What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Marriage

Somehow, some way, a bit over twenty-four months have passed while I’ve been doing this marriage thing. What the pez!? You’ll recall I shared some of the lessons learned after one year of being hitched, and I thought it would be important to reflect again now that we’ve hit another milestone. I’m not sure how the first couple years are supposed to be, or tend to be. Are we still in the “honeymoon stage”? Are we past it? Are we unique in any way? Are we like every other young married couple at this stage? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter. Here’s what I do know. We’re doing great. I can say that without even the slightest qualification. And I’m so thankful for it and don’t take it for granted. My love for her is definitely growing stronger, not plateauing or weakening in any way. I shared in a letter I wrote to her before I went to Ireland this summer that I catch myself feeling increasingly vulnerable in terms of my love for her. Like, I’m losing control, like she has this power over me that makes me feel all liquefied inside. Not always, but definitely when I’m missing her a ton, or thinking about her in the midst of exhaustion or loneliness or work struggles. At those times, if I were to let the emotions completely overcome me, I feel I would turn into a blubbery mess. Because in that moment, I want her, I need her, I love her so painfully much. I don’t allow my mind or feelings to go there, but that’s what marriage and doing life with her has done to me :) But you’re not here to read about that. Let’s talk about what I have learned. Allow me to structure this in terms of two things I say to myself on a consistent basis. That will most profoundly illustrate how my thinking and my living have been affected.

“It doesn’t really matter.”

I say this a lot in my head. Early on, a handful of things bugged me. In my mind, she loads the dishwasher a little inefficiently. Almost every day, the floor and counter would have one or two small sticky spots from her cooking or making tea or something (I really hate stickiness. Really.)   She takes a while to do something that I would have already knocked out. She’s a couple minutes late getting ready when we’re off to be somewhere on time. Stuff like that. But in the grand scheme of things, I have learned that it’s not a big deal. And I believe she is doing her best and is well aware of what might annoy me, and I need to leave it at that. She’s a separate person with a separate way of doing things, and it’s totally fine. It’s not fair for me to expect her to do everything in the exact same way as I would, at the exact same speed. Preserving harmony in the marriage takes precedent. “Us” is always more important than “me.” And seriously, I’m sure she bites her tongue every day when it comes to my idiosyncrasies and annoying habits. I wouldn’t want to do life with me. I’m so thankful she does. Being so intimately acquainted with my faults, it’s actually kind of miraculous. Remember that the other person is doing their best. They are not trying to annoy you or irritate you in the least bit. For those in long-term relationships or marriages, try to tell yourself often that “it doesn’t really matter.” There are very few hills you should die on. Yes, have convictions about the important things – the things that reflect integrity and industriousness and wisdom and kindness and faith – but try to let go about the comparatively trivial things. Remember that the other person is doing their best. They are not trying to annoy you or irritate you in the least bit. They are trying each day to be all you need them to be. And you should be thankful for all of the ways they are patient and gracious and ever-loving with you.

“Only one thing is necessary.”

I say this to myself a lot too. And it helps me to be a better person, which in turn helps me to be a better husband. It’s from Luke 10:42, when sisters Mary and Martha are hosting Jesus. Martha is running around the house trying to manage life and responsibilities and appearances and demands. Mary is just hanging out with the Lord, getting to know Him and His heart, and finding her worth and value in Him. And when Martha complains about Mary not helping her with all she has going on, Jesus lovingly admonishes Martha and praises Mary’s singular devotion and choice with the words, “Only one thing is necessary.” It's true. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in trying to stay on top of life. And pursuing that goal has the side-effect of pushing out my pursuit of God and my pursuit of Rachel. I start to think that sweeping the floor, or writing another paper, or preparing for tax season, or organizing my closet is more important right now than them. But they aren’t. Ever. Those tasks always come in second to the way I love my Lord and the way I love my wife. I’m not saying you have to let those things go; rather, you should make sure that your good intentions to get things done doesn’t undermine the best possible relationship you could ever have. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in trying to stay on top of life. And pursuing that goal has the side-effect of pushing out my pursuit of God and my pursuit of Rachel. I find this extremely tough. I hate mistakes and I hate problems because they get in the way of me living how I want each day (I do realize this is dysfunctional and selfish and prideful and controlling). And so I do all I can to avoid them by laboring in ways that prevent their possible occurrence. I’m always thinking ahead. I spray for bugs just in case we have a random infestation. I trim palm trees to keep them from possibly knocking down a gutter. I plan for old age. I maintain proper tire pressure in our vehicles. I stay on top of mail and bills and filing paperwork. There is always something else to do. Always. I’m never caught up the way I want to be. Ever. But all of this takes so much time, time that I could be – and should be – giving to God and my wife. Obviously, I’m supposed to be a good steward, and take care of the domain over which He’s give me ownership. But I clearly need to trust Him more to hold everything together and not let the bottom fall out (which is fundamentally what I am afraid of). I’m trying. It’s going to be impossible for me to keep this up when we have children. I just have to trust more. And do less. And give myself to my most important relationships above all else. It’s going to be impossible for me to keep this up when we have children. I just have to trust more. And do less. And give myself to my most important relationships above all else. That’s it. Pretty simple, actually. There are so many lists in books and online with top tips for relationships and dating and marriages, but all of that can be subsumed under two succinct phrases for me: “it doesn’t really matter” and “only one thing is necessary.” Or, as Stephen Covey has said, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” I feel like when I’ve concentrated my energies on living out these two overarching statements, everything else falls into place. Not perfectly (because we are broken people in a broken world), but pretty dang well – and marked by a good measure of peace, harmony, and even joy. That is all I want as Rachel and I enjoy each other’s love, laughter, and companionship, and team up to accomplish epic things for His people, purposes, and renown.

