The Answer is Not Blowing in the Wind

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault,

and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,

because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord;

they are double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:58

I love and am made uncomfortable by this passage at the same time because I’m not a sceptic but I am a all-possible-scenario type of person. I want wisdom. I want God’s wisdom. If I want wisdom this passage says I should ask for wisdom and it will be given to me.

What a beautiful thought, that God, who desires to give us so much out of his fullness and wants to give us that no matter where we are, what we’ve done, will give us this request if we but ask for it. It’s a free gift but it requires something of us. (that seems to negate the freeness somehow, but stick with me). It’s not the way we ask, does not hinge on our perfection or behavior, isn’t about a ritual. We must believe. That’s it.

But this believing is hard for me to do. It’s belief without such confidence that I can’t imagine that God would not answer this request. But this is hard, isn’t it? Because we’re trained for the ‘what ifs’. Our culture has trained us to think of all possibilities of what happens if not. We’re uncomfortable with believing too much because what if we’re wrong? Will we be made foolish? Will we look like idiots? So we want to believe but we also want an escape hatch just in case things don’t turn out our way.

This is being double-minded. Where you’re not fully committed. Where there is something else that has a hold on you that prevents you from giving yourself fully to what God has promised. In my case, and for many others, it may be doubt. But what am I doubting? Am I doubting that God has the ability to give me this wisdom? No. Then I must be doubting that God will come through on his promise. Does that mean I think that God is a liar? No. Well, then do I think that this is available for everyone else but not me? That means I’m doubting God’s word and God’s love. That his love does not extend to the sort of generosity that doesn’t find fault. Then do I doubt God’s generosity? That would mean that he’s a liar when he says he will do this.

So where does that leave me? It leaves me realizing that by holding back I’m letting myself believe untruths about God. I’m choosing to believe lies instead of accept that he istoo good to be true. Psalm 119:113 also talks about being double minded “

I hate double-minded people,
but I love your law”

These lies that we tell ourselves, that we believe from other people, they are keeping us from knowing and believing who God really is and from the blessings that he offers to us freely. What would happen if we took our divided selves and really chose to believe what God has promised? What he could do with us if we would just let him.

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Daily Trial and Error

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 

because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

These verses struck me today. When I think of trials, I think of those times in life where we are tested to our limits. There’s a death, a diagnosis, a broken marriage, a rebellious child. These times test us and we come out of them forever changed.

But what of those times and trials in between?

What about our daily lives, those little things that challenge us and tweak us during our day? Socks on the floor, a bad review at work, technological breakdowns, bad drivers, forgotten lunches, potty-training accidents, the list seems to go on forever.

How do we handle these trials? Do we let our frustration get the better of us? Do we lash out in anger? Take it out on our family? Seek the solace of food, alcohol, the internet?

These times don’t seem like pure joy, to me, when I’m in the middle of them. They seem like the opposite. But how I come out of them depends on what path I choose. I can choose to be caught up in the daily frustrations of life, to just say “that’s the way it is/that’s the way God made me/I can’t change it”. I can continue on in my set patterns and not imagine something better.

Or I can choose the way that brings about change in me. I can include God in my trials. He sees them and knows them and sees me in the midst of daily life. God is not only concerned with the epic things in life but the small things that grow us to be the people he intended us to be. Knowing that God works with us through these trials to develop our maturity and make us more complete people gives me hope. When I seek him, his patience, his wisdom, his perspective, how I interact with these daily trials is growing me into the person I want to be. Daily trials aren’t joyful in themselves, but as I persevere more often than I backslide I begin to see how God can change me through them and that is what brings me joy.

The Woman in Me

It’s not often I concern myself overly with media but for some reason some of the issues I’m working through are coming up in the media these days. Today it was sex verification in sports relating to the Olympics where women with higher levels of testosterone may not be allowed to compete. From gender specific toys at fast food restaurants (let’s get real, now that I have a daughter I’m starting to see that the girls toys really do suck compared to the boys toys) to political ideas of what it means to be a woman in a woman’s body, what it means to be female and feminine is a question on my mind.

