No ‘Ifs’

At 24, I’m too young, perhaps, to have many regrets. But there are times — especially when things aren’t going as I perfectly planned — that I look back and wonder, “Did I do the right thing there? Say the right thing? What if I had only….?”

To a certain extent, I suppose it’s human nature to look back, to wonder, and to live in the shadow of past decisions. But for me, sometimes it’s more than wondering — it’s anxiety provoking as I wonder if my life would be better if I had only done or said something differently.

Over the years, I have come to love this quote from Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place:
     There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s kingdom. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place.

As Christians, we can have a special kind of peace about the past — a peace knowing that it’s not all up to us, that we aren’t in control (and never were), and that as we seek to know and follow God’s will, He won’t lead us astray. Scripture promises that as we make decisions, “whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” (Isa. 30:21). Sure, we’re flawed — we say the wrong thing, we sometimes make decisions for the wrong reasons. But we also serve a sovereign God who “will not let your foot slip.” (Ps. 121:3). It’s this truth that allows us to look at the past and be content in the present.

Life will not always be the best I can imagine…but I’m living in the center of God’s will. And that’s the best place to be.

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A New Chapter

This week, I start law school. chapter-oneIt’s been something that I’ve been looking forward to and planning on for years, but now it’s here and I’m very aware of the fact that, starting on Monday, I’m turning the page into a new chapter of my life. The reality of it is settling in: I’m about to take on a new schedule, a new school, new friends, and in many ways, a new life.

I’m not much of a fan of change. I like things “settling in” and just getting used to the way things are. But, I guess we all need new chapters in life. Growth doesn’t come through comfort. If my professors this year let me spend a year in the same chapter of my textbooks, I might get very comfortable with the idea of what is considered to be an “intentional harm,” but I wouldn’t learn much about the subject as a whole and I’d end up as a pretty incompetent lawyer. I think it’s the same way with life and faith.

Looking back over even the last ten years, I can see how God worked uniquely in my life to draw me closer to Him and build my faith through each chapter that He opened and closed, whether it was high school volleyball, my college decision, my freshman year, or my first job. Jumping from chapter to chapter was uncomfortable, worrisome, and often difficult, yet each place taught me things and grew me in ways that I never could have otherwise had He not brought me through season after season.

And now it’s time for a new chapter: law school. It’ll be a change – a significant adjustment at times – and yet, amid the myriad of “what if’s” and “how am I’s” running through my mind, there’s an excitement there; not just an excitement about all the cases and legal concepts I’m going to study, but an excitement over how God is going to work through this chapter to pull me from my comfortable faith into a faith that is newly challenged and built up in ways that I can’t even imagine.

I Carried You…and Still Am.

photoI sat at my desk, anxiously twisting the ring on my right hand, with a nervous knot in my stomach. I couldn’t single out one particular thing that I was stressing about…it was just, everything. To say that December has been stressful would be an understatement. In the span of a week, it felt like my whole world had flipped around, and I just didn’t know how much I could deal with at once. Between two weekends, I’d moved out of my townhouse, taken a final, written a paper, interviewed for a new job, resigned from my old job, and said goodbye to good friends (including my boyfriend) for the semester – all just a week after recovering from oral surgery and all just a few days before Christmas. I’d been twisting my ring so hard, that it started to hurt. Slipping it off my finger, I looked at the words inscribed inside: “I carried you.”

I’ve worn that ring every day for months now. For me, it symbolizes three years of my life – a reminder that in the hardest and darkest days I’d ever experienced, my heavenly Father still carried me through it, even when I couldn’t see His “footprints.” See, for three years in college, I’d battled anorexia – leading to severe depression and isolation. Fear controlled my life and I couldn’t function normally – for me, I was simply happy to make it through the day until the time when I could justify going to bed.

Due to God’s grace and miraculous healing, I’ve spent the last year of my life healed and free from the paralyzing fear. I’ve been able to resume activities I never thought I would again without once feeling afraid. And looking back, I’ve begun to see that even in the moments when I felt most alone – most abandoned by God – He not only was present, He was sustaining me and strengthening me throughout my struggles. And that’s why I wear the ring.

