When Things Look Bad

We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. ~ Isaiah 59:9b-10a

 Yesterday was a truly terrible day.

I lost a battle with discouragement over a bunch of unresolved and ugly issues that have left me feeling anxious, uncertain and more than a little cranky in recent weeks.

 Monday we discovered the security at our health insurance company was breached and every member of our family has had their personal information stolen. Therefore, it is possible that at this very moment some punk thief is enjoying the European vacation I have always dreamed of, and we are footing the bill for it.

 Our family has seen more than its fair share of challenging changes over the course of this past year and it is likely that we have yet another big one coming. It appears that there is yet ANOTHER move on the horizon and we still haven’t finished unpacking from the last one. To complicate things further we really have no clue where we will move or when it will happen. Subsequently, a whole bunch of fairly critical decisions are presently on hold until we know something definite.

 The heat has returned and so have all of the slithery, skittery desert creatures. As a result my (mostly) irrational fear of the backyard has returned in full force. Furthermore, a much-needed new diet and exercise regime has left me feeling achy, irritable and hungry. The payoff for all my hard work and deprivation has been a solid two-pound weight GAIN.

 I am well aware that in the grand scheme of life and eternity none of these issues are the end of the world. There are plenty of people on this planet who would gladly trade my first-world problems for their much more real and pressing troubles.

 That awareness did not keep me from wallowing in some of the most negative feelings imaginable for a few hours last night. I really do know better than to go there. I have learned the hard way that self-indulgent wallowing solves nothing and only leads to greater feelings of discouragement. However, feelings—especially negative feelings—are rarely ruled by logic or good sense.

 My negativity was still going strong and steady at bedtime and as a result I had a hard time getting to sleep. The next morning I was still feeling tired and a bit sorry for myself when I opened my Bible and came across this gentle reminder courtesy of our all-knowing God:

 We live by faith, not by sight~ 2nd Corinthians 5:7

 As I meditated on the verse and how it so readily relates to my own life right now, I was reminded of something I heard our youth Pastor say in a sermon when the two older kids were still in high school.  

 “Feelings are the F-word of Christianity”

 The poor guy took more than a little heat from some irritated parents over that statement. Many felt it was crude and poorly stated. But truth-be-told, he had an excellent point.

 His point was that feelings are capricious things that should have little impact on the way we operate in this world. Feelings can and will trip us up in a million different ways. Feelings, if left unchecked, will lead us into situations Christians have no business being in. Feelings are the root of virtually every kind of heartbreak in this world. Feelings will lead us to doubt even the most obvious of truths. Feelings cause even wise people to do and say things that can never be undone.

 Facts can also trip us up sometimes. Facts can tell us what is true at the moment, but not everything that is true at the moment is immutable. Situations can change and God is ultimately in control of the outcome of every situation.

 God reminded me this week that we are called to live not by our feelings or even by the facts that are right in front of us. Rather, we are called to live by faith. The writer of Hebrews tells us that faith is the evidence or proof of facts and realities that we are unable to see or touch in the here and now.

 Walking in faith does not mean that we ignore reality or dodge responsibility. Living by faith means trusting God to work out the details of what we do see, and remembering that feelings lie and facts change, but our heavenly Father can be trusted even with the most exasperating of circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pride and the Fall

Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice~ Proverbs 13:10

 This month marks the anniversary of an event that has transformed our family drastically in more ways than I can count. This time last year a nine-year-old girl came to our home for a visit and has since became a permanent member of our family.

We have not experienced a dull moment since.

 Integrating a new member into our family has not been easy or stress-free. There has been a great deal of joy but there have also been more than a few tough adjustments on both sides. It is not easy for a kid to adapt to a new family, nor is it easy for a family of (mostly) adults to adjust to the changes and loss of freedom that inevitably comes with a young child.

 All the challenges aside, I can truthfully say that the good has far outweighed the bad. At this point we cannot imagine our family without her. Zoey has brought a whole new depth of joy and laughter to our home. She is a kind, clever, imaginative girl with many gifts and talents.

 Sadly, organization and analytical thinking are not among them.

 In all my years on this Earth I have never seen anything quite like her unique brand of disorder and chaos. In the span of a few hours her bedroom can easily devolve into a weekend cleaning project. She pays zero attention to detail, which causes her to lose as much stuff as she hangs on to and she has been known to brush her teeth before breakfast to save time.

