Is Your Best Really Enough? Or Could it be the Root of Your Problem?

I asked a simple question during my morning prayers yesterday. “What is true about me, Jesus?”

IMG_4324Why am I struggling with things that should be simple? Why am I stressed? Sad? Confused? Tired? Romans 8:27 says, “He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.” He can tell me what’s true about myself with more clarity, accuracy and purity than I can possibly muster.

I know John 16:33 says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” I’m not referring to these “normal” trials and problems — though they certainly happen — and can sometimes be consequences of my heart’s condition.

IMG_3094I’m talking about subtleties.  The tears that were present just behind my eyes all day yesterday; yet I couldn’t quite put a name them. The tension in my neck and shoulders. The confusion about my future and today’s big decisions. Even with my limited understanding, I was pretty sure that a large part of my problems and these feelings… began within me.

When I asked, “What is true about me, Jesus?” the following words came to me in my prayer journaling — I believe at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

IMG_3089“You try to run in your own strength without returning to me to receive my resurrection power. What you receive from your time with me is quickly “used up,” but often you don’t sense your spiritual depletion. Being spiritually dry feels “normal” because so much of your life has been lived performing outside of my abundance. You begin in surrender with a heart focused on me, but quickly shift to dependence on your natural gifts and abilities instead of me. Learn to see your negative emotions as indicators of your desperate need to seek my face frequently and regularly.”

The thought isn’t new, but the words ring true. I am humbled and saddened at the thought that I can forget Him so easily, and go at it on my own — even with good intentions. I know that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) I also know that John 15:4-5 says, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Scripture backs up my journaling, as it always must. When I push forward in my own strength — I find myself tired. Confused. Overwhelmed. Sad.

IMG_2414As I was writing this post, I was reminded that the verse from John I quoted above is the answer to a question. I looked back for context — planning to transition to today’s devotion from My Utmost for His Highest (below). I hadn’t realized before, but I was looking at the same verse — different translations!

Here is the expanded context I looked up from John 16:30-33 in The Message.

His disciples said, “Finally! You’re giving it to us straight, in plain talk—no more figures of speech. Now we know that you know everything—it all comes together in you. You won’t have to put up with our questions anymore. We’re convinced you came from God.”

Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

When God repeats Himself, I’ve learned to listen.  Below is today’s Utmost for HIs Highest devotional that underscored my prayer time message (words in parenthesis are my commentary).

IMG_3054“Now we believe….”  (I’ve been telling Jesus, I Believe! I want to live trusting and surrendered to YOU!) But Jesus asks, “Do you…? Indeed the hour is coming…that you…will leave Me alone” John 16:31-32.  Many Christian workers have left Jesus Christ alone and yet tried to serve Him out of a sense of duty, or because they sense a need as a result of their own discernment. (That’s been me at times… and it seems harmless, even “good” and fruitful). The reason for this is actually the absence of the resurrection life of Jesus. Our soul has gotten out of intimate contact with God by leaning on our own religious understanding. See Proverbs 3:5-6.  This is not deliberate sin and there is no punishment attached to it. But once a person realizes how he has hindered his understanding of Jesus Christ, and caused uncertainties, sorrows, and difficulties for himself, it is with shame and remorse that he has to return. (Here I am Lord! I believe; help my unbelief!)

IMG_0573We need to rely on the resurrection life of Jesus on a much deeper level than we do now. (Amen!) We should get in the habit of continually seeking His counsel on everything, (I’m planning to really expand on what seeking His counsel on EVERYTHING looks like for me) instead of making our own commonsense decisions and then asking Him to bless them. (This one has gotten me into trouble more than once! He always forgives… but there are consequences.) He cannot bless them; it is not in His realm to do so, and those decisions are severed from reality. If we do something simply out of a sense of duty, we are trying to live up to a standard that competes with Jesus Christ. We become a prideful, arrogant person, thinking we know what to do in every situation. (OUCH! Thank you for your forgiveness.)  We have put our sense of duty on the throne of our life, instead of enthroning the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to “walk in the light” of our conscience or in the light of a sense of duty, but to “walk in the light as He is in the light…” 1 John 1:7. When we do something out of a sense of duty (or relying on our own common sense, talents and even spiritual gifts), it is easy to explain the reasons for our actions to others. But when we do something out of obedience to the Lord, there can be no other explanation— just obedience. That is why a saint can be so easily ridiculed and misunderstood. (I have felt this kind of “misunderstood” by man and it’s NOT comfortable… but oh how sweet it is knowing I’m right where Jesus asked me to be.)

