Tag - service

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.

When Your Ministry is Taken Away From You

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.

How to Find your Calling

In my last blog entry, I asked “What is your Calling?” and covered a number of related issues. I first discussed that a ‘calling’ is the secret of who you are meant to be, instead of something that you simply do (for a living, etc.). I also shared that I believe a vocation and a calling are different for most people, and that the former won’t ultimately fulfill you, but the latter can – and does, if you can devote yourself to it and pursue it for all it’s worth. Finally, I mentioned that a calling is typically an expression that manifests into action. Ideally, it implicates your heart, helps you feel closer to God, provides a solid measure of transcendent joy and satisfaction (even when it gets rough, and even when you fail sometimes), and something you feel burdened (in a good way) to live it out.

Now, I want to share some thoughts on my calling – and how you can discover yours.

“If you are what you are meant to be, you will set the whole world on fire.” ~ St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, Dominican Mystic (1347-1380)

I believe that. I believe our calling has that kind of potential. And I think we choose a vocation, but a calling chooses us. And it likely has chosen us a long time ago, but perhaps we’ve never really given it the room, freedom, and encouragement to grow.

I’d believe my calling is writing. It completely engages my heart. It definitely helps me feel closer to God. It brings me a measure of joy that I can only describe as transcendent. And I feel absolutely compelled to share what I’m learning. One of my life verses is Isaiah 50:4, which says “The Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” I have meditated on that verse for as long as I can remember, and prayed about this for decades. And life has just worked out in a way where I can see His hand on this area of my life, through positive and negative reinforcement, through opportunities, through years in the crucible where He refined me and my abilities. It is who I am, it is what I want to be, it is what I cannot help but do. Nothing else compares. And I kind of expect God to use it to set the world on fire.

I think we choose a vocation, but a calling chooses us. And it likely has chosen us a long time ago, but perhaps we’ve never really given it the room, freedom, and encouragement to grow.

How are you supposed to find your calling? Great question. I think it involves trying a bunch of different things over the weeks and months and years. Breaking out of routine. Considering new potentials you may have. If an opportunity or experience seems to resonate with you in a unique way, go for it. And then assess it very carefully. Some of these questions might help:

Is your heart engaged in the activity, and do you feel like it comes alive when you do it? If it doesn’t stand out to you, it’s probably not your calling.

Is it deepening your relationship with God? Is it fueling your desire to do great things for Him, sourced in the gifts He has given you?

Does it lift your spirits in a way that few other activities do? Does it provide a measure of contentment, reassurance, and peace that you are on the right track, doing the right thing, and plugged in to something that matters?

Does it feel like the world would miss out if you didn’t do it? Not to feed your self-importance, but does it feel weighty, important, and like something you feel compelled to do with your life?

Does it feel like play? Am I able to lose myself for a few moments or hours like I did when I was a kid? To be sure, sometimes it’s going to be hard and some days, to be honest, you’re not going to feel like it. Other days, you’re going to be inspired but have to deal with other related tasks that are draining. For example, I love to write, but I hate to do anything related to marketing my writing. I’d just rather keep writing, but both are important if a person wants his/her voice to be heard. The point here is that overall, in the big picture, you need to enjoy it and find yourself getting swept up in it.

Am I listening to others? This one comes with a caveat, because in listening to ‘others,’ I mean the ‘others’ in my life who know me, love me, and are cheering for me. Their input is important because my calling isn’t just intended to be lived out for one person (me), but for the people around me. I mean, God made us for Him and he made us for others. And so other people will always be a part of our calling.

Is my calling an idol? My calling should never become a wall I put up to isolate, or a platform to stand on to look down on others. It should never be used in a selfish, egotistical way, but should be used humbly, lightly, and generously. If I find myself bristling with annoyance at someone getting in the way of me and my calling, I need to check my heart and wonder if it’s become an idol.

You might have to try twenty things before you discover your calling. You might stumble upon it the first time. And it will probably not be associated with fireworks, fanfare, and perhaps even much fun some (many?) times. I can think of many legends of the faith and legends of our modern era, and it’s clear that their calling involved a lot of grinding, hard work, and sacrifice. And there were definitely disappointments, and even failures along the way (and even in the end). But it was still their calling. We should just remember that even when it gets really rough, and even when it doesn’t seem to be making a difference, it still is absolutely what you were called to do.

I can think of many legends of the faith and legends of our modern era, and it’s clear that their calling involved a lot of grinding, hard work, and sacrifice. And there were definitely disappointments, and even failures along the way (and even in the end). But it was still their calling.

At the end of my life I am going to be endlessly grateful for the opportunities that came my way and the things I was able to accomplish. But I feel that if I only kept doing my vocation (and even if I succeed at it beyond my wildest imaginations), it will feel in part like a hollow victory. It will fall short on some level – it just will. And so I just want to keep nourishing the seed He planted in me. I just want to keep focused on living out my calling – doing what I know to do, and leaving the rest up to Him.

Image source: http://bit.ly/1PUy0JH

What is your Calling?

