Humility Versus Self-Loathing

Ever since my speech on people fear, God has been revealing more and more to me how much fear I have around people’s opinions, approval or disapproval, and the like. I’m not really digging in my heels at the work He is doing, but I have to admit I get low, like a self-loathing low, when I think about how much pride I have in my life (which increases fears, anxieties, restlessness…the whole kit and caboodle) . But wait…pride? Wasn’t I talking about people fear? Yes, I am, but I have been learning more and more that pride and fear really go hand in hand.

This has been gently shown to me through two readings: Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness and Hannah  Anderson’s Humble Roots. I read Keller’s book a number of times before, but somehow this time round of careful and prayful reading, the book’s main message is finally sticking. I have an over-inflated ego, which draws attention to self. Everything–conversations, criticism, conflict–is filter through my ego, my pride. Here’s some of my thoughts, and disclaimer, they’re not pretty: What does this say about me? Who does this person think I am? I must be the scum of earth if that is being said about me… And on and on.

I know that this is not how people normally think of pride. Normally we think of pride as drawing positive attention to oneself, not negative. Negative is the above example, we self-depreciate rather than self-exalt. Positive attention is that swagger, that boast, that complaining of our affluence (“how can I keep that pristine white couch clean with three children?”) or our influence (personal example, “how can I have close friends when I work in my kind of job that I can’t even talk about!?”). But the negative attention is exactly pride…becuase it’s about self.

Remember that over-inflated ego I mentioned earlier? (Disclaimer: I don’t like the word ego becuase its often thrown around poorly defined so here’s how I’m using it: the way we view ourselves). Keller says that the over-inflated ego is empty (we search for anything but God to fill it), painful (when there is something wrong with our body, that body part calls attention to itself), busy (as God does not fill us and things to replace him are slippery and temporary in their fulfillments, we are busy seeking and searching the next best thing to make us happy and satisfied), and fragile (overinflated and deflated comes down to the same thing: overinflation is at imminent risk of being deflated and deflated is overinflated popped, so it was overinflated before). Pride therefore can be defined as thinking–either in negative or positive ways–about ourselves too much.

This is where self-loathing can come in. When our pride, an overinflated sense of self, is deflated, we feel terrible about ourselves. We continue to draw attention to ourselves, or at least I do, by moaning about how awful a sinner I am, how much sin I have in my life, how could anyone love me (etc…!)?

Both authors helped me to find the remedy. Keller does so susinctaly, Anderson does it comprehensively. But before I move to summarize what Anderson says, I want to quote a valuable thing Keller says:

“Paul puts it very simply [in 1 Corinthians 3:4]. He knows they cannot justify him. He knows he cannot justify himself…He says it is the the Lord who judges him. It is only His opinion that counts. Do you realize that is ono in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? …Paul is saying that in Christinaity, the verdict leads to performance…The verdict is in [because of Christ]. And now I perform becuase of the verdict. Becuase He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things…to make me look good. I can things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people–not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.”  (pp. 39-40, italics original)

What I pulled from Anderson’s beautiful book is that we need to stay connected to the Vine, Jesus. Humility is the recognition that we are not God–therefore we are not self-existant, limitless, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. We loose our pride because we no longer consider ourselves more highly than we ought.

We need to stay connected to the Vine because we are dependent, limited, not in control, do not know everything, and cannot be everywhere at once. There is so much freedom in this…and some days this freedom seems just outside of my reach becuase I’m scared. I want the positive opinion or approval of others. I want people to think highly of me. I want people to commend my choices. I’m fearful of giving in and resting on Jesus. I take security in what little influence, power, knowledge, control I do have. We cannot have both. We choose one or the other.

When we choose the life that Jesus offers, the abundant life because He is generous, we will not wither on the vine but produce fruit. If we don’t accept the life Jesus promises us and continue to think of ourselves more than we ought, we will wither on the Vine.

We produce fruit when we admit we are only human. We produce fruit when we willing to self-forget. Our ego becomes like our big toe–it works according to its capabilities, it functions within it’s limitations, and we just don’t think about ourselves (analogy from Keller). We need to keep our eyes on God, for His standards matter–it’s not about what others think of me, it’s about what God thinks about me. When (very rarely, let me say, but thanks to God I see this beginnings of this) I function in this mindset my self-loathing dissipates because I’m no longer operating under a deflated sense of self, but I live under the opinion of the tender God whose opinion only really matters. His opinion is that Jesus has made me free, free indeed, of sin’s pollution. I don’t stand condemned and neither do you becuase of Jesus. So obedience (performance) becomes joyful, not a begrudging duty or a self-clean up act to make ourselves presentable becuase we are free from all opinions except the opinion, the verdict, that really matters.

In this freedom, the standard He gives is simple: love God and love my neighbour. So, my purpose in life is how I reflect Christ and I no longer live for the approval, commendation, applause from others. I’m free to live out my gifts without comparing or envy, to live out my calling without complaining or seeking recognition, to produce the fruit of the Spirit rather than wither on the Vine, to shine out the glory of Christ instead of being a glory robber.

Lord, may we decrease and you increase (John 3:30).

Discouragement

I’ve been discouraged lately. The heavy cares and concerns of the world seem to grow weightier by the hour and the ravishes of sin seem more oppressive than ever. My own struggle against certain sins in my own life seem to be fruitless wrestling. I’m not changing as quickly as I think I should…and some days I despair that I am even changing at all but rather just giving in and not fighting. I’m tired and sometimes exhausted but some nights are long and sleepless.

I’m thankful to have some time to reflect. But in my musings to God, I recently whispered, “I’m thankful for my quiet nest, but, Jesus, it sometimes feels like a tomb.” Sometimes the silence seems oppressive when I’m only left with the birds chirping their evening songs and the frogs begin their chorus in the gathering dusk and another night looms ahead, which also signals a new day starting. Sometimes a button to press pause on life and linger in the sunshine with a cup of coffee!

But I’ve also been thinking a lot lately on the name and character of Shepherd that God, particularly Jesus, takes upon Himself to reveal Himself to us. I was watching a DVD explaining the historical context around Israel’s wandering in the dessert and was struck by how shepherds are constantly chattering to their sheep (God led, like a Shepherd, his children through the “great and terrifying wilderness”). The shepherd’s sheep know their voice and the sheep need their shepherd’s voice to orientate them. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice. And I laugh a little, becuase this whole week in counselling I’ve been referring back to Psalm 23 many times, over and over. Indeed, God is the Good Shepherd, knowing exactly what this sheep of His needed to hear…but I was a bit dull of hearing to hear the clear voice of the Shepherd say come to me.

