Relationships

Waiting for “Just Right”

wildflower planting form Jeff Fitlow5

I could feel the socks sinking further down into my boots with each step. About five minutes into my walk, my socks were big lumps underneath my feet. Great. I looked up and saw a bench in the distance and decided I would sit down and try to pull them up as tightly as you can pull ankle socks up, all the while reminding myself that this is exactly why you don’t wear ankle socks with boots.

I got them back to their original positions and tentatively took a few steps. I thought I should be good for a few minutes, but I quickly realized that I was wrong. They were back in their undesired position before I could walk even a half minute down the path.

At this point I had a decision to make. I had three options. I could–

A) Remove the sock.

B) Let them remain uncomfortably wadded at the bottom of my boots.

C) Just stay where I was for the remainder of my days.

Obviously, “C” was not a viable option– although many of us take this option in real-life scenarios, which I’ll explain if you’ll just stay with me a few more minutes here. But back to my options–  I was left with A or B. The ground was wet and muddy, with nowhere to sit or lean in sight, making option A a bit perilous, so I settled for option B.

Interestingly enough, by the time I was approaching my house, I realized that I had totally forgotten about the discomfort. My thoughts had taken me elsewhere and I could enjoy the walk even with lumps in my boots.

And I realized that it’s ok. It is ok to walk and not have everything be “just right”.

I have brought this thought process with me to many challenges in my life. It has to be just right for me to work at losing weight, to write a book, to have my quiet time. We all do it. We won’t leave a miserable job until we are forced to, go to church until our spouse joins us, or stick to a budget until it feels like we have enough money. We are waiting for that person to apologize before we forgive, we are waiting for our families to be perfect, before we will change our own attitudes, and we are waiting for our kids to like us, before we will put discipline into place. The interesting thing is that the thing we are waiting to do is often something that would improve our life tremendously.

And I wonder. Is “just right” a trap to keep us from pleasing our heavenly father and living the best life possible while here on earth? Does it keep us stymied in a place of discontent and dissatisfaction, while we wait for our circumstances to come to a point where the thing we want to do will be easy?

How stuck we get in wrong thinking.

This is the time when many of us are starting to think of New Year’s Resolutions and beginning over again. If we are young we enthusiastically set new goals. If middle-age has set in we are, most likely, remembering the days when we used to do that and have caved in to the futility of goal-setting.

But perhaps this is the year. This could be the year that you lose the weight, develop a regular quiet time or read through the Bible (I can help with that here!) or change jobs. Perhaps this is the year that you will create a budget and stick to it. Or organize your photos. Or start cooking for your family. Or forgive.

I don’t know what you are waiting to do. But what I do know is that if you wait for “just right” it will never come. I know this because I’ve been waiting for it for a long time and just when one thing improves another thing rears its ugly head, demanding attention. That is the way of life. We cannot allow it to keep us from growing as a Christian or as a person. We cannot choose Option C, remaining where we are forever. We’d like to choose that because it is comfortable there. The other options take work and we don’t want to work. But Option C isn’t really an option, is it? Because there is no standing still in life. If we aren’t moving forward, then we are sliding backwards.

Perhaps Paul says it best–

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.

Here Paul is talking about moving forward in maturing in Christ Jesus. But many of our goals will help us do that, won’t they? Controlling our appetites, teaching our children to obey, forgiving, being organized or sticking to a budget (which shows that we are a good steward of our material possessions and time) are all good steps to take as we strive to grow as believers.

I think my walk helped me realize that I can still move forward with a goal, even if everything isn’t lined up just the way I think it should be. Sure, my goal or the change I want to make may require a little more creativity, but that’s okay! In fact, it may even be more rewarding that way. Let’s not give up trying to change. Let’s not swallow the lie that things will never change. With some perseverance, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can change. So get busy making a few goals. Go. Do it now.

 

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Can You Just Be a Little Nice?

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Have you ever talked to one of those arrogant, condescending types? The kind that get your defenses up in world-record time? The type that you just want to ask– Can you just be a little nice? I don’t want to stretch you too much here, but some kindness would go a long way.

I’m sure you know the kind.

I had the opportunity of talking with a guy like that the other day. I had to make a business call. I just wanted to have a pleasant discussion. Instead I ended up with–well, let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant.

People like this make my blood boil. I mean you can just tell me what you have to say in a kind way. You don’t have to make me feel like an idiot.