When People Judge You Based On How You Look

While living in a dorm room this summer at a university in Ireland, I was reminded about one aspect of human nature I really dislike. I had to get to another campus to give a speech, and went downstairs to the reception desk to ask someone to please call me a taxi. However, the person behind the desk really didn’t seem interested, and appeared put out by my request even after I clearly explained that I didn’t have a phone to make the call myself. She asked me to hold on, and while I waited patiently, she was keen to help other adults with friendliness, warmth, and her time. And I became a bit frustrated because there are signs everywhere around my dorm about how the staff are available to help with anything I might need. When these sorts of things happen, my mind instinctively starts to churn with certain thoughts to reconcile the situation. Maybe the receptionist wasn’t comfortable with my American accent, and maybe she prefers chatting and helping those with Irish accents. Maybe she wasn’t eager to help because I was dressed down – in very casual clothes – and because I may appear to her to be a student instead of a professor. Of course, that shouldn’t matter, but maybe it did. When she finally turned again my direction, she shrugged her shoulders and gave me a pat answer. I thanked her anyway, and said that I would attempt to request a taxi through the cab company’s website from my room. And so I tried that, but had no luck at all. Remembering, though, that God always responds even when no one else will, I just got ready for my speech by showering, shaving, and putting on my formal clothes, and then headed back downstairs with the hope that someone else would be at the reception desk to assist me. Unfortunately, it was the same woman, but this time she was quite eager to lend a hand. The only difference, based on what I could tell, was my appearance. I was suited and booted, fresh-faced, and professional-looking. And with a newfound enthusiasm to come through for me, she helped me get a taxi. judging by appearances 5 I cannot express to you how maddening this is. It’s happened a handful of times to me, and I’m sure it’s happened to you. We live in a world where appearances matter. We’ve been taught this from an early age: the importance of first impressions during interviews, first dates, and other special events. Perhaps it’s related to the halo effect – the cognitive bias we all have where an initial impression we have of someone affects our overall thoughts and feelings we have about their character and value. We’ve been taught this from an early age: the importance of first impressions during interviews, first dates, and other special events. Also, it is perhaps second nature for us to judge others and group them in pre-established categories so that we know how to reflexively respond to them – based on our prior experiences with (or perceptions of) others in that category. We do this out of convenience, and for the sake of efficiency. Nevertheless, it drives me bonkers because I think it’s flat out wrong. I’m all about truth and justice, and something about it feels unjust. It feels…shallow, callous, disingenuous, and even manipulative. What is our root motivation for judging based on appearances? From my perspective, I think it shamefully betrays that many of our new interactions are transactional. We enter them subconsciously looking to get something out of them. We are hoping, at least in part, that there might be some sort of symbolic or substantive personal gain from it. With some self-reflection, maybe we would honestly even admit that to ourselves. When I have someone coming to our house to fix an appliance or perform a service job, I seriously take the time to put on pants and a button down so I look more like a professional and less like a kid. Allow me to share something you may think silly and even pretentious. When I have someone coming to our house to fix an appliance or perform a service job, I seriously take the time to put on pants and a button down so I look more like a professional and less like a kid. This is because I am convinced I will be thought of less highly if I’m in a t-shirt and shorts, and that will consequently affect the quality of the service I receive. Is that crazy? Perhaps. I do this when I go to the repair shop to get my car fixed too. And when I go to see a new doctor or health care provider. I guess I believe that I need to look a particular way in order to increase the odds that I will be treated better than the norm. It’s disappointing to me that I do this because it is transactional and contrived and insincere, and because these actions reflect a broken human condition of which I am a representative. This is my reality. On the flip side, I honestly try to treat everyone exactly the same, regardless of how they look or dress. Really. I am actually obsessive about this. I believe that if you asked anyone who knows me, they would agree that I give my best to the person who is in front of me no matter who they are. I know I do this because I’m keenly aware of latent prejudices and biases that can often manifest in these contexts. judging by appearances 12 But I also do it because of my faith. And because the life lessons I have learned through God’s Word have proven themselves infallible to me. Jesus gave his best to the person right in front of Him every time. Without exception. It’s a defining trait, and one I find so admirable. I want to be like this, always. He blessed and healed those with wealth, and those without. He reached out to those the world considered beautiful and whole, and those the world considered physically ugly and diseased. He came to the rescue of the young and the old. He bestowed goodness, warmth, and sincere affection with unrivaled impartiality. Why did He do this? I think it's because He saw everyone with spiritual eyes and a heavenly perspective, and knew that every single one of them was made in the image of God. And, therefore, each person had inherent value. He reached out to those the world considered beautiful and whole, and those the world considered physically ugly and diseased. He came to the rescue of the young and the old. He bestowed goodness, warmth, and sincere affection with unrivaled impartiality. James – a brother of Jesus – penned the most damning words related to the classism we sometimes display in our actions: “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” We unequivocally need to treat everyone the same, regardless of what they look like. And since I am downright troubled by what I see and experience to the contrary, I can do two things. First, I can consistently represent a standard of interacting with others that is noble and above reproach, and point to unyielding truths that champion the best ways to interact with others. I hope that my life serves as a model that others strive to emulate, and conveys that I am simply trying to emulate Jesus – who did it perfectly and who can actually equip us to follow in His footsteps. We totally cannot do it ourselves, in our own strength and self-discipline. Second, I can ask Him to open the eyes of my heart to see everyone’s needs and hopes with His perspective, and thereby increase my sensitivity to “the least of these.” If I am known for anything in this world, I want to be known for this. Not so that I can be commended and praised, but simply because every single person matters. And my actions fully need to reflect that fact, every single time. Image source: http://bzfd.it/2tXWsVn

