Saturday, February 19, 2011

To Those Who Know Me

Friend ... that loaded word.

I love people. I adore them actually. When I people watch, I sometimes literally feel sorry for myself that I can’t get to know them. I know it’s terribly sappy and ridiculous, but I’m trying to be honest here.

The even weirder thing is that in spite of this wish to know every interesting person in the world. (Okay, there might be a few exceptions.) I am often afraid to get to know my own friends. There is always one question looming over me. “What if I fail them?” This comes in a few varieties, including but not limited to, “What if I end up being that one person that they learned to count on and then isn’t there at the critical moment? What if I don’t talk to them very often? What if I do something that makes them feel judged? What if I hurt them?”

With my weird and bad health thrown in, some of these questions felt even more pressing. What if this person knew that all I can think about when I talk to them is how tired I am? How would that person be able to trust me again if they ever found out that for a few moments I absolutely could not remember who they were? How could I ever explain that even my love can’t overcome my physical weakness?

I’ve even gone so far as to tell people, “I love you, but I can’t promise to be there for you. I’m simply not reliable.” I’ve explained to people, “You can call me, but don’t be surprised if I don’t return your calls. You can write me, but I’ll probably forget to write you back.”

I said these things because I thought they were true, I wanted to be honest, I didn’t want to disappoint. I said these things because I wanted to be perfect for you and I knew I would fail. I thought I was breaking it gently, but the truth is that I wasn’t trusting God.

I thought that you needed me to be there all the time, preferably in the same town, or even the same house with you. I thought you needed me to be able to have hours and hours of phone conversations and encouraging letters every month at least, and regular Friday night hangouts, too. I thought you needed me to never be awkward or just plain wrong. I thought you needed me to never disappoint you. Now I realize, I thought you needed me to be God.

The strange thing is that none of you ever asked this of me. I’m the only one who decided what kind of friend I should be. I’m the only one who let friendships die, not from lack of communication, because some of the people I communicate the least frequently with are some of my closest friends. Instead, I let fear starve my friendships. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to be there all the time, so I eventually wasn’t there at all.

I’m writing this to tell you that I am so sorry.

I’m writing this to tell you that I’ve missed you. I’m sorry that I convinced you that I’d never return your phone calls. I still might be terrible at it, but I’m grateful for every chance you give me. I’m sorry my health sometimes makes me boring, forgetful, moody, and airheaded. But if you can put up with a friend that is all those things, I am so willing. I’m sorry that I’ve wasted so much time wishing I could be God to you, but if you want a friend who struggles with a God complex then I’m the person you’re looking for.

I’m sorry I don’t have all the time in the world but if you’re willing to work with whatever God gives us, then I am more than willing to treasure the moments He gives us to share. I’m sorry if I’ve ever communicated that we can’t be friends because we believe differently. Believing differently had nothing to do with it; we couldn’t be friends because I was too afraid.

I’m especially sorry for those of you in the past that I judged and condemned. I was playing God then too, and I’m terrible at the part.

If you are willing to remind me that you don’t need me to be perfect, then I want to be there for you during those times when you do need me. I don’t want fear to steal any more of the lovely relationships I could be sharing. Thanks for being patient with me and giving me more grace than I was even capable of accepting.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lauren the Omniscient (and a bit about trust)

Everyone prefers knowledge to stupidity. Almost everyone gets frustrated when they can’t understand. No one likes to be in a situation they feel unqualified for. Humans like to feel in control, and when you don’t know the ropes, you are most certainly not in control. Practically, you simply cannot make informed decisions if you cannot find or cannot trust the information.

Some of us are more aware of everything we don’t know than others of us are. Some of us make information and understanding our god. We simply will not make a decision without perfect understanding and, therefore, never make decisions. We are the people who will study and study and study a subject and feel our paper on the subject is dribble because it is not exhaustive. We are the ones who can’t form an opinion because it might be the wrong opinion.

How do I know that these silly people exist? Simply, I am one.

I would prefer that I know and have perfect comprehension of everything. This is nice in some ways. There is nothing I am not interested in learning. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to pick any one thing to learn because I cannot learn it perfectly, and I don’t know enough about it to know whether it’s what I want to learn most.

It also becomes quite a problem when I’m not talking about learning a subject, but rather a person. It gets downright horrible when it comes to knowing God.

I have recently felt that I had to keep my mind so open about God and people that my brains simply must be dribbling out. Don’t get me wrong. There are some things I am very closed minded about. It’s just that they are very few. I don’t want to ever believe something about God again that He did not personally verify to me.