I have had these conversations with vendors and customers. In fact, the customer ones always make me laugh. So let me make sure I understand–you are upset with me because I am asking you for money that you have owed for months? Okay then. If you are in any customer service or job where you deal with people, I am pretty sure you will be able to relate.

But we can have these conversations with co-workers, other parents on the sidelines of the soccer field or basketball court, friends, family, and, sadly enough, in the hallways and conference rooms of our churches. They are certainly not relegated to the Business World only.

I replayed that conversation over in my mind to determine two things–

What could he have done to help the situation? I ask this so that I keep this in mind when dealing with others.

and

How could I have responded better? I ask this so I can keep my Christian testimony with these particularly infuriating kind of people.

So, first, as I thought about the whole conversation, I realized that he immediately set me on edge with his tone. His tone was arrogant, condescending, and rude. He acted like he knew everything and I knew nothing. He also made me feel quite helpless with his lack of flexibility and unwillingness to compromise. Instead of working together to solve a problem, he made it very clear that he wasn’t interested and was not going to join me in solving anything. And, finally, he wounded with this words. Instead of using words to heal and solve problems, he used them to belittle and build walls.

I am not sure why this guy was so unpleasant. I had never had any contact with him before. He doesn’t own the company I called, so he isn’t vested personally. I came to the conclusion that he’s just unpleasant. And I hung up very thankful that I am not married to a guy like that one. Wow.

But the question is: Do I ever act–even slightly– like this guy? When I am cornered or upset or “sure I’m right”, am I arrogant or condescending? Unwilling to yield or compromise? Keep in mind I am not talking about biblical issues and principles here. Of course, we never yield or compromise truth. But I am talking about the interpersonal stuff of life that has no consequence. The stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run. What kind of attitude do I bring to these issues?

It’s a question to consider.

And then I had to look at how I responded. Did I emanate Jesus Christ and His love for this man? I knew the answer was no. This has been one of the main challenges for me in running a business with my husband for the past 27 years– responding to critical and unkind people. Since we have two admin assistants now, I rarely answer the phone or deal directly with people anymore (for which I am so incredibly grateful!) so I was very pleased to realize that I responded much better than I would have 20 years ago. God’s done a work in me. No question about that. Of course, there are miles and miles to go. And I still could have done better.

I realized that I did not have an eternal perspective as I talked to this guy. Instead I immediately got defensive, which put an unkind edge into my voice. Instead of thinking about the fact that this guy may not know Jesus, I immediately became consumed with my wounded pride and focused on how I was feeling at that moment. Instead of using my words to encourage and heal, I used them to defend myself and fight back. I could’ve done so much better.

You know, this is the nitty gritty stuff of life. This is where our Christianity shines brightly or shows itself to be tarnished and unlovely. How we treat others and how we respond to others is one of the most basic ways we give our testimony each and every day.

 

 

When Life Feels Impossible

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So the other night I was at a Tough Truck competition. This would not tend to be my usual choice for a Friday night. But this was different because my son had entered the contest sponsored by our local fair. Of course, I wanted to support him. It’s his third year participating and, honestly, it’s kind of a fun night.

But it can get a little monotonous watching these beat-up cars and trucks take the same track again and again. So when a very lifted truck–is there another term for this that I don’t know? “very lifted” just doesn’t sound like I know what I am talking about! Anyway— when this truck pulled up to the starting line, we were growing a little bored. I heard a few comments around me wondering how the truck would survive the course. It looked like it would topple over as it took the various jumps and turns. I had to agree.

But, lo and behold, it stayed upright. The driver was able to keep his truck under control as he quickly maneuvered his way through the course from his high perch. As he took the last hill and landed on the dirt in front of him, he gunned it towards the finish line. For some unknown reason, a giant hill of dirt sat at the end of the course this year. The driver was going so fast that he had to swerve to miss this pile. As he swerved, he finally did what all of us had been expecting all along. He tipped his truck over on its side. There he lay, helpless, as men started running towards him.

They gathered around him and started trying to push the truck back over. More and more men ran to the truck and added their strength. But the truck wasn’t budging. Which is actually a good thing for the fellow who was trying to pull it back down and stood on the other side of the truck (what exactly was he thinking?!?)

After a few moments of pushing, they finally got a tractor and hooked it up. With this machine, they were able to quickly pull the truck back over onto its four wheels. The truck driver was just fine and drove off the field. The competition continued.