 Her chronic lack of common sense has led the older kids to refer to her as a “Dufflepud” after the sweet but ridiculous creatures in The Chronicles of Narnia books. Dufflepuds boiled their potatoes before planting them so they could harvest cooked potatoes and washed their plates before eating to save time after dinner.

 Thankfully, there have been major improvements in these areas. That said, we still have a ways to go before she becomes the paragon of organization and logical thought that I am praying and believing she will one day become.

 So you can imagine my skepticism when she informed me that I had failed to fill out a permission slip for a field trip properly. To my shame, I didn’t even have the good sense to look at the thing before I launched into a calm but condescending little lecture. I smugly informed her that there was no way I had made an error on something as basic as a permission slip for a 5th grade field trip.

 To her credit, Zoey nodded politely and obediently put the slip into her backpack. As she was heading out the door I decided to give it a second look and discovered that she was indeed correct. I quickly apologized and corrected my error, but not before I made a fool out of myself and hurt the feelings of a sweet little girl.

 Such is the sin of pride.

 It happens to the best of people. It could be argued that the better a person becomes, the more likely they are to become prideful about it. The list of things that causes pride to dominate our interactions is as long as it is varied. Our skills, business connections, education and track record can all become sources of pride. The danger in this type of pride is that we begin seeing our selves as infallible and we resist taking input and advice from others and no one is clever enough to do life all alone.

 Perhaps the most foolish and dangerous type of pride is pride over the things that are outside our control. Pride over physical appearance, material blessings, race and background can lead to every kind of prejudice and social evil none of which has any place in life of a Jesus follower.

 The deceptive nature of pride requires constant prayer and frequent self-assessment. Prayer is indispensable because without God’s help and guidance we may never become self aware enough to want change or empowered enough to make it happen.  

 And change, as difficult as it can be, is essential. Without it, we will never become the people God calls us to be—and we might just drive away the very ones He has called us to reach.

 

 

 

 

 

The Root of All Misery

 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will~ Romans 12:2

 Those of us in the Western world are blessed to live in what could be called the very best of times. Despite all the political and social turmoil, it is without question a fantastic time to be alive.

 Human ingenuity has allowed all sorts of regular people to live at a level of comfort and ease that was formerly unknown, even to the wealthiest and most privileged in earlier times. The magnificent wonders of coffee, central air, disposable diapers, hot showers, automobiles, smartphones, and pizza delivery never fail to blow my mind and remind me exactly how fortunate I was to have been born in the 20th century rather than the 18th or even the 19th.

 The marvels of our era make it possible for almost anyone to satisfy nearly any craving or whim with very little effort. And yet, inexplicably we are perhaps one of the unhappiest cultures in the history of humanity. Untold millions are hooked on things that people in other times would have viewed as extraordinarily strange—activities like shopping, social media, online pornography and Candy Crush Saga.

 Millions are dependent on mind-altering substances both legal and illicit. Some are so lonesome and socially isolated that they are willing to pay strangers good money just to hear them talk. Divorce rates have been soaring for decades and nearly two-thirds of adults say they are unhappy with their lives. Loneliness, discontent and addiction are not exactly the hallmarks of a happy, well-adjusted society.

 Some have observed the conundrum of blessing and misery and concluded that the problem lies entirely with the blessings. This crowd chooses to go the monastic route and shed the stuff. I do not take issue with this logic. No rational believer would quarrel with the notion of casting off a materialistic mindset. Jesus was painfully straightforward regarding his view of materialism when he admonished two brothers arguing over money with this warning:

 Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions~ Luke 12:15

 Nothing good has ever come out of unrestrained materialism. However, I do not believe that materialism is the source of our misery. The stockpiling of material possessions is more of a symptom of the problem than the actual problem.

 The problem is focus.

 The blessings of our age come with a tendency to focus all of our attention on ourselves. The dark side of cozy houses, career opportunities, universal human rights, central air and pizza delivery is that these things can easily cause us to think that we deserve more of the same. Getting our needs met, having our preferences filled, and seeing our rights recognized can easily become the driving force in our lives. When these things become the driving force in our lives we become wholly self-focused, and self-focused people are miserable.

 Jesus assures us in Matthew 10:39 that if we voluntarily give up our life, (i.e. our rights, convenience, comfort, preferences) for His sake we will find authentic peace and lasting joy. Conversely demanding more life, (as in more rights, convenience, comfort, preferences) leads to self-focus and self-focus is the root of misery.