When you trust yourself more than God for career success

By now, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the viral video of a political expert being interviewed via Skype by the BBC, and the comedy that ensues when his two daughters boldly and innocently enter into his home office before being corralled and yanked out of there by their completely embarrassed mom. I saw the video early on Friday morning, and immediately showed Rachel (who loved it because that could happen to us one day!). Then, I retweeted it and tagged Justin because we both do a lot of phone and video interviews with the media and I knew he would be able to relate. What I wanted to now discuss was some of the thoughts I had after reading a breakdown of the video by Ben Thompson. You should read it too, because it’s a splendid and tremendously entertaining writeup, and also because some of his insights cut me to the quick (and perhaps will do the same to you). While commenting on why Robert Kelly (the protagonist) tried to do all he could to maintain decorum during the interview even after the host pointed out that his daughter had entered the room, the author states:

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

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

While I have never put on a full suit to field a Skype call from my home office, I have absolutely put on a dress shirt and tie (while wearing athletic shorts from the waist down) and sat at my desk to video chat with an interviewer. When the requests come in (primarily via email), I am definitely guilty of running around and inconveniencing myself and my family to take the call. Justin is pretty much the same way. We both agree that it will help to get our research and best practices out to those who need it. We also feel that we only have a limited amount of time to build our careers, and this is one of the ways which require some sacrifice – especially if it is a big-name media outlet. I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it). What the author’s commentary pointed out to me was that I am largely doing it to feed my ego. I’ve done media interviews on weekend mornings, during the evenings when I should have put my laptop to bed, and sometimes even on vacation (though, thankfully, rarely). And I justify it over and over again – because it will be relatively simple to knock it out (just shave and put on a button-down!), because I know the answers to the questions they are going to ask, and because others will meaningfully benefit from the information I share. But if I’m honest, those are all secondary reasons to the primary motivation: others will see it and hear my name, and I’ll maintain relevance as a sought-after “expert” in the field. And my ego will have been fed. Ugh. Just typing that out loud feels gross. Slimy. Yucky. I don’t want that. I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it). I do believe everything good and perfect comes from the Lord, and that I don’t need to exhaust myself in human effort to “make things happen.”  But it is clear that belief has not yet permeated all aspects of my life, as much as I want it to. And if I am objective about it, the primary reason why I am so keen on doing these interviews (again, to the detriment of my own schedule, peace of mind, and family prioritization) is because of the fear of becoming irrelevant. And it’s weird because I really don’t want fame or notoriety – I just want to be able to provide for myself and my family. But if I’m irrelevant professionally, I feel like all opportunities (and provision) will completely dry up. And no one will care. And life will fall apart. That is ridiculous. That clearly demonstrates a lack of faith in the Lord as my source and my provider.

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

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

To me, it doesn’t matter whether the political expert was working during normal business hours, or inconveniencing himself and his family by fielding the interview just because of his ego. What matters is that I personally found a teachable moment in the video, and see its application to how I am currently living. And how I want to live as a man with childlike faith. Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place. Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place. We just need to pay attention, and then apply those insights to our lives. If I am caught up in busyness, and just keep going through the motions without heeding what He is trying to teach me through my everyday observations and experiences, it will be such a shame. I don’t want to fear missing out on ego-building opportunities. I want to fear missing out on faith-building opportunities. Because as my faith grows, so does my relationship with Him – from which flows the fullness of life I want and need above all else. Image source: http://bit.ly/2lQL374

When Your Ministry is Taken Away From You

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.

