever know. She just had to sit back and try to enjoy the ride.

And so it is with life.

These days, I’m learning anew the mysterious lesson that doesn’t ever seem to fully and permanently sink in: that we’re not in control. Our first baby is going to be born in a couple of weeks, and it’s pretty much all I think about. I’m wondering if I have prayed enough for her – for her health, for the labor, for the delivery, and for Rachel. I’m wondering if I should have been singing songs to Baby or reading books to Baby over the course of these months. I’m wondering if I should have put headphones on Rachel’s belly and piped some classical music into the womb because of the proposed “Mozart Effect.” All I want is a healthy, bouncing baby girl who develops and grows perfectly, and I just feel completely helpless in guaranteeing that happens. Completely helpless.

There are no guarantees. I get that. And I am actively willing myself to just let go, on a daily basis. Really. I mean, nothing I do at this point will affect the health of our baby.

But sometimes, my emotions just rage, and things feel so unsafe because I have no control over the outcome.

In these moments, I have to keep returning to the truth and not let the encroaching tidal wave of emotions overtake me. The truth is solid ground – where I have sure footing, and not shifting sand –  which represents my all-over-the-place feelings and keeps me unstable, fearful, and basically a hot mess.

We cannot live our lives bracing for impact: half expecting the bottom to fall out, the other shoe to drop, for life to go sideways.

The truth is that God is in firm control. The truth is that we are as safe as we can ever be if we entrust our lives and our future to Him, because He is perfectly good, and loving, and has our best interests at heart. We cannot live our lives bracing for impact: half expecting the bottom to fall out, the other shoe to drop, for life to go sideways.

But even if it does, He’s still with us. He’s present. He’s behind the wheel. And He will remain actively involved, no matter what. This is because He loves us, more than we will ever know.

There is safety in that.

We just need to sit back and try to enjoy the ride.

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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.

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When You Are Scared of Sudden Disaster

childlike faith
When I look back upon my life, I realize that the most unproductive thing I can do is to fear the future. And yet, I have done it. I mean, we all have done it. We just want life turn out a certain way, and we pour ourselves out to make that happen, and don’t want our blood, sweat, and tears to be wasted. And so we spend even more of our time and energy tossing things over and over in our heads.

But the reality is that certain things are ultimately out of our control.

We just want life turn out a certain way, and we pour ourselves out to make that happen, and don’t want our blood, sweat, and tears to be wasted.

We can’t control if we will land our dream job, and if we do – we can’t control how our boss treats us, or our co-workers treat us, or whether it will fulfill us as much as we thought it would. We often can’t control what happens to our physiological health. Even with exercise and a great diet, things can take a turn for the worse because of a genetic predisposition, a freak injury, or even simply due to the natural aging process we all face. We can’t control the choices our girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse or even children will make in the future. We can love them, advise them, shepherd them, teach them, encourage them, remind them, and even plead with them, but they will invariably do what they want to do – even if their actions harm themselves or others. We can’t even control what is done with our money and property down the road. We could be incredibly hard-working, wise, and investment-savvy, but we could lose it all in a moment with a bad deal or random disaster. Or, it could be stolen or frittered away by those who come after us.

The older I get, the more I realize that control is so elusive. Actually, it’s more than elusive – it’s an illusion. You live enough years, and you totally understand this. And if you don’t, yet, you will. It’s one of the hardest lessons we all have to eventually learn.

The older I get, the more I realize that control is so elusive. Actually, it’s more than elusive – it’s an illusion.

With that said, though, those of you who know me know that I am an eternal optimist. You know pessimists by their belief that “if anything can go wrong, it will.”  Well, I deeply and truly believe that “if anything can go right, it will.” Seriously. And I know it’s one thing to say that you are an optimist, but another thing to actually walk the walk. I really try to walk it out. And it isn’t swagger, or arrogance, or confidence in myself. Really, it isn’t. I do believe in myself and my abilities, but I also know that with so much out of my control, it can’t solely be up to me. It just can’t. And frankly, I don’t want it to be.

