Are You Struggling With A Struggle?

struggle: to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition; to proceed with difficulty or with great effort (www.merriam-webster.com)

When have you struggled with something? Have you stayed in the struggle?

It seems like a stupid question. After all, who would want to stay in a struggle? Yet how many things have you repeatedly or consistently struggled with? Thoughts of struggles tossed and turned in my mind recently, and I began to wonder if we sometimes begin to define a struggle as such simply because of the repetition or consistency. If we could deal with something and be done with it, we might not define it as a struggle, but when it consumes increasingly more time and energy, we define it as a struggle.

We can settle into the struggle because it becomes consistent in our lives. There’s a pattern, and even when we don’t like it, we can become somewhat accustomed to it. In a sense, we settle into or stay in the struggle.

The question is: Are you active in the struggle, or have you taken a passive role, expecting not to be able to change anything or becoming paralyzed to make an attempt to try anything?

The definition of struggle indicates action – a quite intense action: to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition; to proceed with difficulty or with great effort.

What are your struggles?

Most will respond in one of two ways. Either they’ll indicate something acute going on in the current season of life or something chronic that seems to be repeated over a longer period. Perhaps you look back on your life and see consistencies, so you connect the dots and call it a struggle. You’ve made strenuous efforts to proceed through the difficulties. You’ve pushed against the opposing winds blowing into your face. You’ve set your eyes on forward progress and knocked barriers out of the way. Even if your situation hasn’t changed much, you’re struggling, and you’re not staying in the struggle because of the efforts you’re making.

On the other hand, if you’re labeling consistent issues in your life as a struggle but you’ve made little effort to change or move forward, you’re staying in the struggle. Actually, you might not be struggling at all. It might feel like you’re struggling, because you’ve become accustomed to thinking struggling occurs when nothing changes, but struggling involves change.

Struggling is active, not passive.

I’m not saying you can fix everything. You can’t rearrange all the messy pieces of your life and put them together into a beautiful mosaic. You can’t explain all the cause and effects, see the potential, and accept what’s going on in your life with complete understanding. You’re human. You have limitations.

God doesn’t have limitations. Whatever you can’t do, He can. He can rearrange all the messy pieces of your life and put them together into a beautiful mosaic. He can explain all the cause and effects and see the potential with complete understanding. However, as long as you live in this messy life on earth, you won’t be able to see the beautiful mosaic in its entire splendor. You won’t have complete understanding. He’ll give you glimpses, but there will always be a gap between God and you.

And that’s where faith comes in.

Faith is active. It’s giving everything, the good and the bad, to God…and trusting Him with it. It doesn’t stop there. It’s not a one-time “please fix this” request. Faith includes a trust that God can fix it as well as the acceptance that God wants you to be involved in the process. Faith involves listening to what action God wants you to take. It’s a delicate balance, because it’s tempting to declare:

I’ve given it to God, so all I have to do now is wait for Him to take care of it.

or

I know God wants me to be active in the process, so I’ll figure out what needs to be done next.

Either rationalization indicates an imbalance in the relationship between a person and God.

Faith isn’t the absence of struggle. Faith itself involves struggle. In faith, we must acknowledge God, give everything to God, listen to God, and respond to God. Faith requires trust and action.

Be cautious in how you’re defining and responding in struggles. If you tend to push ahead in determination and self-sufficiency, you’ll need to pull back. Replace your self-sufficiency with God-sufficiency. Give it all to God, including control, and let Him tell you what the next steps are. He’ll guide and provide.

On the other hand, if you tend to sit back and wait for something to happen, especially after you’ve given it to God, you need to take a step. There’s likely something you’re holding back from God: yourself. Place yourself in his hands, knowing He isn’t going to let you sit and mope. He doesn’t let spiritual muscles atrophy. He’ll get you up and moving even though you’d prefer to let Him do the work. Let Him tell you what the next steps are, and be obedient. He’ll guide and provide.