 The solution to our conundrum is two-fold. First we must train ourselves to recognize the conveniences and comforts of our time for the mind-blowing blessings from God that they really are. The proper response to hot showers, universal human rights, electric blankets and pizza delivery is awe and gratitude to our great God for allowing us to experience these profound blessings.

 However, gratitude alone is not enough. We also need to get outside of ourselves. We accomplish that by using what we’ve been blessed with to serve God and people. Serving breaks the bondage of self-focus and materialism and enables us to see life, people and our own selves from God’s perspective.

 Serving accomplishes yet another even more significant purpose. It molds us into the image of Christ. Jesus was the ultimate servant and the standard for all things good. When we serve like Jesus served, our love and good deeds draw the unbelieving world to faith in our God. Our world becomes a much better place with a little less of us and whole lot more of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Original Gateway Sin-

When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him~ Acts 13:45

 A few years ago, I was at a seminar with some other women from our church when a woman about my age walked into the conference room. I observed immediately that was that she was pretty and well put together. She was tall and thin, with cute clothes, shiny hair, smooth skin and a warm smile. She confidently approached our group and introduced herself. Within minutes it became apparent that she was not only gorgeous with great taste in clothes, but bright and articulate as well.

 She was well spoken but did not dominate the discussion. She asked everyone in our group questions about themselves and then listened intently to the answers. One of the woman in our group inquired about her husband and kids and she graciously showed us some photos of her extraordinarily attractive husband and perfect little boy and girl.

 She talked about her ministry activities and her reasons for attending the seminar. She went on to share how she planned to use what she was learning to start a ministry in her local church that would bless the community. All in all, the woman I met that day was gracious, attractive, thoughtful and engaged in the world around her.

 And for one brief moment that I am not proud of at all, I loathed her. I mean I really loathed her. Not only did I loathe her, I brutally judged her.

 In the span of about three minutes, I became smugly certain that there was absolutely no way that woman could possibly be the real deal. She must have a raging eating disorder, be a horrible Mother, a gossip, a liar, or a terrible friend. There had to be SOMETHING wrong with her. There was simply no way anyone could possibly be that beautiful, that thin, that kind and be blessed with that cute of a husband without having some sort of loathsome dark side.

 Just as I was preparing to share my opinion with the others in our group, the ugly truth and a giant load of conviction hit me like a ton bricks. Pious, Jesus loving, church-going, Bible-study leading, me was firmly in the grip of the foulest and most treacherous of all emotions.

 I was jealous.

 Proverbs 27:4 makes this observation concerning jealousy:

 Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood. But who can stand before jealousy?

 The self-deceptive nature of jealousy makes it infinitely more dangerous than anger or wrath. Jealousy is the original gateway sin. If left unchecked, it becomes a frontrunner to all sorts of other sins because jealousy convinces us that the anger and wrath we feel are justified. Jealousy dupes us into believing that the innocent person on the receiving end of our bad behavior is somehow deserving of our actions.

 Jealousy gains a foothold in our hearts because we focus far too much of our attention on what other people have rather than what God has blessed us with.Our misdirected attention inevitably leads to resentment and lack of gratitude as well as jealousy. Such was my experience at the conference. I became so fixated on what that other woman looked like and what God had blessed her with that I forgot all about all about the abundance of good things in my own life. My willful amnesia was followed by a shocking lack of gratitude for everything God has done for me.

 At the root of jealousy is lack of faith and belief in God’s goodness. Jealousy overcomes us when we doubt God’s ability to work with what He has given us. We forget that God gifted each one of us our own set of abilities, or we decide that that those gifts are not good enough to do anything significant with. Either way, it’s a terrible sin and the birth of a jealous spirit.

 No one in the history of forever has ever done anything out of jealousy they felt proud of. For that reason alone jealousy should be avoided at all cost. The key to avoiding jealousy is to take our focus off ourselves and other people and keep focus on God and the good things He’s given us. When our eyes are on God and our focus is on our own unique set of blessings, we cannot help but be a blessing to the rest of the world.

Stop the Scourge of Useful Idiots

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour~ 1st Peter 5:8

 Recently I had a conversation with a friend struggling with some fairly serious family drama. My friend has been working overtime to repair some damaged relationships and has been baffled as to why she isn’t making more progress. She recently learned that a “friend” has gotten in the middle of some significant relationships and repeated things said in confidence and exaggerated some things that were said.