When You’re Playing Hide and Seek with God

I  have a three-year old nephew named Blake, and he is the cutest thing alive.  I bet that all uncles say that about their nephews and nieces, but I personally think Blake would out-cute all other cute kids in any cuteness competition! Well, he and his family visited us this summer, and we spent our days going to the beach, swimming in the neighborhood pool, watching movies, and just spending quality time together.  And I truly enjoyed it so much, particularly since he’s of the age where he’s so much fun to play with - especially for a big kid like me. One afternoon, we discovered that he absolutely loves playing hide-and-seek.  He loves it so much.  You should see his face light up when I ask him if he wants to play - it is the purest and most joyous expression I have ever seen!  I mean, he basically freaks out with excitement and he looks like he’s going to jump right out of his skin – it is hilarious!  I ask him if he wants to come find me, or if he wants me to come find him first.  Then, I remind him of the rules (“you have to close your eyes when you count to ten!”), and we go at it! You should see his face light up when I ask him if he wants to play - it is the purest and most joyous expression I have ever seen!  I mean, he basically freaks out with excitement and he looks like he’s going to jump right out of his skin – it is hilarious! Sometimes, our game starts off with Blake first searching for me.  I have to remember that he’s only three, so my hiding spots can’t be too difficult to uncover.  My favorite one is behind the hunter green curtains in my living room right by the TV and sectional couch (where the other family members are typically hanging out).  An adult could look over towards the sliding glass doors and see a Sameer-sized bulging outline in the drapery, or notice my toes peeking out from below, but Blake has to be guided a bit by others in the room who are not playing.  And after a few persuasive suggestions to check the curtains, Blake finds me, and I let out a dramatic wail in defeat, and he bursts out in laughter, screams, and runs away from me as I reach to grab him, hoist him over my shoulder, and tickle him to pieces.  I wish I didn’t have other responsibilities, because I seriously could play hide-and-seek all day with this wonderful boy bundle of cuteness. hide-and-seek-4 After Blake and my extended family left at the end of their vacation to drive back to Virginia, Rachel and I were chatting about hide-and-seek.  We reflected that our nephew definitely loved looking for me, and was thrilled when he succeeded in finding me.  However, it was clear that he actually preferred to be the one who found a secret spot to hide, and then wait to be found by me.  I mean, he was over-the-moon happy when I located him in his hiding spot – behind a door, under a blanket, between the wall and the couch.  You would think that he would be bummed out because I had technically “won” at that point, and maybe even get upset and throw a fit because he didn’t win.   But he wasn’t.  He was beyond elated when I found him. Rachel and I thought there may be something instructive in this, and we didn’t want to miss it.  We wondered if maybe it was a picture of the heart of God, revealed by observing the heart of a child.  And so we tried to put words to the glimpse we had been given.  I remembered that “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Prov 25:2), and really wanted to dive in deep and learn from this.  I think if we want to have a vibrant, living relationship with Him, we have to exert the effort to press in when something strikes us.  Otherwise, we’ll keep missing what He wants to show us and teach us, and wonder why we never (seem to) hear from Him. hide-and-seek-5 The first thing that came to mind was that everyone waits to be wanted, pursued, discovered.  You very well may agree with me.  Think about a girl who waits for a boy to come along to show her interest, care about what she hopes for and dreams about, and become captivated by all that makes her beautiful. Think about the athlete putting in hours and hours in the pool, or the gym, or on the track – hoping that a scout might come to one of his or her games and offer a scholarship or a shot in the big leagues. Think about a girl who waits for a boy to come along to show her interest, care about what she hopes for and dreams about, and become captivated by all that makes her beautiful. I believe God is the same way.  He waits to be wanted, pursued, discovered.  This isn’t because He needs us to find Him; His emotional health is not dependent on our choices.  Instead, He wants us to search for and chase after Him because He knows that there is no better discovery for us than Him.  His presence, peace, and perfect love are the absolute best things we can find.  The greatest treasure of all. Second, God doesn’t make it an onerous burden for us to find Him.   You don’t need to exhaust yourself looking high and low.  He simply wants you to be “all in” in your search – looking with open eyes and an open heart.  He isn’t hiding from His creation for the sake of hiding, just to put us through the paces.  I think He’s just checking the state of your heart.  Once He knows you are committed, He’s happy to reveal Himself to you with relative ease. Imagine if I was half-heartedly looking for Blake.  Instead of actively going around to each corner of each room searching, I decided to plop down on the couch and watch some football.  Maybe every few minutes I might yell out something like “Here I come, Blake!” or “I’m getting closer!” just to make him believe I’m still in earnest pursuit.  How awful would that be?  It’s so disingenuous, so wrong to fool a kid like that. I can’t half-heartedly play hide-and-seek with my nephew, and I can’t half-heartedly seek out God and His ways and His love.  He knows our intentions and motivations better than we ourselves do. Either I am in, or I am out – I can’t half-heartedly play hide-and-seek with my nephew, and I can’t half-heartedly seek out God and His ways and His love.  He knows our intentions and motivations better than we ourselves do.  I’ve experienced His love and insight in such powerful ways when I simply come to Him, knowing that nothing else can help me feel better, and that there are no answers to be found anywhere else. The third thing that came to mind is that Blake wants the game to be about him, and not what he can do for me.  He wants me to pursue him for him alone, and not to get him to take a selfie with me, or go to sleep early in exchange for the playtime together, or for any other reason where I’m using him to accomplish a goal of mine.  It’s likely that as a three-year old, he’s not even thinking about that.  You and I as adults, though, definitely do because we’ve been burned in this capacity at one time or another. hide-and-seek-3 One of the saddest commentaries on the human condition is that we often want others not for who they are, but for what they can do for us – how they can make us feel, how they can improve our personal or professional life, how they can meet our needs.  And to be honest, you and I often pursue God for the very same reasons, and not simply for Himself.  I wish we would think a lot more about how this makes Him feel, and how this makes us seem – particularly because we’ve all been on the receiving end of this sort of exploitative and manipulative arrangement.  It’s such a horrible feeling to realize that someone else is interested in a romantic or platonic relationship not because they love your heart and love spending time with you, but because they want something from you. It’s such a horrible feeling to realize that someone else is interested in a romantic or platonic relationship not because they love your heart and love spending time with you, but because they want something from you. When I play hide-and-seek with Blake, he is the end goal.  Finding him, making him shriek with glee, bringing the biggest smile to his face, and showing him how much I care about him – that is my motivation, and there is no other.  This can be distilled even further: I do it because I love him, and this is the best way I know how to show him.  Obviously, with Blake I know I am going to find him in short order.  With God, sometimes it takes a while.  But there is a point to the patience and perseverance required – it’s not random and arbitrary.  He knows what He is doing:
  • the search has a purpose in building your faith;
  • the time it takes to search strips away the false pretenses and separates true seekers from the exploiters and manipulators; and,
  • the reward – for the comparatively few who make it their mission – is incomparably grand.
This is His way, and this is His economy.  He’s made it so plain to us: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13).  I mean, how much more clear do we need Him to be?  When playing hide-and-seek, I was searching for Blake with all of my heart, with no ulterior motives and solely because I love him.  Personally, I want to be pursued by others in the same way, and so do you.  And so does God.  Of anyone, He deserves that.  This pure, passionate pursuit of Him is the deepest and highest way in which I can demonstrate my love – and so I must.  Plus, as I mentioned, it is the best thing for us -  the absolute best way we can spend our days and our lives.  He receives glory (honor, renown, magnificence, beauty, distinction) from the hiding, and we can share in that glory through the seeking and finding.  I am convinced that nothing else in our lives can match that - without inevitably falling short.