(http://utmost.org/do-you-now-believe/)

IMG_3041Can you relate? In my journaling, He went on to say…

  • Overeating? Seek me.
  • Tired? Rest in Me.
  • Stressed? Give it to me.
  • Confused? Ask me.

“Not just in your journal and “prayer time,” but all day. And when you speak to Me, don’t just shoot a missile you hope lands in my earshot. Stop. Turn your attention to Me. Speak. Silence. Wait. Expect My answer. You can accomplish this even as your body continues moving if necessary… but wait for Me to answer, because you believe I will.”

James 1:5-7 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith, without doubting, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.…”

Matthew 21:22 “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Thank you, Jesus, for your answer that’s as simple as my question. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief! Amen.

 

It’s About Time! Musings at Midlife

Midlife and the Empty Nest. I’m many years into both but still searching to understand this new rhythm and stride. Shouldn’t someone have written What to Expect when I’m Expecting — but don’t Know What?

IMG_1287In my experience, the freedom is intoxicating at first. You do fun things you couldn’t fit in before. The bucket list remains and can serve as a defining focus. Carpe diem!

But if we listen there are other voices.  Sometimes an edge of loneliness creeps in with the absence of structured opportunities for socializing with other parents. Often there are the added distractions of illness, menopause, weight gain, elderly parents, job shifts, relational shifts, moves, children’s graduations, jobs, weddings, and/ or those absolutely wonderful grand babies…

Time marches on. Circumstances multiply and keep coming at us, as if we’re drinking from a fire hydrant. Nothing is quite as it was. I call this perfect storm being in the sandwich generation.

Time especially has become an unrecognizable commodity.

On paper, I have all sorts of “freed up” time. But somehow my reality is that I’m pushed, pulled and distracted. Busy but without even a vague notion of just what it is I’m accomplishing. At least not in a “big picture” sense. And the clock’s rotations seem ever faster.

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In childhood it seemed there was an eternity between holidays and all the markers of my calendar. Time meant nothing to me outside the present moment and whatever was just ahead.

In my 20s, 30s, even into my 40s, I meandered through my days with anticipation. I still remember what I wore on those milestone birthdays (now I can’t remember if I’ve done laundry this week). It felt like THIS season was the REAL LIFE I had always dreamed of. I had all the time in the world.

But in midlife, time is moving faster! I’d swear I was at the dentist just before Christmas — but I’m due my 6 month appointment! I find myself thinking “that went so fast” about everything.

In my heart I’m a young mother with a family to raise. In reality the kids have been adults for a while, and the stranger in my mirror has pills to take each morning.  I’m living a favorite phrase of my Granny’s,  “Tempus do Fugit,” but I’m not sure how to respond? I feel an urgency to get life figured out.

I’m conflicted about how to save and spend my time. I’m protective in scheduling, but not sure for what purpose. Not only did I not plan for this stage, I never really believed I’d be here!

The angst makes sense not only because of my denial, but also because midlife is a major transition — the process of changing from one state to another. Beyond the family dynamics — the physical, emotional, and spiritual adjustments are forces to be reckoned with.

IMG_3000What is my purpose, God willing, these 25-30+ years I’m already inhabiting, but without an instruction manual (sounds like bringing the 1st baby home… sigh). Who am I besides what I’ve known? I know God is calling me to something else — but the particulars are not yet clear.

I’ve been trying to give myself grace in the questioning and to live in patient expectation. To be comfortable with this in between and experiment my way to the answers — allowing for missteps and mistakes along the way. Admittedly, it’s hard.