 My friend is understandably irritated with the situation. She’s frustrated by her own carelessness and because the third party mixed up in the mess (a professed Christian) appears to be ignorant of the chaos she’s created. As the conversation progressed it became obvious to me that her “friend” is a useful idiot.

 “Useful idiot” is a term sometimes used in place of “unwitting accomplice.” An unwitting accomplice is a person who participates in a crime unintentionally—often because a criminal tricked them into criminal activity. Sometimes the poor fool is duped into believing that they are actually doing a good deed as they help the criminal break the law.

 The book of Job describes the devil as roaming the earth looking to cause trouble, and 1st Peter 5:8 describes Satan as one who prowls around looking for people to destroy. Ephesians 6:11 and John 10:10 tell us that the devil is continually scheming up ways to wreck havoc on the lives of people, especially God’s people. It’s a big job and even Satan needs a little help sometimes, and a useful idiot can come in handy.

 My friend’s story demonstrates that Christians sometimes unwittingly do the devils work. Even the best of God’s people can be guilty of helping the enemy steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Christians become useful idiots when:

 They fail to get all the facts~ Proverbs 14:15

 It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of supposing that all our assumptions concerning people and situations are spot-on. The truth is that things are rarely the way they appear and there are two sides to every story. Wise people look beyond first impressions and go to the source to ask questions when a person’s character is in question. Proverbs 14:15 reminds us that only the simple-minded believe everything they hear and take every story at face value.  

 Involve themselves in situations that are none of their concern~ Proverbs 26:17

 There is nothing wrong with listening to a hurting friend or giving counsel to someone who needs it. We cross a line when we allow ourselves to become intermediaries in disputes that are none of our business. It is never okay to repeat something said in confidence and quarreling parties should always be encouraged to work things out between themselves or with a pastor or counselor. Be wary of any “friend” who is a little too eager to involve themselves in your private family affairs; it’s likely this person is a useful idiot.

 When they refuse to forgive~ Hebrews 12:15

 Refusing to forgive leads to bitterness. When bitterness takes root in our hearts, it colors the way we see the world and becomes a corrupting and defiling influence in our lives that negatively affects everyone we come into contact with.

 They allow pride to take over~ Proverbs 13:10

 The devil has figured out that the simplest way to recruit a useful idiot is to encourage pride. Pride blinds us to reality and is at the root of nearly every other sin. Pride is easy to spot in others but hard to see in ourselves because the nature of pride is self-deceptive (Obadiah 1:3). One sign we may be stuck in a prideful mindset is refusal to admit wrongdoing or when we justify our actions because of what somebody else did or didn’t do.

 Spread dissension~ Proverbs 6:16-19

 Dissension is an ugly thing that is spread by planting seeds of dissatisfaction in someone’s mind about a situation or person. Those who spread dissension point out problems without offering solutions, cast blame and repeat things that were said in confidence. It is our responsibility to be forces of good in our world; God’s people are called to be problem solvers and reconcilers rather than faultfinders and troublemakers.

I am convinced that the key to avoiding the trap of becoming a useful idiot in Satan’s schemes is self-examination and honest appraisal of the dynamics of whatever situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes the most loving and wise thing we can do for everyone involved in a given situation is to graciously remove ourselves from the situation and commit to prayer for all involved.

 

 

A Response to the Guy Who Called My Views on Marriage Naive

 You do well when you obey the Holy Writings which say, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself”~ James 2:8 NLV  

Dear Guy who called my views on marriage naïve (AKA Tim),

 Contrary to how things probably look, I really am not a jerk who has been ignoring you or your comment. It appeared in my inbox late Monday night and, frankly, it was long and I was tired, too tired to read it thoroughly, let alone formulate a lucid response. When I did get around to giving your comment a thorough reading, it didn’t take me long to realize your feelings on the subject of marriage merited more of a forum than a hasty reply would allow.

So here goes.

 Your comment was polite and articulate (a rare thing in the blogosphere). However, it did seem to indicate that you’ve had some unfortunate personal experiences with marriage and for that I am truly sorry. It is not my intention to underplay the power of your personal experience or the experiences of millions of people who have faced the pain of divorce. I have never experienced the trauma of divorce. However, I do have friends and family members who have, and even from the outside looking in, it’s clear that divorce sucks. Everything humanly possible should be done to prevent it.