So…are you staying in your struggles? Are you struggling in your struggles?

Most important, are you faithful in your struggles?

To do this, I work and struggle, using Christ’s great strength that works so powerfully in me. Colossians 1:29

Life and Death

It’s a matter of life and death. How do you respond? Perhaps you’ve been in such a situation. It’s often difficult to truly know how you’ll respond. We’d like to think we’ll respond with bravery, sacrifice…and faith. But when faced with the unknown, who knows?

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I’m reminded of a conversation that took place in a women’s small group I was leading. It was the day after a mass shooting – yet another tragedy of many innocent people dying because they were gathered together for a common purpose and someone who didn’t agree with that purpose decided to unleash his anger.

I digress, when the truth is I don’t know the specifics of the situation, particularly not the shooter’s frame of mind.

Anyway, our small group today started talking about how we’d respond. Someone said, “If I was in a classroom and someone came in with a gun and said, ‘Who’s a Christian in this room?,’ would I stand up or take cover? I’d like to think I’d proudly stand for God. But I don’t actually know what I’d do.”

Another person responded, “I think we also need to be careful in what we define to be righteous behavior. Of course, we’re to claim our identity in God, but if someone who has severe mental issues comes into a room with a gun, I’m not positive the only way to stand up for God is to die. I also think surviving such an experience – as long as I don’t have to renounce my faith – can have as much of an impact after the fact. The important thing is ‘Are we doing what God is calling us to do in that moment?’”

It’s easy to say what we’d do or not do before the fact, but we might want to be careful what we claim.

Peter said, “Everyone else may stumble in their faith because of you, but I will not.”

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, tonight before the rooster crows you will say three times that you don’t know me.”

But Peter said, “I will never say that I don’t know you! I will even die with you!” And all the other followers said the same thing. (Matthew 26:33-35)

In case you don’t know, Jesus is right on this one. Peter indeed denies him three times.

Then Peter began to place a curse on himself and swear, “I don’t know the man.” At once, a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered what Jesus had told him: “Before the rooster crows, you will say three times that you don’t know me.” Then Peter went outside and cried painfully. (Matthew 26:74-75)

So what are we to do if we don’t know for certain how we’re going to respond?

Accept the fact that your faith is susceptible. It’s not without vulnerabilities. The more completely you accept your vulnerabilities to God, the better. He will strengthen you in your weakness.

What’s one strength you have that can be a weakness in some situations?

What’s one weakness you have that can be a strength at times?

Remember, in God’s economy, the first are last, the last are first, rich is poor, poor is rich, etc. A strength can be a weakness. A weakness can be a strength. It’s all about how God defines each and how you’re letting him use you.

Yield to God – in all things – and your faith will strengthen. As a reminder, print small yield signs (or cut triangular pieces of paper) and strategically place them in places you’ll notice them throughout your daily routine.

You’re Wearing THAT?!

I used to prefer not to be seen with Mom – mainly when I was a preteen. She didn’t wear the right clothes according to me. It just wasn’t cool to hang out with her. She used to joke about how I’d walk several yards behind her.

I grew out of that stage. We walked side by side through the mall through most my teens years. We went to the mall together when I was home from college. I was wearing one of my favorite outfits. The style was a casual, sporty look. My pants were roomy and soft with an elastic waist and big wide legs. The top was similar to a fancy tshirt with ribbing on the sleeves and waist. It was light yellow with a bold print. I loved it. It was the 80s, okay? I wouldn’t wear it now, but it was cool then.

As we were leaving the mall, a small child walked in the other direction with her mom. We heard her ask, “Mommy, why does that girl have on her pajamas at the mall?” (This was before the popular phase of wearing pajama bottoms.) Mom took full advantage of the turn of events. She rolled her eyes in disgust at me and exclaimed that she was just “too mortified” to be seen with me. She immediately quickened her pace to distance herself. Of course, I ran after her – while laughing so hard I could barely see where I was going!

What’s one fashion style that appalls you?

