Monday, March 22, 2010

Big Girl Pants

So today I am thoroughly annoyed with a friend. So annoyed that I really don't think I care to be much of a friend with her anymore. Cordial and friendly, socially cheerful and chatty, but not friends.

 How's that for fine Christian grace and compassion? (Well, to be honest, cordial, friendly, socially cheerful and chatty is all we really are anyway. I'm just saying I'm ready to be sure we're never more than that. I'm ready to harbor secret dislike and disrespect behind my friendly smile.)

My real issue is that her issues are getting in the way of my agenda. I want to say to her, Put your big girl pants on already! It's not all about you, if you haven't noticed! And if you would for just one minute quit thinking so much about your tender wittle baby girl self, you'd realize that!

In a little while, one hour to be exact, I'm going to be taking my youngest to a home school meeting where I'll have little to do but chat with other moms while I wait for the meeting to be over. Oh, the thought of venting my frustrations to another mom who would understand my position! Nothing like some good old gossip to clear the brain, to cleanse the soul. Okay, well yes, it would actually dirty my soul, but be a fun catharsis nevertheless.

Well, of course, the Bible in the bathroom this morning opened its very self to James 3, which jumped off the page and did a dance right there in front of the toilet. Such a spectacle was hard to ignore. So I will not be venting to the other moms this afternoon. I did vent to my husband last night though. Do you think that counts? Isn't that a little like talking to yourself? (Sometimes it is exactly like talking to myself…)

I do not hold out much hope that this gal will be putting on big girl pants any time soon, but I will put mine on and keep my fat mouth shut. That is a good start. In the end, the big girl pants will stay on better if I wrap my mind around extending some grace and not harboring that secret dislike and disrespect. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah – one thing at a time.

James 3
Controlling the Tongue
1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can't draw fresh water from a salty spring.
True Wisdom Comes from God
13 If you are wise and understand God's ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don't cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fiery Trials

So, I mentioned a post or two ago that I've been reading Elisabeth Elliot's A Chance to Die: the Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael. Very slowly, I might add, but sometimes that's the best way. Gives one time to digest, you know?

Well, friends, I wish I could be completely transparent, but you'll know what I mean when I say that sometimes things are hard. Some things in life shake us to our very core.

As believers it's a precious place to be, really. It takes us to the feet of the King; it teaches us to prostrate ourselves before His throne, to cling to His promises, to cry out in fear and desperation, to pour out our frustration and bewilderment -- and then to receive His comfort and assurance. At times like this, suddenly Scripture comes to life. Passages that can be debated to death in the arcane discussions of seminary classrooms suddenly jump from the page and reach into the very soul to provide reassurance and courage, to bolster a flagging faith. They leap out of the book to lift our chin, to train our eyes on His with a firm reminder to not look at the wind and the waves, but only at His face. Look at Me and do not be afraid, He says.


But I get ahead of myself. Sometimes things are hard.

The other morning God lead me to read 1 Peter 4 where it says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. … Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good."

This passage on that day was a balm to my agitated soul. Don't be surprised, He says! This is not outside of My will. It's a part of the plan, darlin', even if it looks a little messy for awhile. I've still got it under control.

I believe it was God who helped me connect what appears to be a messy and precarious situation in my life with Amy Carmichael's experience in India. I'm telling you, for her it was just one crisis after another and a lot of hard, grueling labor along the way. But her work there was surely God's will, wasn't it? In the comfortable old U. S. of A. we can easily forget that while sin definitely produces grief, godliness does not guarantee ease of experience. And that is okay. Suffering in God's will has a joy of its own as long as you can be confident that you really are in God's will, that you're doing exactly what He has asked you to do.

As it turns out, I'm happy to report that there is a plethora of Christian pop psychology skulking about that could be applied to my circumstance. Scads of books line the shelves in Christian bookstores with smiling authors looking out at us promising to help break the bondage, gain the blessing, draw healthy boundaries, deliver tough love, give healing a chance, experience emotionally healthy spirituality. I'm happy to report this because it gives me an opportunity, figuratively speaking, to spit on the whole stack of those books. Aren't I mean? Just nasty, I am.

I have an idea though. Let's play a game. Let's imagine Amy Carmichael talking to Hindu priests, not about the salvation of Jesus Christ, but about breaking the addiction cycle. Maybe that would have been more effective. Yes, yes, and let's picture her, rather than listening to God's step by step prompting to establish the Dohnavur orphanage and rescue thousands of little girls from temple prostitution, teaching them about the true Savior, instead teaching classes to those same girls on establishing healthy boundaries. And sewing. Let's write into her legacy the many personal retreats she could have taken, reprieves from the endless stream of dirty diapers especially during outbreaks of dysentery in the nursery, so she could attend seminars on emotionally healthy spirituality.