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about contentment, and specifically how it relates to my calling. When I use the term “calling” I mean the secret of who you are meant to ‘be,’ and I am not referring to one’s “vocation,” which is the truth of what you can best ‘do.’ We’ll talk more about that below. But for now, I mean what Mark Twain was referring to when he said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

I feel like a calling is an expression that naturally manifests into action. Which means that it is less science, and more art. It is less brain, and more heart. It is less manufactured, and more organic. I hope that makes sense; I am not sure how else to put it. It is something that is birthed inside of you, from early in your life. And when it is expressed, it is the very best of you blossoming, coming forth, in all of your personal glory.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. ~ Mark Twain

I’m pretty positive that unless I am fulfilling my calling, I am going to constantly wrestle with a crappy complicated feelings of discontentment that feel like frustration, angst, uneasiness, sadness, nihilism, and listlessness. I know that sounds intense, but I think you know what I mean. Depending on the context, some of these emotions rear up their ugly heads more so than the others. You get it.

I’ve spent my life chasing dreams, and accomplishing many of them. But to be honest, something is missing. Not fully, but definitely partially.

I know that Jesus said that if I try to hang on to my life, I will lose it. But if I give up my life for his sake, I will save it. I see that. I’ve been on this planet long enough to realize that ultimately I am not in control of anything, really. And I’ve learned that I don’t want to spend my life obsessed with building my own kingdom and being preoccupied with self-preservation only to have everything I’ve saved and stored and worked for taken for me in a blink of an eye (regardless of whether I die naturally or unnaturally, that is my fate. I always think about what happened to the rich man who just kept building bigger and bigger barns to store his increasing wealth: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20).

I want to live a great story. And I really do feel like I “give up my life” for His sake – in terms of pouring it out by investing in, and loving on others. I mean, that’s what He did. That’s what actually matters – helping others through their lives…and offering some hope by reflecting His love and pointing them (indirectly and directly) to Him. And I mean it when I say that it really does fulfill me. But in this incomplete way.

Your calling is like a seed that has been planted, and then is watered and fertilized through experiences and revelations and struggles and successes and heartbreak and solitude, and then eventually bursts forth from the topsoil of your life into something that nourishes others.

And that’s okay, I think. Because I am convinced that each of us has a unique calling – a divine destiny – which we are absolutely meant to be, and work towards, and realize. I’m trying to figure out how to explain it, and I keep getting this word picture. It’s something that starts on the inside of you, like a seed that has been planted, and then is watered and fertilized through experiences and revelations and struggles and successes and heartbreak and solitude, and then eventually bursts forth from the topsoil of your life into something that nourishes others. I know that this seed, and its growth process – it’s a big deal. And it’s supposed to compel me to do my part so that it comes into fruition. And I’m supposed to not let anything stifle it – like weeds, or disease, or malnourishment. And I know that when things do get in the way (as they tend to!), I must remember that it was planted specially in me by a sovereign, perfectly-loving God, and that singular fact should propel me forward.

I’ve been mentoring my friend Francklen for like three and a half years now. I love this kid. He’s super intense, and bent towards being melancholy – just like me. He feels things really deeply – the highs are top-of-the-world high, and the lows are paralyzingly low. I get that. I can relate. Well, Francklen is trying to discover his calling – perhaps like most of us. And part of me wants to share with him feel-good quotes like the one we’ve all probably heard from Frederick Buechner: “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” But then I refrain from doing so, because I think a vocation and a calling are often (but not always) different. Instead, I want him to figure out a form of expression that “does it” for him:

that engages his heart;

that helps him draw near to God;

that brings him a transcendent joy; and

that he continually feels burdened (in a good way) to act.

Those four things: engage, draw near, enjoy, and act. In that order. He’s trying. He might end up being a civil engineer for his vocation, but a spoken word poet for his calling. I have no idea. Currently, he doesn’t either. And that’s okay, because he will realize it in time, and come to discover that it was in him all along.

A lot of my friends currently at FAU (or those who have recently graduated) are so fired up about their current trajectory to grad school or med school or law school or to be hired into a terrific job right out of college. And I can tell they already derive so much of their identity out of that future role or position or occupation. And I am excited for them – I was the same way back then. But I wish I could convey to them over coffee that their vocation isn’t going to fully satisfy them. Even if they win a Pulitzer or Nobel, even if they create the next killer app that revolutionizes life as we know it, even if they singlehandedly cure cancer. It is not enough. And they’ll need more, and want more. And they will realize that whether it’s in five years or fifty years. And realizing it later than sooner will definitely be more painful. I guess I just want them to be intentional about figuring out what they were made for, and being open to the possibility of it not being related to their academic and professional pursuits.

I think we get in trouble when we try to force a vocation and a calling to be the same thing, or otherwise overlap in some way.

Also, I think we get in trouble when we try to force a vocation and a calling to be the same thing, or otherwise overlap in some way. It can be, and I know some people for whom it is. But it’s rare. For instance, my friend Jenny is a life coach and I know without a doubt that God took her on a special journey so that she could learn how to infuse real hope and light into the lives of those who are stumbling in the dark. She is meant to do this, and God clearly uses her to rescue many lives. She helps her paid clientele, and she helps those who do not become paid clients simply because she must. She can’t not. I am thankful that for her vocation and calling dovetail pretty perfectly.