This is especially close to my heart right now as our denomination is preparing to vote on the ordination of women. I have been reading articles and opinions on both sides of the debate and it has brought up a lot of soul-searching in my heart about what it means for me to be a woman, created in God’s image, partnering with my husband and ministering with and to people of both genders.

There is so much in our culture that says what a woman is. A woman is emotional, pretty, a mother, a wife, a single woman, a career woman, a stay at home mom (albeit a frazzled one, most of the time if media portrayals are any indication), vulnerable, and pliable.

As Christians we are called to be in the world and not of the world and that means that we are to recognize the things in our culture that are not Christlike and choose Christ over these things. There are so many things in our culture that address what a woman is supposed to be and I don’t know if it’s a contrary streak in me, but I am so discontent with so many of those things. I chafe at some of these ideas (like overly emotional) because really, I don’t want to be classified. I’m not an overly emotional person. There’s nothing wrong with expressing emotions in a healthy manner but I don’t want to be seen as a person who gives way to my emotions and does not see the value of self-control and appropriateness in different situations. I also really REALLY chafe at the Princess phenomenon when it tells my daughter that she needs to be vapid and demanding and entitled. So, all in all, I’m experiencing some heavy chafing when it comes to what culture tells me what I, as a woman, am supposed to be.

I’m alright with that struggle. I am supposed to be discontent with what culture tells me about myself when it goes against what God desires for me. But what do I do when I turn my eyes towards the Church and see differing opinions of what it means to be female as well?

As I’ve been reading these articles about the role of women in the church, written by men and by women, many times I hear not what I am supposed to be as woman, but what I am NOT to be as woman. Some (not all, please don’t think I mean all) of the messages I receive tell me that my strong leadership skills are to be limited in scope. My spiritual gifting is to be corralled in their effectiveness. My gender, something I cannot change and is God-given, has been likened to sinful behaviour. I am to mistrust the calling God has given me or if not to mistrust the calling, to curb it and limit its range.

What do I do when my giftings, which are contained in this feminine form, are not “feminine”? Do you get an idea of my frustration and the frustration of so many people in the same situation? It has led me to seek and search what it means for me to be created Female, to reflect God’s image, to be gifted by the Holy Spirit, to be called by God, to be saved through Jesus’ blood.

I look at different women in the Bible, how they have used their gifts and strengths, how they have gone beyond some of our ideas and cultural norms. I think of Deborah, judge of Israel. I think of Priscilla, mentor to Paul. And as I usually do, I think of the woman in Proverbs 31. Her example has been used inappropriately in the past, I believe. I think that for many women this image is sour and oppressive and harsh. But that’s how it has been used, not how she is. She is not downtrodden. She is not oppressed. She is gifted, a leader, a business person, a philanthropist, strong, and hardworking. She is also fun-loving and tough and interesting. I would like to know her. I would like to BE her.

When I think about false expectations and limitations placed on me as a woman by secular culture and some parts of church culture I think of these women and how God used them in extraordinary ways. They were strong, gifted, intelligent, hard-working,  working in tandem with both women and men and great ministry partners to both genders. Their gifts and strengths did not take from the men around them, they worked in partnership for greater ministry.

I still feel the press of expectation to fit the mold of both secular and church culture. It’s not easy to feel that the way God has called and gifted you is unacceptable in some eyes. But ultimately, I am accountable to God for who he made me to be and to use these gifts, training, personality traits, which are enmeshed in this feminine representation of God’s image. Becoming crippled by other people’s expectations of what they think I should be makes me less effective in ministry and disingenuous to who God created me to be. He has created me to worship, love him and others, to serve, and to work, to enjoy, seek, and strive. His approval is all I need.

“…a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Honor her for all that her hands have done,

and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

Proverbs 31:30b-31

What do you need me for?

