When Labels Become a Snare

Attaching labels to people is a dangerous business.

We all sense this, to some degree. We know that, while categorizing people can be helpful, it can blind us to the complexities that make each person unique. And so, especially with those close to us, we try to keep an open mind.

But when it comes to ourselves, we forget.

I am — as my friends know — an introvert. This means, primarily, that being alone is how I recharge. On the rare occasion when I have the house to myself, I revel in it. Instead of using the free time to meet, call, or even write to a friend, I simply soak up the blissful quiet and feel peace flooding my soul.

I have learned, however, that I can take this too far.

Depression and I are not strangers — because alas, this, too, seems to be part of my makeup. Although I expend significant energy fighting it off, there are times when I just can’t. And so, because I am an introvert, I seek aloneness. When I find that aloneness, it helps…to a point.

This point — the point at which solitude is no longer helpful — is the moment when my self-labeling becomes dangerous. Because I forget that I am not just an introvert. I forget that I do need people.

It’s tempting (especially for us introverts — ESPECIALLY if we are Christian introverts) to say that we don’t need people; to assert that all we should need is God; that people will fail us and that we should wait on the Lord. And yet, this super-spiritual rationalizing falls to pieces as soon as I crack open the New Testament.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are created to be in communion with one another, and this truth echoes throughout almost every page of the Gospels and the epistles. We reflect God’s image here on earth, and though we do so imperfectly, we are called to do so nonetheless…and this means, among other things, that we are to comfort those who are depressed.

When I withdraw from communion in my misguided introvert-style attempt to cheer myself up, I miss some of the beauty of being part of this Body. I say, effectively: “I have no need of you.” In doing this, I’m not depending on God at all; I am, in fact, rejecting the help He has provided in the form of beautiful sisters and brothers in Christ.

Fellow introverts: I am learning to do better. I have found that isolating myself eventually makes things much, much worse. Join me — especially when things look darkest — in stepping outside of your label, outside of yourself, and into the restorative fellowship God has put in place for His beloved children.

Advertisements

Gifts: Remembering the “Why”


Playing volleyball, I discovered recently, can land me in a very dark place.

I am terrible at sports. Not everybody realizes this, as I actually enjoy exercising, but it’s true: I can run and do jumping jacks and lift dumbbells and legitimately enjoy the sweat, but get a ball near me and I fall to pieces. Nonetheless, when I recently had the — ahem — “opportunity” to join some church friends in an evening of sports activities, I decided to opt in, because maybe (I conjectured) I’d magically improved after at least 20 years of opting OUT.

But I hadn’t.

Don’t get me wrong; everybody was gracious and kind and not at all like the mean kids in middle school gym class. Still, that evening I went home questioning my entire life.

Why didn’t I spend my life getting better at sports?

Right…because I was pursuing music. But what am I doing with that right now? Hardly anything.

But I am writing, which has been my first love since I was old enough to hold a pencil. But what’s the point? Will it ever amount to anything?

And so on…and so on…and so on.

After a few days, I felt better, but the details of how that happened are not the point. The point is what I finally realized today about my dark, empty musings from a week ago.

I had fallen into the trap of idolizing my gifts.

Ann Voskamp writes in The Broken Way: “You’ve got to give your gifts or they become your identity, and you become the walking dead.” She’s right. I had become wrapped up in thinking about my own success — in how gifted I was — and had sunk into depression because none of it was enough. And yet reading First Corinthians reminds me that it should never be about me in the first place.

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

I am a member of the body of Christ. If I say to myself, “Because I am not an athlete (or an accomplished musician, or a well-known writer), I am not a part of the body” — I would be not only rejecting what God gave me, but burying my talents — whatever their scope — instead of serving others with what I do have.

Now, I could conclude by saying that I now realize I’m a special twinkle in God’s eye and I deserve a big hug and a cookie. But that would negate the idea that, most of all, should remain at the forefront of my mind: that my gifts are for the edification and nourishment of those around me.

And if I continually remember to see my gifts as opportunities to pour out God’s love and grace to others, I won’t have room to feel sorry for myself.

Making God Bigger

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does it mean to magnify the Lord?

To magnify something is to make it appear larger than it actually is. As I recently read to my kids from an Advent devotional, we can’t make God bigger or greater than He is already. And yet, when greeting her cousin Elizabeth with the astounding news of the miraculous Child in her womb, Mary begins one of Scripture’s most beloved passages with the words:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

So what does it mean to magnify the Lord?