Just over a year ago, I would have given anything to have an hour of the life I have right now – just an hour without fear and isolation. And yet, although God healed me, “restored my life from the pit,” and blessed me beyond my wildest dreams, I still sat in my office weighed down with worry and stress. In the moment, it was so easy to forget what God had done in my life, whether it was His sustaining grace in the dark, or His restorative blessings this year. The only thing I could think about was the here and now, and the problems facing me today.

But looking back, I’ve been given a refreshed perspective. If God could carry me through the worst years of my life, can’t he carry me through a stressful month? Or – on an even greater scale – if God would die for me, is there anything He won’t do for me (Rom. 8:32)? It’s so easy to forget, but so important to remember.  He’s carried me before – He’s not about to stop now.

Fickle Feelings

It was the best of days; it was the worst of days. I thought I was on top of the world. Within 14 hours, I had successfully managed to make it through my first Mock Trial round, survived my second midterm of the semester, and actually understood what the teacher was talking about in Physics class! And did I mention that the fall weather outside was beyond gorgeous? With no major assignments due for another six days, I was home free and walking on air! In that single moment, I was so happy that I was just thanking God that I was still alive (and yes, that is always in question during midterm season) and that He loved me.

Fast-forward exactly one-hour. There I was, all ready to enjoy an afternoon free from academic responsibility when…I locked my keys in my trunk while at the grocery store. I was stranded outside of Harris Teeter which no keys and no friends around to help me get to them. As I pulled out my cell phone to ask my mom what on earth I should do. Among my racing thoughts as I tried to think of solutions was one nagging question, God…why’d you let me do that?? Don’t you love me? Don’t you see that’s REALLY not what I needed right now?

Three hours and one visit from AAA later, I was back in my room, sitting down to write, well, this blog post actually. And even as I wrote the above words, I started feeling sick…really sick. What I thought was originally a bout of food poisoning turned into a 3-month illness that ended in a missed week and a half of classes, six doctors visits, and too many gross tasting medicines. Once again, as I lay in my bed miserable, I questioned God’s love… Seriously God? Was this REALLY necessary?

Looking back now, it’s funny. In a matter of hours, I went from being absolutely convinced of God’s love for me to wondering where on earth He was when I needed Him. One minute I could see Him and all of the blessings He had given me, the next I felt abandoned and alone.

All too often, my memory of God’s faithfulness and love is very short. It’s so easy to make God in my image and to project my faithlessness on Him. My emotions and feelings change, so I tend to think that God’s feelings of love toward me are changeable too.

But God isn’t like that. The beautiful thing about the God we serve is that He is not only loving, He is immutable. This means that not only does He love us, but He is never changing His mind about us. His feelings are consistent and not fluctuating and He never forgets to be faithful.

A.W. Tozer once said in The Knowledge of the Holy that God “feels toward His creatures exactly as He did when He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to die for mankind.” That example of divine love – the apex of human history and paradigm of all love before and since  – is the same love that I experience from my Father in heaven at any given moment in any given day.

From day to day, even throughout the day, our circumstances change and our feelings are fickle. One moment the world is bright and we’re praising God; the next moment we can be frustrated by inconvenience or miserable in sickness. But no matter what we feel, God is faithful and isn’t changing…His steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136).

Distorted Vision

It hadn’t been a great day. Already feeling down and struggling against thoughts of inadequacy and hopelessness, I just wanted to get to class and drown myself in the Federalist Papers and Descartes, forgetting all my problems. But, as I started to pull out of the garage, I heard a sound I really didn’t want to hear right then…a loud crack. Slamming on the breaks, I warily climbed out of the car and, sure enough, my side mirror lay cracked and in pieces on the ground. Feeling even worse and descending deeper into depression, I picked up the mirror and looked at my reflection. Broken, shattered, and distorted, my face stared back at me.

