Shame and Shoulds

From my 2011 Journal. There are certain words, facial expressions, and people’s attitudes that shut me down. One of them is “You should or shouldn’t . . .” My instant response is to go on the defense: “Why should I?” or “Why shouldn’t I?” That self-protective defiant attitude covers timidity to be who I was created to be.

shameI may refuse to listen to your words because they heap shame on me, but I find it’s an uphill battle to sever the ties with them. I am determined to climb this mountain even if I have to do it alone, but the weariness of the battle gets to me.

Jesus says, “Level ground would have been easier, but mountain climbing shows what you’re made of and tests your endurance and strengthens your muscles and heart. Not a bad thing. Keep climbing!” And eventually I am able to see your words for what they are—your belief system, not mine.

I’m reading Unlocking Your Family Patterns by Cloud, Townsend, Carter, and Henslin. I identify with the chapter “Learning to Achieve Adulthood.” The premise is that as children, we always feel “one-down” to adults. Growing up means coming to the place in life where we feel “equal” or “even.” My own shoulds and shaming words or posture are my attempt to feel “one-up.”

Whether your words or mine, I can turn those “shoulds” to “coulds.”

  • I should be praying more = I could be praying more.
  • I should be more available = I could be more available.
  • I should clean my house today = I could clean house today (or not!).

I’m ready to get rid of these echoes in my mind and heart. No longer will I hide my true self to protect me from your words or deeds. I can graciously and lovingly place them back on you and stand firm in what God created me to be—free of shame and life-sucking rules.

What shame messages are you battling to erase?

 

Food—It Does a Body Good

I know someone who analyzes every bite that goes into her mouth. She obsesses over fat and sugar and red meat and raw vegetables. I wonder if she’ll live any longer or have a better quality of life as a result? I doubt it. She’s riddled with fears and physical and emotional pain.

I remember my mother commenting on the food fads in American each time we came home on furlough: one year it was sugar-free, then fat-free, and now it’s gluten-free. One year we were informed that we should eat potato skins to get the most nutrients, and the next time we were admonished to pitch them because of all the toxins. At one time egg yolks were verboten, and now it’s acceptable. Will someone please make up their mind!

My mother taught me to have moderation and balance in all things. It doesn’t mean I’m totally and perfectly moderate in my eating habits. I just don’t worry too much if I eat a piece of sugar occasionally or enjoy a steak now and then. God gave us food to enjoy, and as long as we don’t make food our god, I think we can relax and live with an eye to the eternal.

Describe your relationship with food.potatoes

Sing with Me

Singing

From my 2008 Journal. You know what I miss? The focus of music in some churches has shifted from the sound of the congregation’s voices blending in harmony under the leadership of a song leader or musician—to a group of performers on stage. Now I know they’re not called “performers” and I know that’s not their intention, but . . . I personally find it a little distracting to watch what’s happening on stage. Critiquing performance is my natural tendency instead of focusing inward and upward. I know that my focus needs to be on God, and I know that I can become distracted by any number of things—so sometimes I just have to shut my eyes during worship.

I also acknowledge that the temptation with singing old familiar hymns led by a choir director is to sing with the lips and not from the heart. I get that. I know it’s not what’s happening on the stage that counts, but what’s in my heart. But certain environments are just more conducive to worship for me than others. We recently visited a liturgical church where the organist, hidden out of sight, led the congregational singing. I could hear my own voice blending in harmony with the voices around me. I found the experience quite refreshing.

Okay, I’ve said my piece. Now let’s sing!

The People’s Choice Award

KingLike a child begging a parent for candy before dinner, I wonder if there are times when we beg too hard for what we want, and God gives it to us—but it’s not for our best. Better to examine our hearts, motives and emotions to discover why we’re begging for something. Better to ask, “according to God’s will” and from a heart of peace that is aligned with what God has predetermined is best for us or our loved one.