That said, such a convergence between the two is not likely for most. If that is what we are desperately shooting for, we’re just going to flounder about for years. And years. Because we’re trying to find perfection in what to “do” with our lives. We’re trying to identify the “end-all, be-all” so we can take it and run with it. As he is in his sophomore year in college and trying to select the best possible major, Francklen is having such a hard time because the choice seems so weighty, and the implications so severe and enduring. I love that he wants to make the right choice, but at the end of his life he will realize that the major he selected and the career he chose did not define him, nor did it fulfill him. We want it to. We think it will, when we are starting out, and when we are in the middle of it. But it doesn’t. Instead, his calling will. I want all my friends to understand that.

In my next entry, I’ll talk about how I believe you’re supposed to find your calling. Stay tuned….

Image source: http://bit.ly/1P1rFMf

When You’re Sick of Doing Things Out of Obligation

I was thinking recently about the reasons why I do what I do.  I mean, my daily, weekly, monthly activities.  A few years ago, I made a commitment to myself to stop doing things out of obligation.  Because I saw too many people around me who were not very happy at all, and seemingly caught up in certain actions and practices and behaviors that they didn’t really want to be doing, if they were true to their heart.  But, for whatever reason, the social or cultural pressure was too much, and they bowed to it and capitulated.  And I found it such a shame.

A few years ago, I made a commitment to myself to stop doing things out of obligation.

Because when you stop living from your heart, you kind of stop living.  And I knew I didn’t want that.  I also knew I would have to fight to maintain this commitment to myself, because the pressures get very strong at times.  I just figured that if I stayed incredibly close to the Lord and kept remembering that I am accountable to Him and His will for my life, and not to anyone else, that I would be fine.  It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be possible.

In the church (I am generalizing here, and not talking about a specific one), I have noticed a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle pressure on congregants to do certain things.  And if individuals do not largely march in step, they are ostracized a bit.  Or made to feel bad.  This isn’t a conscious scheme on the part of the church, designed to produce compliance by shaming and guilt, but it is definitely there.  This is currently happening to one of my closest friends.  And it breaks my heart.  In this case at least, it seems that she was valued for what she brought to the proverbial table, and when she decided to stop doing things out of obligation in order to follow her heart, love and full acceptance was taken away.  In its place, she was basically elbowed out and cut off.

She was valued for what she brought to the proverbial table, and when she decided to stop doing things out of obligation in order to follow her heart, love and full acceptance was taken away.

I know the church is imperfect, and run by imperfect human beings, but this pattern continues to occur.  Those who use social and spiritual pressure to bring about conformance to their desires and demands just don’t seem to see what they are doing.  I am not sure if they use the Bible to rationalize it away, and are comfortable exploiting the sacrificial bent of others because of certain verses which talk about continually dying to self.  Or, maybe they do it because at some point along the way, they stopped following their heart, and got used to doing things out of obligation, and now figure that this is just how it is.

All of this is awful.  All of this sucks the very life out of people.  And leaves them disillusioned, and burnt out, and skeptical to trust other spiritual leaders.  And again, these events are not rare occurrences.  From accounts I’ve witnessed and anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered, it happens way too often.

People should do what they want to do (as prompted by God).  People should be okay saying “no,” and the people to whom the “no” is said should be completely and unconditionally okay with it.  If you need to induce people through veiled coercive attitudes and words to get them to do something, you are in the wrong.  If you think that everything will fall apart, or the job won’t get done, unless you do such things, you lack faith in a God who always provides and who will not let you down with whatever you are trying to accomplish.  And are probably relying on human effort a bit too much (yours and others).  And maybe, just maybe, if He doesn’t provide people who can cheerfully and willingly do(with their heart fully engaged) what you need to be done, you should consider whether it is what He wants.  Seriously.

People should be okay saying “no,” and the people to whom the “no” is said should be completely and unconditionally okay with it.

Sometimes we get so convinced that what we want to make happen is what God wants to make happen.  And then, we end up hurting others.  And if we keep refusing to self-reflect and question the plan (especially if it has been institutionalized), we are fools.  And fools suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20) and die for lack of judgment (Proverbs 10:21).  And while I care about fools and don’t want them to be foolish, I care more about those left wounded in the wake of their folly.  Furthermore, this compromises our individual and collective witness to those who are not (yet) into God.  They see the fallout among their Christian friends, and they think to themselves – wow, that really sucks, and I definitely don’t want any part of that.

Sometimes we get so convinced that what we want to make happen is what God wants to make happen.  And then, we end up hurting others.

This is why I hate doing things out of obligation.  And why it is so important to live from your heart.  If you are staying close to God, He will clearly tell you when to do things – even very hard things that require a lot of sacrifice).  He will speak to your heart, and imbue it with what you need to take on the task and do it with joy and excellence.  This is especially true for those individuals who love to feel needed by others, and who love to come through for others.  Such personality characteristics are rife for the abuse of others – which is all the more reason why we need to get our preeminent leading from Him and Him alone.

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