 All that being said, it’s really not fair to blame marriage when marriages end. Contrary to popular belief, marriage is not an entity or a living being or even an institution. Marriage is a contract—a legal, moral and spiritual contract—and every contract becomes over time a situation involving people. A contract cannot be blamed for the conduct of the parties who signed on to the terms of the deal.  

Responsibility for the death of a relationship has to lie squarely at the feet of the people in the relationship. Admittedly, fault is seldom equally distributed. One party quite often carries the lion’s share of the blame for the demise of the relationship. Marriages struggle and end for many reasons, but at the root of all lay almost always one or two issues.

 The roots of divorce frequently go back to unrealistic expectations long before the “I do’s.” The romantic notion of soul mates has set up millions of couples for failure. The myth of the “right one” is a silly fairytale. No matter how well matched and compatible a couple is in the beginning, no marriage can survive gross mismanagement of the relationship.

 Furthermore, marriage will not make an unhappy person happy, nor will marriage solve underlying problems or character issues in the lives of the people getting married. Weddings are not magic bullets we can shoot at loneliness, laziness, poor self-image, meanness, sloppy relationship skills or general discontent. Those problems must be dealt with long before the wedding day or the relationship will be doomed.

 Selfishness is a cancer that kills many marriages. Self-centeredness shows up in big and little ways in marriage. Rudeness, cheating, overspending, laziness, stinginess, dishonesty, withholding sex and lack of attention to the likes and dislikes of the other person all reveal a heart that is unwilling to work on the relationship. Perhaps self-centeredness is epitomized most clearly in a refusal to apologize, acknowledge bad behavior and take responsibility for problems in the relationship.  

Unhealthy patterns of communication are another relationship killer. Giving the silent treatment, name-calling, screaming, criticizing and relentlessly bringing up past misdeeds is a sure-fire way to effectively poison a marriage.  

You called my views on marriage naïve because I listed the established benefits of a stable, happy marriage. The benefits of matrimony include good physical and mental health, financial security, well-adjusted children and a good sex life. It is not naïve to believe in something that has been proven. Naiveté is found in believing that there is somehow a superior, less painful alternative to marriage.  

The alternatives to marriage are limited: cohabitation, serial monogamy and singleness. Singleness is not a realistic alternative for most of us, leaving cohabitation and serial monogamy. Cohabitation and serial monogamy offer none of the benefits to individuals, children and society that marriage does and yet the end of those relationships are every bit as psychologically painful and financially costly as divorce.

 Marriage is not perfect, Tim, because people are not perfect. The solution to the problems in marriages is not to look for a viable alternative to marriage. Nor is the answer to avoid marriage altogether; the world would be a dull and gloomy place indeed without the security and camaraderie of enduring relationships. The answer to the marriage quandary is to educate people, before and after they say “I do,” on how to have the kind of relationships everyone wants to have. The real solution is to gently come alongside those who are struggling in their relationships and show them a better, less painful alternative to divorce.            

Five Good Reasons Marriage Deserves a Little More Respect

 

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor~ Ecclesiastes 4:9 NASB

 I am knee-deep in research for a talk I will give at a conference this spring. The conference will be centered on social attitudes towards marriage and family and how those issues are affecting non-profit organizations. In preparation I have read innumerable scholarly articles that all point solidly to the depressing and too real fact that marriage rates in Western countries are declining at an alarming rate.

 Why?

 Experts point to rapid social change, moral relativism and even some welfare programs as causes for shifting attitudes that have led to a decline in marriage rates. The theories are endless and interesting. But even the most interesting theories can get a bit tedious after reading pages and pages of them. I loathe anything tedious or dull. So I did a bit of unscientific research of my own. I contacted some millennials and asked them to share their views on the subject.

 A small number (one to be exact) of those I queried had optimistic attitudes towards marriage and were confident that their marriage would be successful. Twenty-one-year-old Jordyn said:

“Marriage is not an outdated institution by any means! I believe that it is something God gave us and when God created Adam. I dream about getting married all the time. I have seen healthy marriages and that is what I strive for.”

 The bulk of the responses were more cynical and sadly similar to a statement made by an anonymous twenty-something:

“My views on marriage are mostly negative. My Mother and Father have been together for 23 years but are not married because they felt marriage was bad luck. I have seen most of my family members get married and later divorced. I have never understood marriage and have always been told, “It’s just a piece of paper.””