Later, I couldn’t forget that reflection. As I thought about it, that mirror seemed to be a perfect metaphor for my view of my life at the moment. Distorted. Broken. Flawed. Struggling for years with extreme levels of perfectionism, I looked at how others always seemed to have everything together – they had perfect friendships, perfect looks, perfect relationships, perfect success in everything they put their minds and efforts towards. But then looking at myself, I could only see my reflection with cracks, flaws, and imperfections. My reflection told me that my life was broken and worth as much as that side mirror in my hands…nothing.

I knew my vision of my life was distorted, just as that mirror where “objects are closer than they appear” was. But it was the only vision I had…the only reflection I could hold in my hands. I found myself wishing for a moment, just one moment, that God would take my broken vision, repair it, and make it whole again so that I could see myself through His eyes as I really am.

My vision told me I was failing. But I knew Scripture told me I was valued in God’s sight. Why couldn’t I see it? Why couldn’t He just give me a glimpse?…

…but He did. What I failed to realize in that moment was the truth that, beyond God’s verbal affirmations of my worth throughout Scripture, He gave me more than a glimpse. He gave me a clear picture of my value to Him one day over two thousand years before I was even born. Did I want to see my value in God’s eyes? I could find it at the cross.

The cross provides the visual confirmation that – outside of everything I could do – God chose to value me. To Him, I was worth the very sacrifice of His Son for my sins. To Him, I was worth all the suffering, all the pain, and all the sorrow. The cross was the proof I so desperately yearned for.

I wasn’t looking in the right place for the proper reflection. Looking through a broken and shattered vision – my own vision – I couldn’t see the truth. But God has given me access to His vision of me – His perspective on who I am in His eyes. I can’t find it in broken mirrors…only in His broken body on the cross.

When the Storm is Calmed

I flipped through my prayer journal the other day. For several years now, that journal has held the silent whispers and painfully honest cries of a weary, confused, and, at times, broken heart. As I began to read these old prayers, there was no pattern – no rhyme or reason – to the dates scratched in the upper right corner of each page. They would be written in clumps. Some pages held prayers written several days in a row, then the next set would be written some weeks or months later. But there was one constant: on nearly every page, a tear drop smudged the careful writing. These were prayers written in the middle of life’s storms.

As I read, I marveled at how many of them I could now see God had so faithfully answered. He had given me peace in my fears, joy in my sorrow, healing in my sickness, and strength in my greatest weakness. But as I turned page after page, I started to get the sense that I was missing something. The pages continued to be covered with pleas and questions. The writing was still marred by tears. The dates remained staggered. Where were the prayers of gratitude, the expressions of joy and worship, the record of the answers to prayers? Where were the pages that recorded the good weeks – the ones where there were no sleepless nights, conflicts, or worries? What happened after God calmed life’s raging wind and waves?

To be honest…I’m not sure. Perhaps the prayers didn’t seem as urgent or important, certainly not worth the time it takes to pull out my notebook, find a pen, and record my feelings of joy or thankfulness. It’s possible that such prayers were more spontaneous, less articulated than the written ones. But maybe I was just distracted by all the things that I was enjoying that God and all He had done just slipped from my mind.

Sometimes I think it’s little wonder that God seems to allow storms to regularly enter our lives. Though some storms cause us to question or doubt God, His goodness, and His love, we acknowledge Him in the storm. When the disciples faced the wind and the waves in Matthew 8, they cried out, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” When Peter became afraid of the waves even as he walked on water, he shouted, “Lord, save me!” As Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “If you will not come running, He will make you come limping.” In the storm, we recognize that God is God, that He is in control, that He holds the power to save us.

But what do we do when the storm is calmed? Do we turn our backs on the God who just delivered us? Does He become an afterthought?  Do we lose the urgency of our prayers, the yearning for relationship with our Savior, the craving to feel the comfort of our Father?

For me, I think this happens much too frequently. I can treat God like a bandage or a bottle of medicine. But He is our loving Father, our Creator, our God. He is not someone we only turn to in times of pain or difficulty, like a doctor or a serviceman. He is one with whom we are to have the deepest and truest relationship – a relationship that is only developed as we continually speak with Him, rely on Him, and study His Word.