And so my confidence has to be in something outside of myself. And decades ago, I found it in God. The cool thing is, He has never let me down. Sure, I’ve been disappointed, and hurt, and even broken by life and the circumstances that have come my way, but in the big picture, He has worked all of those things out for my good, for my benefit, for my intrinsic or extrinsic gain.

Being into God – and having a personal, living, vibrant relationship with His son Jesus – has shown me over the years that His Word is true. All that I’ve learned from it and put into action has been of great value in my life. It’s provided me with emotional stability, guidance for romantic relationships, wisdom related to work, lessons for living, ways to conquer doubt, reasons for hope, reminders on the brevity of life, peace in the midst of stormy situations, and so much more. And one of the things that has been helping me recently has been God’s ability – through His Word – to allay any fears that sneak their way into my thoughts and emotions about what the future holds. And it’s been really powerful.

My main fear is that at some point, the bottom will fall out. The other shoe will drop. The wind will shift and the house of cards will all come tumbling down. That’s what I worry about.

My main fear is that at some point, when I am not expecting it…the bottom will fall out. The other shoe will drop. The wind will shift and the house of cards will all come tumbling down. That’s what I worry about. Not always, but definitely sometimes. And when I talk to others, they often echo the same sentiments. They’re concerned that despite their best intentions, efforts, and even prayers, disaster will strike. Suddenly. With their job, their health, their relationships, their family, or their money. At some time or another.

And so we fret. And sometimes freak out.

And scramble to secure ourselves against sudden disaster.

But it’s exhausting. And we’re running themselves ragged. And even when we do all the things we think of doing, we still feel unsettled. Like there is more that should be done, that can be done.

And our lives are filled with anxious thoughts and worried days and sleepless nights. And there is no peace to be found.

There are two verses that I have built my life upon that help me in these moments. And I remember them, and I remind myself of them in my head whenever I start to fret and freak out.

Proverbs 3:25-26

Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.

Psalm 112:7-8

They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

I fully, completely believe those words – most of the time. And on days that I struggle, I meditate on them, and repeat them to myself, and fight to get them embedded into my heart. They help me to let go. They help me to trust. Just like so much else in the Bible, they aren’t just words on a page, but promises to me. Because God doesn’t want me always spinning, always on edge, just waiting for something to go wrong. He wants me to surrender, and expect for things to go right, and – more importantly – for things to keep going right.

The title of this blog is Childlike Faith because I really believe that it is the answer to so many of our difficult questions. When we were a kid, we believed and trusted and were convinced that life was going to be good to us, that God was going to be good to us. But then hardships and letdowns and so much pain came along, and we lost that innocent, wide-eyed, soft-hearted approach to it all. And He asks us to go back to that mindset. It’s super hard – especially when you haven’t done it a lot – but it does get easier the more you make it your objective, no matter what. I keep doing it, and it’s become who I am – and people know it and I know it and God knows it and I am so thankful. And again, it helps so much.

It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says or does. It doesn’t matter what the future holds. He’s got me. And He is good.

I refuse to believe that sudden disaster is going to strike my job situation or body or wife or future kids or savings or anything like that. And I refuse to spend my life worrying about and fearing any bad news that might come my way. Instead, I want to remember that truth of those verses: that He is right next to me, He keeps my feet from any traps or trapdoors, and my heart is steadfast because my life is perfectly secure in His hands. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says or does. It doesn’t matter what the future holds. He’s got me. And He is good. I don’t want to be pessimistic, or cynical, or suspicious of His goodness towards me – now or in the future. I just want to trust. I just want to relinquish my desire for control to Him. And I just want to enjoy the peace He willingly provides, if we will let go of what we’re holding onto and take it instead.

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When You’re Always Looking for More

Well, it’s the end of 2015. And I’m doing some reflecting, of course. Maybe I should wait until New Year’s Eve, but I’m on Christmas break, and so my mind is in an introspective mood. Here’s my main question: am I happy with how this year has gone? For the most part, yes. I mean, I think that all of us feel a bit of restlessness and perhaps even resignation at the end of each year, simply because we go into it with the highest of hopes in January. And even if it was really amazing, it still (at least for me) leaves something to be desired. As if whatever happened is not enough. It makes me think of a number of things that C. S. Lewis has said:

“I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.” – The Weight of Glory

I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” – Mere Christianity

I am always looking for more. I think we all are.

