Reconciling Correctly

balancingcheckbookI don’t like reconciling bank accounts. I don’t find it difficult, just tedious. I’d rather deal with words than numbers. Perhaps it’s because I can use my creativity. There’s not much creativity to matching pennies.

But reconciling needs to be done. And it needs to be done correctly. I recently encountered some discrepancies on an account at work. I had to talk to someone at the bank to get it straightened out. There’s a right way and a wrong way to reconcile.

I have to reconcile what I have with the bank. I don’t walk in and demand they correct their entries to match mine. (Yes, banks can make errors, too, but my guess is that people’s errors far outnumber bank errors.)

We have to reconcile with the bank, not the other way around.

It’s ridiculous for us to think that we are always right. Yet that’s what we do much of the time. I wonder which is more common: for people to reconcile their lives to God’s standards or project their own standards onto Him for their personal approval? Or perhaps ignore Him altogether? I know people who do that when reconciling with the bank. They believe what they think is in their account based on their own record keeping. Or they look at the bank balance and don’t consider what discrepancies might exist because of outstanding expenditures. Sometimes, we want to believe what we want to believe, and we don’t want anyone telling us we need to make adjustments.

But we need to make adjustments. Constantly. Each and every one of us. We need to check our balance. We need to acknowledge Someone might be more accurate and trustworthy than we are.

 

We All Pay Attention…But To What?

Now hear the word of the Lord, you women. Pay attention to the word of His mouth. (Jeremiah 9:20a)

What gets your attention? Be honest. Look at the way you spend time. What easily distracts you? What do you intentionally schedule? Where do you seem to lose or pass time?

confusionSome of the things that draw your attention might be things you love to do. When given the freedom to choose whatever you what to do with a block of time, you’d choose these things. You might not seem to get as much time for these things as you’d like. You think about them, especially when you’re bored, stressed, or frustrated.

Some of the things that draw your attention are things you don’t like to do, but you feel you have to do. They’re obligations. Whether you put the pressure on yourself or feel someone else puts the pressure on you, you don’t feel as if you have much of a choice. In reality, you do. You’re choosing one thing over another or one thing over consequences of not doing that thing. It’s still a choice.

Some things that draw your attention are fillers. Whether you’re avoiding something or having trouble focusing, you piddle, not really accomplishing much of anything but feeling as if you’re doing something as the time slips past.

I’m not sure why we struggle with the whole “What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to balance everything?” quandary. It’s not as much of a quandary as we make it. God’s pretty clear on the subject.

Now hear the word of the Lord, you women. Pay attention to the word of His mouth. (Jeremiah 9:20a)

That doesn’t mean you have to be reading the Bible all the time. (Although you certainly shouldn’t avoid it.) God speaks in many ways. Are you hearing? Are you paying attention? Or are you hearing what’s screaming the loudest in your life, or paying attention to what’s right in front of you?

Hearing God means knowing His voice and knowing who He is, so you recognize and acknowledge Him. Just because you don’t hear or see Him around you doesn’t mean He isn’t present. How much of His presence are you missing or denying?

Paying attention isn’t the easy choice of what’s right in front of you. Seeking God takes effort and focus. It takes attention and wisdom.

So, are you hearing the word of the Lord and paying attention to Him?

How well…or, why not?

My Worth Is Not the Sum of My Accomplishments

numbersYou’ve heard it before: who you are is not equal to what you do. You’ve been warned about placing your identity in your profession, position, responsibilities, activities. But it’s easier said than done.

Pride.

It’s gets in the way all the time. It pulls our focus away from God and onto ourselves. Whether we think of ourselves as too high or too low, the root is the same: pride.

When you’ve gone through your task list for the day, or at least accomplished the really essential things, which do you do first: take a deep sigh of relief and think “I feel pretty good about getting all that done,” or do you thank God for giving you the time, focus, and perseverance you needed to accomplish what He planned for the day?

When you’ve confronted someone and waded with them through the muck of tough relationships and situations, which do you do first: claim “I think I handled that pretty well,” or do you thank God for giving you the peace, boldness, respect and discernment you needed, knowing what you said and how you said it couldn’t have come out of your mouth had you not relied on Him?

When you feel depleted, like a failure, unable to reach the completion of anything but having all sorts of fragmented pieces scattered around you, which do you do first: try to take control by organizing and micro-managing anything you can, throw up your hands in surrender and claim you’re a failure, or cry out to God for help then take responsibility for following Him well?