What’s the most embarrassing fashion trend you’ve followed?

Fashions are fleeting. Relationships are not. It was more important that my mom and I spend time together than to be concerned of what we were wearing.

And why do you worry about clothes? Look at how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t work or make clothes for themselves. Matthew 6:28

Dress in the best God has to offer. You need every piece of God’s armor, but as you read the following verses, consider which one he’s encouraging and equipping you with right now to meet your needs.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can fight against the devil’s evil tricks. Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world. That is why you need to put on God’s full armor. Then on the day of evil you will be able to stand strong. And when you have finished the whole fight, you will still be standing. So stand strong, with the belt of truth tied around your waist and the protection of right living on your chest. On your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong. And also use the shield of faith with which you can stop all the burning arrows of the Evil One. Accept God’s salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers, asking for everything you need. To do this you must always be ready and never give up. Always pray for all God’s people. Ephesians 6:11-18

There’s a Blog Post in That

“There’s a blog post in that.”

I was recently with a group of women for a weekend, and it was obvious we all speak and write. Rarely an hour passed without someone commenting, “There’s a blog post in that.” In other words, we could find ways to learn and apply lessons from just about everything we experienced. Our eyes and ears were sensitive to noticing usable illustrations. The more we noticed, the more focused we became, and the more we noticed. The momentum of the snowball of illustrations grew.

I’m a lifelong learner. I like to search for lessons I can learn from even the smallest of incidents. How about you?

  • What do the types of posts you “like” on Facebook reveal to you?
  • How does your style of packing remind you of your approach to life (or not)?
  • What generalizations about your commitment to spiritual disciplines can apply to your life as a whole?
  • How is your life like a puzzle?
  • Replay the past hour of your life. What can you learn from it?

We’ve become accustomed to learning being about absorbing facts. We expect someone to tell us what the Bible says and how we should apply it. We listen to a professor tell us what’s most important for us to know. We watch a documentary and repeat the “facts.”

How often do you ask questions compared to how often you accept a statement? Learning is give-and-take. Yes, it’s listening, but it’s also interacting. In order to learn, we have to observe and ask questions. And we have to answer questions. It’s not that we have to provide an answer for every question we encounter. Seeking the answer is much more important. Along the journey of seeking the answer, we’ll gain more insight than we realized we were seeking.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus often asked questions. The Bible isn’t filled Q and As like an interview. The Bible is filled with Qs…and As…rarely placed side by side. The learner has to seek to fit the right questions with the right answers.

Want to flex your Q and A muscles? Explore some of the questions Jesus asked.

“And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 5:47

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:27

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Matthew 7:16

“Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?'” Matthew 9:4

“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?'” Matthew 14:31

“Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?'” Matthew 15:3

” When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?'” Matthew 16:13

“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?'” Matthew 16:15

“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Matthew 16:26

“Jesus stopped and called them. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.” Matthew 20:32

“But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?'” Matthew 22:18

“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli,lemasabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). Matthew 27:46

Are you trying to give a quick answer? Let each question serve as a brief pause along a journey. Rest for a moment and listen to what Jesus is asking. Ask questions in reply. Converse for a moment. Let what is said direct your next steps as you search for answers – and more questions.

Seek to learn. Learn to seek. Ask questions to find answers. Let answers spur questions.

There’s a lesson in everything.

“There’s a blog post in that.”

The Magic Word

It’s polite to say please, but I don’t think it’s the “magic word,” as I was often told. Actually, my sisters always change the “magic word,” and it was rarely please. I don’t think they even knew what it was when they told me to say the magic word. They hadn’t decided. They just wanted to torment me.

But the main reason I don’t believe please is the magic word is because I realized when I was young that please was not a free pass to yes. It’s a courteous word, but it’s not magic.

