Socks breed in my house. I find them everywhere. Crumpled up, scrunched up balls of worn and sad behind bathroom doors, under couches, in front of televisions. Socks, socks, Everywhere! Sometimes I pick them up unthinkingly and without notice. Sometimes I pick them up, left eye twitching, nostrils flared, fingers pinching and flared in my protest. Then there’s the pointed carrying of them to the laundry or flinging them up or down the stairs like a missile in the direction of the perpetrator’s bedroom. Socks are minor in the grand scheme of life and laundry. Whether or not my family picks up their socks shouldn’t affect my approach to them or to life. But socks can be representative. Socks can tip the scale on hidden and buried emotions that seethe underneath the surface. They can remind us of the little compounded slights and bigger issues that we experience in living life with other imperfect people. Because whether it’s at home with our families or interacting with our church family people can be hard to live with. It’s true. I’m hard to live with sometimes. I make mistakes, hurt people’s feelings, am insensitive at times and oblivious at others. And we feel like we have to just grit our teeth and bear it. Bear with people’s imperfections and the ‘I wouldn’t if I were them’ feelings that cause us to roll our eyes and sigh pointedly. And we tell ourselves that we’re dealing with imperfect people as we settle into our perfect feelings of self-satisfaction. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2 We can have more than resignation and bearing with one another. Paul speaks here of how we approach being in community with one another. What I like so much about this is that he doesn’t assume that people are perfect. He doesn’t say living with one another, communing with one another. He says bearing with one another. We bear each other’s burdens and we bear the things in others that burden us! But God wants more for us that just putting up with each other. He wants relationship and shared mission. And how do we do this amidst the physical and emotional ‘socks’? We love. We decide that we don’t just put up with people. We love them through the mist of their imperfections and see them, who God has made them to be and the dreams he has for them. Love makes bearing with others bearable. We don’t draw away like wounded animals when we are scraped raw, when others just don’t get what we do for them. We approach in love, hand outstretched and giving. But it’s hard, oh so hard. How do we love without the bitterness and judgement seeping in? Paul tells us this at the beginning of the verse. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient”. Because when we seek to be humble it means that we look at other people’s specks through the planks in our own eyes. And seek to be gentle when their specks do come to the surface of life and relationship. We love others with the full knowledge of our own imperfections and love them as we thirst to be loved, with gentleness and patience. So as I pick up endless socks I ask God to show me my own debitage of mistakes and my own dirty corners. And I acknowledge that others bear with me. And within this new perspective of our communal brokenness and healing journey, I ask God for the grace and patience to love others in their imperfect journey as they love me through mine.
Is it ok to admit there are parts of the Bible that discourage me?
Because when I look at the reality and balance of my own life and compare it to some of the hopes and dreams God has for me in the Bible, I get discouraged. Discouraged at the disconnect between my everyday and God’s forever.
Because there are parts of me that don’t reflect what God desires for me. I seem to have less faith, less joy, less love, less freedom than God wants to shower me with.
I look at the Fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 and see gaps in my love, joy, peace, patience (just ask my kids), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (just ask my resting heart rate and waistline). And as I look at these things, all good and wonderful characteristics that I want to exhibit and experience, I slump in my chair and huff back my hair.
So why, you may ask, would I want to do a blog series on something that feels insurmountable?
Because I like to wrestle. I like to wrestle with hard parts of the Bible because in them I see where I need the most growth.
Because I know my own secret and not so secret self that shows up when I least want it to. In times of stress, tiredness, places where lack of faith and lack of joy reign. And I’ve wrestled with them too long on my own.
Because as I lie in bed some mornings, determined that today is the day for more joy, more peace, more patience, more love, I realize that all the other days that started the same didn’t get me much further.
Because I have it wrong.
The Galatians, who Paul wrote to about these Fruits of the Spirit, fell into the same trap I do. They were living the lie that if they just tried harder, learned more, kept a tighter reign, then the sorries would be less and they would inch forward slowly into being people who pleased God.
But they were trapped. Trapped in the cycle of not being able to do it on their own, but believing this was what they had to do to please God.
We can get trapped in the idea that the Fruits of the Spirit are a spiritual end game that we need to attain and then God will be pleased with us. But this is backward.
We can become trapped in a cycle of hopelessness and weariness when what God desires for us is Freedom.