As I watched this whole thing, I just had the thought come to me that all that manpower really did nothing. Now could they have, with enough men, rolled that truck over? Probably.

But, oh, how that tractor had made easy work of the whole thing.

Made me think…

Sometimes we have a personal problem. It’s a giant problem (or in most cases, a giant sin issue)–whether it be an addiction, a bad marriage, anger issues, needing to lose weight, or whatever. You fill in the blank.

And we start gathering our resources — books on the subject, websites, support groups, seminars, conferences, and counselors. We gather our family and friends for support and encouragement. And all of these things gather to push us back over to where we need to be. And sometimes it works.

The show Biggest Loser (is that even on anymore?) shows us that it can work. All that pushing does help the contestants get to healthy weights (although I think many of them end up where they started — but, hey, that’s another subject for another day).

I can’t help but think, though, that as believer we have a better way to go about it.

We have the Word of God to teach and to change us (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). We are told in scripture that the Holy Spirit is here to strengthen us in our inner man (Colossians 3:16). And that the Holy Spirit will help us to keep the pattern of good works that was committed to us (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

All of the extra resources are okay (if they are from a biblical viewpoint) but they are just that –extra.

I know this isn’t a popular viewpoint, but the bottom line here remains that all we need for a life lived for Jesus is God’s Word. All we need to get to the bottom of any problem is God’s Word. We need to read it, study it, know it, and obey it.

Does that seem too simple for you? It may be. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

This does not mean we will have a problem-free life. However, what it does mean is that we will have the strength, courage, and guidance necessary to face our sin issues and problems. The Bible will show us the best way to get back on all four wheels and, if we obey, we will get there. It may be slow and hard, but we will get there.

I think that is really where the rubber meets the road– what the Bible tells us to do isn’t really what we want to hear.

We don’t want to hear that we need to be selfless (in a bad marriage or unpleasant work situation) or have self-control (losing weight, addictions, anger issues). We want to blame it on someone else or something else. Funny thing is, though, that God’s Word never gives blame as an option. Instead, it always hits us right where we are in our sinful hearts.

And so we wriggle uncomfortably and turn towards other options, following after the wisdom of man instead of the wisdom of God. We push and sometimes even unwisely pull without much success.

Oh, how foolish we are.

Let’s turn our hearts back to God’s Word today. I love how Psalm 119: 9-11 puts it —

How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.

 

Some Things We Must Let Go

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So, on Monday my post was titled Don’t Let It Go.  I wrote it because I was checking the lyrics of the popular song to see if there was any phrase I could use for the post I am about to write right now. Instead I found new age nonsense. But, while we certainly shouldn’t let any opportunity to discern go by us, there are a few things that we really do need to let go. Like grudges.

Recently, my husband and I ran into a couple we know. We are very aware of the fact that this couple doesn’t particularly like us and hasn’t for many years. The thing is–we have never figured out exactly why. Oh, we have some guesses and assumptions, but we have never had a sit-down conversation as to why they hold us in such low esteem.

So, when my husband offered his right hand to the woman to shake hers in a gesture of friendliness, we weren’t surprised. You see, while she lifted her hand in a limp shake, she would not look into my husband’s eyes. She kept staring straight ahead.  Like he wasn’t there. Because she doesn’t like him. But we don’t know why.

Our families and church families are FILLED with these scenarios. This person doesn’t like that person, often because of something that happened a very long time ago.

And there are two perspectives in these situations to consider — the grudge holder’s and the one the grudge is being held against (hereon out to be referred to as the “grudgee”). I’ve been both, so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned.

As Grudge Holder

This one I find to be a ginormous waste of personal energy. As I tell my kids, life is just too short for grudges. Oh, I have people that I do not see eye to eye with, but I am learning to view them with more grace as I grow older. Unbelievers are so much easier. I expect them to hurt me, to revile me, and to be unkind. They are not living by God’s law and I shouldn’t expect them to. I find the hurts dealt by Christian brothers and sisters to be much more painful and challenging to get over. But, here again, grace is the word that comes to mind. Do I know what experiences or trials have led that person to be unkind or to make that choice? And, let’s be honest, do I even know if that person calling him or herself a believer is a genuine believer? There are so many who use the label, but do not truly understand the depth of their sin and the payment for that sin at the cross.

I have had a long and challenging journey in this area. I have learned to just ask God to fill me with His love for those I find so hard to love on my own. And a big part of healing in this area, if we struggle with it, is to control our thoughts. You see, Satan just gets in there and twists and turns and makes every offense even worse than it really was. In fact, sometimes we find offense where there was absolutely none intended.