I don’t want to stay in my discouragement and yet encouragement seems impossible. But joy, I don’t even need to fight to feel encouraged. Come to me so I come tonight. God’s Words are simple and easy to understand and a few familiar passages quickly come to mind.

Yahweh is my Shepherd; I shall not want. Grazing grounds in the Old Testament times were found in the dessert, not in the fields. Doesn’t it seem that in times of weariness we find ourselves in a spiritual or emotional dessert? Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Sometimes that rod and staff make me uncomfortable; my sins are plenty and I deserve punishment, I deserve to be hit and straightened out. But no, only my enemies need to be afraid of that rod because Jesus has taken that hit for me. Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me. “Whatever danger pursues there is always a greater pursuit afoot–Yahweh’s goodness and committed love.” (Alec Motyer in Psalms By the Day).

I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sleep. Easter was just 40 days ago where we are reminded that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for wayward, stubborn, weak, feeble and silly sheep. He loved us before we loved Him. He willingly died and went to the cross for us. The Good Shepherd does whatever it takes to make sure His sheep are safe in the pasture, safe in the wilderness of His choosing. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. How wonderful it is to know that Jesus is acting on the love of the Father. Never has our Abba/Father, the very same Yahweh, not loved us. He loved us when we were still afar and committed Himself to us, predestining us before the world even began. He set forth in motion a plan of salvation before we even knew were spiritually dead. And now we know Him too becuase He has revealed Himself to us through His Word. Apparently in Hebrew (correct me if I’m wrong), the root for the word Shepherd is the same root for voice, for speech…for word. The Bible is His Word, we know His love and care and plan for us through His voice. His voice is the one that orientates us when we are lost and discouraged.

What man of you, having a hundred sheep if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? Jesus’ love for us relentless. His blood is too precious too waste to loose or forget about one of His sheep; His love is too big, too high and wide to waste on not loving lost sheep. For discouraged souls, this is cheering news. Wayward saints, wayward brothers or sisters, wayward husbands or wives, wayward children…God is relentlessly pursuing them. Wayward soul, my God is pursuing you. Cry out, let your voice be loud, becuase His ear is tuned to your cries of distress (even if it was your own stupidity that put you in that place). He loves you and he lays his sheep on his shoulders, rejoicing.

Are the clouds above you dark with an impending storm or the desert wind and dust made you dry and parched? Perhaps the feeling that He has abandoned us for good, we’ve surely done in His love in this time…! When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, becuase they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Rest assured, soul, that in the wilderness God woos His people and draws them even more tightly to Himself through cords of love.

Perhaps discouragement comes because we look around the world and at the senseless killing of Christians in Egypt. Perhaps we get discouraged because of nominal Christianity and apparent lukewarmness in our homes, our churches, our communities. Perhaps we see injustices and oppressions done not by the hands of the wicked, but by the very hands that were meant to sooth, comfort, lead and guide in kindness. Son of man, prophecy against the shepherds of Israel…should not shepherds feed the sheep? The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. God’s love shines the most brightly when set against the hideously dark backdrop of sin. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. For thus says the Lord GOD: behold, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. I will seek out my sheep…I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on the day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out…I will feed them on the mountains…I will feed them with good pasture…They shall lie down on good grazing land…I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…I will feed them in justice…I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats…I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep…I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey…And I, Yahweh, will be their God.

Diane Langberg in her book, “In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors,” reiterates an old truth that bears repeating that success is not in the change we see, but “whether or not I looked like him no matter the outcome…The work of the Spirit in our lives is in the character we manifest…” That is an encouraging way to start the next week. One more verse to close: Yahweh will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, Yahweh, endures forever (Ps. 138:8).

Guidelines for Growing in Contentment

Ever heard of E.B. Pusey?

Me neither…well, I did in passing when I read The Envy of Eve (excellent book, by the way) back in seminary. However, the name and content from E.B. Pusey was lost on me until recently when I noticed 5 practical guidelines for growing in contentment posted in a good friend’s kitchen.

So E.B. Pusey…he was an Anglican priest with a funky name: Edward Bouverie Pusey. He lived from 1800-1882 and he’s not really well known (at least I haven’t heard of him, which isn’t much to say). But I think he has had similar struggles to grow and foster contentment in his heart, much like the rest of us. Here’s his guidelines to growing in contentment and while they are simple in nature, easy to follow, they are difficult and self-denying once applied.

  1. Allow thyself to complain of nothing, not even the weather.
  2. Never picture thyself to thyself under any circumstance which thou are not.
  3. Never compare thine own lot with another.
  4. Never allow thyself to dwell on the wish that this or that had been, or were, otherwise than it was, or is. God Almighty loves thee better and more wisely than thou doest thyself.
  5. Never dwell on the morrow. Remember that it is God’s, not thine. The heaviest part of sorrow often is to look forward to it. “The Lord will provide.”

Which one will you choose to tackle first?

Fear of People

Recently I led a topical Bible study (ish 🙂 as I did not really work out of a particular text) at my church, which was an open invitation to other women from surrounding sister churches related to my church. This topical study was on fear of man, and I guess people resonated with this topic because about 150 women showed up (gulp). I was thankful to take some time to study this topic because I fear people too. But I did not miss the irony of the situation! Here I struggle with nervousness at any public speaking (my top three questions revolving around certain fears: what are they going to think of me? Am I going to speak too fast? Will I be perceived as wise and Godly? …all focus on me, myself and I, by the way) and then 150 women show up when I’m expecting (hoping for!) maybe 50. Oh dear. But I did talk (sometimes too fast) and I think it well (thanks for the compliments, sisters!) and I survived (had myself a cup of tea at home later curled under blankets in the dark). But I think it went well as I’ve had several people encourage (aka: ask) me to give a copy of my speech. So here’s a blog post (and I am indebted to Dr. Ed Welch for first opening my eyes to this struggle).