Even the same old, same old often feels very different today. The once comfortable is ill-fitting, like a well-worn glove that’s been molded on someone else’s hand. One part of me is ready to discard it to make room for tomorrow’s new thing; another is holding on to that glove, as if it is Life.

What is it I feel… is it lonely? Lost? Or a new sort of peace?  I’m befuddled. I want desperately to engage in something that’s not yet here, and I’m oddly protective of my Time, so I don’t miss it when it arrives.

Ambivalence. Juxtapositions. Change.

I looked around yesterday and realized I’ve become a stranger in my own home. A month after Christmas an almost dead poinsettia is still on the coffee table along with a strand of Christmas lights that went half dark while still on the tree. A Swiffer has long been propped in the kitchen near the ever-cluttered island counter. My bed isn’t made. But the house doesn’t mind; no one is bustling in and out. And Rob and I no longer “see it” or care quite in the same ways as we once did.

I am not this person! …Or am I…?

I used to enjoy having a well-used, but almost always tidy home. A full refrigerator and pantry were a given as we were a “hub” of activity. Meals were fed and clean sheets offered to the predictable tides of friends and family. Happy times for a mom who loves hospitality.

IMG_1418But my truth today IS different. I’m frustrated with the late afternoon taunt in my head, “what’s for supper?” It’s just the two of us — that’s not the cooking I understand or enjoy! The fridge is all but bare, save the outdated produce and dreaded “healthy” additions like coconut milk and kale — neither of which I had heard of when I was young and skinny. But alas, the battle of the bulge is lost if we’re not fighting. There is no cease fire. Culinary enjoyment removed until the next holidays or party.

I resent the dust, laundry, clutter and such that perseveres in its attack to wear me down. Yet it feels frivolous to have someone else help too often with the everyday stuff — when it’s just the two of us.

Rob left a great career in corporate America, to make a change. Am I different? Could it be OK to shift my entire focus? To let go of what’s worked so well? Is it time for something altogether new?

Homemaking distracts me and pulls me away, but from what? Exploring. Purpose. Meaning. I’m restless, but certain God is up to Something…

My sense of time. My priorities. My friendships and involvements — they’re all changing. A metamorphosis is taking place. I’ve been in the cocoon for a while — but I’m emerging. I can feel it. Life has been defined by my own little red wagon. God charged me with certain roles and responsibilities. Certain people and places. And now, my purpose is less clear.

But one thing He is speaking loud a clear… I am so much more aware of eternity. His Kingdom. Biblical Truths I have always heard but couldn’t absorb are becoming Life to me.

My world is increasingly complex and confusing — with many demands on me and my time, making it easy to get lost and perplexed as to what’s next. What’s important.

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Philippians 3:13-14 says, “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

It is critical to my peace and well-being to nurture and strengthen my relationship with Jesus.

Direct answers to my question of “what’s next?” have been elusive. But God reminds me of Matthew 8:3 and my need to be more childlike: embracing patience. Being present wherever I am — in the moment without worrying about the next. Humble. Dependent.  Trusting. Expectant. Full of awe and wonder.  So much easier said than done.

To relish focused time with my Papa first and foremost helps all else fall into its proper place. He’s reminding me of what it is to be “like a little child,” for there is much there that connects me to the kingdom of heaven.

I have 52 years of His faithfulness to draw on as I trust Him. At His feet, I’m finding rest and renewal. Life. For now that — with hope and faith in the future God already knows — is enough.

All will come, in His Time.

 

I Forgot a Title, so I’ll leave it as a Sweet little Surprise…

IMG_3379A while back I remember strolling down the beach with Rob as I excitedly covered some long-forgotten topic — from 3 different angles. I was virtually uninterrupted for at least the first quarter mile of our walk. Rob knows I am a verbal processor.  He’s a great listener and so wonderful about letting me express a myriad of thoughts out loud with him. When I finally asked, “well — what do you think,” I’ll never forget his answer.  He had listened to it all. And cautiously and honestly suggested, “I don’t think I think quite as much as you do.”