Being open-minded is not all bad. It is reasonable to understand that I don’t know everything and that lots of things I do know, I don’t understand. It is also part of humility to know that I don’t know everything, that in fact, I don’t know much. Unfortunately, it is pride to refuse to make a decision because I can’t make The Perfect One with my limited comprehension

So, there I am stuck. It turns out that I have to trust God with my imperfect knowledge, whether it’s about where I live, buying something, or even knowing Him. Basically, I have to learn to live without being omniscient. You would think I’d be used to living limited to a human brain, but I tell you it comes as a blow to find God reserves the right to be the only Omniscient Being. I must trust even what I don’t see and will never know of God. I must trust that if I forget, misinterpret, never find or even misunderstand the information, I can still make a good decision.

I used to scorn people who ‘blindly trusted’. Now I suspect that trust at its core is blind. I trust a light switch to turn on the light without shocking me or burning the house down. I could say this is well-informed trust, because I have a history with that light switch and it has always behaved reliably in the past. Or I could realize that no matter how many times it has worked in the past, my trust of it has always been blind. I certainly have never followed the wires between the walls. I have never checked to see if any are melting, eroding, chewed on, or badly connected. I’m not even sure that those are the things that would need to be checked.

So I’m giving up my right to control, my right to understand, and even my dream of omniscience. I’m admitting I’m blind, and I’m choosing to trust.

What do you think? Can trust be trust without an element of blindness?

Monday, February 14, 2011

One Thing

Only one thing will ever change the world for good. That one thing is grace as revealed daily to any person by Jesus. Nothing else will work. Everything else is a worthless illusion.

Grace here meaning totally loved, accepted, and delighted in, without any effort on our part.

If you want to give something to others, this is all there is that is worth giving and you will be incapable of giving until you have first received. Grace will not be manufactured. It can only be accepted.

It cannot be added to. This is God’s love I’m talking about! Is your mind already trying to add to it? “Just a little bit of trying harder, just a little bit of working to act better. I’ll accept God’s love but I need to stay busy, too.”

“We can’t let people think that sin is okay! Do you want me to just stop growing? How will I ever overcome my failures? I know God sees me as loved but surely that doesn’t mean He wants me to take advantage of Him! If I stop doing good deeds then no one else will ever hear of God! Aren’t we obligated to live differently now that He loves us?”

Please. Stop your silly panicking. Don’t you know anything of love? Love worries about all of that so that you can enjoy the Lover. You are wasting your days before the wedding with worries when you could be practicing kissing.

You do realize that you’re engaged, right? You can say you’ve been saved, reborn, whatever. Mostly, you’re engaged. The wedding to the God of your dreams is coming.

You’re worried about the Ten Commandments. You’re concerned you’re not following the teachings of Christ just right. But have you forgotten that time when He said, “Only one thing is necessary . . .”

Count how many things very slowly.

O . . . n . . . e




Just one.

Consider my life simplified. I’m hanging out with The FiancĂ© and then we're getting married.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Emotions & Reality part 2

Once, when I was raving to God about how unfair and stupid it was that I had to deal with this ‘evil’ emotional part of myself, He kindly reminded me that He was the first one with emotions. After that, all sorts of my ideas about emotions had to change. First to go was the idea that emotions were stupid, embarrassing, or weak. They’re not. In fact, they are godly.

“Okay, okay,” I reasoned, “They aren’t all stupid, embarrassing or weak, just most of them.” God momentarily complied with me for the sake of argument, but then He brought up this question, “Who decides which ones are good and which ones are bad?” You may think it’s obvious, as I did. Joy, excitement, happiness . . . these are good. Anger, sadness, anxiety . . . these are bad.

The problem is that God and/or Jesus have been described as having all of those, the ones I called good and the ones I called bad. If you think Jesus never felt anxious, read about the night in Gethsemane. I think it’s safe to define “sweating drops of blood” as ‘anxious.’ God reserves the title as “Judge of Emotions” for Himself. Anytime I try it, I have to stop and choose to trust Him instead. I will not be fooled into letting another person judge my emotions, either.

I have also learned that no matter how silly I feel my emotions to be, they are all valid. (Do you ever notice that you feel all sorts of things about your feelings? So confusing.) This means I am not allowed to pretend that any of them don’t exist. The sooner I am honest with myself and God about what I’m feeling, the better. My emotions cannot and will never change the Truth. This is very relieving for me to realize. Just because I feel unlovable doesn’t mean that I am unlovable. Sometimes I must trust the Truth in spite of what I feel. However, even when I don’t trust the Truth, it still doesn’t change.

As I practice trusting God with my emotions instead of controlling them myself, He is actually convincing me that they are more useful than I ever believed possible. He uses them to show His own feelings to me. Have you ever had a certain feeling, perhaps joy or protection while watching a child, and heard God whisper to you, “That’s exactly how I feel about watching you.” Nothing compares to feeling the emotions of God.

Other times He has used them to delicately and gently bring up places in me that He wants to heal. Many times these were places that I was so used to being broken, I didn’t know they could or should be healed. Trusting Him always brings healing.