Sometimes I hate epiphanies. Usually because it means that there’s something I need to change or fix about myself or do. I know there are some people who love becoming more self-aware and epiphanies are something good and wonderful for them. And I too have had these experiences where you are struck by something you didn’t know before, either about you or someone you know and it’s great to think that you are more equipped than you were two seconds before.

The times in my life when I’ve been most excited about learning something that is potentially life and paradigm changing is when I’ve been struck by a new realization about God and his interaction with his people and the world. Today was not one of those instances. It did involve God, this newfound knowledge of mine, but it was more about me and my approach to God.

As I’ve been sharing a little about lately, I’m going through some internal changes and the desire for discipline has been settling upon me for a long time. One of the last vestiges of that is having to do with me physically. There has seemed to always be a disconnect in my head about the body as part of the triad, mind, body, and spirit that makes us up as human beings. These three are integrated to make the whole and lately I’ve been realizing that this is not a trinitarian relationship in my mind.

Looking back on my history, I see that somewhere along the line ingrained in my psyche is the idea that the body is lesser, to be used and sometimes abused for the sake of the mission and nothing else. Caring for the body, apart from basic  maintenance and upkeep, is indulgent and not holy-minded. The body is the vessel and therefore, in my head, detached from who I was spiritually, unless I take into account sins accomplished with the body that imprint on the mind and soul. I wonder how many people have this in the back of their mind, worried away in their subconscious, that the body is of lesser importance. Maybe it goes back to the Greek idea that the things of this world are flesh and the more desirable things are those of the mind and spirit apart from the flesh. It’s the flesh that gets us into trouble, after all, isn’t it?

So, with my body as a tool I was able to disassociate what I did with it, to some extent, for many years. I’m not speaking of certain sins, like sexual or abusive sins, but those sins that are not frowned upon in many Christian circles. I was using my body for permissible rebellion. I would rebel against all sorts of things by telling myself “don’t exercise, be kind to yourself and just relax” or “you’ve had a hard day, have the chocolate/chips/name your poison.” I wouldn’t classify myself as having an eating disorder but the more I delve into this process I realize that I was, at times, using food in a socially acceptable way as an idol.

I don’t worship food. But food was taking the place of God at times when I needed support or de-stressing, or just feeling like I needed a joy boost. A little chocolate or chips here and there wouldn’t hurt, would it?

My epiphany came as I was under directed meditation by a godly friend of mine. God and I started talking, mostly about the stressful week I had with my husband being away and taking care of 3 kids on my own. My eating habits had gone to pot. I realized that this was because I was seeking joy and relief and all of those emotions and directing it toward food instead of relying on God.

I had taken God out of my coping equation. When times were stressful or boring or just in need of a little joy, I would soldier on and carry on, making do and coping. All without God. As I lay in the silence of this God asked me a question.

“Then what do you need me for?”

There was my epiphany. In my independence and subterranean rebellion I had started to use God as a resource and not the source. God was someone I went to in order to pray for others, to get help, to get knowledge but I mostly just coped. You do, you know, when you don’t think that you really need God for everything, just for some things like salvation and forgiveness of sins.

What did I need God for? What is going on that I can’t just muddle my way through on my own.

God and I sat in that for a while, like those times in a relationship when one person has dropped a bomb on the other and you don’t know the next move or what you think or where to go. What did I need that my own muddling could not get me? Where do I fall short?

Admitting I fall short was and is the first step. Realizing that there is a place where my resources end and I still have to love people and care for kids and function. Where can I get bubbling over joy instead of settling for contented peace? Where can I get control over those habits that I can’t seem to break? How can I be less of the bad parts of me and more of the good?

That’s what I need God for. I struggled with him for a while because the word submit kept coming up and that sometimes leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.It does when you’ve been unfairly asked to do it because of something like gender. In place of that God gave me another word.

Seek

He told me to start seeking him. Seeking him in those moments of stress, of contentment, of boredom, of loneliness. Seek him and let him prove himself to me. I am not enough for me so I’m taking him up on his offer and there’s a tendril of hope growing inside me that I will become dependant on him. That I will see him in the everyday. That he will become my “fount of every blessing”. That I will seek and find him.

