Render unto Me

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about milestones. More honestly, though, I’ve been feeling quite accosted by them. Maybe it’s the stress of having turned 30—and of truly realizing for the very first time just how rapidly my life is flying by. I’ve come to a point where I’m beginning to feel a tremendous amount of pressure to attain certain things that didn’t seem so important not long ago. Should my husband and I buy a house soon? Should we have a baby? It used to seem like we had all the time in the world to figure things out, and now suddenly, it’s as though we’re racing the clock. A mortgage will take another 30 years to pay off—meaning that, if we literally bought a house within the next 24 hours, we’d be 60 years old by the time we finally finished paying for it. The typical retirement age is about 65, so we definitely don’t want to still be in debt by the time we get there! Likewise, a baby will take 18 years to raise—meaning that if we had one right this second, we’d be 49 years old by the time he or she graduated from high school. Not to mention, I’ve already heard plenty of things about how risky it can be for a woman to conceive past the age of 35—leaving us less than five years to safely consider this incredibly life-altering choice. Seriously? It was 2012 the last time I blinked!

Everywhere we turn, it seems like we are constantly striving to hit that next milestone and to attain the status that our world demands of us at every crucial fork in the road. Five years ago, it might have been marriage. Five years before that, it might have been a career. And we’ve just kept forging on—always goal-oriented and never truly satisfied with being exactly where we are. It’s just the way life works—but oh, is it ever exhausting! And when I stop to think about it, I understand how futile it is. I realize how much time I’ve spent wishing my life away and focusing so much of my attention on the pursuit of things that can never last. In that moment of truth, everything stops. And the only thing I want is to follow His voice.

Our Savior never troubled Himself with the pursuit of such milestones. Career? He was born into a caste system with His occupation chosen for Him before He could take His first steps. Marriage? Although this has been an issue of some debate, the general consensus seems to be that He never hit that target, either—which means the prospect of having children probably never entered His mind. And I’m fairly certain that He never owned property. He lived with His parents until He was thirty years old and basically spent the rest of His life being homeless. Yet, what a beautiful life it was—the most beautiful life that has ever been and ever will be.

I’m not saying it’s wrong for us to want all those other things. But why should we define the value our lives by whether or not we attain any of them? Why should we consider so essential that which He never experienced? Is it not enough just to live every day as He did—giving ourselves completely to God and being thankful for anything He chooses either to grant or deny us (in His timing, not ours)?

Above all things, He would have us remember that our lives are not our own. On the temple grounds in Jerusalem, He once rebuked our thoughtlessness this way: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25, NLT). In the context of our modern world, I can hear Him saying the exact same thing. No matter what anybody else says about what we should or shouldn’t be doing—about what’s important and what is not—His image is the only one we bear. We belong to Him. So, we shouldn’t consider ourselves at liberty to be led by anything else. We shouldn’t waste another precious moment.

 

 

 

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My God of Freedom

Earlier this month, as I watched our Independence Day fireworks illuminate the summer sky, I started thinking about God—and how I could almost see His smile in the light. It occurred to me that, although He hasn’t approved of everything we’ve done in our history as a nation, He has beamed at the still prevailing thought which inspired our nation’s birth.

Here’s how I know that: I go back to the garden. I see Adam and Eve standing at the tree of knowledge, unaware that their Creator is watching them. With a simple touch—one taste of the poisonous fruit—they are poised to defy the sole command of their God. He saw the whole thing. He knew what it meant—and what He would have to do to bring them back to Him. He could’ve stopped it effortlessly, but He didn’t. He didn’t stop it, because it was never His intention to crush them with His power. He wanted their love, and He knew that love expressed under force is not love at all. He wouldn’t force them to love Him, yet how could they not have loved a God like that? He gave them their freedom in the hope that someday, they might give Him their hearts.

This is the God I love, and it is He alone whom I endeavor to serve—no matter what.

Is Anyone Angry?

