When Life Challenges Us

the hikerThe one who works his land will have plenty of food, but whoever chases fantasies lacks sense. (Proverbs 12:11)

 When have you wanted to give up but persevered?

What were the consequences of a time you gave up?

When you have persevered, what was your motivation? Why did you do it?

The quick and easy route seems so much more appealing than the winding, hilly, rocky one. We think we want as few obstacles in our way as possible. But don’t they make the journey all that more worthwhile? That’s not to say we should seek obstacles and hope they get in our way. The seems-to-be-insurmountable will rise ahead of us whether we want it to or not. We don’t have to fabricate it.

When I speak, sometimes family members come along. On a particular trip years ago, my husband and youngest daughter went to Colorado with me. They had some adventures while I was at a conference. When I got done, I wanted at least one day to do some hiking in the Rockies. I chose a shorter, less challenging hike than I might have tried on my own, but we soon learned that it was a bit more challenging than our daughter could face. When we could see our destination, but it was nearly straight up a rocky incline, my exhausted daughter sat down and declared she didn’t think she could make it. It upset her, because she knew it was my only chance to hike during that trip, but I assured her it was okay with me to head back down the mountain. We had accomplished a lot. Sometimes the journey is as important as the destination. Sometimes finishing well includes knowing when to turn back.

We rested for a while before she suddenly stood up and began to scamper up the mountainside. She didn’t answer our questions about whether or not she was sure she wanted to continue, and we couldn’t keep up with her. She was waiting for us at the top and said, “I had to give it one more try.” We applauded her for persevering. We explored the top of the ridgeline and enjoyed the view for quite a while before heading down. The view wasn’t nearly as breathtaking as the change I noticed in my daughter when she stood at the top. Sometimes our determination is plain stubbornness that can potentially get in our way or become counterproductive. Other times, it cultivates healthy growth that changes us.

Take a walk today, or ride a bike. Do something that challenges you. Go a little farther or a little faster. Consider what your daily choices reveal about your persistent spiritual cultivation.

The Bible Doesn’t Behave Well

article-2359633-1AC0F111000005DC-768_634x361If we’re honest, the Bible often doesn’t seem to be on its best Sunday behavior. It creates and contains quite a ruckus at times. It isn’t tame. It isn’t easy. It’s not neat and tidy. As much as we want it to tie everything up in a pretty bow, we find frayed edges poking in all directions that often surprise us.

But if we’re honest, it often accurately reflects our faith.

Faith is about trust, and the journey of trust doesn’t always behave. It is unsettled and untamed at times, and like the Bible, that’s a good thing (as long as it’s productive). It’s a reflection of reality. God doesn’t fit in a box, and when we can easily put a lid on our faith, we might not have considered some of those frayed edges poking in multiple directions. Maybe we need to invite God to challenge us on the things we believe but don’t live, claim but haven’t questioned, and say we understand but have never explored.

When Circles of Friends Extend

I was getting ready to meet my friend’s husband for the first time. We live states apart and no longer saw each other often. I had missed their wedding over a year earlier, but I felt like I already knew him. At the same time, I was a little anxious about meeting him. After all, my friend and I have a close connection, and obviously, he and my friend do, too. What if he didn’t like me? I’m not generally a people pleaser, but even if I didn’t connect well with him, I certainly didn’t want to make it awkward for one of my best friends in the world if her husband and I didn’t find much in common.

My husband and I rang the doorbell and heard them (and their adorable dog) come to the door. I clung to my friend for a moment, then turned to her husband and introduced myself while giving him a hug, too. I’m not sure if he’s a hugger. To be honest, it’s not my default setting, but I wanted to go all in.

The short story is we all got along. We had a wonderful, refreshing weekend. We bonded over good meals and good football with a little sightseeing and shopping mixed in.

My circle of friends widened. My arms reached wider to embrace someone my friend loves. My heart stretched a bit.

We sometimes wonder if we have enough space in our lives and hearts to consider new relationships. We can be so protective of those in our lives that we’re not sure we want to take the risk of letting someone into their lives and ours that might not fit well. But growing our circle of friends is always worth it when we risk well.

No friendship is risk-free. But every friendship has the potential to make connections that grow and nourish us for a season or a lifetime.

The First Time

Some firsts are exciting.

  • 1st day of kindergarten (I really liked my pink pleated skirt!)
  • 1st paycheck (Even if I got sun poisoning lifeguarding that summer.)
  • 1st dorm room (Cleaning the floor with furniture polish was not a great idea.)
  • 1st plane ride (And the grandest view of a sunset in my life.)
  • 1st cell phone (Even if it didn’t fit in my pocket!)

Some firsts aren’t so exciting.

  • 1st speeding ticket
  • 1st overdraft notice
  • 1st surgery
  • 1st perm

My first date was boring. My first kiss was sloppy. My first bridesmaid dress was hideous.

Firsts can be thrilling, frightening, or disastrous. The first is always a beginning. We don’t stay in the first. We grow from it. We shouldn’t steep in it; we should step out of it. It’s a journey.

You experience a first every day of your life. You have a choice to live today in a way that sets the foundation for tomorrow. Hopefully, many of the days leading up to this one have set firm foundations on which you’re now building. The firsts of today set the pace and priorities of tomorrow. You can wait until tomorrow’s today to make changes, but why waste today?