Aw, am I being unfair? All I know is that in my experience, "Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie." (Psalm 40) Is it too bold to say that in the end much of that pop Christian psychology amounts to nothing more than going astray after a lie? We attempt to sidestep the rough road of discipleship by indulging and massaging, examining, proclaiming, and inflating ad nauseam our own egos. But there is no answer there. No hope, no peace, no purpose, no comfort. Only more anguish as we look inward rather than upward, frantically searching for a salve to relieve the torment of our souls, a salve only the person of Jesus can provide.

"You have multiplied, O Lord my God, Your wondrous deeds and Your thoughts toward us; none can compare with You. I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told." (Psalm 40) This is the joyous proclamation of one who has eschewed the pop psychology books, and instead clung to the person and promises of Jesus Christ. Only one who has been willing to look into His face, hold His gaze and agree to trust Him, to obey Him, to believe His promises, can utter those words.

I think I've been cruel here, and I'm sad as I reread this. I'm sad because there are women in my circle of acquaintance who devour these types of books. One woman in particular whom I love dearly (although I don't know her well) has attached herself to one of these books, even one that I mentioned above almost by its very title. She seems to believe this book is her salvation and must therefore be of great value to all her friends, so she is giving away copies of this book to everyone she knows. I don't know her well enough to understand what suffering she believes this book will alleviate, but it breaks my heart to imagine her reading this blog and being hurt because I've been unfeeling about her pain, derisive about her hope for an answer through this author.

But still. The answer will be found upward, not inward. Neither will it be found 'side-ward,' so to speak. I'll explain...

Last night I went with a friend to a church function. As I shuffled my way through the throng of 1200 people and chatted with the handful of people I knew, a sad sort of joy took residence in my heart because I realized that I was quite alone in my difficulty. No one could know, and cynically I recognized that no one would care if they did know. In the end, we Americans are pretty self-absorbed. We're happy to hear each other's troubles here and there occasionally, but if the trouble is deep, pervasive or just too hard, we'd rather not be drawn in. And if it's really too hard, we prefer to turn the whole problem around to be the victim's own fault somehow; somehow they brought it on themselves. Perversely, there's comfort in believing that. (Prudent use of the pronoun 'we' here, by the way. I include myself in this indictment.)

I exchanged pleasantries with one family there that we have known and been friends with for almost 25 years, since we were all single. We have kids of similar ages and for awhile the kids were friends. But our families have drifted apart over the years. Without saying too much, it's been a case of them just not wanting to know, not wanting to be involved. What does that mean about our "friendship?" What was it ever? It was a charade. Honestly, as long as their relationship with our family served them well, they were happy to maintain ties, but when we couldn't fit the paradigm anymore they moved on to families that could, that served their purposes better. It's ugly of me to think this way, and maybe I'm not being entirely fair. But it is hard for me to bump into them without feeling an ache. The superficial pleasantries we exchange now are at least not masquerading as anything more meaningful these days. How's that for comforting?

(Time out. Get a grip, girl! Holy ravioli, have you ever heard such a stinking load of self-pity? Puh-leeze (eye-roll). How much responsibility are we supposed to take for one another anyway? Grow up! They are busy raising a family, which you well know is an all-consuming task. Our burdens are not theirs; they've got burdens of their own that they're not asking us to help carry. So quit feeling sorry for yourself and get on with the task at hand.

Right. On the other hand, as friends who were there to see the avalanche begin its descent down the mountain toward us, it would just be nice to be asked every once in a while how we're doing.

It's still a stinking load of self-pity, I know.)

But you know where I'm going with this, don't you? There is One who will not abandon us when the going gets rough. And with that thought I floated through the night, all warm and fuzzy on the inside. He's the One with all the power and all the answers anyway. My soul can be at rest in the complete confidence that He understands all the intricacies, He guides the outcome, and He will hold my hand through the rough waters.

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
"For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I have given Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your place.
"Since you are precious in My sight,
Since you are honored and I love you,
I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
"Do not fear, for I am with you.

Isaiah 43:1-5ish

Can't say I understand that entire passage. Arcane seminarians can wrangle over Cush and Seba, Egypt as a ransom, the other peoples being exchanged for my life. The parts I do understand are good enough for me, and I drink them in like the deer pants for flowing streams. This Christian life will not be without fiery trials – do not be surprised! Amy Carmichael would have been stunned to imagine anyone thinking otherwise. But as long as my suffering is according to His will, I will entrust my soul to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.