Once more, just before the public declaration of God’s choosing, the prophet Samuel warned the people of their folly in desiring a king (I Samuel 12). It’s like the Israelites begging for meat in the wilderness: God answered their prayers, but then they suffered the consequences.

So why did the people want a king? “To be like the other nations” it says in one place. But verse 12 gives us more insight:

But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me [Sam], “No, we want a king to rule over us”—even though the Lord your God was your king (NIV).

Their folly began with bending to the culture, followed by fear of the enemy, which led to stubbornness and rebellion against God.

What gives me hope is that even after God granted their request for a king, He still gave them a second chance to do right.

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! (v. 14). [But IF the opposite is true, watch out!]

Even when we sin and foolishly ask for something that’s not good for us, God can still redeem the situation—IF we repent.

Sibling Rivalry

sibling rivalry

Yes, this was staged by my grandsons. They are actually perfect little angels, of course.

Every evening after supper, my dad would lead us in family devotions. After reading a portion of Scripture, each person, starting with the youngest, was expected to say a prayer. Too young, perhaps, to come up with my own, Dad would prompt me: “Help me not to fight with Grace Anne and Paul!” Thankfully, any sibling conflicts we had as children have long been resolved and forgotten, and we three sibs feel only love and adoration for each other today. But not every family is so fortunate.

The famous David and Goliath story (I Samuel 17:29) begins with David’s dad Jesse sending him to the Philistine battleground with food and supplies for his older brothers. David arrives at the site, sees Goliath, and starts asking questions. Eliab, David’s oldest brother, gets angry and attacks him verbally, sarcastically. And David responds with, “What have I done now? Was it not a harmless question?”

You wonder how long this sibling conflict has been going on. We can only imagine, but I suspect that Eliab is sore that David got anointed king instead of him, the firstborn. There’s hurt, pride, and jealousy.

And David? It’s not his fault that he’s been chosen by God. It’s inevitable, it seems, that others will criticize, put down, and try to discourage God’s anointed one. But David did not take pride in his own strength; instead he gave the credit to God: The LORD delivered me from the bear and the lion . . . and He will deliver me from this Philistine.

The Result:  God replaced the curses of his big brother with the blessings of a new and better brother:  Jonathan.

It’s interesting to note that after David flees from King Saul, his family (including his brothers), hear of it and come to him. I wonder what Eliab thinks of him now? And how will he feel when David becomes his ruler?

Do you have a sibling (or a sibling in the Lord) who has shunned you, picked on you, or criticized you?  Or maybe you’re jealous that your sister or brother got all the attention, good looks, and talents. How do you respond?

PRAYERS and PRAY-ERS

From my 2011 journal. Yesterday I heard a report about a group prayer session for someone who is very sick with cancer. The reporter mentioned how a lady in the group could really pray—she really connected with God, a real prayer warrior. My reaction was multi-faceted:  I’d like to be like that; I’m not like that; I wonder what pain she’s been through; I wonder what her temperament type is.

In my mind, I saw a visual of this prayer warrior lady piloting a large ship while, in contrast, my prayers were akin to clinging onto the side of the vessel, just going along for the ride.

When I talked to God about it, He said to let go and drop into the water. Really?! Ok . . . so I did . . . and found I didn’t drown as expected because the water was shallow enough to wade in. Then He told me to go back to the dry land and enjoy watching the monkeys and playing on the beach, and just spend time with Him. That’s when I noticed the prayer warrior lady was sailing around and around the island, keeping the bad things away from the island.

We each have our own job to do. I’m glad mine is to play on the beach and watch monkeys! I’m no “prayer warrior.” I’m a stay-in-His-presence-and-enjoy-Him kind of pray-er. Is that okay?

MK_HANDS_LO-002Somewhere, somehow, I find myself believing that my puny prayers—I mean the intercessory kind where my heart and brain are only half engaged—make very little difference.