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger of late—probably because it’s one of those emotions that I’d like to have a firmer grip on. You know how it is. No matter how often we say we’re resolved to “turn over a new leaf” and stop behaving in ways we’ll regret, somehow that resolve goes straight out the window, especially when we find ourselves beset with anger. We can actually feel it rising to the surface from somewhere deep within us, its pressure relentlessly building until it seems that an outburst of violence can be our only respite. So, we give in. We unleash our inner tempest on the object of our rage, sometimes even managing to abuse an innocent bystander. And for a moment, we might feel some false sense vindication—even pleasure—at the release. But it doesn’t last for long. And afterwards, we’re likely to be more angry with ourselves than we were with the person or situation that provoked the initial storm.

I’ve always thought of anger as a kind of secondary emotion—a mask for pain and fear. It makes us feel less vulnerable in times when we can’t defend ourselves. The trouble is, though, that it harms us much more than it helps us. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus actually likens anger to murder, and that can be a really hard thing for us to accept. To us, there is a huge difference between the two, but God doesn’t want only to change our actions for the better. He wants to change our hearts, and, to Him, anger is murder within the heart. Murder is sin because life belongs to God. It is a sacred gift from God—Who Is the ultimate Lover of life—and what He has breathed into each of us, no human being should ever seek to extinguish. When I’m angry with someone, the one unassailable fact that I hope to always keep at the forefront of my mind is that this person—whomever he or she is—bears God’s image. No matter what else I’m thinking or feeling about this person in any given moment, nothing is going to change that. So, how dare I mount an assault on an image-bearer of the Most High?

In the knowledge that our Creator has loved us so fiercely as to turn His anger away from us and to take it upon Himself—murdering His own Life that He might rescue ours—we should love each other. We should seek Him in each other’s eyes, acting in defiance of our own conceit. When we do that, how can we possibly be angry? Please, pray for me, and I’ll pray for you, too.

The Majesty of Love

I recently stumbled across something I wrote about six years ago. I’d been lovesick and despondent for more reasons than one, and I’d found myself trying to make sense of my pain. Things have changed for me since then, but as I reflected carefully upon the words, I realized that they still hold true. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I know that there are many who still yearn, seemingly in vain, to be loved by the object of their affection. If you are one of them, I’d like to dedicate this entry to you, in the hope that it might give meaning to your pain. This is what I wrote:

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about love recently, and although I feel the need to add a disclaimer to say that my thoughts on the matter are of no greater importance than anyone else’s, I wanted to share them with you because in them, I’ve rediscovered a fundamental truth that could help us understand.

Sometimes, I wonder why it’s necessary for us to feel with such intensity when the love that we have goes so often unreturned. It would probably be next to impossible to count the number of poems and songs that we, as a unified whole, have offered up to our beloved in an hour of passionate longing. Dare we even try?

Love is, indeed, the most powerful force unseen by human eyes, and it makes me so sad to think of the innumerable tragedies that befall us when our love is rejected. I don’t think there’s really any need to discuss these in detail—I’m sure we’ve all heard mention of them if we haven’t experienced them in some measure ourselves.

To be denied by the one we love will bring a pain so indescribably real that we fear we may be crushed to death beneath our own weight. In our anguish, we turn our gaze to the clouds and wonder, why?

I have to confess that I have been guilty of this questioning myself, from time to time. But when I really stop to think about it, I find that I’ve known the answer all along: We have to know this pain so that we can understand.

At the risk of losing some of you with this next part…what if there’s a deeper meaning behind everything that we experience in this world? What if the pain that we feel for the want of those we love is not meant as a mark of cruel indifference, or even as a punishment? What if it’s actually bestowed as a gift?

I believe, wholeheartedly, that God exists. I also believe that He loves us more than we will ever have the capacity to know. He gives us so many things as a testament to His love—the way the flowers smell, the way the fireflies illuminate the summer with their tiny and twinkling lights, the way the warmth of the sun can soothe us gently to sleep—but more than all of these things, His greatest sign of affection is His willingness to suffer for the want of us. He loves us so much that He embraced anguish and death even at our hands. Many of us have heard the story, but is that truly enough to let us know?

Maybe God has another idea in mind. Maybe He knows that we could have no hope of understanding unless we experienced a piece of this anguish for ourselves. He so desperately longs for us to know the depth of His love, so He allows us to love each other in a way that emulates it. He allows us to know the pain of unrequited love not because He wants to hurt us, or because He doesn’t care, but rather because He wants us, in those moments of sadness, to turn our hearts to Him and remember.