Everyone struggles with people fear, but our fear of man may come in degrees and be worse towards certain people or in certain situations and at times can be quite manageable and live under the radar. A few of the symptoms of people fear include: a fear of praying or speaking in public; being one person in public and one person in private; comparing ourselves to or even criticizing others; experiencing the feelings of rejection, worthlessness, and inferiority; struggling to say no or to voice your opinion; avoid talking about your faith because that can create an uncomfortable situation with co-workers; being caught singing to the radio; embarrassed that the children aren’t well-behaved in church; frequently wondering what people are thinking about you.

But we want to move deeper than just assessing the problem. There are two areas that I want to focus on that go deeper than our symptoms: people fear is ultimately disordered worship and secondly, people fear is a symptom of living under unattainable standards.

First of all, our fear of man is a worship disorder. I think of the quote, “I love you more than coffee, but not always before coffee.” Oftentimes we do this with God too. “I love you more and value you more than people’s opinions of me or their acceptance, but not always before their acceptance and positive opinion [or I’ll go for the positive affirmations first]” We sometimes feel that God’s love is not quite sufficient so we go looking elsewhere. We sometimes struggle to see ourselves the way God views us, so we go looking to other people to fill us up. We sometimes want people’s affirming/accepting voices and opinions to matter before God’s opinion  because those things are things we easily hear and easily experience emotionally. In reality, we set people  up to fail us with our impossible expectations that we place on them because they will not deliver perfectly (and then we get mad at them). We live in a world where we confessionally hold to the reality that God’s Word ultimately matters, but functionally when we look to the husband or children for our acceptance or worth or status, we ultimately debunk God’s authority in our life, as an example. We will explore what we do with this a few paragraphs down, but ultimately we seek to become self-aware and distrustful of ourselves combined with growing in knowledge and familiarity of our God’s character and His commands.

Secondly, David Powlison tell us that we all erect ladders to no-where, which are “the standard you serve that defines the goals you pursue. The ladders you climb give you meaning” (I first heard this at Westminster Theological Seminary in “Dynamics of Biblical Change” that David Powlison lectured. This quotation was taken directly from his most recent book, Good and Angry). Here are some standards that you or I may be thinking: I’ve got to get thin enough to get that perfect beach body; I hate myself because I am not as extroverted as folks over there; I am a failure because I am not as talented as that person is; I’m not in the in-crowd, so something is wrong with me; my house needs to perfectly organized and maintained; I’m a worthless mother and wife if I don’t feed my family with the latest food fad; I’m defiled because I have been sexually molested. In all of these statements, we are moving towards something (acceptance, affirmation, status, achievement, worth, value, etc.) and moving away from something (shame, failure, rejection, etc.). These things (a desire to feed our family healthy food, looking beautiful, honing our talents/gifts, friendships, etc.) are not bad in of themselves to move towards or move away from. However, they became terrible masters. When we make these things our goals, we end up stepping on others (through criticism, judgement, gossip, slander, dislike, anger) to move to the top of the ladder. After all, for example, there is a standard of thinness out there and I’ve got to use somebody to measure myself up to. But the problem with stepping on people is that people can also end up using and stepping on us! So we can also feel that we are perpetually at the bottom of the heap, never measuring up and always failing. Sometimes we call this “poor self-esteem” or an “inferiority complex.” So what are we to do? We are called to lay down our ladders because where is our focus? Our focus is perpetually on ourselves. 1 Corinthians 4:6 describes this condition as being “puffed up” (a far better translation than proud). We become full of ourselves and we need to repent of our pride and self-centredness. When Jesus comes into our life, He acts as the ladder toppler because He commands us to be humble (in other way, we do not consider ourselves more highly than we ought) rather than proud. As we shift from being full of ourselves to being humble, a shift happens in our relationships and we start acting like the body of Christ; instead of “biting and devouring one another,” we end up helping, loving, praying, and carrying each other’s burdens. No longer does it matter if someone is more successful at Pinterest crafts or whose house is cleaner than yours because you are able to be happy for them and rejoice in their successes because you know that your identity lies in something much bigger and greater than those desires to be better or to be happy or to be accepted. The goals and standards God sets for us is simple: love the Lord your God with your whole, heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. This is not attainable for the perfectionists out there, but it is possible to strive to be obedient and to please our God as we lay down our ladders and humbly seek to self-sacrifice and serve.

As we have moved from looking deeper than just the symptoms, we now turn to the cure. The cure overlaps with what we learned in the ultimate diagnoses of seeing that the fear of man is a worship disorder and creates ladders to no-where. There are seven ways to move out of people fear:

