Reach Out and Touch Someone

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxGod’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? Today wraps up Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

It’s difficult to keep a distance from somebody and touch them at the same time. Physically, it’s impossible. Emotionally, it’s nearly impossible unless you’re very good at denying emotional response and withholding compassion. Touch requires closeness, and closeness reflects relationship engagement. It’s easy to stand across the room from somebody and judge, spite, ignore, begrudge, and build a dividing wall between “us” and “them.” You can even avoid eye contact as you meet someone in the hall or pretend not to have brushed shoulders in the shifting crowd. You might be able to shake hands with a cold commitment. But what if you intentionally shake hands and make eye contact at the same time? Add a warm smile? How judgmental can you be then, regardless of what your attitude has been prior to that time?

We’re not all touchy-feeling people, and I’m certainly not suggesting a huge hug-fest in the church foyer. However, approaching someone with whom you have opposing opinions to inquire about his or her work week, family, or other concern or interest beyond the opposing opinion spurs you to stand on common ground. You may or may not be able to stand on common ground in the area of disagreement, but you can find other common ground even if it’s the simple fact that you are both Christ-followers who are passionate about seeking and following his will. Acknowledging and committing to stand on common ground helps highlight the similarities of your relationship instead of focusing on the dividing wall you’re steadily building by keeping your distance. When you build a dividing wall on the common ground you share, it’s much more difficult to stand on that same common ground!

Reach out and touch someone. It doesn’t have to be a hug. Simply rest your hand on someone’s shoulder. Gently touch someone’s arm as you ask how her week has been. As you shake someone’s hand, place your other hand over her hand and hold it for several seconds as you look into her eyes and remind her you’ve been praying for the situation. Of if you’re a natural hugger, gauge your motivation to hug. Is it simply a meaningless habit? Do your hugs really mean anything, or are they received as an obligatory handshake? Think intentionally when you reach out and touch someone. You can touch someone without much thought or purpose, but reaching out takes intention and effort.

Reaching out builds a bridge. It personalizes the relationship. When you reach out and touch someone, you’re reminded the person with whom you’re most irritated is a living, breathing person. God created her, and he loves her. He wants you to see the value he gave her, not the value you give her. When you reach out and touch someone, you also become a bit more “real” to a person. You cannot control the value someone else assigns to you, but you always have a choice to perpetuate a judgmental stereotype and assumption or invite someone into a growing relationship. Actively engage with the people with who you disagree. It’s not the easy choice, but God wants you to honor relationships.

Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

Easier Said Than Done

mark-536“Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” (Mark 5:36b)

It’s easier said than done much of the time.

I walked by a sign the other day that said, “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.” It’s not that fear doesn’t exist. We can’t just wish it away. We have to have something bigger than it, something that keeps it in check, in context, something that absorbs and handles it well.

Belief in and of itself doesn’t get rid of our fears. Some beliefs exacerbate fears. If we believe in the wrong things, undependable things, the fears are only masked, and when things are masked, they can grow in the dark where we hide them. Fears can grow and become something that they’re not.

Fears aren’t just the things we tremble about. They are also the quiet ways we think we’re missing out on something, the insecurities, the desires spurred by “what if.” Without true belief, our “what ifs” become unmanageable. We can’t control them like we thought we could, and they begin to control us. We begin to make decisions based on fleeting assumptions and feelings. We might feel certain at the time, but when we’re on shaky ground, it doesn’t take long for insecurities, regrets, and doubt to move in.

Belief isn’t easy. It’s an unrelenting effort. But it’s worth the effort in the long run.

Losing A Generation

“Why won’t the young people come to help?”

“Young people these days feel entitled to all the things we worked hard to get. They’re not willing to sacrifice anything. They only think of themselves.”

“I’m scared for our country/business/family/church when it comes to these kids taking over.”

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I guess I’m considered a “tweener” of generations right now. I’m in my late 40s. I have a lot of friends who are 60+ and even more who are under 40. As I recently interviewed nonprofit leaders, we often arrived at the topic of involvement and volunteerism, and I frequently heard snide comments about “young people.” I’d ask how we can bridge the gap, and more than one person gave a response of “It’s pretty hopeless,” blaming the younger generation.

However, when we stiff arm a generalized judgment about a group of people, isn’t the gap partly our fault, too? If we’re not willing to build a bridge, mentor, teach, listen, and walk through the messes of life of those trying to figure out the things we might have experienced but now see the solutions as simple and easy, we’re not putting forth the effort, just as we’re blaming others for their lack of effort.

Maybe we’re willing to help because we have more available time. Our families are grown, and we might even be retired from full-time jobs. We’re not balancing a young family’s schedule, several part-time jobs or two parents’ work schedules or building a business, financial pressures, constantly fixing used appliances, cars, and houses that we can barely afford, and so on. Yes, we’re busy, too, but we don’t seem to be able to respect what others are facing. We “remember” those days but somehow picture them a bit differently. We think of how much we served even when things were busy, how simple we kept our lives, or how firmly we kept our kids in line. We look back with rose-colored glasses. Or we remember the past as tough, but we survived and so will others, so why can’t they just buck up and pitch in to help and get more involved?