Love is the single greatest gift that we have been given in this life—in our ability to give as well as to receive it. To receive it is such an indescribably wonderful joy, but only in giving it do we start to bear likeness to our Creator. Only in giving it are we clothed in majesty.

So the next time you love someone, be ever thankful for that precious gift…even if the one you love cannot love you back. Just take a deep breath, lift your eyes to the heavens, and remember…

I suppose that some might find my musings a little theatrical, and even I must admit that, most of the time, I find it quite entertaining to re-read the expressions of my younger self. But this one—well—in light of all that my God has spoken into me throughout the years, I can’t help but stand by it. And I know that every moment of my life I’ve chosen to pine for someone else, God has spent pining for me—waiting for me to finally turn my heart to Him and give Him the passion that belonged to Him from the beginning. He loves us all this way, and He deserves our love in return. So, when you find yourself heartbroken for another person, may you also find comfort in knowing that His heart breaks for you. And in that knowledge, may you run to Him—His lover overwhelmed to be His beloved.

 

God with Us

The story continues to amaze me. No matter how many times I’ve heard it before, I don’t think anything could take away its newness. People sometimes point out that, despite the pageantry of Christmas, it’s Easter that holds the deepest significance for Christians around the world. And, in a way, that’s true. Were it not for the miracle of that bright, Sunday morning, Christmas would hold no significance at all. Yet, in my heart, the miracle of Christmas still touches me, ever so slightly more than Easter ever could. Maybe it does have something to do with the pageantry of it all—the music and the tree, and the soft beams of light set against the crystal snow. Even for those among us who aren’t particularly spiritual, there’s something about Christmas that’s so completely enchanting. It makes us want to be different—better, somehow.

Maybe Christmas touches my heart more than Easter does because my secular culture tells me it should, but I don’t think that’s the reason. For me, I think it’s simply that within the Christmas story, there lies such a revolutionary thought. The word God, along with all words synonymous to it, is typically associated with unbridled power. When we hear it, we’re likely to imagine a force so strong that it could effortlessly crush us, if it wanted to. We think of a person for whom nothing is impossible, a person who could bend anything to his will—even death. The story of Easter certainly falls in line with that idea. But the story of Christmas? Who, in their wildest dreams, could’ve ever seen that coming? God. Almighty Creator of the world and all life within it, ensconced in the fragile form of a tiny baby? It’s just so unthinkable. To imagine for a moment that we could hold Him in our arms and rock Him to sleep with our songs. Have you ever wondered what it must’ve been like to be His mother? To feel Him growing inside of you—to look down and watch Him as He drinks from your breast? I mean, wow. What kind of God is this? What kind of God is this who would willingly submit Himself to this kind of vulnerability—at our hands? The careless hands of His created ones, whom He’d made for His pleasure, but who had spurned His affection again, and again? It’s incredible! And after all this time, the thought of it can still draw tears from my eyes.

Easter is the story of our triumphant Savior, coming on the heels of terrible violence and pain. But Christmas holds such a gentle beauty. What greater expression is there of the love of God for mankind than for God to make Himself vulnerable to us? I’m so grateful to have a God who loves me this way, and it was precisely this kind of impossible love that won my heart to begin with—this love which only our God is capable of rendering to us. So now, as the chaos of the season comes to a close once again, I pray that we’ll all find a moment to rest in the quiet. To gaze lovingly upon the lights of our beautifully adorned Christmas trees, or into the tiny flames of the candles still lighting our frosted windows. To hear the songs of His love and to feel its overwhelming warmth. Tonight. Tomorrow. All the days of our lives—on earth and in heaven.

Walk with Me

This will probably be one of my shorter posts. I have something to share, but for those who will receive it, I’ll spare the personal details and focus on the simple truth. I have often heard the testimonies of other people who speak profusely of the joy they feel in knowing that God guides their steps. God has given me joy throughout my life, but only in these recent days have I finally begun to understand this particular joy. I’ve come to recognize the difference between walking in my own will and walking in His. And this difference might seem pretty basic in a logical sense, but it’s not just about what we can perceive intellectually—it’s about what we can experience.