The Courage to be Served

I am on a journey. But this journey is not a linear one as I first thought. On my journey of trying to become more like God created me to be I thought I was doing pretty well. I had a plan. I had a direction. I had no idea.

I’ve started seeing a friend of mine, a Naturopathic Doctor, for some immunity issues I’ve been dealing with since the birth of my daughter a little over a year ago. Nothing serious, just a winter of seemingly endless colds and flus and everything that came around. I was uncomfortable with this process for a couple of reasons. It wasn’t that I did not trust my friend. She’s an amazing, godly woman and God is using her in great ways to change me and help me. It wasn’t that I’m uncomfortable with Naturopathic medicine, I’m a fan.

I’m uncomfortable with receiving. I’ve talked about this before and it’s not a new idea to me but I guess I didn’t really realize the depth of my discomfort. It reared its ugly head again during this process. I am going through a journey where I am called to rely on others to feed into me spiritually, physically, and emotionally and I am embarrassed and uncomfortable and…gunshy, I guess.

I don’t know about you but there have been times in my life where my vulnerabilities and imperfections made me disposable to some people. There have been times in my life when I haven’t lived up to expectations and been discarded or devalued. My value to those people was what I was able to give them, and when it was discovered that I needed filling, needed a listening ear or encouragement, they bailed.  This hasn’t been the only pattern in my life, by far. But there have been enough people, likely only enough to count on one hand, to make this an inner flinch for me. To need is to be less valuable. To need is to be less useful. To need means that you are not needed or wanted. Your use is measured by what you can give and give and give.

I’m an achiever and this has, in my head, determined my value to people for a long time. If my gifts, talents, education, skills, listening ear, information giving, shoulder to cry on can be of use, I felt I was doing my job. But, when I began this process and learned that for healing to occur I needed to be open to receive, it stopped my in my tracks.

I am used to the idea that we go to God for filling and being recharged and I have heard, as I’m sure many of you have, that God is the only filling we need. I think he is, to some extent, but the more I learn and listen to godly people the more I am beginning to think that some of the teaching I received in the past and some of my own interpretations are faulty.

I was reminded by my doctor friend that God uses others to help fill us. We are created for community, not just so that we can serve but also so we can be filled. I’m good with the serving part, not with the receiving part. Because, what if the balance is off? What if I’m too needy? What if I become a burden? Having others need me is fine, but heaven forbid I need from others.

But this isn’t how God designed me and isn’t how he designed the church. When I don’t accept help and healing and direction from others, for whatever good or noble reason, then I’m not fulfilling my function in the body of Christ. I’m not giving others opportunity to be used by God to speak into my life and I’m not letting God use other people to help me grow. Not only do I need to seek to serve other people, I need to be vulnerable enough to be served by others. This means I need to let them into the hard places, the messy places, the places that I don’t have figured out yet. The places of hurt to be healed, places of anger to be tempered, stubbornness to be made malleable. All of these things keep me from growing in Christ as I ought to be.

God uses other people to fill me and to help me grow. Sometimes the growth is painful. Sometimes the growth requires speaking truth into incidents in your past. Sometimes growth means letting other people tell you where you’re wrong, but also tell you where you’re right. It is selfish of me to not let the Church shape and mould me through other believers because if I’ve decided that I don’t need help or am not worthy of help then I’m not being refined to a person who is more able to serve God and be transformed by him.

It takes courage to let others help you because that means admitting that you are not perfect, are not always completely whole, are not a mean-lean-energizer-bunny-serving-machine, and that you need them just as much as they need you. What I’m discovering is that when you let others help you they are blessed. They feel of more value to you because you are making space for them to use their gifts and how God has created them to speak into your life. We all know how nice it is to be needed, we just sometimes forget to allow others that feeling.

Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Madonna Fix

Now I’m not particularly a melancholy person by nature but there are times when I’m a bit of a sad sack. I wander around feeling listless and bored and put upon, seeking something new, something different, something that will liven the spark of my seemingly mundane existence. It’s at times like these, and this is true confessions now, that I hearken back to days when life did not seem and endless round of runny noses, appointments, and paying bills.

Yes, the halcyon days of high school. Every once in a while when I’m feeling the boredom coming on a song pops into my head. Like so many people, hearing a song evokes times and places in me and I regress to the person I was then. Not total regression, where I could wear tights and a baggy t-shirt and be in style, but a longing for the excitement of the emotionally charged existence that was then.

Last night, when up much too late, this was the song.

Ah yes, the angst filled year of grade 9 where I had a crush on at least one grade 12 boy and felt the poignant loss of their leaving my life forever. This song was played at grad that year as I watched these young hopeful dreams walk out of my life.

Now, what, you may ask, was the reason for this walk down memory lane? Maybe it was seeing the list of potential grad exit songs on the board as I walked into a classroom to teach. Maybe it was seeing some of the teens who have been a big part of our life and ministry here getting ready to move on and out into the world. Maybe it was that late night chocolate bar, who can say?

Or maybe it was one of those instances where I’m feeling tired and worn and less excited about things in life than I usually am. Maybe it’s the longing for summer break and the hope of vacation. Maybe it’s a latent dislike of change as people around me who I’ve ministered with and to are moving to different ministries and life stages themselves.

I have never wanted to be one of those “18 till I die” people. Highschool was fun but now is much better. So why the glimpse back and desire for excitement? What am I missing?

How do you gain back what is lost, if even just temporarily? How do you gain back passion and zeal and energy? How do you gather it up, shake it off, and get back in it?

There are biblical examples that I love, Jesus taking time away to recharge and regroup, Elijah being told to just be, rest and restore. I love those things, the idea of sitting in peace and stillness, allowing yourself to be fulfilled and renewed. But what if you have those times and you come out of it restless and listening to mid-90’s Madonna?

I hope there is hope because well, there’s even a song about being stuck in the 90’s.

So, what do I do? There’s no hard and fast rule. The song tends to stay in my head for a few days. I’ll play it at home, in my car, let it run through my head as I plow through my day. The change doesn’t come upon me suddenly. It’s a gradual dawning that is its own remembering. I could be playing in the yard and look at the sun glistening on my daughter’s hair. I can see the gleeful pounding of sand by my son. I can take the moment and look, really look at my shoring husband in the dim light.

These present clear realities are juxtaposed with the ringing emotions associated with my past and they clash in that instant. I remember who I was then and I think of who I am now and I may grieve for loss or I may rejoice for what has come. But as I feel those emotions I begin to see the movement in my life. This movement is so intertwined with the decisions I’ve made, good and bad, the people who have come and gone in my life, and the ever-changing realities of my situation at different points in life.

And I begin to see. I begin to see God’s movement through my life. I begin to zoom out from the daily boredoms of dishes and routine and see the bigger picture of life and God and God in and through and around my life.The bigger picture is restored and I am grateful. I am grateful for the angst that could have been so much worse. I’m grateful for the peace and the light and the personhood of my children. I’m grateful that the husband of my youth is still the husband of my heart. I’m grateful for God’s faithfulness in my life and the lives that have intersected with mine.

My mom used to say that the cure for boredom was work. With all kudos to Mom, yes, it can be. But for me in the reality of my life the cure for boredom has to be a change in my perspective. I guess that boredom comes for me when God leaves the day-to-day of my life. When I am unintentional about Him, when I forget to see him in the little things as well as the big, when mission turns to duty and joy turns to pattern and obligation. That is when I lose heart and lost interest and lose the drive for the future in the memory of the past. When I disconnect from God I seek the has been instead of what could be.

So I guess the cure is not Madonna videos or reliving the past.  The remembering I need is the act of seeing God in my journey. Seeing him in his forgiveness and mercy, in the joy and the hardship. Seeing him all through my journey and the promise of the future.

Psalm 77: 10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:

the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”