As you probably know, I make a Goals poster at the beginning of each year to keep me inspired and to provide me with meaning and help me to feel fulfilled when December rolls around. They’re kind of like my New Year’s resolutions, but more specific, and related to overall personal and professional growth. Here’s my 2015 poster – and you can see that I wanted to faithfully work out, swim, play guitar, blog, travel, publicly speak, and invest in my bride. I pretty much did all of those things. But if I can be honest, I’m like, “meh.” It’s really nice to be disciplined and focused and productive and achieve goals, and these are good things. But they don’t fully satisfy me. They just don’t.

“Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object […] If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy.” – The Weight of Glory

Yeah. I feel that. I spend every year trying to accomplish things –awesome things, for sure. But I have these deep desires in me, and they simply are not fulfilled even as I build my career, focus on fitness, work on having a great marriage, or travel. I also know that we are commended to find enjoyment in our work, and in the things we do. And I do, I really do. But it’s still not enough. It just isn’t. Something is missing.

And so I am looking back upon my year, and identifying moments that made me feel different in a good way, in a great way. Different from my normal workaday life. Different in a way that I would want to remain there in that place, if I could.

I am looking back upon my year, and identifying moments that made me feel different in a good way, in a great way.

I think of summer camp in Banner Elk, North Carolina. I felt so close to God there, and like I was living out of the abundance of my heart, like I was living out of the best parts of me as I invested in the teens that came simply through being a friend to them, intentionally and meaningfully.

I think of the nighttime or pre-dawn walks I take by myself around the lake in my neighborhood. I feel so close to God there. It’s peaceful, I’m not in a rush, and there is no pressure to do anything but to talk to Him and listen to Him.

I think of the one-on-one conversations I’ve had with people I care about, about the hard stuff going on in their lives. Just trying to love them by listening to them and encouraging them. Just trying to feel their pain and steal some of it away, always with my presence and sometimes with my words. It’s simple and outside of the spotlight. But I know I was made to do it, and I know in those moments I’m linked up to God as He uses the gifts He’s given me.

I think of the times when I am laying in bed clutching a spare pillow tight against my chest, and quietness surrounds me, and I can just lay there, and pray for loved ones, or the heavier things in my own life. And nothing else is required except for me to be still, and rest, and feel safe and protected by Him, and be reminded that He is ever-loving and He knows what He’s doing and everything – in time – will be alright.

Those are my favorite times of 2015. Those are what satisfied me the most and, if I look back across the years, have satisfied me the most along the way. Not perfectly, but as well as is possible in this life, from what I can tell.

And I realize that my Goals Poster from this year – and basically my entire life, now that I think about it – is all about me doing. Accomplishing. Achieving. Improving. And my favorite moments of this year – and basically my entire life, now that I think about it – are all about me being.

And yet every year I swallow the lie that reaching the goals I set out for myself will help me satisfy my deepest desires. That they will console the “inconsolable secret” that Lewis writes about. But I should know by now that they don’t. And they can’t. Because my desires are too deep – and rightfully so. The most epic personal and professional achievements are just not deep enough.

Every year I swallow the lie that reaching the goals I set out for myself will help me satisfy my deepest desires.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good thing to have New Year’s goals and resolutions. I think we should keep making them because God is honored and they keep us moving forward. But I know I need to just be more, instead of do more. And trust that He will use me immensely, and will provide me with the fulfillment I’m searching for. I know it’s there. I just have to do it.

Look back upon your 2015 and let me know if your experience was similar to mine. And consider putting more time and energy not into the goals and resolutions you make for 2016, but into what brings out the very best in you, and allows you to live out the reasons why you were created, and keeps you intimately linked up with the only One who can ever truly console that inconsolable secret we all have.