 Too often marriage is looked upon as an antiquated and pointless societal construct. Or worse: marriage is thought to be unnecessary, impractical and the foundation of all sorts of sexual frustration. I for one am sick and tired of having marriage dissed. Marriage is the foundation of human civilization and deserves respect for five reasons:

 Marriage makes people better

  Societies in times past esteemed marriage because they understood a truth that “enlightened” moderns have foolishly forgotten. Marriage makes us better. Married men and women commit fewer crimes, are less likely to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, take better care of their children, give more to charitable causes and are more likely to vote and be actively involved in their communities.

 Marriage promotes healthy living

 On average, married people exercise more, eat better, live longer and have fewer serious health issues. They also suffer from depression at lower rates than single people. This is yet another way marriage benefits all of society: healthier people result in lower healthcare costs for everyone.

 Married people are sexier than single people

 Well, maybe not sexier exactly; but married people do have more sex than single people. Ten percent of single men ages 18-24 report having sex more than twice a week, while married men in the same age group report having sex an average of four times a week. Married men and women in every age group report having more frequent sex than their single counterparts in the same age group. Married people also report higher rates of sexual satisfaction.

 The children of married people have better outcomes

 The facts are indisputable. Marriage benefits children. Regardless of income levels, children with married parents do better and go farther in life. They get in less trouble, do better in school, and are more likely to graduate from high school. Children born out of wedlock are sicker, more likely to be depressed, more likely to use drugs or alcohol and are less likely to attend college.

 Married people have more money

 If you long for economic stability the smartest thing you can do is to get married and stay that way. Married men make more money than single or divorced men in the same jobs. The household incomes of married women are fifty percent higher than the household incomes of single women. Married people tend to have more assets and retirement savings than single people.

 Maggie Gallagher, author of The Case for Marriage, sums up the benefits of getting married and staying that way succinctly:

 Being married gives men a new sense of responsibility towards work. It reduces substance abuse. It creates more meaning and satisfaction in life for individuals. It provides a legal partner that, as in all economic partnerships, allows one to make more money and manage it better. Moreover, the act of marriage increases a couple’s confidence that theirs is a permanent union.

 Contrary to popular opinion, when marriages fail or struggle it’s not because there is anything wrong with marriage. Marriage is a gift from God and all of God’s gifts are good. People are the ones who mess up God’s gifts. If we want our marriages to be healthy we have to look to the one who made marriage, rather than to our own understanding of the subject.

 Sources Consulted:

A Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially by Maggie Gallagher

“Changing Patterns of Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States,” Stephanie Ventura, M.A. Division of Vital Statistics

“How Welfare Undermines Marriage and What to Do About It” Robert Rector

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

 One issue every blogger I know struggles with is transparency, or how much personal information to share with their readers. Everyone agrees that some personal sharing is clearly a healthy thing. Sharing allows readers to really know the writer and reminds both the reader the writer that life is a journey that none of us have completely figured out.

 Conversely, everyone ought to avoid the temptation to turn their page into a personal confessional. Assaulting an unsuspecting stranger with awkward private information borders on emotional abuse. Knowing personal details about a person you have “met” only in cyberspace can leave a reader feeling stunned and uncertain about what do with the information given. It’s a little like seeing your Grandmother in her underwear. No matter how innocent the circumstances, it can be difficult to shake the sense that you have somehow done something terribly wrong.

 I struggled mightily to balance all this as I debated where to go with today’s post. My angst has been complicated by my (undeniably prideful) desire to look like I have it all together even when I quite clearly don’t have a clue. The truth is that I am currently in a place where nearly everything in life feels ambiguous and I have more questions than answers about more issues than I care to discuss. Even after doing all the Christianly things I know to do (Bible reading, fasting, prayer, etc.) I still have no tangible answers.

 All that to say that I am not approaching today’s topic as an expert who has everything all figured out. Rather as one who is on a journey of discovery. I am learning that finding peace in the midst of the chaos of not knowing what to do next, by:

 Admitting I don’t know-

 There is something incredibly freeing about admitting to God and everyone else that I don’t know what to do next. Owning my cluelessness has allowed me to be open to possibilities that I would normally never consider. And I am beginning to suspect that God likes it when we come to a place where we have no other option than to trust in Him, rather than our own understanding and worldly wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6).