When You Can’t Help Others Help Themselves

In my last blog, I talked about my “savior complex” and how my compulsion to rescue others from their perceived or actual problems actually made me miserable. Perhaps you could relate to that. Today, I want to explore in depth when it isn’t a good idea to get involved in other people’s lives unless it’s truly led by God, instead of your own mercurial emotions and desire to constantly be the hero. I’m sure this list isn’t comprehensive, but here are at least a few situations that come to mind when I think about it. 1. You might have the solution they need, but they might not be in a place to receive it. When this happens, it’s like talking to a wall. It’s so frustrating when you want to help someone and you are convinced your insight or assistance can get them to a place of breakthrough - but you also know that they just won’t really get it. I know a married couple who has been struggling for years and years, and even if I talk to one of them about the obvious dysfunctions they have in their relationship and that they need to address them so they stop fighting all the time, they won’t. The codependency is too deep. They are too ensconced and comfortable in their messed-up patterns of interacting and living. And yet for so long I would bring it up (when they would vent to me) in my desperate attempt to get them to a better place. But I’ve stopped.
As much as you want others to learn from your bloody experiences, sometimes they just need to bleed for themselves.
Another example would be when your friend comes to you for advice in her romantic relationship, and you tell her flat out that she should kick him to the curb because you and everyone else knows he’s major trouble – but she doesn’t. And she’s not going to. She’s going to do what she wants, which is to wait for him to change, or justify the way she’s treated, or avoid breaking up because she can’t deal with being alone. Even right now, I’m mentoring a guy and he is coming to me for advice and his situation with a girl is jacked up, but there is nothing I can do because he just isn’t getting it. He’s seeing what he wants to see, and believing what he wants to believe. Of course, I want and need to be loving and gracious towards these people in my life, because I know in my own past I have perhaps not heeded wise counsel as quickly I should have – simply because I wasn’t in a place to receive it and put it into action. As much as you want others to learn from your bloody experiences, sometimes they just need to bleed for themselves. 2.  When you come through for someone, you might be keeping them from learning the lessons that God is trying to teach them, and from the growth He wants them to experience. People should desire in and of themselves to become whole, healthy, healed individuals. They should have an internal – and not external – locus of control and know that they (with God and their loved ones) can deal with any problem that comes their way. You can’t want this for them more badly than they want it, and if you keep rescuing them, they never hit rock bottom and decide of their own volition to make changes. And making changes in their lives of their own volition is the surest way for that change to actually last. If you are always swooping in and saving them, they never learn personal responsibility and autonomy. Instead, you’re a co-conspirator in their learned helplessness and victim mentality, where they start to rely on others to be their conscience, their reminders, their motivation, their brain. And you’ve become a cattle prod and a full-on enabler. And eventually a major reason why they stay in the same place they’ve always been.
If you are always swooping in and saving them, they never learn personal responsibility and autonomy. Instead, you’re a co-conspirator in their learned helplessness and victim mentality.
I’ve done this. For example, I want my parents to work out more (I bet everyone wants their parents to work out more!) so that they can stay strong and healthy. But they need to want it for themselves. I used to remind them all the time, but I don’t anymore. Another example is when someone keeps bailing out a friend who has money problems. Or a person who refuses to file formal charges against an abusive domestic partner. Sometimes, you have to let them feel the full weight of the consequences they are due. Sometimes, if they sow the wind, they have to reap the whirlwind – and not be protected from it. If someone wants to change badly enough, they’ll figure out a way to make it happen. They’ll carve time for it. They’ll prioritize it, and they’ll reach out for help, and they’ll get it done. If they don’t want it badly, it’s not up to me to convince them otherwise. It’s their life, and not mine, and that is a bitter pill to swallow. Trust me, I know. But as callous as it sounds, it is the healthiest option you can make – for yourself, and for the other person. It is tough love at its finest. 3. When you operate completely in human effort and led solely by human emotion, which is untrustworthy. This is an exhausting way to live, and from my experience far from fruitful. I care about a lot of people, and when they post or mention their needs or wants on social media or in conversation when we’re hanging out, I always think – I could help with that, I could come through for you, I could advise you in this area, I could lead you out of this foxhole. But I have also learned over time that only when God clearly and repeatedly puts that person on my heart does my help really make a difference, and really have a lasting impact. Otherwise it’s like, "um, yay, thank you," and then it’s back to business as usual for them, and I’m left feeling unsettled, unfulfilled, and really let down.
What I find much more productive and beneficial is when God clearly leads me to step in to help others, instead of me doing it out of compulsion, obligation, or emotion.
What I find much more productive and beneficial is when God clearly leads me to step in to help others, instead of me doing it out of compulsion, obligation, or emotion. Then, He ends up making things go way better and way smoother, because He is actually involved in the process. I always want to be led by Him. I want Him to direct my steps. I want Him to make my paths straight. I want my efforts to really, actually matter – and my experiences have shown me that He supernaturally blesses what I do when it’s been bathed in prayer and prompted by Him alone. And, to be honest, the feeling is the best feeling ever – to be led in these ways, to be a light in someone’s darkness in these days. Frankly, I want that all the time! It feels like what I was meant to do. 4. You and I actually have better things to do than get involved in every situation and drama and issue that we see in the lives of those around us. Unfortunately, it’s so easy as a Christian who has the best intentions and the kindest of souls to get caught up in other people’s messes in an unbalanced way. And like I’ve alluded to earlier, it’s so easy to rationalize as “doing God’s work.”  For the reasons stipulated above, I just don’t think that we should invite ourselves into the problems that others are having unless He clearly prompts us. If your heart is in the right place, I promise that He will prompt you and He will push You out of your comfort zone to be a blessing to others. But if we are constantly doing it whenever we are asked, and in any and every situation without wise discernment about what is right for us to take on, I just feel like it’s foolish. I’ve seen people constantly pour themselves out on behalf of others as a way of “taking up their cross” while their own lives, family situations, and health fall apart. It makes me so upset. It is such a travesty. Please don’t misunderstand the gist of my message here. I fully understand that we are called to be a blessing to others, and those of you who know me will attest to the fact that I walk the walk. All I am advocating for here is more God-sourced vision and selectivity for when and how we come through for others. I hope that the reasons and examples I’ve provided above, as well as the stories of my own failures in this area, help to convince you of its merit. I’d love to hear if these words have struck a chord with you – please let me know in the comments below!