We wonder why the younger generation doesn’t come help us when we plan a service project…but we schedule it during work hours or sports and other kids’ activities. Instead of judging someone for what he or she isn’t doing, what if we verbalize our appreciation for their commitment to work and involvement in their kids’ lives? Instead of trying to compare someone’s life to the way we remember that same time in our life, why don’t we listen to where people are, refusing to give the easy, general answers of “It will all work out” or “You’ll survive and look back at these years and wish you had them back”?

We might not understand everything another generation is going and has gone through, but that goes both ways. How can we expect others to get to know us and be willing to see our perspective of things if we’re not willing to begin the conversation? When will we realize that complaining about others wanting their own way reveals our selfishness, too? How can we live with hope among people who are different than we are instead of being doomsayers who claim all is lost…unless everyone begins to think and act just as we do.

How rude, self-centered, inflexible, and prideful of us.

In the Bible, a generation isn’t limited to a specific age range of people. A generation most commonly refers to all the people alive at that time. Instead of separating groups of people based on life stage and pitting one against the other, it’s reaching around them all and claiming responsibility together. It’s sharing identity without pointing fingers. It’s humbly getting to know each other, and taking the higher ground needed to find common ground.

Are we willing?

If we’re not, we miss out…and so do the people we pit ourselves against.

 

A Lot of Poop

During the mowing season, I clean up the dog poop in the backyard every week, because that’s part of my mowing preparation. When there’s snow on the ground, I obviously let it go. But we had an odd couple months when it was cool enough to deter the grass from growing but warm enough to be outside. That means that one day, I was outside playing with the dog and realized how much poop littered the back of the yard.

I picked up a month’s worth of poop. The bag just kept getting heavier and heavier. I bent over every few steps as I carefully stepped around the yard. It took a lot longer than usual, and it was a lot more messy and disgusting than usual.

Our dog doesn’t like it either. In fact, she gave me the first clue that cleanup was overdue. She tends to do her business in the same general area, but she doesn’t like the smell, so as she litters one area, she moves onto another. And she won’t follow me around while I’m cleaning up. It’s too dirty of a job for her. Plus, if I throw a toy anywhere close to a poop pile, she just leaves it. As much as she loves playing, she hates the smell of poop even more.

I don’t blame her.

As I walked around the yard, I thought about the importance of picking up the poop on a regular basis, so it doesn’t become a daunting, smelly task. Not unlike the stench of junk in our lives. When we ignore our problems, bad choices, and sin, we often just move to another area to avoid them as much as we can. We don’t like the smell and mess we create, yet we’re not willing to just clean up and enjoy the space again.

Call it what you want: repentance, confession, healing, growth, patterns. Take time on a regular basis for it. It will make your life a lot less smelly and disgusting. It might seem overwhelming right now, but start somewhere. If it doesn’t seem too overwhelming, don’t wait until it does.

Without intentional, regular attention and effort, your spiritual life will stink.

Looking Through More Than One Lens

I have grown to love photography over the past several years. It started on my first trip to Israel. I took a new camera, and as I played with light, shadows, perspective, and patterns, I began to look at my surroundings with a different perspective. I noticed things I might have previously passed over. I paid close attention as I walk by or around something, noticing small perspective changes with each step.

As much as I enjoy photography, there are challenges that come along with it. On a recent trip, I was reminded over and over how difficult it is to have more than one perspective at once. I like the power of my zoom lens, because it allows me to pick out and capture small details. However, sometimes I find myself too close to something to capture a broader view, and it’s frustrating when I can only get a portion of an animal or building. Changing perspective requires changing lenses, which takes time, which I don’t always have when I’m trying to capture a moving critter or shadow. Changing lenses also requires coordination, which I don’t always have when I’m already juggling other things in my hands, or if I’m wearing my gloves.

I found another solution. My phone takes good pictures with a wide perspective, so I kept my zoom lens on my camera around my neck, and my phone in my pocket. Both were convenient, so I could choose the best perspective for the best capture.

In everyday life, we need to have different perspectives available, too. We need to become practiced enough with the benefits and downfalls of various perspectives that we can determine which is best for each circumstance and interaction. Each needs to be accurate. In other words, we need to capture the truth of reality with no filter. We don’t want to distort what is around us because of the perspective we choose. We don’t want to taint what is true. However, we can only righteously live out God’s will when we’re willing to discern the best tools to use to get the most—His most—out of each experience.

God is many characteristics at once—just, merciful, faithful, good, forgiving, convicting, patient, pursuant, corrective, and so on. He knows the best combination of His qualities to apply to each and every situation. His perspective is all-knowing, so He incorporates it all in just the right mixture. We, on the other hand, have difficulty determining when to stand up and when to sit down, when to shut up and when to speak up, when to keep our distance in caution and when to take compassionate risks. We often see our options as either/or choices that take time and effort to change.