 Taking time everyday to be still-

 Not knowing what to do about a valid problem is a nerve-wracking situation. When our nerves are wracked, the inclination is to run headlong into activity. Busy is not a bad thing, but frenzied, chaotic activity just leads to anxiety and a decreased capacity to problem solve. The answer is to get alone with God every day, fill your mind with promises from Scripture and meditate on God’s goodness (Psalm 46:10). It feels counterintuitive to be still when life is uncertain. But stillness recharges our batteries and empowers us to deal with the stuff we don’t understand and increases our ability to see our problems from God’s perspective.  

 Tackling the obvious-

 Not knowing what to do about a particular situation does not mean we should sit back and do nothing about everything. Make a plan and then prayerfully tackle the obvious stuff that you can do something about. If you are concerned about future job security or finances cut back on spending and polish up your resume, or take on a second job. If it’s your kids or your marriage that have you flummoxed, read a book or take a class and improve your skills. Choosing to be proactive will not provide magic solutions for every problem, but it will help you stay positive and it may prevent new problems from cropping up.

 Keep on keeping on-

 1st Corinthians 13:12 tells us that every Christian will experience times when direction is unclear. It’s just another one of the trials Christians are promised in 1st Thessalonians 3:3. The good news is that these periods of uncertainty can become the very thing that makes us stronger, wiser, and better able to minister to others. The key to becoming better, not bitter, in the face of a trial is to cling tenaciously to the belief that God is good and that He has your best interests at heart. Especially when circumstances are saying something entirely different.

 I have not enjoyed this period of my life. I’m a bit of a control freak and I like at least looking like I have all the answers. But even I have to admit that this period of my life has been instructive. Through it all I am slowly learning that faith is not about having all the answers. Faith is a journey of discovering, learning to trust and understand the one who does.

 

 

The One Skill Every Child Must Have to Survive

 Last week marked the beginning of winter semester at the university where my son Alex attends college. He and I caught up after his first day of classes and chatted about his day.

 Just when I thought our little talk was drawing to a close, Alex said something that promptly reinvigorated the conversation. He casually mentioned that he’d had a tough time getting around school that day. Apparently the campus was swarming with parents who were hanging out, introducing themselves to the professors, looking for things, and even attending classes with their children.

 I was suddenly intrigued and bursting with questions…

 Really?

Was it parents’ day? (If so, why wasn’t I invited???)

Was there a problem at the airport, forcing parents to stay in Tucson?

Were the parents actually sitting in on the classes?

Were the kids embarrassed, sitting with their parents in college classes?

Were the professors annoyed?

 My son explained that it was not parent’s day, nor were there any issues at the airport that he was aware of. Some of his younger friends had informed him that not only did parents introduce themselves to the professors and sit in on the classes, but a few raised their hands to ask questions on behalf of their children. Surprisingly, the kids seemed to be perfectly okay with the unofficial “bring your parents to college day” but there was some serious eye-rolling going on among the professors.

 At first I thought the whole thing was a little weird and kind of funny. It simply never occurred to me to attend college classes with my kids. I just presumed that if they were old enough to enroll in college, they were capable of introducing themselves to the professors, finding nourishment, and locating their classrooms without my assistance.

 Later, I was struck by how unfunny the whole thing actually was. This sort of thing is a symptom of a problem that cripples many middle-class kids. Well-meaning parents have become so fearful regarding their kids’ safety, comfort level, and overall happiness that they have gone to extremes to shield their kids from harm or distress. In the process, some have missed the entire point of parenting and failed to teach the one skill everyone needs to survive in this world: Self-management

 Self-managers know when they are hungry, tired, cranky or sick and they understand how to deal with those issues appropriately. Self-mangers are not afraid to participate in life because they know how to recognize and protect themselves from dangerous people and situations. Self-managers take care of their own needs, treat people the way they wish to be treated, problem solve, have common sense and self-discipline, and are capable of healthy communication with other human beings. A child should be adept at the basics of self-management by the time they reach puberty. Sadly, most are not.

 There are three ways parents can teach self-management.

 Encourage children to take controlled risks-

 There is a lot of debate over how many and what type of risks children should be permitted to take. Some believe kids should be insulated from even the most remote danger. These are the people who want to hand out bulletproof blankets to kindergarteners and put helmets on children before recess. Others think kids should be permitted to wander completely unsupervised. Wisdom lies between the two extremes. Children cannot learn to manage risk without taking risks, and they learn by doing. Kids should be coached about safety and then given age-appropriate opportunities to walk to the park alone, pay for things, ride their bikes unsupervised and walk around a store or mall without Mom and Dad by their side.