Can you relate? I can seldom “turn off” my brain. Meaning rarely am I not running a stream of consciousness reel in my head… traveling from topic to topic; turning over ideas, people, relationships, prayers, problems, lists and schedules (you name it) repeatedly and to varying depths — involving both my head and my heart.

E-X-H-A-L-E… I’m out of breath even typing it!

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Sometimes it feels like a curse. I’d love to just chill and go “brain dead” for a moment of rest and relaxation! Many men seem to be wired better for this than a lot of women I know. But God made us as we are for His own reasons. As Psalm 139: tells us, “You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this.”

I want to be thankful… but sometimes, I want a break even more!

Painting is my best escape. I have no scientific data to prove it, but experience tells me that painting involves a special  kind of creative process that shuts out the barrage of interruptions that usually pierce my internal peace and quiet. When I create, I can’t think of anything else… Ahhhh. The bliss of it! IMG_4050

IMG_4048But alas, my life can’t always be lived holed up in my studio, in sweats and the shirt I slept in…braless and covered in paint. I paint like I do puzzles and read books… ravenously. Non stop until I arrive. Loving the journey, but living for the accomplishment. Engrossed. Then away, and back to the rest of life… and the dreaded non-stop thinking. The thoughts that just will not turn off.

They say in truth, everyone’s mind is ever active… analyzing, evaluating, reflecting, relating, dreaming, creating. As human beings — despite sometimes reducing the noise — we all think without ceasing.  These unending thoughts sometimes bring fear, worry, guilt, stress…

img_3054Something I read the other day stopped me in my tracks. Then I moved on to why one of my dogs has sort of bleached, orangish, kinky highlights in his coat and the other has dark brown curly locks when they are from the same blood line…???  Anyway —  I can’t take credit for the original thought, nor can I tell you its source.  I’ve alternately pushed it away and corralled it to mull over more thoroughly. Regardless, the thought held on to me.

Here’s the big AHA! idea I ran across — what if instead of uselessly desiring to turn off our tiring inner monologue, we convert our endless thinking into unceasing prayer?

IMG_35651 Thessalonians 5:16-18 gives us what feels like a daunting and impossible task, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I’ve tried, but honestly thought, “really Jesus? UNCEASING prayer?” 

I’ve spiritualize the concept by trying to “live my life as a prayer offering.” I bet the Sadducees and Pharisees beat me to that rationale. But WE CAN DO IT, if we will only acknowledge the Truth of a few verses:

 Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

May I suggest we all reread those well-known verses again? Really let them permeate the cacophony of voices that may be competing at this very moment?

IMG_3474God is here, with you, right now. Loving. Listening. Desiring to guide you and give you His thoughts. Share in your world. Give you Life.

What if we resolved to convert our inner monologue into a ongoing dialogue with our God, our Abba, who loves us? The Holy Spirit indwells every believer and gives us Life.  We already know He is always with us. What if we invited our Maker into our awareness — and made our very thoughts a conversation of give and take with the Living God?

We can confidently know He wants to listen with his unfailing love, grace and mercy to all that preoccupies or taunts us. And all that delights us. Every good gift is from Him, and He allows and uses everything in our lives for our good. Why wouldn’t we alter our ongoing thoughts into prayer just by acknowledging what we already know to be true?

This is a game changer! From endless thinking to unceasing prayer as He commands! Oh the delight and the relief!

I’m not Pollyanna, nor am I naive. This won’t happen overnight for me. Like anything worth having it will take discipline and work… and dare I say obedience to God’s Word? But oh, the rewards I can see down the pike! I’m surrendered to the invitation, and trusting God to move.

img_3590And one more thing that came to mind… back at the beginning I mentioned wanting to escape sometimes. I’ll keep on painting, but as wonderful as it is, even that isn’t complete rest. And I need a real break very frequently.

God commands rest too, and offers Himself to facilitate it. Where I am today, just typing this brought tears to my eyes. Read a few more verses and imagine them whispered in your ear by the One who loves you more than life.

Exodus 33:14 “And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28-30Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 4:8 “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

His Peace be with you.IMG_3470

Your comments are so encouraging —  either in the comments section or through social media below. Thank you for “hearing” my confession, and for your prayers.