On one hand, I believe the answer is simple: it means acknowledging His greatness — contemplating His character, His wonders, and His love, and realizing how magnificent He truly is.

On the other hand, I believe that really, deeply understanding the answer comes only through a life lived with Him.

A lifetime of loving Him, and being loved by Him.

Of losing heart in life’s battles, but finding that over and over, He gives strength to the weary.

Of repeatedly stumbling, and sinning, and failing — and discovering, through those struggles, the magnitude of His grace.

We are like Lucy in Narnia, longing for her beloved Aslan. We find that the longer we know the Lord, the more we yearn for Him. The more we understand our brokenness, the more deeply we grasp, and crave, His everlasting love.

And as we draw closer to Him, we find that He has, for us, become bigger.

 

 

 

All the Dreams We’ve Ever Had

isaiah-53-4.jpg

 


One of the best-kept secrets of the Advent and Christmas seasons is that behind all the lights and music and revelry lies — for many people — a deep, lingering sadness.

This may come and go throughout the year, but intensifies as Christmas draws near. Not nostalgia, mind you; just sadness. And although the reasons vary widely, it often comes down to this: The happiness and togetherness associated with the season — EXPECTED during the season — accentuate, for so many, the brokenness of a life for which we had dreamed something very different.

The world assures us that we can follow our hearts and reach the stars if we simply believe in our dreams…

…but the proof is in the living, and life has revealed the emptiness of such promises.

Moreover, God’s Word gives us a much different story.

The Bible is full of people whose lives took unexpected turns that they might never have wished for — and rarely is that more acute than in the details surrounding the Incarnation.

Israel dreamed of a conquering King who would vanquish oppressors, ascend to the throne, and rule with peace and justice. Instead, the “suffering servant” depicted in Isaiah 53 turned out to be the long-awaited Messiah. His humble birth, kingdom, and the peace promised by the prophets, looked nothing like the Israelites’ visions of a Savior.

On a more intimate level, we have the story of Mary. Her dreams were, perhaps, small: marry a tradesman, raise a family, live humbly but contentedly. Gabriel’s announcement changed all of that…and yet, the honor of bearing the Son of God came with a price: that a sword would pierce Mary’s own soul.

In fact, the Gospels show us that Jesus spent much of His life challenging expectations.

What, then? Is God a crusher of dreams? Does He look at those who weep and tell them to buck up because life is full of disappointments?

If we know anything about Jesus, we know that isn’t true…and so there must be more to the story.

What we learn from Jesus’ birth, and everything that it entailed, is that the plans we make for our lives are rarely the same as God’s. More importantly, though: what He has planned for us is GOOD.

It may hurt; it may mean many years of waiting to understand; it may mean acknowledging that our idea of “good” is more limited than we ever realized. But through all of the weeping and the wondering and the waiting, He is there.

Immanuel: God with us. And one day, when we have shed our earthly bodies, and when sorrow and tears are past, we will be WITH HIM…and all the dreams we’ve ever had will be gloriously, beautifully fulfilled.

Don’t Be Silly

The Spies Return with Discordant Views (Yoram Raanan)

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!’

* * * * * * *
 
Before I provide a chapter and verse for the above lament, I want you to guess what prompted it. Had the Israelites been attacked by enemies? Stricken by a fatal illness? Forced to travel for days without sufficient food and water?
 
No, no, and no.
 
God’s people were complaining, in Numbers 14:1, because Moses’s spies had reported that the promised land of Canaan, though luscious and fruitful, housed warriors of unusual size. Upon hearing this, the Israelites immediately envisioned their own defeat and accepted it as a foregone conclusion. It was so inevitable, in their minds, that they reacted as if they had already been vanquished and left to perish in the wilderness.
 
I actually laughed when reading this passage a few days ago. Such silly people!
 