Because the Fruits of the Spirit aren’t the gold star of our spirituality.
The Fruits of the Spirit represent the freedom we can have when we rely on Christ and the Holy Spirit to help us smooth the rough edges of our life.
When we allow the Holy Spirit to direct us, to guide our decisions and our path, then we begin to experience true freedom.
Freedom from those behaviours that crush us. Filling the gaps with physical and chemical love that isn’t love, stepping on others in pursuit of praise and value, stirring the pot in our righteous indignation.
Missing God in the midst of searching for meaning.
What would it look like to feel the Holy Spirit’s enabling? To take baby steps that don’t turn into backslides? To experience freedom where there once was frustration and fear?
I want more. More of God’s Spirit in my life to change and mould my clay spirit.
More hope, love, peace, patience, joy.
More fruit and less guilt.
What a gift God offers to us! Freedom in place of slavery to my own limits and sin.
We don’t need to be discouraged by these Fruit-filled dreams God has for us. Because he knows we can’t do this under our own determination and grace.
His life-giving, life-changing gift is his Spirit in us, guiding and changing, illuminating and peace-giving.
At this time of year where the pressure to love and be loved is all around us, we have one of three choices. Embrace, ignore, or boycott. Valentines Day is a polarizing holiday. People either love the idea of celebrating love or hate the idea of expressing love being forced on them.
“Why not celebrate love, it’s the greatest gift” verses “Why do I need a day to celebrate love? I celebrate it every day.”
Maybe it’s the empty feeling that can come after Valentines Day. The flowers fade, chocolates are eaten, harmony is shattered by the next straw that breaks the camel’s relationship back.
Maybe it’s the ache that comes from feeling less love than our thirsty hearts seem to require.
One day of love cannot make up for years of heartache.
One day of loneliness can remind us of all the other lonely days that come before and after.
All of us were created to love and be loved. It isn’t a desire that is satisfied in one day.
God created us for intimacy. Intimacy with him and intimacy with each other.
He created us to remain in love. His love.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.” John 15:9 NLT
What does it look like to remain in God’s love?
To have the kind of intimacy with him that weathers all storms, all our tantrums, the times when we’re silent before him in awe or resentment.
This is what he offers to us.
John 15 shows us that this kind of love is fruitful, refining, and intimate.
When we remain in his love we see him as the source that sustains us. He is the vine to our branches. All of the fruit in our relationships, ministry, family, comes from him as our source. When we rely on him we develop those fruits of the Spirit that allow us to shower peace, patience, joy, self-control, so many good things into our relationships and lives.
Because remaining in God’s love doesn’t allow us to remain as we are.
As we seek his truth, thorny parts of us are lovingly brought to light and pruned, releasing the new growth in us to bask in his light.
By internalizing his words in the Bible, letting his truth sink down deep into us, we begin to see the lies that we believe about ourselves that separate us from him. Lies that say we’re not good enough, wise enough, whole enough to have the love of the holy God.
When light shines in these dark places, we realize that we can seek his face and bask in his presence. We can talk to him, ask him to work in us and through us to bring the work of his heart to the world.
And as this heart change comes, as we desire more and more to do his will and obey his commands we begin to experience joy that is not dependant on our circumstances. Joy that is exuberant and outpouring. An overflowing joy.
This kind of joy flows out to others. As we experience and remain in Jesus’s love we begin to be able to love others as he commanded. To love others with the same grace and intimacy that he loved us, as his father loved him. A holy, joyful, intimate, grace-filled love.
It’s the kind of love that surpasses both skepticism and hype. A deep soul, deep-seated love.
The average day that people give up their New Year’s resolutions is January 24. And only about 8% will see those resolutions through to fulfillment. That’s discouraging and encouraging at the same time.
It’s encouraging to think that I’m not the only one who struggles with sticking to my ideas for personal reform. But it’s also discouraging because how can we hope to follow through when it seems we’re doomed to fail at the beginning.
We start out with the best intentions. I’m going to eat/sleep/play/work better. I’m going to be more loving/cheerful/engaged/patient and less snarly/detached/angry. And we make plans and we make charts and we print out encouraging mantras to go on sticky notes. We have hope.
And things are going well. We ate salad, played with our kids, spent less electronic time. But then we don’t. And we give up.