It’s like when my girls were little and I was focused on what I was doing and one of them would approach me with a question. If it was a simple question like “May I go outside to play?” I could answer her without breaking focus. But, if she asked a question that demanded some thought, I’d have to stop what I was doing and turn to her and think about it.

Which of those interactions was meaningful and connected? My first thought is—only the second one. In the first, my mind was elsewhere. And sometimes I think my prayers are like that—the words are spoken, but the mind is elsewhere. But—and here’s the point—is communication of information any less valid or effective for my child? She still got a response from me even if my attention wasn’t fully on her. God wants communication from me. He’s always fully focused on me. It’s me who has a hard time tuning in fully.

And so I’ve somehow come to believe that a quick “mindless” prayer isn’t fully valid. Maybe there’s some truth to that. But on the other hand, it is a connecting point. I have voluntarily connected with my child. I have not turned her away. And I wasn’t in relationship with the neighbor’s kid. I have relationship with my own. Is it okay not to fully engage?

I think of Bill Rudd, my former youth pastor. I’ve never met a man who was so focused on each person he spoke to. Total attention and eye focus. Is this how my prayers should be? Preferably, yes. But the question is, “What if they’re not?” Is the communication any less valid? Is God’s answer dependent on how long, hard, or deep my intensity in prayer is?

When my child asks, “May I play outside?” she doesn’t have to beg and plead and cry to get me to answer yes. It’s a no-brainer if I know it’s safe outside and she’s old enough to handle that much independence. But what if there’s a lightning storm out there? No matter how much she pleads, I’ll say no for her safety’s sake. Other times, it’s just a preference for me whether I say no or yes, and her begging might change or help me make up my mind. The more she pleads and gives me good rational arguments, the more I’ll be apt to change my mind. (Moses did that with God.)

So . . .  let’s say I pray for someone who’s sick. My prayers come from a different place in my heart if it’s “a friend of my co-worker’s cousin” who is ill versus my own child who’s in the hospital. One is a prayer “in passing” and the other is on my knees or face to the ground pleading for mercy.

What’s my question, then? Is it okay, effective, permissible, worth it, important, necessary, whatever, to pray for someone’s request if my whole focus, heart, and mind aren’t in it? The request is still valid. Perhaps the urgency isn’t there, but is it any less valid or effective? I don’t know. Is it ever a waste of time? Whew! How could that be? Surely any communication is better than none at all . . . .

The word I’m working on is “doubt.” If I ask in doubt, what’s the point in asking? It’s worth a try! There’s no harm in asking. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. So there you have it. Just ASK! And then surrender to whatever answer my Parent gives me. But ask!

What kind of pray-er are you?

Please Come to My Funeral

He passed away, to no one’s regret (II Chronicles 21:20 NIV).

This verse, to me, is one of the saddest statements in the Bible. Jehoram was a bad, bad king who killed all his brothers, put back all the idols that his father had removed, and forsook God. His punishment? His whole family gets wiped out, his possessions captured, and he dies a horrible death of an intestinal disease. And the sad end of his life? His people made no funeral fire in his honor, as they had for his predecessors (v. 19). No funeral memorial for him! Ouch!

What makes a man choose a good or godly heart? It’s more than just his parents’ example. Jehoram had a good father. But maybe he had an absent father. Perhaps something burned him as a child. Was he arrogant because he was the first-born and spoiled? Was he picked on by his brothers? Did his lustful appetites draw him into sin, and he followed after forbidden fruit? What need of his heart went unmet that he would deliberately close his eyes to the victories he witnessed in his father’s time?

Memorial services tend to focus on the positives of a person’s accomplishments or character. We say we don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but how awful to have lived so poorly that no one shows up at all!

rachel (white) berryI want to go to my grave with no unfinished business. I don’t even want to go through today with unfinished business of the heart. I’m so thankful for my godly heritage. I want to learn my lessons from my parents—follow their godly choices, reject any inconsistencies, love everyone—to the end. You all are invited to my funeral!