Is Your Heart Closing Off, or Opening Up?

turtle inside shell
I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of my heart recently. I feel like it’s in a good place. I feel close to God, I don’t feel like I have any unresolved conflict or tension I should address, I feel like I doing the things that make Him proud of me. But I recognize I am still living in this world, and exposed to all sorts of pressures and messages and stressors on a daily, if not hourly, basis. It’s sort of like I want to live this very peaceful life, moving at a pace where I’m trusting God and not rushing around like the quintessential chicken with its head cut off, and feeling free to give and live and love with reckless abandon.

However, everything around me wants to counter that desire:

  • emails and texts keep trickling in, and require responses
  • there’s always something new to do around my home
  • loved ones and friends deserve time and attention
  • my boss and my work want more and more from me
  • my family’s future is largely dependent on me
  • my own personal health and fitness is not self-sustaining
  • so much seems unstable, and pretty much a crapshoot

And so I feel myself being stretched and worn thin. And I’ve noticed that when I’m at peace, my heart is in a very open state. Like a flower at full bloom, if you will. But when I feel the weight of the world’s sorrows and burdens and dictates, my heart closes up. It retreats into itself. It’s like a turtle that goes back into hiding within its shell. So, I’m a flower or a turtle. Those are the options. And I’ve realized that this is pretty much how people live. Yes, there is a continuum in place that bridges those two extremes, but it’s really interesting to consider that we are constantly moving in one direction or the other.

When a flower is at full bloom, it is on display. It doesn’t care what other people think, it’s just showing off its glory. It’s like when a star basketball player dunks on the opposing team at a crucial point in the game, and he sticks out his double-barreled chest with pride, confidence, and strength. He owns that moment, and he knows it. And it is a good thing. If he could stick out his chest any further at that moment, he would. Just like with a flower at full bloom – if it could bloom any further and thrust out its beautiful, colorful petals even a little bit more, it totally would. And it is at that moment that it is its best, its most inspiring, its most captivating. Just by being what it is, at its fullest potential, it has the innate power to affect, to evoke, to transform, to transcend. See it on a gravelly roadside, and it can cause you to marvel. Give it to a girl, and she knows she’s adored. Place it on a casket, and it brings others to tears. That it is being what it was made to be.

See it on a gravelly roadside, and it can cause you to marvel. Give it to a girl, and she knows she’s adored. Place it on a casket, and it brings others to tears. That it is being what it was made to be.

When a turtle is withdrawing into its shell, it does so out of fear. It wants to protect itself, and obviously not “stick its neck out” and be vulnerable in any way. But within its shell, it’s pretty useless. It’s definitely not inspiring or captivating anyone. And it’s really not doing anything beneficial for itself, either. Yes, it’s keeping safe, but definitely not enjoying life – or even really living life. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). That turtle, frightened but armored up, is pretty much just a bump on a log. And I’m thinking it probably sucks to just be a bump on a log.

Okay, so I’m going somewhere with this. And it’s more than just a reminder to be more like a fully-formed flower, and less like a terrified turtle. I’m thinking that with every conscious decision and action I make, I am either moving in the direction of being like that flower or being like that turtle. My heart is either opening more and more and more, or it is closing more and more and more. I am on that continuum moment by moment by moment, and every subsequent decision I make is definitely moving me one way or the other.

Let’s say my girl does something that hurts my feelings. At that moment, the tendency is for me to retreat into my “shell.” And this leads to awkward silence, emotional distance, physical avoidance, and both of us on edge. And these psychosocial repercussions magnify the issue unnecessarily when – if we were to take a step back – we’d realize it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. I realize I don’t want my heart closing up, even though in that moment it is a natural defense mechanism made to restore equilibrium to the current state of drama and conflict and stress. If I want equilibrium restored, I should be intentional about it and achieve that end through another, much healthier option. For example, I should muster as much courage and vulnerability as I possibly can (and sometimes it takes SO MUCH, much more than I think I have at that moment!), and put myself out there and press into the relationship. And yes, I could get hurt again, but at least I’m keeping my heart open towards her. I’m pretty sure that all bad things in both platonic and romantic relationships stem from one person’s heart closing off towards the other. And if you’re not deliberate about it, and you don’t dig deep to fight it off, it is bound to happen and that relationship is going to be so much less than it could be (and possibly crap out).