I remember the “today” I decided to live all other todays of my life for God. I appreciate the memory of that day, but I’m not going to reside in it. I don’t want to lose today and the opportunity to choose to live for God in the details of my new today. I haven’t filled every today with great choices. Not even close. But each day sets the pace and priority for the next.

What pace and priority are your setting today?

Challenge: Write a number one on your index finger in ink or permanent marker. Each time it catches your attention through the day, consider what you’re experiencing that can be used a foundation for tomorrow. Be intentional in your choices, responses, and adjustments.

Remember and Forget Well

A newly married woman asked me what I struggled with the most when I was first married.

Um…well…hmmm…probably…I think…

I stammered through my answer. My hesitation wasn’t due to a lack of struggles. I remember struggles, but I don’t remember them well. One reason is simply the passage of time. I’m not sure when I struggled with each thing along the way. But also, I’ve tried to put some things behind me. I don’t want to remember some struggles all the time, because if I live in the past, I miss out on the present.

Yet, as I later reflected on the conversation, I realized how important it is to be able to remember well enough to share with and help others. No two journeys are the same, but we need to be reassured we’re not alone. We can’t just say, “been there, done that, and you’ll survive, honey” and expect the other person to sigh and relax from that point forward. We can’t just say, “Well, I’ve never been through that, but I know what you should do.” We can’t put on rose-colored glasses and diminish someone’s issues because of our optimism. And we shouldn’t pull someone into our muck and mire.

It’s not about us. And we can’t make it all about the other person either. God is the only one who knows what each of us needs to share and receive with each interaction. But this I know for sure:

God brings people in and out of our lives.

We need to steward each interaction well.

We won’t always feel prepared, nor should we. After all, it is in those “caught off guard moments” that we get to most completely rely on God.

Remember well enough to relate to and encourage others. Forget well enough to not get stuck.

Choices Beyond Being Mean or Approving

We don’t have to mean and bully people.

Sounds like a “duh” statement, but if it’s so obvious, why do we keep doing it? As a Christian, quit making the excuse that you’re just standing God’s ground. God has enough authority on His own without you carrying the weight of judging the whole world–or just your neighbor. We can rationalize that we’re simply fighting back, but if we use the same character attacks and passive-aggressiveness that others fight with, what shows that we’re set apart? Are we simply affirming assumptions and stereotypes people already have about Christians being judgmental and narrow-minded? We might claim our motivations are different, but people don’t see motivations. They see actions and words, including what we spew all over social media.

Perhaps we think that if we don’t speak up, we’re affirming the behaviors we know to be against God’s will. But being mean and being affirming are not the only two options. We can listen, ask questions, seek to understand where someone stands and why in order to respect the person as someone created in God’s image, as well as to build rapport that leads to that person listening to us as well. We can return anger and frustration with patience and compassion. We can return disrespect with respect. We can also walk away when engaging with a person is futile, at least for that moment. We can become the exception instead of the stereotypical Christian caricature. We can show selflessness instead of selfishly expressing only our own opinions and facts without patiently investing in others.

It’s not easy to know when to stand up, when to sit down, when to speak up, and when to shut up. It’s a challenge to know when we need to extend abundant, merciful love and when we need to challenge someone with accountability. But God does both of those things. He is loving and He is just. We are made in His image, so I’m confident, in our willingness to follow Him well, He will guide us in His perfect will and timing.

 

Struggling to Rest

charm5While I try not to overpack my schedule, I’d classify my approach to time-management as “focused” and “efficient.” I’m usually fairly accurate about how long something will take. I can look ahead and see small steps I can take in order to prepare for the completion of something, which is also another way of saying I rarely have nothing to do.

But I think I rest well, too. I am intentional about the rest that God says I need, and I’ve come to believe Him. I’m not just talking about a nap (which I don’t do well) or a day off but consistent rest even in the chaos. Rest isn’t just the lack of something. It’s a step into His presence. It’s a pursuit, not a retreat.

A little while back, I looked ahead and determined two weeks that would be “rest” weeks for me. I would still have things to do, but I wasn’t planning any major writing or house projects. I wasn’t going to schedule any lunch dates that weren’t already in my book. I was going to take it easy, get refreshed, and listen for God’s direction.

But first I had to quiet myself, and it was more challenging than I thought. I had given myself such kudos for resting on an ongoing basis, that I hadn’t thought this was going to be a problem. I’d even taken a vacation in the last several months, and I had no trouble relaxing during it. But this was a different kind of relaxing. It was something I couldn’t fit into my schedule. It was the conviction that rest doesn’t always come easily. Sometimes, it’s because we ignore it for too long. But sometimes the struggle to rest is simply to point out that we don’t control rest.

Rest is something God gives us. He longs for us to experience it. Yet we have to struggle to experience it at times. We have to set aside the obvious “to-do” lists, and we have to set aside so much more–our thoughts, comforts, assumptions. When we’re seeking His provision of rest, it has to be all about Him. We step toward Him, into His presence, and willingly leave ourselves behind.

It’s not easy. It’s a process. Don’t try to simply put it on your calendar and expect it to happen on your timetable. Find rest in Him one step at a time in every situation throughout each day.

Begin today. Right now.