My mom wouldn’t let us have food in our rooms. It was for a good reason. I don’t blame her. No amount of “pleases” would have been enough to give me permission to eat in my bed. But Grandpa let me. Grandpa had a TV in his bedroom before it was common to have more than one TV in the house. He’d often let my cousin and I crawl into his bed to watch TV at night. And he would even let us eat…saltine crackers! Of all things we could eat in bed, saltines had to be one of the messiest. He never complained. I sometimes wonder if he wanted quiet time so badly that it was worth the sacrifice of sleeping in a crumb-infested bed.

He also taught me how to play Rummy. I always felt behind my family members in card (and other) games. I guess it’s because I was behind. I was the youngest, so I was the last to know and understand the rules. But Grandpa taught me. And he was a good player.

It’s not that Grandpa was an amazingly patient man. I don’t know that many would describe him as a patient man without the “amazingly” in front of it. Yet I only remember one time he was really angry with me.

He did carpentry work and was working on our roof with some of his crew. I enjoyed hanging out when people were working. I’m not sure why, since I didn’t pay much attention or learn much. One of the guys who worked with him starting to joke about sticking me in a barrel of tar. The jokes escalated until this man actually picked me up, turned me upside down and held my head within inches of that tar. I knew he was kidding. Grandpa knew he was kidding. But it was more than he would take that afternoon. He yelled at his worker for not helping. He yelled at me for distracting his workers. I was sent inside, shocked and devastated. No amount of “pleases” would have helped that day.

What situation have you been in where “please” just wasn’t enough?

What do you want the most? If you had a limited number of “pleases” to use, how would you spend them?

But I pray to you, Lord, for favor. God, because of your great love, answer me. You are truly able to save. Psalm 69:13

Real Feel

We recently had several days of 114 degree RealFeel temperatures. In the central Illinois humidity, as well as with winter wind chills, the RealFeel temperature becomes more important than the actual temperature.

What’s RealFeel?

The RealFeel Temperature is an index that describes what the temperature really feels like. It is a unique composite of the effects of temperature, wind, humidity, sunshine intensity, cloudiness, precipitation and elevation on the human body–everything that affects how warm or cold a person feels.

Temperature by itself gives only part of the picture. Other measures, like the Wind Chill or Heat Index, include temperature and only one additional element like wind speed or humidity and many are designed to measure effects on an inanimate object or an unclothed person. Only The RealFeel Temperature includes everything that affects how warm or cold a person feels. (Accuweather.com)

When the RealFeel is extreme, people where I live rarely answer the question, “How hot (or cold) is it?” with the actual temperature. We answer with what the temperature feels like.

I wonder what would happen if we applied the same concept to the question “How are you?”

Think about how many times you answer the question with a quick smile and a “Fine…and you?” I don’t necessarily think we need to share the nitty gritty details of our lives with every person who casually asks how we are, but we also don’t need to swing to the other end of the spectrum and neglect sharing much of anything because we don’t think we have the time or we don’t want to admit weakness or any other excuse we give.

What would a Real Feel answer look like? To adapt Accuweather’s definition…

  • The Real Feel answer would describe how a person really feels.
  • The Real Feel is a unique composite of the effects of relationships, situations, challenges, faith, uncertainty, finances, emotions and more. It involves everything that affects how a person feels.
  • Only the Real Feel answer includes everything that affects a person.

When you ask someone how she is, do you expect to get a quick response? If you get a thorough response, are you patient to listen and respond?

Do you ever hesitate to ask someone how she is because you don’t want to take the time you know will be required or expected for the answer?

When asked how you are, how authentic is your answer?

Is there at least one person in your life with whom you’ll be completely authentic? Do you wait for that person to ask you your Real Feel, or do you openly share anytime the Real Feel begins to climb or dip into extremes?

According to merriamwebster.com, authenticity is “being actually and exactly what is claimed.” If you claim to be a follower of Christ, how authentic are you “being actually and exactly what is claimed”?