  1. We give rather than receive; we love rather than seeking to be loved. What this does is takes the focus off of ourselves. The problem with the ladders to no-where is that the focus is continually on ourselves and we are busy with ourselves. When we love others and focus on giving rather than receiving, we take the focus off of ourselves and puts the focus on a much bigger story and purpose, God’s Kingdom. We simply move towards others with a smile; we greet others by name; we engage in short chit chats to get to know them better; we pray together; we listen and move in to help beyond the practical needs.
  2. We learn the art of neediness instead of always being competent or the victor. This is the other half of being part of the body of Christ (the other half is loving). We cannot serve if there are no needs. And all of us are human and go through seasons of hardship. We need to be open and vulnerable to share the hard things in our lives so others can love us. We find this messy and hard. We prefer to share our victories rather than our messes; an example I have heard is “I can now share my struggle with porn and masturbation because I’ve conquered it.” Far better is when we get people involved when we are in the midst of the fight. But we struggle to be vulnerable and open, especially with really shameful and private struggles, because we fear quiet, unspoken (sometimes verbal and harsh) judgements people make or, worse, the wildfires of gossip and slander as a result of betrayal of confidence. But as we see in Psalm 34, God is our defender. When these things happen, we hide ourselves in God. We commit our ways to Him and seek His comfort and cry out for His justice to be done. In these places, loving others and being vulnerable are connected in a complex way because sometimes loving people means taking a vulnerable route and raising conflict in order to alert an offender to sin. Being needy is humbling and that is a good thing because we can often set ourselves up to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.
  3. Learn the fear of God. Read through Job 38-41. Take some time (and not just pictures) of the ocean. Stare up at the night sky and wonder at the immensity of the solar system. Ponder the majesty of the Rockies. These places all put us into our place of being creaturely and small. We need humbling. We need to be in awe of our good, good and Almighty God. As we get off the ladder to no-where, our focus needs to shift to God and to make what He says bigger. We need to remember that it is His standards and expectations that matter more than others.
  4. Whose standards? When we are on the ladders to no-where, we are defined by our own standards and others standards. And these standards are continually fluctuating, which is exhausting to stay on top of the know-how. We need to ask ourselves wither our self-assessment is accurate. And the only way that we know 100% if our standard is accurate is if it squares with Scripture. Then we are on solid footing once again. We need to remember what God deems important and to be doers of His commandments. This will not end the endless cacophony of the thousands of voices trying to define us or shape us, but over time, we learn to listen to the Word that matters. His burden is easy, His yoke is light.
  5. Value and worth. As God’s voice matters, we also need to know what He says about us. Ephesians is full of identity statements. In that book you reminded that we are redeemed, chosen, adopted, forgiven, brought near, holy, righteous, blameless. This is all because of our union in Christ. We don’t get these things in our own strength, but in what Christ has done for us. This is so freeing compared to the ladders to no-where because on those ladders, failure is a constant threat and value and worth are so shaky, based on ever-changing standards. But when we learn to rest in the identity that God uses to define us, we can relax and be free to make mistakes. We learn to fight for what matters and let go of what does not matter.
  6. Redefining failure. And while we’re on those ladders, we probably live with a constant sense of guilt. Guilt over what? Guilt over breaking our own standards or failing others. This is fault guilt because you are falsely failing! God has created us with creational limitations; He has given us our own set of gifts and talents and abilities. He has also set upon us the reality that are confined to time and space. On top of all that, we are influenced by our hormones, amount of sleep and exercise (etc.) and even our own personal hardships and miseries that can be physical or emotional (I think of physical disability like chronic pain or emotional difficulties for someone who is more prone to depression or anxiety). When we feel guilt around these areas, we are really bucking against what God has lovingly placed upon us. We need to repent of our pride to be everything, to do everything, and to know everything and take a deep breath. Pride is the true failure because true failure is what goes directly against what God commands. We need not to be afraid of ferreting out our genuine failures; a keen self-awareness of our blind spots and sin patterns is a tremendous blessing from the Holy Spirit. Repentance is an invitation to freedom, to the life God wants to give us. When we are afflicted with guilt over true failure, we need to not live in that perpetual sense of guilt because there is grace in Christ. Jesus has forgiven us! It is Satan desires to accuse us and destroy the joy we have in Christ. So live boldly in that freedom of forgiveness over our true failures!
  7. Finally, practice the art of gratefulness and contentment. When we are on the ladders to no-where, when we have a worship disorder, we will be whiny and grumbly. We are not getting what we want because God is a good Father who knows not to give us everything we desire because He knows what is best for us. But we accuse Him of not loving us when He doesn’t give us what we want because we are seeking after something else, something that we believe will satisfy us more. Ultimately, we hold God in contempt (Numbers 14). But a refreshing orientation happens when we ask ourselves the right questions: Where has God been good to you? Where do you see His kindness today? How has He provided in ways that may not be part of your hopes or expectations, but where He has provided nevertheless? How has He, in the places of trouble and struggle, given you exactly what you needed? In Psalm 34, David gives thanks to God even in the midst of great trials and troubles. We can worship God in the midst of struggle. Gratitude reorientates us to God and reminds us who we are: creatures who are not in control who serves a God who is control, receivers instead of demanders, to name a few. Gratitude is also the entry gate into the art of contentment. When we lay down our standards, our ladders to no-where, and pursue God’s standards, we can be content with God has given us because no longer are we striving at something that will never ultimately satisfy. Part of contentment is learning to rejoice with those who rejoice and learning to pray for those we fear, envy, or judge. We learn to complain of nothing, compare ourselves to nobody, and slay any day dreams that fantasize about being in other life, situation, or environment. We learn the example in Psalm 131 as we do not attempt to think of things to high or lofty for us but we still and quiet ourselves (this is an intentional stilling. Contentment is practised, it does not simply come.).

Recommended Resources:
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller
Unashamed by Heather Davis Nelson
What do You Think of Me? Why do I Care? by Edward T. Welch
When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch
Side by Side by Edward T. Welch
The Envy of Eve by Melissa Kruger
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
Awe: Why it matters for everything we say, think, and do by Paul David Tripp
Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves
Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin deYoung

 

Ordinary

I’ve been a mite discouraged lately with the slowness of spring coming. I know it’s coming, I know. Perhaps some of this is because I am impatient in all areas of my life right now. God is working on my heart in certain areas…and I’m ready to move on to the next thing. I thrived on adventure and change for eight some years of my life…and now life is slowing down into the ho-hum and mundane of dishes, laundry, 8:30-4 routine of working, and daily exercise. I want something fresh and new to work on…but outdoors isn’t quite ready for my ambitious plans and sewing and crafting has a limit too. I long for something exciting…but God is pleased to see me in a place of ordinariness.

Ordinariness isn’t bad, I tell myself. I’ve been having some recent conversations about the timing of God and what God expects from His children. And when I slow down and really think about that and the reality that God moves and works in ordinary ways and means, then I am thankful.

Thankful that God expects us to do the next thing next. Thankful that we can delight and please Him when we are obedient when we are cheerful, do the laundry, do the dishes, make our beds. Thankful that God is slow, methodical…thorough.

I move quickly. I think quickly. I speak quickly (I think I should’ve been an auctioneer). Maybe God is slowing down life right now so I can learn to delight in the ordinariness of life. Too often I rush and I don’t see the beauty; I don’t see the simple beauty of a crocus pushing itself out of the ground or the delightful buddings of the trees around me. Too often I move on to the next thing and I forget; forget to remember the faithful God, forget that my strength and dependence comes from Him. Too often I drum my fingers on the steering wheel to speed off to a destination; I neglect the basic duty of loving my neighbour simply, perhaps greeting the cashier by name or praying for the mother in aisle three with a screaming toddler.

I can be careless in my hurriedness, on my rush to find the next big thing that will satisfy my itch to be busy and involved in something more. But God is methodical and thorough. I need to learn from Him. Sit awhile and listen. Get to know before moving in with answers and advice. Return to a recently discussed topic instead of picking up another topic to discuss and think about. Savour the words in a book and think about how the concept spoken of can be applied or delight in the power of words and word-smithery. I demand and expect what things or technology cannot deliver because it is not human. I demand and expect what people cannot deliver because they are like me, weak, limited…ordinary. So I slow down and let people and things operate within their creational limits.