When You Always Feel Compelled to Rescue Others

I was talking with my friend Brittany recently about the way we spend our time, and one of the things that came up has to do with our involvement in the lives of others. Now, I think we are meant to do life in community, and be connected with a group of like-minded individuals who can be there for us while we also are available for them. Life pretty much sucks when you have to do everything alone, and you have no friends with whom you can share your highs or your lows. However, we started to discuss how many individuals are too involved in the lives of others, and at best it is unproductive and unwise, and at worst it is harmful to both you and the other person. Throughout my teen years and even in my early twenties, I unknowingly had what has been termed a “savior complex” or “savior mentality.”  Whenever there was a need, I would jump to action and come through. Whenever someone was sad or lonely, I would step in and work to lift their spirits through my words and actions. Whenever someone had a problem, I was the first to offer a solution. You might be asking yourself: okay, so what is the issue? I honestly couldn’t see anything wrong at that time either. We are called to be a blessing to others, and I was doing that. We were meant to pour ourselves for others, as Christ did for the church. We are asked to love one another as God has loved us. However, I was constantly operating out of my emotions – they were the driving force. In various ways, my actions were prompted by the following messages in my mind:
  • People now count on you. This makes you important and valued to others. Keep doing it. Otherwise, no one will care about you. You won’t have any value to them.
  • This is your identity now. This is who “Sameer” is. This is what keeps you affirmed, and validated, and appreciated.
  • People don’t have everything together like you do. They are a hot mess. You know what everyone needs, and you have what everyone needs. You should feel sorry for them and give them what they need.
  • People need you to help them because if you don’t, no one will. It’s up to you to save the day.
  • If you helped other people in the past, why wouldn’t you help this person now? You need to come through for as many people as you possibly can.
  • Life is brutal, and if you come through for others, they will come through for you – in precisely the ways you need them to. Or God will. Because that’s how this thing works.
  • Jesus died to Himself every moment of every day and was always spending Himself on behalf of others. Do the same. Be like Jesus.
Hopefully you are starting to see that while my intentions were really good, my thought processes were also kind of dysfunctional. And definitely unhealthy. I needed others to need me, and I enjoyed their dependency on me. But I never stopped to ask myself the hard questions:
  • Why do you feel this constant compulsion to rescue others?
  • Why do you feel so inadequate just the way you are that you need to constantly be the hero to everyone else?
  • Why do you feel it is your job to make sure that everyone is doing okay?
  • Why must you try to fix others and clean up the messes that they make?
In retrospect, I can point to the fact that I was the oldest son in the family and already was used to taking responsibility for others. And that I didn’t actually believe that people would be drawn to me naturally, and so I had to get them to lean in my direction through my selfless actions. Or that I didn’t understand the importance of self-care, and how I need to be loving myself well before I’m really able to love others well. Or that everything was definitely not up to me. But the reality was that back then, this is how I lived my life and this is how I interacted with people. And after a while, it started to take a very noticeable toll: I began to get resentful because I was always pouring out to others, and no one was pouring into me. I started to hate myself because I felt like I always had to be proving my worth and value through these selfless actions. I was tired and drained and physically wiped out, but I felt like I had to keep gutting it out to bless others even if I was personally miserable. It felt like if this was the Christian life, and if this is what Jesus asks of us, I didn’t know if I could do it - or even want to do it. Thankfully, my pastor pulled me aside one day after I asked an 80 year-old woman at my church to have lunch with me, just because I thought I needed to show her love and interest since other people at our church weren’t really doing that. I’m serious. I had nothing in common with this person, nor any reason to spend time with her. I just felt compelled to be the hero, come through for her, and rescue her from her presumed loneliness. There’s nothing wrong with random acts of kindness, and doing things for people who can’t do anything for you. In fact, those are awesome things. But that’s not what I was doing. I was operating out of a twisted mentality. I had no balance or perspective. What I was doing was becoming pathological. Through the blunt conversation I then had with my pastor, my eyes were slowly opened. And over the next few months, I faced the manifestations of my dysfunction, and really committed to rooting out the savior mentality in my life. It has helped so much. I’m so much happier because my interpersonal interactions are healthy now, and not co-dependent. I own my life fully, and I let other people live their lives fully. I really think it’s the best way to be. Next time, I'm going to explore specific reasons why it's simply not wise to play this role in the lives of others (based on my extensive experience with this). For now, though, I want to know what personal examples come to your mind as you think about when you've tried to be the "savior" in the lives of others.  Please do take a moment and share in the comments below, and I will definitely weigh in as well! Image source: http://maryandmarthashouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/superman-kid.jpg