These are struggles so many of us feel, this desire to see things in us change and the difficulty of seeing it through to completion.
How much more does this happen when we look deep inside ourselves to how we’re doing spiritually. When I look at myself I see that this is where the deepest desire and need for change rests.
Those surface issues of health, time spent, dependence on the material rather than God, all of these reflect things that are going on inside me at a deep and spiritual level.
And I try so hard. I want to be different. So I resolve and I read and I pray and I do alright and I think I have it all figured out and then…
My vision blurs and I fall off course.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? Galatians 5:7
What does set us off course? Like an athlete running toward the finish line who is blindsided and cut off, who tumbles to the ground and looks up, reeling and confused.
What got in front of my face and stopped me from seeing Jesus?
Maybe it was the idea that I could have just one brownie and don’t I deserve a treat?
Maybe it was being alone in front of the computer screen and thinking, “Who does this really hurt?”
Maybe it’s throwing down our Bible in frustration and thinking,“What does it matter anyway? God’s not listening.”
Maybe it’s looking at that other person and thinking, “But it’s a natural part of being human and it’s my choice.”
Maybe it’s that lie, that half-truth, that shrinking in our seat when we should have been standing up for something right.
Who cut in on you?
We can be deceived. Just as Adam and Eve were told whispered half-truths about themselves and God, we can get caught up in the lies that whisper in our head.
Lies that say we aren’t worth health and healing.
Lies that say God isn’t close and doesn’t care.
Lies that preach self-indulgence over self-discipline.
Lies that say we and what we do don’t matter.
That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. Galatians 5:8
Sometimes I get caught in the lie that Jesus is testing me and I need to prove my worthiness to him by working hard enough and being good enough. That these struggles are what I need to overcome to be closer to him.
But it’s backwards. Jesus doesn’t seek my failure in these struggles I have. He wants to come alongside me, showering me with grace and stamina and courage that can only come in supernatural supply from his hands.
By seeking his truth in the Bible and spending time with him I can start to see what he thinks about me. We are all worth immeasurably more to God than we can ever imagine.
And because of his love and grace to us, he wants to come alongside us as we journey towards who he created us to be. He can work in us and through us in ways that we could never fathom.
Jesus surrounds us with the shield of his love and truth and when we are cut off he grabs us and guides our faltering footsteps. He calls us forward into change and wholeness through his grace.
If you were to look under my couch right now, you’d see nothing. No Lego, no dust bunnies, no dried orange peels where my son has stashed them. Because today was one of those days where I seemed to see all the out-of-the-way dirty places in my house. And I attacked!
With a frenzy that caused my two younger children to clear out and make a tent fortress (to keep them in or me out, I’m not sure), I vacuumed and scrubbed and knelt and stretched and groped about under furniture to get those last little bits of filth.
This is not a regular mindset or state of being for me. I don’t rigorously clean my house to perfection every day. My house holds not only me but four other people, at least half of whom are big picture rather than detail cleaners. I long for little house fairies who owe me a huge favour to come into my house and clean it nightly to spotlessness.
And as I was scrubbing under my dishwasher I was thinking, “Who really cares? Who’s actually going to look under my dishwasher and judge me for it?”. But I knew. Once I had seen the dirt, I couldn’t ignore it.
Spiritually we all have our dirt. Dirt that nobody sees or suspects.
But we know.
We know those places in our lives, those dark and dingy places that if ever saw the light of day would be our undoing.
And we’re good at hiding the dirt. Just like I scoot crumbs under my kitchen counter with my foot as I prepare tea for friends, I deflect attention from my spiritual weaknesses.
But these hidden sins aren’t hidden from God.
God, with his all-knowing and all loving eye, sees our mess. He sees the crumbs of failure, the stains of addiction, the smears of hypocrisy.
And he doesn’t condemn us. What he offers to do is shed light into those dark, dirty places. He offers to uncover the mess and stand beside us as we acknowledge this hidden world of ours.
And he offers cleanness. He offers to take that cherished and hated mess and wipe it clean, bring us to better than new.
King David knew secret sin. He knew what it meant to try to hide the mess only to have it come to light.
But he also knew his God. He knew that by confessing his sin and bringing it before God he could begin the journey to health and wholeness.
“Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin…
Purify me from my sins,[c] and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:1-2, 7
Others may not see this deep cleaning that’s going on inside of you but they may sense something’s different. Just like people may not know I vacuumed under my couch but to me the house feels different. There is a different feel in the air. Just like throwing open the windows after a spring cleaning the fresh breeze of God’s Spirit and work in your life will be tangible.
And once you start this deep spiritual cleaning it’s very hard to stop. We start to see other places that need God’s hand and we want them clean too.
Then all of a sudden you look up and realize that you’ve been gradually going through a spiritual cleaning spree.
Life feels different because God’s hand is at work. We start to feel that restored joy and willing spirit that David spoke about (Psalm 51:12).
And the dark deep down dirty places become stories we tell about God’s work in our lives, not places of hidden shame.
It seems like I spend the majority of my day navigating my kids through daily life. The do’s and don’ts of what should go in your mouth, your hair, the toilet. How to interact with strangers, friends, teachers, adults and other kids. How to and how not to interact with their world.
There’s so much that I try to input into their lives and yet, they teach me so many things. Patience, the joy of rediscovered play, how to use any winter gear as a projectile. So many things.
And as I’m digging deeper into teaching them about God, their questions and comments turn the tables and shed light on my own prayer experiences.
Some of it is funny, like how they’re working out that God is with us but we can’t see him.
Younger Sister: “Come play with me!???!!!”.
Older Brother “I don’t want to. God will play with you”.
Younger Sister “But he’s not a kid here right now!”
And some of it gives me ideas about myself and my prayer life.
1.) Prayer ruts happen very easily
If you’ve ever tried to get your children to pray outside their standard “ThankyouGodforthiswonderfulfoodAmen” pre-meal prayer, you know what I mean. And this is true for adults as well. We can so easily get into a rut in our prayer life.
It’s like exercise. If we always pray how we’ve always prayed, we start to believe that prayer doesn’t do anything. Prayer is a growing process. If we learn from others and incorporate some of their prayer practices, we may discover new ways of interacting with God.
2.) Prayer can leave you with more questions than answers.
Children seem to be so much more comfortable with this than I am. A friend of mine who teaches and pastors children once said that teaching children some of the difficult things about God is easier than teaching adults. Children are constantly learning and encountering things they don’t understand. And they’re ok with it. It’s the adults that have the trouble.
How often have I asked God to intervene in a pressing situation or need and been frustrated because I didn’t see immediate results. My kids are much more patient in prayer than I am. They aren’t thrown off by lack of answers from God. They just shrug and figure there’s something going on that they don’t understand.
And in those hard situations where the answer wasn’t what they’d hope, they just dig in deeper and keep asking why. And they aren’t satisfied with platitudes. Sometimes I give up too easily when I should hold in tighter to God.
3.) Prayer in real life is an ongoing conversation.
When I pray with my children at night, be they toddlers or pre-teens, their brains springboard back and forth between the prayer and what’s going on around them.
Concentrated and focussed prayer times are important but so is praying continually. As I try to focus on God at various points in my day, it starts to feel like a conversation with a close companion. Times of silence, times of telling them what I see and experience, times of listening.
4.) Sometimes we tell God what we think he wants to hear rather than what we’re really feeling.
One of my sons was praying about his frustrations with his brother. As he prayed I saw him start to back pedal about what he was feeling and try to say what would sound best. I stopped him and encouraged him to let God know how he was feeling.
God wants to meet us where we are. Where our emotions, hopes and desires truly lie. And when we tell God what we think he wants to hear we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience intimacy with him that spoken and admitted truth brings.
5.) Prayers prayed in public can be used as a weapon or an encouragement.
One of the best things I can do in prayer for my children is thank God for them when we pray together. Encouraging each other through our words, through our prayers offered in the presence of and on behalf of another person is a great gift.
And nothing takes the wind out of a child’s sails than hearing disciplinary words through prayer. It takes the wind out of my sails too. Having someone recite the things wrong with me under the guise of prayer cuts deeply. Prayer on another’s behalf is intended to bring hope and healing, not despair and woundedness.
My children have shown me so much about prayer. As I look around me I see so many other relationships that teach me mindful prayer. This month I’m hoping to explore this more deeply.
Who has shown you new aspects of prayer? I can’t wait to learn from you as well!