As I close this somewhat disjointed ramble, I am thankful and humbled. God is delighted in our ordinary obediences. God is delighted in the mundane of life when we do it for His glory. God is delighted when I allow technology to be finite and limited. God is delighted when I wait for Him. Lord, help us all to be still and give ourselves over to your perfect timing. You’ve promised that after winter, spring will come.

 

There is something about fog that creates stillness… 

I made a wreath and it makes me so happy! 

Anxiety and the Personal God

I have been learning a lot about anxiety this past year. I am deeply grateful for my counselees and friends who have allowed me into their own very personal experiences with anxiety. One of the hardest things I have noticed in the struggle of anxiety is that many people wonder where God is in those moments of fear, terror, and seemingly crazy and desperately uncomfortable moments of panic. As I have struggled to apply Scriptural truths to other people’s experiences, God has also graciously granted me the opportunities to put into practice what I’ve been learning and am teaching in my own life. Here are a dozen  thoughts on anxiety and the personal God.

  1. God cares. Really, God cares deeply. He probably seems the farthest away in the middle of an anxiety or panic attack, but He is near becuase He lives in your heart and He has created you and formed you in your mothers womb. You cannot escape His presence, no matter what anxiety or fear tells you.
  2. The most repeated commandment in Scripture is “do not fear” but God simply does not give that commandment coldly because he always follows it up with, “I am with you.” When we are afraid, a friend is comforting. How much comforting is the reality that we have our God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, with us!
  3. God’s grace does not extend to the what ifs. Fear and anxiety live in the future but we are living right now. God does not give us the grace for tomorrow; He only asks us to worry about today (Matthew 6:34). God only gives us the grace and strength for right now. To make God’s grace tangible, let’s think a moment about the manna we first heard about in Exodus. God gave His people manna to sustain them for that day alone (with the exception of Fridays because the Israelites had to collect for their Sabbath as well). So it is with us; God gives us our daily bread for each day, our sustenance to get us through the day. What does this daily sustenance look like? Not limited to this list, but includes: vocabulary to put our sufferings into words, daily reminders of God’s faithfulness through the sunsets and sunrises, Scripture’s promises to hang onto (Hebrews 6:16-20), simple pleasures like warm items from a dryer and a child’s laughter, physical touch through a hug, encouragement and comfort through a kind word via a text, email, or card from a friend. So often we can cut ourselves off from daily sustenance by denying ourselves the comfort of the community God has placed us in (see point 10).
  4. Anxiety and fear are false prophets. In Scripture, we see that a prophet’s prophecies are only deemed trustworthy or not when their prophecies come true. A false prophet’s prophecies don’t come to fruition ever. Think for a moment who many of your prophecies have come true. 100%? Doubtful. 5%? Maybe. Honestly, stop believing yourself and start doubting yourself more. In the moments of anxiety and fear, begin to speak back to yourself and ask yourself questions. Take after the psalmist in 42 and ask yourself “why are you disquieted oh my soul?” As much as you can talk yourself into an anxiety frenzy, you can also talk yourself out of it. Also, anxiety and fear are false prophets in that they lie to you. What does anxiety and fear say about God? What does fear and anxiety say about you? What does fear and anxiety say about the world around you? As much as you ought not to listen to anxiety in moments of high anxiety, stress or fear, anxiety is a good teacher and friend (next point) becuase its messages can help you discern what you really are believing about God, yourself, and the world. Listen carefully to what anxiety is saying and then go to God’s Word to see if they square with the truths there and if they are lies, then repent of your unbelief and ask God to help your mind to be renewed and transformed by His truth.
  5. Anxiety can become a friend. Anxious symptoms can help you recognize sooner rather than later that something is amiss or running amok in your own heart. Perhaps you are trying to do too much. Are you taking the time to rest and be a creature that is finite, limited to space and time? Remember, we are dusty people (Ps. 103:14). Perhaps you are harbouring a secret sin in your life. Are you anxious because you are doing everything you can to hide, cover, and run from exposure? Perhaps you misunderstand obedience and accusatory thoughts of how great a sinner you are and how could God love such a miserable speck of existence! Doesn’t God say that obedience and perfection are two different things; that “He is more easily pleased though he may be hard to satisfy” (Tozer)? (example, a teenaged son cleans up the whole garage but puts the paint cans on the wrong shelf–taken from Kevin DeYoung’s Hole in Our Holiness). God is delighted in our good works and our good works are pleasing to Him because of Christ! Perhaps you expect too much out of yourself in social situations. God only asks of you “how are you loving the people around you?”
  6. Reminding yourself that you are not weak because of your anxiety but because you are human. God created us to be weak, needy, dependent already from creation as part of our makeup of being creaturely. But because of the fall now, we do live in a dangerous world. God has given us fear to help protect us (Proverbs 22:3). Becuase of the fall, our bodies are prone to frailty and therefore anxiety can become a part of our lives.
  7. Some anxiety and fear are sinful. This is a tricky point to make because I am not wanting to you to go on a sin or idol hunt and get more anxious. But the reality is that when God commands us to not fear, we easily break this commandment. In our moments of anxiety, who are we trusting? Who are we giving control to? Who are we believing more? Knowing myself and that I am more like you than different, the answer to these questions would be “myself.” When in doubt, repent becuase there is always a way out and blessed freedom when we recognize and flee from sin.
  8. Anxiety is not purely emotional and mental, it is also physical. Anxiety seems to not only hijack the mind (racing thoughts) or the emotions (feeling scared), but hijacks the body as well. Anxiety is felt through that knot or pit in your stomach, weak knees, rapid breathing, feeling faint, dry mouth and throat, sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, feeling dizzy, trembling or shaking like a leaf, distorted vision, and the sensation of having the room closing in on you. Is it any wonder that people experiencing their first panic attack call 9-11 and believe they are having a heart attack?
  9. Because anxiety is affects the physical body, we must utilize physical means to help calm ourselves. Belly breathing is important and highly valued because when anxiety attacks, our breathing becomes rapid, shallow, and we primarily utilize our upper lungs. Forcing ourselves to breath from our diaphragm and filling our lungs entirely brings more oxygen to our stressed out brain. During intentional belly breathing, count to five as you breath in, count three seconds as you hold, and count five seconds as you breath out. Counting forces us to use our logic and reasoning area of our brain when our emotional part of the brain is overloaded and flooded. To prevent a panic attack, try to focus on your current physical settings: what are five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you smell? Taking a walk, preferably outside, and even leaving a small or crowded area, calms the over-stimulated brain.
  10. Anxiety is best tackled in community. You may be ashamed or embarrassed about your anxiety. But anxiety is far more common than you think and I bet that there are many people in your life that have hidden their anxiety but still stare it in the face day after day. Begin to open up to people that you struggle. As you do so, you can find out who can be your allies in the fight. Ask someone to pray with you when you’re anxious. Ask someone to help you talk yourself out of your anxiety. Ask someone to come with you when you go on a walk or to remind you to breath deeply in moments of high anxiety.
  11. Your fear list is limited and finite. Yes, it really is. Don’t believe me? Try this helpful exercise: start a list of all your fears. Your list may expand to five or six pages but it will not go on forever. Only God is limitless. By writing out your fears and seeing it in a limited format can help ease your anxieties. Now that the fears are out of your mind, you also have a concrete and specific list to take to God and apply His promises to.
  12. Finally, becuase anxiety and fear feels overwhelming what you need to do is focus on the next thing. A thousand mile journey is only started with a single step forward. This may feel insignificant, but remember truth: you cannot start a journey without starting. Any step is significant! What do you need to do for today and today only? God is not asking you to do tomorrow’s task. Prioritize if your list gets too long. Ask for help when you get stuck.