Regrettably, I’ve chosen to walk within my own will throughout the vast majority of the precious time I’ve been given on this earth. In consequence of that choice, I’ve experienced a lot of strife. I’ve been victimized by fear, I’ve stumbled in frustration and resentment, and I’ve grieved in terrible heartache. I’ve spent so much energy trying to break down the wrong doors and wondering why they won’t just open, when, all the while, He has been waiting for me to take His hand—wanting so much to lead me down the path He cleared for me long ago.

At a certain point, I hope we all become broken enough of our own stubbornness to finally take His hand, because when we do, we will all know what it is to experience miracles. We will see our fear give way to trust, our frustration yield to peace, and our heartache transform into the most wonderful joy—a joy born of love experienced both from and for our beautiful Creator.

We have a God who cares for us, I think, far more than we have the capacity to understand. The desire of His heart is to make us whole—to provide for us and keep us safe so that we’ll never have to know the pain of being without Him. “Look at the lilies and how they grow,” Jesus said. “They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are (Matthew 6:28-29, NLT).”

I have felt the hand of my God as He lovingly adorns me with all that I need for my warmth. In spite of every false security the world has ever seduced me with, that Hand is what I’m thankful for.

Speak In Me

I often wonder these days, in the midst of my conversations with other people, if I’ve ever truly allowed God to speak through me. There are moments when an opportunity will present itself—a precious opportunity where I can actually be the vessel through which God reaches out to someone else whom He loves. Sometimes, I only recognize these opportunities after they’ve passed. At other times, I’m completely aware of them as they’re put in front of me, but my fear will cause me to shrink from them. And then, there are those times when I find myself emboldened enough to say His name. I’ll reference His words and try with all my might to influence someone for the better. But even in those times, I’ll be unsure. Was it really Him speaking, or was I merely attempting to speak for Him? If it really was Him, then why did I have to try so hard? Why didn’t the words just come?

When God first appeared to Moses, He asked him to go and speak to the Egyptian king. Moses was terrified, and the Bible says that he pleaded with God. “O Lord, I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I’m not now, even after you have spoken to me. I’m clumsy with words.” But in response to this, God said, “Who makes mouths? …Who makes people so they can speak or not speak, hear or not hear, see or not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and do as I have told you. I will help you speak well, and I will tell you what to say (Exodus 4:10-12, NLT).” The Bible is full of events and assurances such as this one. In the book of Acts, Luke records that the Holy Spirit rendered believers capable of speaking in foreign languages. “And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other tongues, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. Godly Jews from many nations were living in Jerusalem at that time. When they heard this sound, they came running to see what it was all about, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. They were beside themselves with wonder. ‘How can this be?’ they exclaimed. These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking the languages of the lands where we were born! (Acts 2:4-8, NLT).”

I studied Spanish for a total of four years, and I can promise you that I am nowhere near fluent. In fact, it’s been so long since I last opened those textbooks that what elementary knowledge I gained is, by now, locked away in such an obscure part of my memory that it would be quite challenging to recall it. Learning a foreign language is hard work—but the  people Luke mentions in Acts spoke many languages all at once, and seemingly without effort. They were able to do this because it wasn’t really them speaking at all. It was the Spirit of God speaking through them. I’ve heard other stories like this. Though they aren’t recorded in Scripture, they are just as real, and they make me ache to experience them myself. Someone told me recently that when he was in college, he heard God asking him to go into the gym, where he would find someone alone on the basketball court. When he saw this person, he was supposed to talk to him about Jesus. Anxious though he was, he went into the gym, found the person he was looking for (they had never met), and told him what he’d heard God say. Then, he watched as this other person began to stare at him, with eyes and mouth wide open, before finally saying that he’d prayed the night before for someone to come and talk to him about Jesus. An experience like that can leave no doubt of when we are being led by God. But what about the others? What about those more obvious moments when a conversation seems to leave an opening for God to enter in?

When I recognize those openings and make the choice to say His name, I wish I could know what’s happening within the people I’m speaking to. Can they hear Him, or can they hear only me? Is my voice overshadowing His because I’m choosing to speak on my own, or has He reached them in spite of me? I don’t ask this because I want some feeling of success for myself. I ask this because I want Him with me. Whenever I speak, I want Him to be the one to guide my tongue, because I know that wherever He is, I’m safe. And if I know He speaks through me, then I know He’s where I always need Him to be—inside of me wherever I go.