Just because things go well doesn’t mean you get the credit. Just because things don’t go well doesn’t mean you’re to blame. Just because things go well doesn’t mean God is more present and more attentive. Just because things don’t go well doesn’t mean God doesn’t care, isn’t listening, or isn’t invested in your life.

It’s not that simple.

You can’t figure it all out. If you think you can, that’s pride. On the other hand, if you think you’re incapable of anything meaningful, that’s pride, too. Humility isn’t about putting yourself down. It’s about putting yourself in a proper relationship with God, acknowledging and accepting His authority.

God doesn’t define us by our accomplishments. He’s much more interested in our faith.

When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

Relationships Aren’t 50/50

healingthehurtI don’t know where the rumor started about relationships being 50/50, but it’s not true. I’ve studied many relationships in Scripture, and I don’t see a directive that indicates anything about 50/50. Give and take? Yes, of course. Meeting each other halfway with a perfectly balanced compromise? No.

I’m not recommending unhealthy relationships where one person always yields to the whims of the other. But I’m encouraging you to take an honest, realistic look at your relationships and your attitudes toward what you deserve, need, and want. Perhaps you keep a record of who has compromised to what degree across situations. If you gave up something big in one situation, you want the other person to give up something big next time. You operate on the favor system. Or perhaps you just default to yielding because it’s easier. You operate on the avoidance system. Or you want your way all the time—not because (you think) you’re selfish but because you just know better. You have the best solution, and why satisfy yourself with a less-than-great solution? You operate on the best-only system.

The value of “the best” isn’t determined by the outcome of the situation. It’s determined by the growth of the relationship. Involving others, even when it means settling for something a bit less than what you have in mind, is more important than the outcome. Respect is more important than success. In fact, respect is success. Perhaps the problem is that we personally define success instead of letting God define it. Perhaps the problem is that we personally define compromise in relationships instead of letting God define it.

Any single relationship isn’t 50/50. Both people in great relationships—marriages, friendships, and so on—will usually declare he/she got the best end of the deal. Both evaluate benefiting more than 50% of the time, but 50+ and 50+ combine for more than 100%. It’s more about the perception than the reality, because who can really define the benefits and costs of the relationship—except God? While God defines and directs our individual relationships, he keeps the big picture of our relationships as a whole. He knows what we need relationally, because he created us for relationships. He knows one relationship you have is going to feel a bit needy. You’re going to give way more than you will ever receive through it, but there will also be a relationship that you have the capacity to receive much more than you will ever give. Of course, sometimes we don’t completely trust through God’s guidance and provision. We’re more comfortable giving than receiving, so we don’t get the balance he intends. We then wonder why we’re exhausted. Perhaps you need to improve in asking for help and acknowledging your need for support and encouragement.

In addition to the balance across different relationships, sometimes individual relationships seem imbalanced but are balanced over time. We might have a friendship that seems primarily giving but what we don’t see is a time in the future when we’ll need to be still and accept the other person’s generosity through a time of need. We can’t demand paybacks, but we can trust that God is just and, in our obedience, he is faithful to provide the balance of relationships we need, including  both opportunities to sacrificially give and abundantly receive.

Consider your relationship with God. How 50/50 is it? God models relationship with us. He exists in relationship, and he created us for relationship. Our relationship with him is certainly not 50/50. (1) He created us. (2) He provides for us while we’re here on earth. (3) He sacrificed his Son to make a way for us to live with him in eternity. And what do we do? Seek him and respond in obedience—and we don’t even do that well much of the time! It doesn’t seem very balanced to me, but it must seem that way to God, because he designed it that way. Trust his guidance and provision. He knows what he’s doing.

LORD, I trust you. I have said, “You are my God.” (Psalm 31:14)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Welcome to Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

Fit Faith: Balance: Backyard Practice

I wasn’t completely comfortable with the balance beam when I was in gymnastics. As I watch world class gymnastics on television, I hear commentators say particular athletes feel “at home” on the beam and know there are only a few people like that in the world. It’s not natural to feel completely comfortable on a 4-inch wide plank a little more than four feet off the ground, especially when you start turning, leaping and flipping!