I hope that you can see that our God is a personal God with anxiety. He is personal becuase He gives us His presence, He knows us intimately and loves us in our weakness, and He gives us a way out of anxiety. It’s a fight and a journey, but God gives the weapons and equipment to battle and travel well.

Grace and peace to you, fellow strugglers.

Unfulfilled Dreams

Recently God has closed another door on some of my dreams and hopes. Ironically, before I realized the door had closed, God brought to mind the hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way as I was walking some trails near my house. As I was observing the clouds, verse 4 of the hymn came to mind: “ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.”

Earlier in the closed-door day, I had written in my journal, somewhat reluctantly, somewhat with quiet confidence in God’s goodness and kindness these words: Lord, I don’t want to love you for what you can do for me. I want to love you for who you are. I want to worship you because you are worthy and not because I am expecting something in return. Help me to fully surrender my will to yours. You are a Good Father, a Father whose Son said of you, ‘what father gives a snake when a son asks for a fish? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts, how much more so does your Father in heaven give you good gifts!’ I know you won’t give me a snake, but if this dream/hope is not realized, I know I will feel confused and frustrated. I will feel like you have given me a live serpent to hold.

And I totally felt like he gave me a snake. In the early morning hours, as I sobbed (and probably gave my guinea pig an anxiety attack!), I openly asked Him Do You really LOVE me? I alternated between accusing God (not something I’m proud of) and clinging to Him like a drowning victim. In the midst of this, waves of anger, sadness, loneliness, fear, and doubt took my mind hostage. It was hard to wrestle with God in those early morning hours when friends get their much-needed sleep. Loneliness never feels so acute as during the midnight watches.

What’s comforting is that God has been working to prepare me for this, quite against my own control. I’ve been studying Proverbs and Ruth over the past month. I’ve been reminded over and over again of God’s love towards His people, His sovereign control, the need to walk obediently, the blessings of a righteous life. I’ve also learned to communicate rudimentary truths that I could never really put into a concise sentence or two. Faith is often lived in the desert of reality while holding tightly to the hope that things change. Faith in those moments are momentous because we tend to fall into either cynicism or unbelief.

To cling to hope and not give into Satan’s whispers, (“did He really say?” “do it your way, it’s better” “maybe He doesn’t love you…you’ve got some evidence that maybe your Abba is mean”) is tough. But we cling to a hope that does not disappoint. Romans 5:5 boldly states that “hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Read that again for full impact.

It is God’s love that is the foundation of our hope. He loved us while we were still far off, while we were yet sinners and enemies of Him and oh so weak because we walked in the flesh (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). Because of God’s love for us, and His burning desire to bring us back to a restored relationship with Him, He sent His Son. God does not love us because of Christ. He loved us already before Christ. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?” (John 14:9, 10). Because of Christ’s sacrifice and His victory, He has ascended to Heaven as conquering King. He is not only our advocate in heaven but also our surety that we have an inheritance that will be undefiled, unfading, and imperishable (1 Peter 1:4). But He does not leave us alone. He sent the Holy Spirit to come and live in us. He is our deposit, our surety, our claim to God’s love (much like giving a pledge; cf. Gen. 38:18, 25-26). Only the children of God get to experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

So God’s love is the foundation of our hope, but is also the foundation for our “comfort and holiness” (see Matthew Henry on Romans 5). Here then again the words of William Cowper’s beloved hymn: “ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.” This verse leads the listener into hope even in the reality of difficult circumstances. Sufferings, like closed doors on dreams and hopes, have a refining purpose. Those dreams that He takes away? Those hopes that are seemingly ignored and tossed aside? The desires that are good but given a negative answer to? These experiences to our dreams and hopes and desires create fear in us. We would all but buckle under them…and sometimes we do. I did. I know that I still will at times buckle under the load God gives me. But those things that we dread will “break big with mercy on our head.” Was it Martin Luther who said that we ask for silver but God answers by giving us gold? We must not “judge the Lord by feeble sense,” for He is His “own interpreter.” We are “sure to scan His work in vain” through “blind unbelief,” but somehow the “bitter bud” will hold sweetness in its flower.

I still feel like I’m gingerly holding a snake (isn’t that the nature of suffering sometimes?). But I know God will show me how to make this undesired experience into spiritual food and I will eat it and it will be nourishing. I pray, for all of us weary, fearful saints who are experiencing sufferings we so much dread and hope (rightly) for an end to them, that God’s words will be sweet to our taste; that they will be sweeter than honey (Ps. 119:103).

Advent Extremes

Growing up, I had no idea what Advent was. When I did learn what Advent was, I dismissed the concept (I used to be a tad bit of a judgmental reformed girl…) and didn’t really know what to do with it. But lately, in the past five or so years, I have been learning about the meaning and the help that Advent brings.