I’m pretty sure that all bad things in both platonic and romantic relationships stem from one person’s heart closing off towards the other.

As another example, let’s say that an opportunity arises where I really could speak words of encouragement into someone else who desperately needs it. Or, I could help them move into their new house. Or I bless someone by assisting them with a school project. But I am honestly overwhelmed, and feeling like if I don’t take care of the tasks on my to-do list for the day, and work on my own life, I am going to lose all control as I know it. Now of course, we shouldn’t always try to come through for everyone else with some sort of “savior” mentality – because God is big enough to help them, and in that very moment perhaps He really does want us to leave it alone. But sometimes when I think about it, I realize that my motive for not offering my time or lending a hand is self-protection and self-preservation. And that means that I am not trusting. I am living in fear – of not being caught up with life, of the “bottom” falling out if I’m not on top of things, of all the problems that may surface if I’m not busting it all the time. And that also means that my heart is closing up further and further, instead of becoming more and more open. Much more turtle, and much less flower. Not good.

And let’s say that I am driving around West Palm Beach, and there is a homeless person holding a cardboard sign at the intersection. He is poor, and he is hungry, and he is in need. And I’ve heard the stories about how some panhandlers use the money you give them for alcohol or drugs, or are on the streets because they don’t want to keep a regular job that requires responsibility and a schedule and much harder work. But all of those thoughts just make my heart want to close up. They make me fearful. They make me scared that I will get burned by trying to be nice to someone else. I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be more and more suspicious, and distrusting, and cynical, and controlling. I want to move in the other direction, where I am increasingly believing the best about others – regardless of who they are and what they do. Then, I feel so much more freedom and peace. And it even helps me to feel more love inside of myself towards others, towards people in general. It helps me to keep blooming. And it feels really healthy, and even invigorating at times…. It feels right.

Recently, I went to my local gas station to get my car washed in one of those automatic car washing machine stalls. You know, the ones with the monstrous long metal arms and sprayers that move through a series of steps like Pre-Soak, Foam-Wash, Under-Carriage Bath, Wax Application, and No-Touch Dry. If you’ve ever used one of these, it’s not always as easy as it should be. You’re supposed to drive your car in very slowly, and then stop right when the system lights up its STOP sign – when one of your tires is on a trigger spot that initiates the entire automated process. But sometimes you go too far, and the system illuminates a sign asking you to BACK UP. And in your mind you’re like, ah crap. Especially when there is another car behind you waiting to go next, and you don’t want to freak them out as they see your brake lights and watch your bumper begin to approach their front fender. And sometimes when you’re backing up to try to reposition your vehicle, the system doesn’t tell you to STOP and you’re like, blast, I know I’m way too far behind now. And so you have to use your judgement to move from Reverse back to Drive and inch forward again – hoping this time around that you’ll get it right, and stop where the machine needs you to be. I’m telling you, it’s very stressful.

So it was one of those days, and nothing I did was working. I’d move forward, but too far. I’d go backwards, but too far. I’d get to where it totally should have started, but it didn’t. And so after a few minutes, I was like, forget this nonsense. And so I drove all the way through and parked outside the gas station so I could go inside and politely let the clerk know that their car wash just wasn’t working, and to ask for a refund. But when I did this, he started grilling me about why I didn’t stop when it told me to stop, and why I didn’t back up when it told me to back up. And how it’s so easy for everyone apart from me, and that no one else has problems driving into it and using it. And he honestly made me feel like I was a complete idiot.

At that moment, I really, really wanted to rage. In my mind, I am thinking, what the PEZ man, have you lost your mind, I didn’t do anything wrong, your system is whacked out and not responding how it should, and I am here trying to help you not have to deal with other angry customers!!!! And my mind started to furiously manufacture these negative thoughts towards him and his prideful, condescending attitude, and for treating me like I was a moron. But in that moment, I also remembered that if I were to say anything sarcastic or biting to put him in his place, my heart would have closed towards him. My words would have been said in fear of losing face, or needing to defend myself and my competence, or just to make him feel as bad as he made me feel. And I want my heart to be open and stay open and keep getting more open towards others – no matter what they say, and no matter who they are. And so I took it on the proverbial chin, and stayed gracious and humble. And when I got back into my car, God told me that the clerk was probably having a really, really rough day – and just happened to take it out on me. As I personally have done to others in the past.