But God puts all the same characteristics in us that He has, because we’re made in His image (well, except the things like sovereignty and omniscience that only He can possess and contain). We don’t have to clunkily change perspectives as if we can only have one. We can become familiar enough with all that God provides us and keep them readily available so we can respond with the best…with His help, of course!

©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org

Why Am I So Tired?

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It’s true. It seems to take more energy and effort for me to submit to God, yet I am most exhausted when I don’t.

I’m not saying submission to God is always energizing and never tiresome. However, when I feel most drained, least motivated, and incredibly overwhelmed, it is rarely when I’m close to God. (I almost used the “never” word, because I can’t think of a single time I’ve been close to God and felt overwhelmingly drained or apathetic, but that word is a strong one I very rarely use…just in case.)

Submitting to God isn’t easy. It takes an intentionality that is draining at times. But it’s worth it. It always puts me in a better place. (Despite my unwillingness to use “never” in the earlier paragraph, I’ll gladly use the all-inclusive “always” here!) It’s counter-intuitive. Put forth more effort to get more energized and motivate? Humble myself to grow? Accept someone else’s authority in my life in order to live the life that is best for me?

Yes.

Absolutely.

If you read much of God’s Word, you’ll know Jesus lived a counter-intuitive life and taught others to do the same. What makes sense by the world’s standards might be upside down according to His.

We have to have the right perspective in order to survive and thrive the life that God intends.

I recently read a statistic that suggested most people who survive an avalanche die because of their misguided energy. They try to save themselves by digging out of the snow. The problem is, they don’t know which way to dig, so they might actually dig themselves deeper. There’s a simple survival tip to avoid the dangers of digging in the wrong direction: Spit. Yes, a simple spit test to see which way the spit falls. That gives a clue as to which way to dig.

Expend the right kind and direction of energy and effort today.

 

Fit Faith: Effort: Level of Play

I went for a walk today and nearly blew away. At least it felt that way. I leaned so heavily into the wind when facing it that I knew I’d fall flat to my face if the wind suddenly stopped. It wasn’t even refreshing to walk with my back to the wind, because I had to lean back slightly and keep my feet firmly in from of me to keep from being pushed into a jog.

Different conditions make activity harder or easier. For this central Illinois girl, hiking in the Rocky Mountains requires an adjustment. I start drinking water as soon as I land in the higher altitudes and monitor my breathing more closely, particularly as I hike into the mountains. Oxygen is less concentrated, so I have to adjust in order to avoid quick fatigue.

On the other hand, “swimming” in the Dead Sea in Israel took nearly no effort at all. Leaning back into the water to float with no effort is something I knew was supposed to happen, but I thought I’d likely have to do something besides sit back and relax. No. It truly was as easy as people had made it sound.

A variety of factors impact the effort it takes to accomplish something. When have you experienced “uphill, thin air” faith? When have you experienced “sit back and relax” faith?

I hope you’ve experienced a taste of both!

Sit-back-and-relax faith moments might seem few and far between, but consider the moments in which you’ve had peace where you are even if there is uncertainty and chaos around you. There have been times when I’ve travelled and been in the middle of what seemed like chaos. There have been throngs of people, many who don’t speak my language at times, trying to get in a variety of directions, perhaps even complaining or making demands. There have been security concerns as I jostled among people. There have been raised voices and reddening faces. While I continued to be mindful of what was going on around me, even planning for a variety of options of leaving the situation, I’ve had peace that there was no need to panic.

I’ve been in situations in hospitals when the unknown or inconceivable is pressing in around a family I’m trying to help. There’s chaos in disagreements mixed with elevated emotions. Voices are raised. Tension increases. Yet there can be peace. I can see it in some people’s faces. They may be upset, but they proceed with a foundation of assurance.

Other situations are the uphill, thin air experiences that seem to take every effort to make it one more step. The hope of beautiful views can help with motivation but the labored breath and effort can quickly create fatigue. I’ve been in situations in which I collapse because I just can’t catch my breath well enough to take one more step. I have to regain some strength before moving on. At the time, I might not even believe it’s possible to move on. Even after a rest, the climb must continue. It seems to never end. I can’t see the top of the mountain through the crowd of the trees. While I try to believe there is a view worth pursuing, I begin to question if I’m even on the right path. Perhaps I should go back. Perhaps I’m not cut out to accomplish this. I might as well just quit. The climb can overwhelm me to the point of exhaustion or surrender. Or, I might experience the sense of accomplishment as I push ahead.

Why do we let our circumstances dictate our attitudes and plans? Yes, our efforts are affected, but they’re not determined by our circumstances.

“Make every effort to give yourself to God as the kind of person he will approve. Be a worker who is not ashamed and who uses the true teaching in the right way.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

We can’t dictate our circumstances. However, we can persevere whether the wind is at our backs or faces. Our responsibility is responding in obedience.

Consider how you’re allowing your circumstances determine your effort. What effort are you intentionally and unconditionally putting into your relationship with God?