Whom do you want to come to your funeral?

Labeled

“Doubting Thomas.” How did Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, feel to have that label attached to him? Why don’t we remember him for his faith? After all, when Jesus declared His imminent death, Thomas was the one who stated, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” And when he saw the risen Christ, Thomas declared, “My Lord and my God.” According to tradition, he was the only disciple who made it to India (outside the Roman Empire). I wonder if the other disciples would have responded the same way as Thomas had they not been in the room that day when Jesus appeared to them? Perhaps. But Thomas is the one who got stuck with the label.

What if people took the worst day of my life and labeled me with it? Yikes!

labelOther Bible characters are given more positive labels: David the Shepherd Boy, Abraham the Man of Faith, Meek Moses. Yet their lives were not always exemplary. So why do those labels stick? Some people are able to shed their labels. Paul the Persecutor is better known as Paul the Apostle. Jacob the Deceiver became Jacob the Patriarch.

What label will be attached to my epitaph? What do I want to be labeled? What label do I need to shed? What is God’s label for me?

Dry and Thirsty

O taste and see that the Lord is good . . . (Psalm 34:8).

From my 2010 journal. I had company here for a couple weeks, and my alone time with the Lord suffered as a result. Each day my spirit felt thirstier and thirstier. Strangely, I felt like I was sitting on the edge of a paved parking lot facing the road with no cars in sight.

I asked the Lord what He wanted me to do, and He said, “Go back inside the store.”

marketAnd when I turned around, I saw that it was one of those exotic Asian stores where everything smells pungent, but you have no clue how to cook with any of the ingredients. Jesus is with me, and I’m glad, but something else needs to be done.

Ahhh, at the far side of the store are endless supplies of samples to taste. Some things are tasty to me. Some things are tastier to others. It’s all good food, but I don’t have to like it all. I can eat my full and then it’s okay if I’m back in the parking lot for a while. I’m close to the food supply! My soul and spirit feel refreshed.

What do you do to refresh your soul?

Trembling at the Foot of the Mountain

From my 2010 journal. I realized today that I’m doubting my worth in Christ. I continually question whether or not I’m doing enough to please God. Why is it such a hard thing to believe? I’ve never doubted His love for me. Perhaps that’s because I felt my parents’ love. I do feel accepted by God. It’s not that.  Perhaps my feelings are born out of my childhood perception that God is watching: you better behave. I sense a fearsome reverence that doesn’t allow me to get too close.

mountainVisual:  I am the Israelite at the foot of the mountain who is forbidden from getting too close to the mountain. I’m never Moses and Joshua who climb the mountain and see God face-to-face. I stand at the foot and tremble at the smoke. Only the chosen one is permitted on the mountain. (The funny thing is, Moses had nothing to do with God choosing him. And besides that, he had a flawed character.)

In my visual, I realize that I want to be chosen.

As I surrender my feelings to God, I see myself as a little child, hanging onto the rope barrier at the foot of the mountain. The grownups have all returned to the camp to party, but I want to be close to God.

I see Jesus approach me from the mountain. He picks me up and carries me up the side of the mountain away from the noise of the camp, away from the revelry and the debauchery and sin. It’s quiet up here, silent and peaceful. And Jesus allays my fears that my parents will worry about my being gone.

Soon the sun begins to set and I shiver in the cold. He builds a fire and gives me a cloak for warmth as we sit down for an intimate conversation. In the end I understand that though I might not be chosen for Moses’ job or role,  I was chosen because “I sought the Lord and He heard me” (Ps. 34:4).

Now when the mountain trembles, I feel safe. Jesus will protect me. I’m His child. And He promises that He will “never leave me or forsake me.” He will not leave me on this mountainside by myself. When I pray to Him, He’s not far away anymore. He’s right there, close and intimate. We’re just having a conversation.

Does God feel far away to you? Or near?