Advent is a time of preparation before Christmas. Of course, we are people who are rereading a story that we have read over multiple times so we know the story and where it leads. Yada, yada, yada…right? Honestly, yes for me, at times. And this is depressing. Christ’s birth doesn’t always give me the thrill it ought to. On top of feeling guilty for not being awe-filled about Christ’s birth, this Advent season comes around at a more difficult season for me personally. Then there is so much depressing news all around me. I avoid the news simply because all I hear about is death and the darkness that sin brings. I sit with hurting people; people who are hurting because of their own choices and the choices that others have impacted them. Then there’s commercialism and the hype that comes with that at this season. I hate walking through the malls and driving past them. All so hollow and depressing. Such loud, depressing, inharmonious noise inside and out. Yuck. Unfortunately,this noise tends to drown out the quiet, harmonious sounds of the real message of Christmas, Christ.

My tendency is to try to disappear or isolate. But we cannot simply disappear and hibernate until this is all over. In fact, isolating and removing ourselves increases the sense of loneliness and disconnect we sometimes can feel. But I also know of people who fly headlong into the cacophony of Advent and Christmas season but end up feeling purposeless and hollow in January. (My cynical spirit says to me that those who feel hollow and empty in December are realists and waiting patiently for the rest of humanity to join them). We are people who move more readily in the extremes rather than finding that sweet point of living in between the two tensions. Is it possible to live in the sweet tension between the two extremes? Is it possible to find that true joy and hope that Advent and Christmas promises to bring?

I believe so and I am fighting to get there this season. I believe this comes with seeing the truths hidden in both extremes.
One truth that come from all the hype of embracing the season is that this is a time to celebrate. We are people who have walked in deep darkness and mourn in lonely exile here. And the Rescuer has come! We can celebrate and rejoice. I am a person prone to be a bit like…Eeyore. I want to feel the celebration before I will admit to celebrating and I crave evidence that I am joyful. But sometimes we don’t need to wait for the feelings and trust that they will come (in different degrees per everyone’s personality and situation) and simply create a context for the feeling celebratory and joyful. So this  year I am getting a Christmas tree for the first time. I bought Christmas decorations earlier this year on sale (oh how Dutch of me!) and clear lights at a recent visit to Hobby Lobby. I’m going to craft some decorations. Oh, and Christmas music is going. I’ll admit, I’m not feeling particularly happy or like I’m about to break out in dance moves. But I’m allowing myself to let the joy of the season speak to me…and the object of my joy Christ! So many things, well everything pretty much, brings bitter disappointment in the end, leaving the joy somewhat hollow if we’re realistic (or Eeyoreish). Only Christ Himself can bring us true joy. And He’ll never disappoint.
And one truth about isolating ourselves from the hype and crazy making is that this season can so quickly become about people and getting together and less about remembering. We need time to reflect and to be quiet. Indeed, Christ’s coming is so magnificent and awe-striking that we need to take time to let this sink in, year after year. We are privileged people to have a true story to keep remembering. And since we’re so forgetful, we have a patient God who reminds us year after year about the truths that we quickly become cold and yada-yada to. There are some wonderful devotionals out there that tackle the meaning of Christmas in a bite sized way. But better yet, cozy up with some hot chocolate, a blanket, (and if you’re really blessed, a real wood burning fireplace!!) and read the Gospels. Savour those words. Read Philippians 2:3-11. Read Isaiah 9:1-7; 11 & 12; 40. Reflect and meditate on the great depths of our Saviours love and what really happened at Christmas. More than a human baby, this is our God!
Finally, we also need to remember what Advent and Christmas season really is.
It’s not all cozy and silent night like. No, Christ’s coming actually is the beginning of the end in the death throes Satan is facing. Christ’s coming is like a loud battle cry…in the sound of a small mewling infant named Jesus. Yes, Christmas is about rescue. And we are the people in need of rescue. We are exiles…in need of Refuge. So Christ’s coming is not only a battle cry, but also a cry of hope. He is coming! He is here! Hope can be small. But like God promised in Isaiah, a bruised reed He will not break, a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. So do not despair, and I remind myself of this too, if your hope this season is small, our God is tender with us.
In those moments of deafening loneliness or soul crushing weariness or heavy heart burdens this Christ brings comfort.
From all-powerful God who was before creation…He has come down to heaven as a helpless baby, finite.
From riches…He left everything to identify with us and to carry our burdens.
From safe and delightful places in Heaven… He came to experience true loneliness.
From perfect unity and harmony and communication with God the Father and God the Spirit… He came to dwell with people who marked by broken relationships, misunderstanding in everyday conversations, and live with the effects of sin in ailing health.
And He willingly did this for you and me.
Let us not doubt God’s love because while we were still powerless, while were still sinners, while were still enemies God loved us (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10) and now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
So come close. Rest your weary head on His shoulder. Let him wipe away those tears that are the expression of the emotions in your heart. He knows. And He dwells with you, He is Emmanuel, God with us. That is one point of Christmas: God, the holy God who no one could look on face to face since the Garden of Eden, was back with us in flesh.
In those moments of deafening parties and festivities, remember that this God has come to bring celebration. I love what Luther says about laughter: “if earth is fit for laughter, then surely heaven is filled with it.” Let us enjoy the delights of relationships and the glitter and delight that comes from this season. Laughter and joy is a gift from God. This too is a kindness given from Him to us.
Wherever we are emotionally, mentally, or spiritually this season, there is a message for each one of us. That’s comforting.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment. Any other Scripture passages you like to read during Christmas season? What are some special things you do during Advent or Christmas?

Birthdays and New Years

When my mom visited me earlier in November, she brought my baby album with her. I was going through them recently and thought I haven’t changed much…

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I kind of like birthdays becuase they give me a time to reflect on where I’ve grown and where I want to grow. So, essentially I consider my birthday my “new year.”

These are some goals that I made for myself last year…

  • Be thankful for 1000 things (and to try not repeat myself).
    • #1. I am thankful for your warning to not forget and your command to remember.
    •  #5. Glorious sunsets.
    • #15. I didn’t get lost as I navigated without a GPS in new territory!!
    • #16. Christmas music.
    • #22. Thank you that your promises stand and never fail becuase they are rooted in your faithfulness and not in my fickleness.
    • #55. For books [obvious choice].
    • #280. Catching up on grading.
    • #367. Metaphors.
    • #479. Thank you for A.A. Milne creating Eeyore so I could use him as a great example of my current mood.
    • #509. Spring time blossoms.
    • #653. A very specific, quickly answered prayer.
    • #750. Thank you that the cop did not pull me over…and please help the guy he did pull over :o.
    • #803. To be so blessed with so many resources, both in print and digital. Wow.
    • #921. God’s perfect timing.
    • #1000. For laughter and spontaneous dry humour.
    • …Thankful for many friends in Ontario and their love and kindness in countless coffee dates, visits, praying together, meals shared.
    • …Thankful for many distance friends who care for me so wonderfully at varying distances.
  • Memorize 12 psalms.
    • Psalm 1.
  • Challies reading challenge (added in January).
    • Three books shy of the light reader, five shy of the avid reader.
    • Have mercy! I did end up reading roughly 20-30 books this year!!