But in that moment, I also remembered that if I were to say anything sarcastic or biting to put him in his place, my heart would have closed towards him. My words would have been said in fear of losing face, or needing to defend myself and my competence, or just to make him feel as bad as he made me feel.

Every non-trivial decision you make takes you in one direction or the other. It’s really remarkable when you step outside of yourself and begin to observe it in practice. Watch yourself, and see how it plays out. And then, in the interest of better living, work to keep your heart open as much as you possibly can. Don’t allow it to get closed off by what happens to you. Push through that, as hard as it often is. Remember: flower, not turtle. Act in ways that make you more like the former, and less like the latter. It will be so good for your own self-care, and it will draw so many more people towards you.

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Learning Lessons the First Time Around

learning-lessons-first-time
A handful of years ago, I realized that my brain works in this very linear and sequential fashion – which sounds good and healthy and all that, but actually is a bit dysfunctional when coupled with my always-doing-something personality. Basically, the way that I am wired is that I am always onto the next thing before I’m fully finished with the first thing because my mind just automatically and mechanically skips ahead to whatever needs to be done.

Case in point – I’m always leaving drawers or cabinets open after I get out a fork, or a spatula, or a mug, or a plate. It’s just that I think to myself…okay, I want cereal, so I fling open a pantry door and grab a bowl. But before even thinking to myself I should close that door, I have moved on to pulling open a drawer to grab a spoon. And before pushing in that drawer, I have moved onto grabbing the box of Special K Red Berries or Kashi Oat Flakes with Blueberry Clusters or Multigrain Cheerios (the three breakfast staples perpetually present in my home…soooooo yummy!!!!). And then I grab the milk from the refrigerator. So then my bride comes downstairs, and I’m enjoying my cereal in my recliner, but the kitchen looks messy because we’ve got two cabinet doors and one drawer wide open – and she has to come along and shut everything behind me. Which has got to be annoying after a while. It’s like, I’m a kid she needs to pick up after. ARGH. Thankfully, I always remember to close the fridge. Okay, I’ll be honest, the refrigerator door sort of closes on its own (whew!).

I’ve been thinking recently about learning the lessons that God wants to teach me. He’s always showing me something, and He’s always super patient with me – maybe even too patient (please don’t change, God, I just get stupid sometimes!). But it just takes me a while to really, truly “get” it and apply it to my life. And, apply it to my life not just once, but always. And sometimes, I do get it, but then it escapes me. Like those squishy and slippery water wiggler toys from my childhood. I can never really hold onto it, and I never really make it my “own.” It doesn’t get fully internalized. I apply it perhaps once, but then I lose it and – unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess) God has to show it to me again. And I’m great with Him being loving and patient and gently bringing around another teachable moment for me. But I wonder if the extent of my Christian life, then, is a series of fits and starts…a sputtering along, if you will…instead of really moving from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18)…and walking in the growth and maturity I know is there for me.

I fully believe I am set apart, and I fully believe that as the sons and daughters of God we can walk victoriously every day. And the years are going by and yes, I am making progress, and yes, I want to be incredibly gracious with myself, and content with the pace of the journey I am on…but I also want to be growth-minded. I don’t want to settle, especially when I know He lives in me and equips me to mount up with wings as eagles (Isaiah 40:31). And I want to dine on meat, and not just drink milk (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Corinthians 3:2). And I want Him to consider me as His friend, like he did Moses (Exodus 33:11) and Abraham (2 Chronicles 20:7), and a man after His own heart, like David (1 Samuel 13:14). That is what I aspire to.