When God Corrects Us to Protect Us

During our recent backpacking trip through parts of Europe, an interesting thing happened. We were walking around a city square in Ghent, Belgium one workday afternoon, and we saw a child running from the middle of the square toward the busy, crowded street. He must have been about two years old, and it caused us alarm because nobody wants to see a kid to go running into a dangerous situation packed with oncoming cars and buses and trams. I was like, whoa, what the heck, this is not good! But then I saw another child - probably around six years old – moving fast towards him on his little bicycle, with wide-eyed fear plastered across his face. He was dressed in the same manner as the younger child, and so I am going to assume it was his older brother. And I watched that older brother stop his bicycle in front of us, put down the kickstand so it wouldn’t fall over, and then run hard to reach his little brother and grab his arm before he walked out into traffic. What next ensued was surprising, but then not surprising. Despite the six-year old’s insistence, the two-year old refused to budge and move away from the street! He just sat down on the ground right at the curb, and threw a fit with screams and tears. But I watched the six year-old patiently stand by him, and did not raise his voice or get upset. He just attempted to gently kick him and nudge him towards the square, towards a safer place. And that helped a little – the little boy did move just a little bit away from the road, and kept doing so with every gentle nudge. Albeit with his arms crossed in disgust, a constant whine and whimper, and a frown on his face. Rachel pointed out how this reminded her of how we are with God. It’s so true – I rarely know what is really best for me. And I often run in this direction, or that direction, in search of excitement, or purpose, or fulfillment. In fact, I get on these seemingly noble but still wild goose chases where I convince myself that I *must* do this, or must do that. I see in retrospect that God has saved me from so much – the wrong relationships, the wrong work partners, the wrong investment decisions, the wrong choices. But I’m embarrassed to say that many times – before I get a clue – I am quite stubborn and childish in my immediate reaction when He corrects me, or diverts me, or undermines all that I wanted to do, or planned to make happen. My attitude and actions pretty much all the time tend to betray that I know what’s best for me. But I don’t. I just don’t. Only God does, and it’s at best foolish and at worst dangerous for me to think that I do. Plus, when He corrects me in these ways, it feels like it’s a blow to my autonomy, my freedom. I feel like my choice is being taken away, and having that choice seems inextricably attached to my identity, my life, who I am. But the reality is that I am not losing freedom - I am simply being protected. That decision would just not be best for me. He knows, and I don’t. But in these moments, all I can think about is how the derailing of my plans is painful. How His correction stings a little. How it’s not fun at all, and how sometimes I just want my way with no consequences. Just like I bet that two-year-old felt when his older brother was kicking him so he would move away from danger and back toward safety. What I really want to work on is not moving ahead with any idea or choice without going to Him and making sure He’s on board. To be sure, I know that many times He won’t give me a green light and that I need to take the first step of faith if I feel good about the decision. But what I have learned from experience is that if I give Him that voice into the situation while I am taking the first step or two (before completely running off and doing my own thing), He will give me a yellow or red light. And that will serve as the direction I need, and keep me choosing options that are in line with His best for my life.