Modest goals. I should have been able to do this.

But those were my goals. God’s been teaching me a lot this past year (more than what I can add here in this list, but these are some highlights):

  • Life is a tension lived between the good the beautiful and the ugly the hard the bad and the downright nasty. Learning to be content, joyful, and satisfied with God’s favour is a challenge but so rewarding when I can live there for even just an hour.
  • Joy looks different for each person, what their personality and character is like and their upbringing.
  • A deepening journey into prayer and engaging with God.
  • Learning a lot about the value and place for emotions. They are wonderful servants, terrible masters, as a friend put it.
  • About friendships and relationships.

I’ve also learned that the more vague the goal, the better I’ll be able to accomplish it :p.

So new goals for my 29th year?

  • Be thankful for another 1000 things, with a bonus of 100 added.
  • Read through the entire Bible.
  • Finish Proverbs and start on another mini-study (I’m thinking the Sermon on the Mount and then Psalms again).
  • Keep reading good books.
  • Finding adventure….

What makes your birthday special? Do you look forward to getting older, knowing that age and life is a gift from God?

Emotions

As a counsellor, I ought to be comfortable with emotions. After all, a frequent  question I pose is “how do you feel about that?” or, “how does that feel to say that/hear that?” Yes, I traffic daily in emotions.

But personally, I am standoffish about emotions. Yeck. They are messy, complicated, all over the map, and difficult to understand. For one reason or the other, I prefer to enter into the emotional experiences of others rather than enter into my own emotional world.

That is why the CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation) conference on emotions was so timely. As David Powlison wrote, “oddly enough, this is an unusual topic for a Christian conference! It shouldn’t be. God made you to feel just as surely as he made you to think and act. A human being is the whole package. And in Scripture, God speaks to your emotional life just as pointedly as He speaks to your thought life and choices. Your Father renews the whole person.”

I can’t give you the whole experience of the conference nor can I give you the audio for free (God made me with emotions, not money). So, let me tell you what I learned and you can buy the audio yourself. Deal?

-Emotions ought not to be categorized as “good” or “bad.” Happy can be a good emotion in one context, bad in another. Rather, emotions are barometers, they are an overflow of what we value, worship, desire.

-God created us as emotional beings becuase He is emotional. Of course, His emotions are pure and He is never ruled or controlled by them. As created image bearers, we are called to experience emotions.

-Every Christian ought to feel a bit melancholic. The brokenness of this world lies in sharp contrast to the shalom (wholeness, purity, perfection, peace, etc.) of God’s world. To live in a world that sin has ravished means that we will be on the receiving end and on the dishing end of the brokenness. When we see God’s way of living–the way that the world was before the fall and the world that we are going to–we are saddened by the depths of the fall. Our sad, unhappy, “bad” feelings in this context are good. We are called to be moved by the brokenness of sin. Suffering and sin is dark, ugly, messy and we are going to feel it more intensely as we get attuned to the glory of God.

-We are called to engage with God. Psalm 62:8 was a theme verse for this conference: “trust in Him at all times, o people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

-Joni Eareckson Tada is simply wonderful. I want to aspire to be an 1/8 of a fraction like her. Yet, this desire scares me because the way to grow in Godliness is by taking the hard road of suffering. Kyrie eleison.

I’m still unpacking the conference mentally and emotionally so you’re only getting a bit of what was all said. But a wise friend asked me today, “so what are you going to do about what you’ve been learning?”

One piece of this will be lowering myself into my emotions. I’m scared to get lost in them. I’m scared because I am an over-thinker and introspection very quickly turns murky and dark. But I am encouraged because lowering myself into the deep end of emotions does not mean I’m going in alone. I–you–have a Father in heaven, our dear Abba, who opens wide His harms as He stands with firm legs on the bottom of the pool (figurative, of course) and tells us, “jump! I will catch you! Trust me! Jump!” Emotions may be crazy and difficult for me to deal with, but they are not crazy, complicated, or unknown to our God. As an emotional God, He is familiar with my emotions. So I start there and engage with my emotions.

Next, I anchor myself into the character of God, which will help my introspection not turn dark and murky. Who is God in the midst of my emotions? Well, going back to Psalm 62:8, he is our refuge. The storm may rage all around me, but inside a refuge all is well and snug. God is also faithful. My emotions are fickle but He remains unchanging. God is good and tender. My emotions will tempt me to believe that He is not–that He is withholding something from me. But, suffering is the journey to the destination of Godliness. The brokenness I experience is appropriate because I have tasted what is good and I am created for another world–eternity, shalom, perfect rest and peace. So secondly I keep God’s character close, like a lifejacket that will hold me up.

All of this really is a response of worship and trust. Pouring out my emotions is entrusting my heart, an act of worship, to my God. God is pleased with my feeble and lisping cries of pain and sorrow because I am turning to Him and telling Him to take care of me and giving Him the fragile china of my heart (what a gift people give me when they share their vulnerabilities and fine china, so how much more a gift when I give this to God!). As my emotions are barometers of what I worship, value, desire I also need to evaluate the context and deeper motives of my emotions. Using God’s character and law, I reshape and reinform my emotions. I want to care about what God cares about–that will mean grieving over my sins, getting angry at injustice, being joyful over my own or someone else’s growth, delighted in the beauty of a sunrise (…er, sunset for this night owl).

And this is a good feedback loop of worship (compared to the empty, death giving feedback loop of being standoffish with my emotions). Because as I pour out my emotions (which is an act of worship and trust) and reinform my emotions, I will continue to feel and experience emotions. Then in turn, I engage with God and remind myself of God’s character, which will turn into responding in worship and trust.

Crazy amazing.

 

Little plug, little nudge: want the audio of the conference? CCEF should have the audio available soon.