God understands all hearts, and he sees you. Proverbs 24:12

Your truthfulness – or lack of it – affects others. It affects their faith, because it affects how they see God. Whether you have a
long-term relationship or momentary encounter with someone, your character, the way you behave, your attitude…all combine to reflect the God who created you for purpose on this earth. No moment, no situation, no person is insignificant. The truth of who you are, your authenticity, affects others.

Your authenticity is your Real Feel. How do you feel…really?

Sweet (Tea) Timing

I picked up Tracie for our weekly drive to a nearby town, where I’ve been leading a small group studying Pure Emotion. Tracie has been kind enough to make the drive with me each week and encourage me as we study with a wonderful group of women we’re getting to know through the journey. I had a couple quick errands to run, and then we’d be on our way.

When I pulled into the McDonalds drive-thru, I was suprised at how slowly the long line of cars was moving. The service is usually very quick. All I wanted was a sweet tea for the drive. (For those who don’t know me well, I’m drink driven.) Tracie and I were enjoying the time to visit, but as time passed, I wondered if we should continue to wait. I glanced at the clock. We had plenty of time, so we continued to wait.

Five minutes later, my sweet tea was in hand, and we continued across town. We’d been watching lightning and hearing thunder as we waited, but the skies darkened as we continued. Just before we reached the edge of town, the downpour hit us with a fury. A couple hail pings on my roof was all I needed to hear before pulling under a bank awning. We watched sheets of rain blow in scattered directions. The ditches began to quickly fill and overflow onto the streets. As the minutes ticked past, I knew I needed to make a decision of what to do next, since I was obviously going to be late.

After getting an update on the radar, we knew we weren’t going anywhere except home. The problem was…most of the streets we tried to turn down for the return trip were under water and impassable. We’d reach an intersection and look in the direction we’d prefer to go. If it didn’t look safe, we went an alternate route. Little by little, we made our way in the pouring rain to Tracie’s house. I ran into one more obstacle on my way home; then, the skies cleared and the remainder of the trip was uneventful.

It hadn’t rained as much in the town where the small group was held, but without a backup plan, we cancelled it. I called Julie as soon as we made the decision, and she called Betty. They split the list of contacts and called everyone as quickly as they could. (Thanks, ladies!) I sent an email as soon as I got home, giving instructions for the upcoming week and encouraging everyone to stay on track. We determined to stay the course.

One course I was glad not to have stayed on was the road out of town. I quickly realized had I not patiently waited in line at McDonalds, Tracie and I would have been in between towns in a rural area with no street lights as the skies darkened. We would have had few places to safely pull off the road, particularly avoiding the rising waters. And I can’t think of a single place we could have driven under a protective awning or other shelter from the hail.

I don’t always like it when God seems to push a pause button in my life. Okay, the truth is…I rarely like it. Yet I’m learning to rest in God’s timing.

Waiting doesn’t signify we’re denying what’s going on around us. It’s not sticking our heads in the sand to reality. It’s a holding pattern. When an airplane is put into a holding pattern, it doesn’t land and doesn’t reprogram it’s route to another location. The plan is to complete the trip it started, but it’s put on hold. In the meantime, the flight is up in the air longer and covers some areas it wouldn’t have covered if it had flown directly to the airport. (Pure Emotion)

How do you typically respond to a holding pattern in your day or life?

We struggle with patience because patience signifies dependence. We’re dependent on God. Yes, we have choices…and one of those choices – applied on a daily basis – is whether or not to acknowledge our dependence on God. Whether or not to accept our position as the created, acknowledging God as the Creator. Without settling the dependence issue, we’re not going to settle the patience
issue. Please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying. Being dependent doesn’t mean we’re lazy and uninvolved. Just the opposite. God seeks active relationship with us. He invests in relationship and demands that you be invested, too – if you want the relationship to thrive and grow. That’s why he gives you boundaries, choices, and consequences.

My recent experience reminded me how sweet God’s timing is.

Wait and trust the Lord. Don’t be upset when others get rich or when someone else’s plans succeed. Don’t get angry. Don’t be upset; it only leads to trouble. Psalm 37:7-8