Wednesday, February 16, 2011

After the "Uh-Oh"!

Tim and I are in a parenting class at church that gives advice on how to handle discipline issues with children in a way that maintains the dignity of both the child and parent. A few weeks ago the book we are reading introduced the “Uh-Oh” song, to be sung merrily after a child has entered into discipline territory and needs to have some redirection. I haven’t quite caught on to the practice yet. But I have been pondering “Uh-Oh” moments that we somehow slip into that are very real and very much in need of redirection.

I’m not talking about childhood misadventures in mischievousness. I’m talking about those moments when we realize that our lives have ventured down a path that we never intended, and we have arrived in a place that is ugly, desperate, and hopeless. Perhaps it is the moment you realize the unplanned pregnancy is real. Or the moment that you know a whole semester has bombed. Or the moment when you sense that this partying thing is no longer a party. Or the moment you understand why the car is totaled and the insurance isn’t paying. Or the moment when you comprehend the fact that you will no longer be let off with “just a warning.” Whatever it is, it’s the moment when you say to yourself, “Wow, I screwed up.”

There are two key components to this experience. Both involve radical self-awareness. I’m not talking about those times when someone else looks into your life and tells you, “Man, you really blew it!” They may or may not be right. And often, even if they are right, we are so defensive their message never penetrates. Instead, this is a moment of clarity, when the fog clears and we come to our senses. When we have the grace to understand that our lives are in desperate need of help and we cannot generate that help on our own. I am talking about that specific experience of knowing the unvarnished truth of where we are in life and also owning the part we played in getting there. Knowing and owning. It’s really the moment when we can look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “I get it now.”

Often in that moment of realization we feel such a keen sense of shame, regret, and hopelessness. We despair of ever getting back to that place of innocent trust, that place of before. Yet imbedded in the heartache of painful realization there is hope. And this moment can, if we allow it, lead us to a place that is better than before because it will grounded in a deep knowing of what we are capable of and an understanding of how our choices always bear fruit. This moment of despairing in ourselves can lead us to a place where we learn to lean wholly on God’s grace and less upon our own self-sufficiency. It really can be good.

So how does God see our moment of moral failure? It’s odd. I grew up with a keen sense of fearing God’s judgement. I could not admit to myself mistakes because I was so afraid of facing God’s rejection. But what I have learned is that it never surprises God when we fail. He is not waiting at the door of our relationship with Him, waiting to pounce on us with “I told you so’s” and “you should have known better’s.” He is waiting for just that moment of knowing and owning, that moment when it ceases to surprise us that we fail. Because that is the moment when we can most acknowledge our need of Him and we are most open to receiving it. It is that moment when we are so fully convinced of our own way’s folly that we are willing to try a new way, a different way. We are willing to do things His way because we know that our way leads to no way. And that is just the moment when His grace rushes in, cleans us up, and sets us on a new path.

It may surprise you that even after royally screwing up we can still be considered righteous. This is because we rarely understand the nature of true righteousness. True righteousness (or lack thereof) has less to do with what we do and everything to do with Who (or who) we trust. When we trust God we receive His righteousness. When we trust Him (believe Him) to forgive us, to cover our sin, to accept us back into His care, to lead us to a good place, that is when we have the beginnings of righteousness. And when we trust Him enough to actually begin to follow Him where He leads, that is when His righteousness takes root in our lives and begins to flourish. That is when His righteousness becomes something others can see. Not because we are trusting in our own good deeds (which is no righteousness at all), but because they can see we love Him, and are looking at Him, and are following after Him. Here is what scripture has to say about it: “Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5).

So what do we do now? Just this: believe that God loves you and wants to help you. He gets that you blew it. And mercy of mercies, you do too. He isn’t going to dwell on that. He wants to move you to a better place. So let Him. Seek Him. Follow after Him. Let the grief you feel over your past mistakes be the place that you seek to fill with coming to know and understand His plan for your life that is radically different from your own. In Revelation the apostle John offers this excellent wisdom to the church at Ephesus about getting back to that sweet spot of communion with the Lord: “Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5). Quite literally he is simply saying turn yourself away from where you were going and turn toward the Lord and His path for you.

I want to close by sharing words of scripture for you. I invite you to write them down in your own handwriting, tape it to your wall or door. Put these words in a place where you will see them often and where you can ponder what they mean for you in your life. Listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you:

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as the heat of summer. Selah

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

Therefore let al who are faithful offer prayer to you; at the time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.

Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart. (Psalm 32)

So dear ones, know that the Lord loves you. His mercy and goodness are so for you. Everyday He stands waiting and ready to pick you up, dust you off, and put you back on the right path again. But it is impossible to experience that blessedness without first knowing and owning. So my prayer for each of us is that we would have the courage to know and own what we need to, so that we can receive what we need from Him.

This is me trusting,


Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Shape of Things

It’s been a long few months. This season of Winter has seemed to seep deeply into everything. It’s like the cold, the snow, the aggravation of inconvenience caused by closings and bad roads have all conspired to slow us down, send us inside, give us ample opportunity for reflection. Everything stops and the dust settles. And we are able to see in the quiet discomfiture exactly how things really are.

I will never forget the day early in my ministry when I was sharing my heart with a pastor friend, just pleading that after so much struggle in my life I just wanted to be happy. He replied that God doesn’t want us to be happy but rather holy. I must say I did not feel the warm fuzzy consolation that so often accompanies the spiritual gifts of compassion and encouragement. Instead I felt deflated and misunderstood. However, his words have stayed with me. And often I also recall the wisdom shared by someone else that often people who feel holy are really just happy. The point is that once a person’s happiness is removed holiness (or lack thereof) is quickly revealed. Winter also I believe is a revealer of these kinds of things. Because we can’t quite get comfortable, the stuff of our character has ample opportunity to show up. Winter reveals the shape of things.

I love this especially as it relates to trees. Early in my life I bemoaned Winter as a desolate and ugly time of year. I was all for foliage, beautiful buds announcing the newness of Spring and the lush, rich depth of Summer leaves shading the heat, singing in the breeze. Even Autumn held a special gift of igniting the landscape with fire. Each of these seasons spun beauty in my eyes. But I believed Winter held no beauty, simply because the trees became so bare, naked and empty of visible life. I only believed the obvious could be beautiful. But in my later years, God has been showing me the deep promise and extraordinary gift of Winter time, especially as it relates to trees.

Trees need Winter after all. The most important growth happens then. This is the season when the roots grow deep, penetrating earth to reach the water and nutrients needed to bring growth and new life. It is also the only time of year that we get a glimpse of the bones of the trees we admire all year long. We see their strength in the thickness of the trunks, the reach of the spindly branches and twigs stretching to heaven, the tenaciousness of new growth that resumes even when branches have been cut off, the provision of hospitality to birds who build their nests and raise their young nestled snuggly in their arms. How sweetly Winter reveals the shape of things.

In our lives with God, we too pass through seasons. How we long for the excitement of Spring, the lush provision of Summer, the glory and bounty of Autumn harvest. Yet it is in Winter time that we send our roots deep into God’s presence, and when everything else falls away, our hopes and dreams, comfort and status. It is here that God shows us where we really are and what we are really made of. I treasure this time for its quiet gifts. And because I am an encourager, I don’t see it as a bad thing. Instead I see it as God’s grace, revealing qualities to us that we never knew we had. He takes the time to show us to ourselves, and the vision is really quite beautiful. We get to see our strength, sustaining ourselves and those in our care from years of trials and trusting Him. We get to see how hungry we are for His grace and glory as we reach towards heaven. We get to see how God’s mercy has allowed new life in those places where circumstances caused an amputation that we thought we could never recover from. We even see the ways that God has entrusted others into our care and how they are safely perched within our love, caring and tending to the life God has given them. How sweetly even our spiritual Winter reveals the shape of things to us and for us.

My dear friends, do not be discouraged. You are a God-song resounding with beauty that only He can give. But sometimes we confuse the world’s song with our own God-song welling up from within. And for this reason God allows the Winter seasons of the soul to draw us deeply into Him and to show us exactly how beautiful we really are. The world cannot sing in Winter; it’s why everything seems to come to a halt and the outer trappings of life come to a standstill. But our beauty has nothing to do with outer things; it has everything to do with that God beauty within. The same beauty we forget and hide in the regular ordinariness of our lives because the world does not understand it and often does not value it. This beauty is the very thing that makes you Holy, and it is the Holiness about you that is revealed when happiness falls away and you realize you are, and cannot be anything but, His.

So here I am with you dear one, in Winter time. Like you I am stretching my hands up and high, reaching for all I’m worth toward heaven. And like you I’m digging deeper, trying to get to that deep, hidden well of God’s living water that will spring forth and quench my thirst. And like you I’m walking by faith, knowing that this life is beautiful, because ultimately this life belongs to Him.

This is me trusting Him,