Over the years, I have learned to cry out to God in my storm; likewise, I need to more faithfully seek Him with praise and thankfulness in the sunlight.

Hope for the Type-A Christian: A Relationship, Not a Ratio

There is something wonderful about coming home again after being away at college. It’s not just that I get the chance to finally catch up on sleep or that I get to eat home-cooked meals that are a million times better than cafeteria food. It’s that I’m surrounded by people who know me so thoroughly, I can say we’re having “brown stuff with white rice” for dinner and they know I mean stir-fry or I can say “Nice….sweater” and they know I’m quoting one of our favorite movies. Home is the place where I don’t need to explain myself or spell out exactly what I mean.

Perhaps such a relationship is the answer to one of the inevitable questions from our discussion of a Christian’s work and leisure: if we accept that God has good purposes in both work and leisure, at different times for different reasons, what is the right balance between the two? How are individuals supposed to know when it is time to rest and when it is time to work? Where does one draw the line between the two so that it is clear when it is time to be still and when it is time to be about God’s work?

This question is one of the most frustrating parts of the story of Mary and Martha for Christians – particularly the Marthas in the Church. Martha was only doing what God had commanded her to do – she was using her gifts and talents to serve the Lord. Mary, likewise, was fulfilling Scripture’s command to “be still and know.” It seems, then, that both of the sisters were operating according to God’s instructions.

But, Mary was praised for her actions, whereas Martha was gently rebuked. Clearly what Martha was doing was not wrong since she was obeying God’s commandments to be hospitable. Instead, Martha’s mistake seems to have been simply choosing the wrong way of obeying God in that moment. This, therefore, raises the question…how did Mary know that it was time to be still?

Well, first, it’s important to look at what it was that Jesus singled out in commending Mary.   He said, “Mary has chosen the better portion.” This “better portion” meant that Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from Him, choosing to fellowship with God in Jesus, and expressing an attitude of dependence upon her Lord. Mary’s behavior was not merely that of a curious bystander, but of a disciple of Jesus – one who was attentive to Christ’s voice and positioned to be continually hearing.

This, perhaps, then is the key to truly cultivating a biblical perspective: the sanctified Christian is called not to a specific ratio between serving and resting, but instead to a disciple’s relationship with God. Just like my family knows me, my wants, my needs, my expressions without my saying a word, developing such a relationship with our Father in heaven allows us to understand what He is calling us to do in any given moment…even without ratios or rules.

Christ’s redemptive work completely changed the way in which we gain access to, and enjoy a relationship with, God. Religion was no longer simply about fulfilling outward obligations – whether those obligations were service or sacrifice. In fact, simply observing religious rules of labor and leisure were directly condemned by Christ during His ministry on earth. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not about adding new duties or obligations. It was about freeing believers from the tyranny of sin and the Law and opening free relational access to the Father.

What, then, does this mean for the Type-A Christian? It means that Christians are freed from their former obligations, their guilt and condemnation for rest, and from their slavery to productivity. There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1-2). Instead, a Christian’s theology of work and rest should be viewed in the context of a relationship with God the Father.

This relationship, this knowing of God – His desires and His pleasures – allows Christians to walk moment by moment in what God is calling them to do. Like Mary, Christians – no matter what their personality type – are called to study God, to learn to walk in His ways, to know Him. In doing so, Christians learn to walk in God’s freedom – free to work diligently, without condemnation, out of love for God, yet free to hear and observe God’s command to rest.

Just as God calls Christians to different forms of work, there may not be a one-size-fits-all model for Christians to follow for a work-to-rest ratio. However, a disciple of Christ needs no pattern other than God’s Word, His voice, and His moment-by-moment direction. Freed from the works-based obligations of the Law, freed from condemnation of rest and leisure, freed to walk hand-in-hand with God, the Type-A Christian finds a message of hope in the Bible: Christianity is not about a résumé of feats, it is about a relationship with the Father. 

Hope for the Type-A Christian (Series Introduction)
Three Myths (Part I)
Like Father, Like Daughter (Part II)
The Frustration of Unproductivity (Part III)
All Work and No Play? (Part IV)