 Limit the use of technology-

 Good communication skills are essential to self-management. Technology (especially texting) keeps kids from developing the skills necessary to actually talk with other human beings. Kids need face-to-face communication to learn to read non-verbal cues and to understand how their words affect others. If kids are allowed a cell phone before puberty, parents should insist it’s used for phone calls only.

 Do not eliminate negative consequences-

 Consequences are the fruit of choices. We do kids a disservice when we cushion them from negative consequences. If a child is inconsiderate, irresponsible, rude or careless they should be made to deal with the fallout of their choices even if it’s inconvenient or embarrassing for Mom and Dad.

 In the early years, parenting is all about protection and provision. Loving parents do everything within their power to provide for and guarantee that no harm befalls their young child. As kids mature, parenting priorities must shift. If they don’t kids will grow up with all of the passions and aspirations of adults while missing the maturity and wisdom to manage and make the most of those passions and aspirations. The skills gained through the teaching of self-management lay the groundwork for a life of productivity, happiness and holiness. Without the capacity to self-manage, no one—no matter how loved they were in the early years—will ever reach his or her God-given potential.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Purpose

 

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose~ Romans 8:28 NASB

 

This week I learned that the word purpose is one of the most loaded words in the English language. It came to light following a conversation with one of our kids. The exchange started innocently enough when I vetoed chocolate cake after dinner. I defended my use of veto power by patiently explaining that candy and cookies at church, followed by ice cream at lunch and peanut butter cups for an afternoon snack, was more than enough nutritionally deficient “food” for any one person in a single day.

 The child was clearly not persuaded by my insight so I launched into a discourse concerning the long-term health risks of consuming excessive sugar. I was on a roll so I went on to expound (rather eloquently I thought) on the hazards of developing bad habits early in life and the differences between an empty calorie and a healthy calorie. I was feeling pretty smug about my communication skills until I noted the blank expression in her eyes and realized that I was not having the impact I had hoped for.

 The death spiral of doubt came the next morning while I was reading a devotional of all things. The author warned against allowing anything to pull you away from the purpose that God has for your life. Rather than being encouraged to persevere in my God given purpose I was suddenly filled with uncertainty and doubt.

 My mind immediately traveled back to the conversation I’d had the night before with my child. It got me thinking about purpose and whether or not I somehow missed mine.

I cannot explain why that particular situation struck me with what can only be described as an existential crisis of confidence. It could be that recent changes in my life have rocked my confidence. Some would say it was the devil. It’s also possible that I am simply an over-privileged first-world Christian with too much time on my hands to ponder such things.

 Once I got my emotions in check I did a search of the Scriptures looking for some wisdom. I think I was hoping to find an example of a man or woman seeking their purpose. To my surprise, I could not find a single example. I concluded that there are only three possible explanations for this:

 We are the first generation of humans to be concerned with our purpose.  

Prior generations had the subject of purpose all figured out and did not feel the need to ask.

They understood some truths we have forgotten.

 The first two possibilities are highly unlikely. People are people. The fundamentals of what make us human do not change. And people everywhere, in every time, and in every place have cared a great deal about living lives that are both meaningful and significant. We are not the first generation to ponder our purpose in life. Nor will we be the last.

 I do believe that the men and women of the past may have understood a significant truth that I briefly forgot in the midst of my angst the other day. They understood that God’s purpose for each individual is less about doing and more about being.

 Like most folks, I tend to think of purpose in terms of things that I do. For most people, finding purpose tends to all about getting a degree, doing a job, making money, starting a ministry, raising a family. While it’s true that God wants people to be industrious and hardworking (2nd Thessalonians 3:10). I’m discovering that God is far more concerned with whom we are becoming rather than what we are achieving. If a man or woman is in the process of becoming holy, righteous, and fully submitted to God, the details of the doing tend take care of themselves.

 According to Scripture, people fulfill their purpose in the mundane things of life as much, if not more so, than in the things we see as big. God cares little about our net worth, how many degrees we have earned, the awards and honors that adorn our office walls, or even how many people we preach to every week. However, He is keenly interested in how we use our money, do our jobs, use our words, raise our families, treat our spouses, who we gossiped about and how forgiving we are.

 We find our purpose in this life when we take whatever it is we are doing, no matter how mundane and seemingly insignificant and commit to doing it in a way that reflects the goodness and glory of God to the world around us.