When You Really Want to Find a Mentor

The Karate Kid – the original version, which came out in 1984 - is one of my all-time favorite movies.  Why? Well, I could relate to Daniel LaRusso, the introverted, awkward, skinny underdog who was valiantly trying to make friends and fit in at his new school in California.  Plus, most boys my age saw the film and instantly developed a hopeless crush on Ali Mills in all of her ponytailed spunkiness, and could empathize with Daniel’s wistful desire to win her heart and be the hero of the story.  Finally, I loved the movie because I knew what it was like to be bullied, and the feeling of helplessness that stemmed from a sheer inability to stand up for myself.  I mean, no one had ever shown me what to say or what to do when other kids gave me crap or pushed me around. As you’ll recall, Daniel didn’t either.  Until he met Mr. Miyagi, and his life was forever changed. The aforementioned reasons underscore why the movie enjoyed commercial and critical success, Mr. Miyagi and his role in Daniel’s life still stands out in my mind decades later.  If you’re familiar with the story, you remember that he was the repairman at Daniel’s new apartment complex, and early in the movie he defends Daniel against five members of the Cobra Kai.  As a result, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him how to fight, and is then taken under his wing.  Through this relationship, Daniel not only learns karate, but also many lessons of greater import related to life, relationships, stability, confidence, and courage.
Through this relationship, Daniel not only learns karate, but also many lessons of greater import related to life, relationships, stability, confidence, and courage.
I wanted that.  I wanted that so badly.  And I saw it all in so many other stories: Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan, Neo had Morpheus, Harry had Dumbledore, Frodo had Gandalf, and Peter Parker had Uncle Ben.  I can’t express to you how much these relationships resonated with my heart – and still do, even today: the desire for an older man to come along and train up the next generation in the way he should go.  To mentor me, encourage me, and teach me tangible skills.  To advocate for me, champion me, to always have my back.  To simply be there – as a guide, as a sage – and remind me that I didn’t have to face everything alone.  Author John Eldredge writes about how that is the primary thing all men struggle with: the feeling that everything is up to us, that there’s no one out else interested or available to really help us through the tough stuff of life.  I know that is a plaguing thought with which I wrestle constantly.  The question remains: who really is there for me…to show me the ropes, to go to bat for me, to teach me the ways of the warrior?
The question remains: who really is there for me…to show me the ropes, to go to bat for me, to teach me the ways of the warrior?
My dad and I are very close, and he has raised me well to be a man of integrity, wisdom, discipline, and cultivated in me a deep love and loyalty to family.  But I didn’t receive spiritual mentorship from him.  Instead, three pastors invested in me over the years: Pastor Mark in Orlando, Pastor Bob in West Palm Beach, and Pastor Matt in Stuart.  They have taught me about true faith, and developing a friendship with God, and waiting for His best, no matter what.  In between, I also was spiritually mentored by a number of Christian authors who taught me about authentic masculinity, how to honor and cherish a woman, how to set boundaries for healthy living, and how to remain stable in the midst of storms.  Sure, I would have loved to learn those things from people in real life, but that wasn’t what happened.  The cool thing, though, is that God’s plan to train me up in the way I should go wasn’t dependent on the people immediately around me.  He made so much of it happen through books, and I am grateful for that. Even still, there is so much that feels solely up to me.  I wish someone would teach me more about investing, about certain home improvement projects, about how my car works, about how to build a successful business, and about how to walk the line between letting others know what you have to offer, and waiting for God’s hand to exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6).  Right now, I’m having to learn a lot on my own – and pretty much every guy I talk to feels the same way.  It’s not easy.  In fact, it’s downright exhausting.  I think of Thoreau’s words…how the mass of men are leading lives of quiet desperation.  Honestly, I think there is a bit of desperation in trying to figure out how to do life well on your own, and fending off the questions and lies and accusations and doubts that you are in this alone, with no one really there to help you.
There is a bit of desperation in trying to figure out how to do life well on your own, and fending off the questions and lies and accusations and doubts that you are in this alone, with no one really there to help.
Most of the time, I trust Him to be what I need, give me what I need, and provide the right opportunities and people in my life at the right time.  Occasionally, I cry out to Him for more, because I do need guidance and insight and tangible help.  I do.  We all do.  I’m okay with that.  And He understands. Through all of this, I’m learning two things.  One is that I need to pay it forward.  Well, let me strengthen that statement: I want to pay it forward.  And so I’m trying to be readily available and am seizing every opportunity to do that when it’s clear God wants me to step in.  And He does make it very clear – I know when He is sovereignly orchestrating it, and when I want to do it only because I feel the need to try to rescue the other person.  It works out so much better when it’s arranged by Him, instead of rooted solely in my own human effort.  I find great joy in guiding and mentoring the teens He has put in my life, and He keeps confirming that I am made to do this, that I am meant to do this.  This also helps me stay balanced, so I am not wasting my life building my own kingdom and a protected, comfortable little life for myself.  I don’t want that.  I want a life that is epic, one that has a transcendent and inspirational impact for many.  And I have learned over and over again that any other kind of life is pretty empty.
"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up." ~ King Solomon
The second thing I am learning is that I need to position myself so that others see a need and want to help me, as they are prompted by God.  If no one sees or hears about my needs, no one will rise up to the challenge.  No one will pray about whether God wants them to step in and be that guide or mentor or positive influence in my life.  I do believe that other men are surrendered to His will and leadings, and would gladly swoop in to help a younger brother out when the occasion presents itself.   This is because they have experienced the same need, or they themselves were taught and counseled along the way, or they viscerally understand that – like Jesus – the best lived life is the one poured out for others.  Thinking back to Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, it’s patently obvious how much the Karate Kid needed and benefited from his sensei.  But upon closer observation, it’s also clear that Mr. Miyagi needed and benefited from Daniel in his life in equally wonderful life-altering ways.
Asking for help is super hard, and goes against the things I have told myself to steel up my defenses, and grit and grind through life as I’ve known it.  But I know I must.
So, I am trying to ask for help more often.  I can’t do everything – and really don’t want to do everything – on my own.  But asking for help is super hard, and goes against the things I have told myself to steel up my defenses, and grit and grind through life as I’ve known it.  But I know I must.  I know it is the right, healthy, and honest thing to do, even if it renders me vulnerable to rejection and failure.  I have to ask.  And just see what happens. And no matter what, I have to trust the process.  Even if someone doesn’t come through for me, I know that God will.  He always has, in one way or the other. Let us all be more sensitive to the needs we see around us, particularly those which we could rise up and meet.  Let us be quick to come through for others, because we remember how much we have needed someone to come through for us.  Let us do so enthusiastically, knowing that we are spending our life in the most worthy of pursuits, honoring God, and doing Him proud.  And let us humbly but pointedly ask others to consider being that guide, that sage, that mentor in our lives.  If they say yes, they will be blessed.  If they say no, the only thing that will hurt is our pride.  And even then, we can hold onto the truth that God is still working everything together for our good, and He’ll make something else awesome happen - in time. Image source: http://bit.ly/2f7NcYz

When You Are Scared of Sudden Disaster

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. Image source: http://bit.ly/2xyR6P4