And I believe that is there for all of us, if we can just learn the lessons the first time. Or the second time. Instead of the fifth or tenth or twentieth time. That way, we can move upward and onward to the next thing He wants to teach us, and rise up to steward the next thing He wants to entrust us with, instead of just floundering about or spinning in circles. I want to look back on my life and see a steady, continual, and clearly measurable trajectory of growth. And, I really believe that this better positions me for SO MUCH MORE that He has for me…that He has for His children…if we can “get” these lessons much earlier. And I just feel like this requires three things: 1) slowing down 2) presence and 3) intentionality.

And I just feel like this requires three things: 1) slowing down 2) presence and 3) intentionality.

If I could just stop moving so fast, and be more “in the moment”, and purposefully apply what I know to do when I am making a bowl of cereal, I’d pause after every step (slowing down!), feel the fullness of every moment (presence!), consider exactly what I need to do (intentionality!), and the kitchen would look great and put together before I settle into my recliner and with my breakfast. And I know this sounds laborious, but it’s only a few microseconds of responsibly thinking through my actions. Microseconds. I’ve just built a bad habit, and need to relearn a new one. And keep doing it until it sticks.

How does this apply to lessons God wants to teach me? So, for as long as I’ve been a Christian, I’ve been going to church, and the Pastor has tried to teach me something. Every week, he’s sought to do that. And apart from that, I’ve been reading books – on servant leadership, on emotional stability, on romantic relationships, on healthy boundaries, on pretty much everything. And I’ve been listening to podcasts (primarily sermons). For years.

Not only that, but I’ve also gone to hear motivational speeches from men and women I respect and admire. I’ve read biographies and watched inspirational documentaries. I’ve soaked in numerous TED Talks. I’ve devoured tons of lists that pop up on in my Facebook news feed (The 5 Easiest Ways to Save Time, 8 Style Strategies for Advancing Your Career, 17 Things Every Man Should Try, etc. etc., ad nauseam).

And I’ve done all of these things with the genuine, unadulterated desire to grow. To be better. To live better. To honor God more. But what I have found is that I am long on information, but short on application. The vast, vast majority of things I’ve wanted to learn and sought out to learn, and situated myself to learn, I haven’t actually made my own. I just haven’t. I haven’t fully internalized them, lived them out, made them a habit, and made them who I am. Perhaps I thought I had “got” it, and then quickly moved onto the next thing, which I then thought I “got,” freeing me up to move to the next thing. All the while, comparatively little was actually sinking in.

The vast, vast majority of things I’ve wanted to learn and sought out to learn, and situated myself to learn, I haven’t actually made my own. I just haven’t. I haven’t fully internalized them, lived them out, made them a habit, and made them who I am.

This is a crushing realization. Really. And yes, it’s easy to dismiss, and rationalize away, and not be so hard on ourselves. But this is what are bent to do all our lives…to just keep moving on to the next thing. And it’s so much surface, and so little depth. I don’t want to live that way anymore. I’ve spent decades doing so. DECADES.

Forget all of those other sources of learning for a moment – let’s just talk about church. We go to church to hear the Word of God, and consequently to be equipped, empowered, and encouraged to live life well. And the message each Sunday is so palatable, and relatable. Heck, they even provide bullet points for me to write down to make sure I definitely “get” it. It could be on really, truly loving my neighbor (or boss, or in-law, or spouse) as I love myself. It could be on taming the tongue to keep a small relational spark from turning into a fire. It could be on taking control of my thought life to keep from descending into pity, self-hatred, shame, or sloth).

The bottom line is that if I’m going to church to hear truth and gain wisdom and receive counsel, I should 1) slow down 2) be present and 3) intentionally put those things into action in my life. Otherwise, seriously, why am I sitting in the pew in front of the pastor to learn again next week if I really didn’t “get” and “apply” what I learned last week? (This is not about the other benefits that church provides, like a community of believers to do life with, or an opportunity to serve – this is about learning lessons from God). We move through weeks and months and years like this. And the words we hear or read make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, and tickle our ears, and allow us to check off a mental “box” of sorts that we are doing what we think is the right thing to do, but are those words really effecting change in our lives? Are they really making a difference? Is my life and emotional state and relational environment actually, measurably better?