I believe that grudges cause destruction. I have seen the horrible wreckage and wastelands of families and churches that have been ripped apart by grudges. It is so tragic. And, for some reason I cannot figure out, it seems to be a totally and completely excusable sin in our churches. Why is this okay?

Now the other thing that I have found myself tempted to do  is to “Christianize” my grudge. I will hold ill will in my heart towards someone and rationalize why I am sure God must understand, and perhaps even give His blessing, to it. Of course, this is ridiculous. Even if we are standing for righteousness, it gives us no excuse to hold ill will against a particular person. Jesus Christ, as he headed to the cross, set the best example for us, didn’t He? I Peter 2:23 tells us this about the Savior–

who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.

He set the perfect example by not only reacting in a calm and gracious manner, but by showing us that we are to commit our wills and desires to God, who judges all things righteously and can take care of the person that is hurting us (Romans 12:19).

Bottom Line: Grudges are unacceptable for a believer (Ephesians 4:31-32; Leviticus 19:18; Mark 11:25). Grudges are also a big waste of time and energy.

As Grudgee

Okay, so yes, I know “grudgee” isn’t a word, but exactly what is the concise word for being the person that a grudge is held against? So, I will just call it this.

I have had much experience with this one, as my big and thoughtless mouth has often gotten me into a spot of trouble. I say things before I think and find, sometimes YEARS later, that something I said has caused a person to hold a grudge against me all this time. Usually I find this out via a friend of a friend. It is rarely from the person herself.

My reaction to this has changed quite a bit over the years. Let me share.

Let me say this first– I work very hard to be more careful with my words and my tone. I do not have this down 100%, by any means, but I recognize my tendency and really try to remember this when I am talking to people. But I am sure I still inevitably frustrate and offend people. And God tells us that all of us who are believers should actually expect to offend people when we share the gospel (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). So this is something we have probably all dealt with at one time or another.

Here are a few things I have learned about being the grudgee. First, I recognize that I have control over only one part of this situation — myself and my reaction. We can feel pretty helpless in the shadow of someone’s hostility towards us. Some of us grow angry right back at that person, others of us try to just ignore it, and some of us work so hard to fix it and find ourselves filled with disappointment and bitterness when the “happy ending” we long for isn’t forthcoming. But what is a biblical response?  A lot of what I wrote above is also applicable here (Jesus’s example, the verses given), so I won’t repeat myself. But here are a few more specifics —

1. Love the grudge holder. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44, that we are to love our enemies. If someone hates us we are to return that hate with love. Sometimes that feels humanly impossible. That is because it is. Here again, I have learned to ask God to fill me with His love, because, on my own, I am empty. Responding with love is difficult, but if we can do it, we are a tremendous testimony of God’s working in our lives. Because this is so outside our human nature, we shine like a giant spotlight in pitch black darkness when we love those who hate us.

2. Pray for the grudge holder. I don’t know how this works, but if we can sincerely lift the grudge holder before God and pray for their salvation or spiritual growth, it changes how you feel about them. Somehow this process gives us more grace to deal with this person.

3. Do something kind for the grudge holder. Now if you do not run into this grudge holder regularly, this might be awkward. But if it is someone you see at church or it is a family member, go out of your way to be nice. I have a friend who often used this phrase, when faced with similar situations: kill them with kindness. Yes! What wisdom! Do you know how hard it is to hate someone who is so nice to you? It will often make a difference.

These things are not easy to do. In fact, they are very difficult. Our feelings cry out in opposition, and yet, if we can choose to obey, in spite of our feelings, the reward is tremendous. No, sometimes, it doesn’t work out the way we want. This is not a cure-all for relationships. The reward is not always a happy ending. But one guaranteed reward is always peace. Peace because we have done the right thing, according to God’s Word (Matthew 5:44). Peace because, as much as it is up to us, we have strived to live in peace (Romans 12:18). And peace because we have followed our Savior’s example (I Peter 2:23).

Bottom Line: We need to love the grudge holder and let the rest up to God.

These are hard things to talk about and most of us are caught up in it in one way or another. Many of us are caught up in both ways. I would love to hear what you have learned and the biblical wisdom you have gained through your own experiences? I am sure I have not covered this whole subject of grudges in completion. Please leave a comment below to help fill in the gaps :)

 

 

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