It’s not that I was petrified of being on the beam. I actually liked it, but I had to practice and face fears. My gymnastics team practice time wasn’t enough for me. I knew I needed more. So, my dad built a beam for me in our yard. It wasn’t exactly regulation, and I couldn’t attempt the most difficult tricks because of safety, but I loved it for practicing the basics. I’d walk back and forth, turn, leap, mount and dismount over and over. The shaky balance between confidence and fear began to shift. My focus turned from fear to face confidence instead.

Balance in life is rarely between two opposing ideas or objects as we often believe. It’s not a playground seesaw, tipping to one side to get the momentum to compel the other side to move to equal status. We rarely want to balance such opposites as good and evil or right and wrong in such ways. Balance is more what we focus upon. When I was on the beam, my balance was determined by my focus. I could focus on fear or confidence. Whichever consumed me impacted whether I was on the beam or the floor.

Balance is as much about focus as anything else. Consider all the how-to-balance-your-life books and articles you’ve read. Tips and tools given usually have to do with priorities. What floats to the top of the list is what gets focused upon, and other areas of life take a backseat. When what’s focused upon is fear, growth often takes a backseat. I can’t fear and persevere at the same time, unless I’m persevering through fear, which means fear isn’t the focus. Perseverance is.

I remember standing on the balance beam at a competition, preparing to reach for the beam by bending over backward. I probably only froze for a moment, but it felt longer for me as I was gripped by fear and doubt and quickly wrestled with my options. I didn’t want to fall. I didn’t want to get hurt. I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I didn’t want to let my team down. I didn’t want my coach to be mad at me. My best option? Go for it! I’d done the stunt enough times to know what I was doing. All I had to do was focus.

We often focus on can’ts of life instead of standing firm on the confidence we have. Fortunately, it’s not our own confidence we have to rely upon. We’d be in big trouble if it was. I know people who present themselves as very confident, but in reality, there is a shaky foundation under the confidence, because it’s something they’ve made up for themselves. That means when something comes along that shakes the foundation they thought was so strong, even when it takes nearly a lifetime to have the foundation disturbed, they have to question not only what they’ve been focusing on for extended time but also what they’ll focus on in the future.

God doesn’t say we’re to be self-confident. We’re to be God-confident.

You should have confidence because you respect God. Job 4:6

Whether or not I stay on the balance beam isn’t as important as where my focus is. When my focus is on God, I will be balanced and sure-footed in the confidence he promises me.

We’re All In This Together!

There’s a group of people I only see a couple times a year. We typically work together at a couple large conferences, and the schedule is exhausting. We all fly in one evening. We know we need to be up early the next morning to set up, but we typically stay up late, catching up with each other. With Facebook and Twitter, you’d think we’d already have all the details we need, but face-to-face is different. We get to have conversations in real time, and we take full advantage of the opportunity.

After three days of connecting with people passionate about ministry, scurrying out for meals together, and trying to discuss and fix all the issues of the world, we’re exhausted. We usually have morning flights, so we typically flop into our beds the last night and try to get any amount of sleep that will help us return to our regular routines of families, ministries and all the things that don’t pause even when we’re away from them.

During our last trip, we set aside sleep the final night and went to Ghiradelli’s in Downtown Disney for late night ice cream and hot cocoa. Despite our exhaustion (or perhaps because of it), we got a renewed burst of energy once we squeezed around a small table and consumed our overloaded sugary treats. We laughed over goofy videos a few people on the team had made during a quick trip for supplies. We discovered the packed table next to us had similar ministry interests, and we shared stories and needs and took a photo right in the middle of the bustling restaurant. (Yes, we were those annoying people in the restaurant. A nearby table of teenagers gave us a couple eye-rolls and looks of disgust.) We shared a common cup of hot fudge despite most of us either being health-conscious or germaphobes.

And we sang. Yes, we sang. Who cares if the only line we could remember from the High School Musical song was “We’re all in this together…”! If you sing it over and over, it resembles a complete verse! (We committed to at least learn a couple more lines before we’re together again.)

We sealed the experience of being together for a common purpose (serving in ministry together) with an experience of being together for a common purpose (building relationships). We set aside sleep and made memories instead. We set aside everything going on in our personal lives and our preferences for answering emails, working out, taking a warm shower, or whatever else we wanted to do in order to share a brief window of time together.

When have you sacrificed yourself for a group experience?