But then, as often happens when I read the Old Testament, I stopped laughing as I remembered my own silliness… because I am, in fact, an expert when it comes to imagining how badly a given situation can turn out, then bewailing my fate long before I actually find out what really happens. Despite God’s enduring faithfulness, demonstrated not only in the Bible but in my own life, I fail to trust Him. Moses’s words, as he later recounts the experience, might have made some of his listeners squirm uncomfortably, as I do when reading them now:
 
Then I said to you, “Do not be shocked, nor fear them. The Lord your God who goes before you will fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, and all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.” But for all this, you did not trust the Lord your God.” (Deut. 1:29-32, emphasis mine)
 
Such a beautiful picture of a father carrying his child. It should make all of God’s people want to rest in His strong, loving arms; to simply obey, and be at peace. But for all that, we still behave as if don’t know that we can entrust our futures to Him. Instead, we borrow trouble. Very silly indeed, but so perpetually human. It’s why Jesus said in Matthew 6, many years later:
 
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
 
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. God hasn’t promised that we will win every battle — in fact, Jesus acknowledged that our days on earth will bring trouble — but He HAS promised to supply our needs. If we truly believe what Jesus said…
 
Well, bemoaning imagined calamities is just plain silly.

Wormwood and Bitterness: When it’s Hard to Give Thanks

“Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!

My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down before me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:19-23)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Thanksgiving.
It’s a feast day; a time of togetherness; an opportunity to revel in life’s simple pleasures. It’s easy — more or less — to feel thankful when enjoying relaxation, laughter, and bounty with our loved ones.
But not every day can be a feast day, and during the in-between times, that Thanksgiving spirit can slip away, leaving hardly a trace of that homey well-being we tasted on a Thursday in November. It’s a mental strain, some days, to answer the question: what are you praising God for today?
I needn’t remind you of the importance of gratitude, or of the fact that every breath we take is a gift. We see that embroidered on pillows and adorning walls all the time…and it’s not wrong! Sometimes, though, even those breaths are a weariness.
Jeremiah understood that.
His most well-known words — those about God’s lovingkindness, compassion, and faithfulness — become doubly poignant when we remember that they follow a lengthy expression of despondency and defeat. And what makes these verses so beautiful to me is the fact that he doesn’t try to just “cheer up.”
He doesn’t look for the “silver lining.”
He certainly doesn’t hide his feelings from God.
What he DOES…is cling to God. He rests in who God is, and in the truth that he, Jeremiah, has not been abandoned. Like a child after a hard day, climbing into a parent’s lap and receiving solace from a lingering embrace that simply says, “I love you, and you are not alone,” the weeping prophet rests in God’s arms –and that is enough.
During the times when we can find nothing else to be thankful for, let us always remember: He is faithful…and He is more than enough.

When You Really Need Your Armor

When it comes to best-known Bible passages — the ones most of us can not only quote, but readily identify by book and chapter — first prize would probably go to 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter.”

But perhaps second, and only slightly less well-known, would be Ephesians 6 — Paul’s description of the armor of God. With good reason, too; it’s a powerful, vivid passage full of striking metaphors describing how God equips believers to resist the “schemes of the devil” (v. 10). Amidst the darkness that seems to prevail in our world, I love (and need) the reminders that (1) our enemy is Satan the Deceiver, not other people; and (2) we have what we need to resist him until, ultimately, he loses. Reading these verses emboldens me to face the world’s darkness with hope instead of fear.
I tend to forget, however, that the armor of God is about more than cosmic, epic battles between good and evil…the BIG stuff that’s happening “out there.”
Sometimes Satan attacks us much more intimately; when we’ve let down our guard, when we feel the most safe. And the things that hurt us — criticism from people we love, friends shutting us out for reasons we can’t understand, children rejecting our attempts to teach them truth — we fight them in our own strength, because we forget that Satan operates on all fronts, and that some of his most effective campaigns are waged at the most personal levels.
If I’m not wearing the belt of truth when others’ words hurt and discourage, I will believe Satan’s whispered lie that I’m inadequate.
If my feet aren’t shod with gospel of peace when disagreements escalate to arguments, I will let the tension spill out in hurtful words that I can’t take back.
If I remove my armor, thinking that I’m done dealing with Satan for the day, he will attack where I’m weakest, because the element of surprise is one of the most tried-and-true battle tactics.
We could, or course, be daunted by the prospect of having to be armed at all times, and by the reminder that Satan is unrelenting in his efforts to weaken those who love Jesus…OR…we could be emboldened. We can remember, when the Enemy’s attacks hit us on the most personal level, that the armor of God is for all of us, for all times, for ALL the flaming darts of the evil one, and not just for the “big” things that are done by people fighting battles much more visible than ours.
Finally, friends, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of HIS might. No matter how big or small your battle, you need not fight it on your own.