And the words we hear or read make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, and tickle our ears, and allow us to check off a mental “box” of sorts that we are doing what we think is the right thing to do, but are those words really effecting change in our lives?

Please don’t feel condemned as I’m saying all this. I am really just preaching to myself. I do not want to keep living like this. At the end of my life, it would be so much better for me to have really learned, applied, habitualized, and borne meaningful fruit from five sermons, books, TED talks, and top ten lists than from 50, or 500, or 5000 (when it’s all said and done).

Dear Lord, please help me increasingly learn what you want to teach me the first time around, so I can experience so much more and so much greater of what You have for me. Let even the writing of this blog (or the reading of it by others) not just be words that stay on the surface, but that actually take root. I want this and I need this. Amen.

(I’ll update this blog with the struggles and successes of my attempt to live this out in a couple of months. Stay tuned.)

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When You Realize You’re Emotionally Unstable

emotionally unstable
I have been thinking a lot recently about being unstable.  What seems to cause me to be unstable?  Well, it’s going back and forth on things in my mind.  So I’m not single-minded, I’m double-minded.  And I am realizing I hate being double-minded and I hate being unstable, because it feels like nothing is right and I’ve completely lost focus from what matters.  It’s like, I really want to be confident about who I am, and who I am becoming, and about what I want out of life, and who I want to be with, and what I want to do with my life, and how I want to matter.  I want to operate out of a center of truth, and assurance, and live from that fully.  I want to operate out of who God says I am, and do the things that God places on my heart for my present and future.

But life tends to get so complicated sometimes, with school stuff and work stuff and family stuff and relationship stuff and health stuff and gahhhhhh, so much more.  And we can’t control or predict anything, as much as we want to do all we can for everything to be easy and great and simple again.  Plus, I think and overthink way too much, and it gets me in trouble.  Because I lose focus, and everything gets cloudy, and I feel like there is a tornado swirling around both inside my head and outside all around me, and I just want to shrug my shoulders and throw my hands up in resignation and exhaustion.  And retreat to a fetal position in my bed.  Or on the floor.

Because I lose focus, and everything gets cloudy, and I feel like there is a tornado swirling around both inside my head and outside all around me, and I just want to shrug my shoulders and throw my hands up in resignation and exhaustion. 

This doesn’t happen often, but it happens sometimes.  That is my reality.

When I am unstable, I am a complete mess.  And I am no good to anyone.  In my work, my family, my relationships.  I feel like everything is futile and pointless, and I feel useless.  I know that these are just feelings, but as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

So I wanted to look up what God’s Word had to say about being unstable (as stemming from being double-minded).  This is what I found (provided within the appropriate context, which is always important):

James 1:6-8 – But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

From this, I get that those who are unstable and keep going back and forth about something (in this case, about what they are asking God for) are at the whim of nature, and feelings, and it’s just not really going to work out for them until they get to a point of stability.

When I am unstable, I am a complete mess.  And I am no good to anyone.  In my work, my family, my relationships.  I feel like everything is futile and pointless, and I feel useless.

Psalm 119:11-13 – Your statutes are my heritage forever;  they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees  to the very end. I hate double-minded people, but I love your law.

From this, I get that David is super excited about living as God has laid out how we should live…and he is steadfastly committed to listening to His instruction…and it really bothers him when he sees instability in others (and probably also in himself).

James 4:7-8 – Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

From this, I get that we need to keep submitting ourselves and our hearts and our wills to God…and tied right into that is resisting the devil and simultaneously stepping forward towards God.  Like, stiff-arming Satan while drawing near to God.  And, along with all of this getting back to good with God comes the actions of getting clean from sin *and* being done with instability and waffling back and forth on things.  I like that.  It’s a package.  You have to do it all together, or you miss out, and things are not going to be as great as they could be.

So, clearly, I really need to become more stable.  Mentally stable, emotionally stable, and of course, spiritually stable.  Overall.  But I am also thinking that we don’t get to that overall state of stability until we have resolved and settled in our heart certain things that we go back and forth about. And so I’ll talk about what I feel like I’m learning about that in my next entry…

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