What benefits are there to individuals coming together for a common purpose?

When you get together with others, do you usually only do so for “work,” or do you fit in some fun as well? Or perhaps fun always supercedes work for you. Do you need to focus a bit more on the benefits of having a group of people together and the possibilities of progress a group can accomplish?

I’ll be the first to admit my default setting is not to jump into the middle of a group of people just for fun. I enjoy people. I love the relationships of my life…but I also like my alone time. I need some retreat time to think, recharge, and to be productive with the responsibilities I have. But one of the responsibilities I have is to build relationships with others.

I need to seek relationships.

I need to maintain relationships.

I need to keep relationships healthy.

I need to invest in relationships.

I need to celebrate relationships.

I need to appreciate relationships.

Take a look at your relationships. Are they balanced? Are you seeking relationships with new people or simply investing in those you already know? Are you actually investing or just maintaining? Are you appreciating relationships or taking them for granted? Are you keeping relationships healthy or keeping status quo?

You’re in this life with someone…a whole group of someones. Do relationships intentionally.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

Mama Bear Claws

You can mess with me, but don’t mess with my daughters!

I have Mama Bear claws. I don’t like to be threatened, but threaten or harm my girls, and I’m ready to attack. I can restrain myself (most of the time), because I don’t want to fight my girls’ battles. Well, I might want to fight them, but I know it’s better for them to exercise their own skills in confrontation, problem-solving and personality conflicts. I know they have to learn how to deal with demanding teachers, territorial friends, unreasonable employers, and well-intentioned but sometimes misguided family members.

My Mama Bear claws came out when a daughter was unjustly treated by a teacher who seemingly wanted to flex her authority muscles.

My Mama Bear claws came out when a friend consistently talked to my daughter with disrespect.

My Mama Bear claws came out when I felt my daughter’s employers were taking advantage of her work ethic.

Few people have seen my Mama Bear claws, because I don’t call the teacher, friend, or employer and intervene. I want to equip my daughters to discern what the best course of action is. It’s not easy, because it’s not about retaliation (which is what my Mama Claws often seem to be all about). We have to balance respect for authority with the timing, reasons behind the confrontation, and future of the relationship. I don’t want to bad-mouth those in authority in my daughters’ lives, because they have to learn the balance, and they (usually) have to continue the relationship in some way.

My Mama Bear claws pop out quickly on the inside but (thankfully) rarely show their ugly, unmanicured daggers on the outside. Ironically, my daughters see them the most often and not in the way you might expect. In talking them through the possible solutions of dealing with the issues, my passion to protect my daughters often comes out in a bossiness to instruct my daughters (in loud tones of frustration). I’m not frustrated with my daughters, but that’s how my Mama Bear claws often show.

I’ve even scratched my husband with them. While discussing an important issue about our now nearly-grown daughters, he needs only to make one brief statement, suggesting something I think wouldn’t be beneficial to one of the girls in a critical area, and – I growl and swat (figuratively, of course). It’s not his fault. He’s simply trying to interact with me, which might not be a great idea when I’m in protect-my-cubs mode.

It’s not my intention to growl at and attack the ones I love. They’re the ones I’m trying to protect. My intentions and my actions don’t always match. I’m not trying to be hypocritical. I’m doing life the best I can, but sometimes I’m caught offguard. And in some of those offguard moments, my reaction might be to attack.

The times of crises are rarely times we can learn new coping strategies. We need to establish our habits in everyday life in preparation for times of crises. We know they’ll come – rarely when or in the way we expect them.

I’ve tried to using my Mama Bear claw moments as teaching times for my daughters as they wade through conflict, but also I’ve learned a lot about myself. It hasn’t always been pretty. God gave me my Mama Bear claws. They’re a gift for those times I, as the mama caregiver, need them for serious protection. But I can’t rationalize when I should (or shouldn’t) use them. That’s up to God.

It’s the same with everything God has given me. He created me uniquely…and in his image. In return, my responsibility is to steward everything he’s given me with intent purpose of fulfilling his will, not mine. That means I need to be familiar with his will. I need to know enough about God and draw close to him so in those times of quick response, I will stand up, sit down, speak up, or shut up…whatever he’s requiring of me for that moment.

Are you using what God gave you for his intended purpose?

Are you rationalizing or miscontruing any behaviors or relationships in your life?

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. James 3:3-5