Sometimes my emotions are simply a sign pointing to a physical need. When I don’t get enough sleep I may feel like everyone around me is a selfish jerk. They probably feel the same thing about me. When I need to eat, I sometimes feel depressed and that life is just too much to handle. When I have a cold and I feel weak, I am much more likely to cry. These are the emotions that really annoy me. I don’t want my body to have that much control over my soul, but it’s better to grudgingly admit it than to ignore the truth. These too, I can trust God with. Also, because I’m able to be honest about it with my family, they don’t take my moods so personally, but can remind me that maybe I just need something to eat. I don’t know about you but it’s always a relief to me to remember that I’m not a jerk; I just have low blood sugar.

There are only a few emotions that God has tagged with “These are not from Me” signs for me. Also, these are three emotions that you will never catch God having. They are guilt, shame, and fear. Don’t get me wrong, there is a healthy fear. If a gun is pointed at you and you don’t feel the flight or fight fear response, something is probably very wrong. (Since Jesus had as human a body as I do, I’m assuming he felt the flight or fight sort of fear a few times.) However, most of the fear in my life is not this sort of fear. Most of the fear in my life is the kind that perfect Love wants to cast out. This kind of fear can be defined as “A lack of trust towards God.”

He wants me to understand that I am totally safe in my relationship with Him. He wants to smooth away all my fears because He is big enough and kind enough to handle whatever it is I’m afraid of. He loves my fear away. When fear of this sort comes up it is a chance for me to understand His love in a new way. It’s a chance to ask, “Who are You that I shouldn’t be afraid of this?” I promise His answers are worth it.

Guilt can also be a good thing, if I had never felt my guilt I might never have felt my need for God. But now that Jesus work is completed my guilt is eternally removed and to return to it is to disbelieve that Jesus work is final. Since I acknowledged my need for God, He has never used guilt again. This is not to say that I have never technically been guilty again. With Jesus’ completed work, guilt is no longer an issue because I am eternally forgiven. At this point the memory of my guilt only serves to make me think that I am somehow cut off from God which will never be true again.

I don’t remember any time that shame was from God. In my experience it has only had one terrible function, to keep me hiding from the One who could heal my guilt.

My emotions are still annoyingly messy. I still usually feel that I would be better off without them. I regularly tell God that if I’m not allowed to control them then I should at least be allowed to give Him pointers about how He should be controlling them. But I’ve been without emotion, and I don’t ever want to go back. The trust being built out the mess of my emotions is more than worth it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Emotions & Reality part 1

I believe that humans are made of three parts: spirit (the breath of God), soul (mind, will, emotions) and body. These three things are both united and separate much like the organs of a body are united and separate simultaneously. If you study human anatomy for any reason you will find that teachers and text books immediately start breaking it down into systems and organs and pieces that they will identify and separate and then separate what they separated. At the same time, people usually study human anatomy to learn how to keep it going, working, functioning, and surviving, as a human. They don’t study it to dissect it; they dissect it to understand the whole.

So I, too, am going to do a bit of dissecting, but only so I can understand the whole. These things can be mentally separated for ease of understanding, but they will never actually be separate in experience.

I’ll start with the most basic one, the body. I think you should know what this is, your physical existence, the one that gets colds, and headaches, and the thing everyone looks at in pictures and recognizes as you.

Then there’s your soul. Your soul is the part of you that comprises your likes and dislikes. This is the part of you that you get to share with other people as you choose to. This is the part of you that makes you really, really, uniquely only you and no one else. Your body and soul combine somewhere between your brain and your hormones. Your soul is the part of you that has thoughts, emotions, and makes choices. Your mind, will, and emotions comprise your soul.

Then spirit. This is the part of you that has life like God does. This is what separates you from the animals, what makes you particularly ‘in the image of God’. This is the life in you that doesn’t end when your body does. Your spirit makes your soul eternal.

I think the easiest and most honest way to explain better what I’m thinking will be to stick with what I’ve learned and know about myself.

I know that as far back as I can remember my spirit was broken. There was a time when as far down as I could look into myself there was only darkness. I don’t mean depression, I don’t mean evil, I mean emptiness. Like an empty room, but worse. More like when you see something dead and it makes you remember that there could be, and should be, life in that body, but there simply isn’t.

I believe that this emptiness is a human condition passed down all the way from Adam as a result of his and Eve’s choice that they, too, should have the right to judge what is good and evil. That’s when their spirits went empty, died. Because it is spirit, it doesn’t pass away like a body does; it continues sitting there, empty. It’s like a lung without air. I believe that every person is born with their spirit in this condition -- empty existence.

In me, this emptiness produced all sorts of conflict in my soul. I wanted to choose what was right, I wanted to be selfless, I wanted to give love, but my emptiness always dragged me down. I wanted to make other people’s needs more important than mine, but I simply couldn’t. I needed perfect love so bad that I would find myself trying to take it from others. I needed respect so bad that I would find myself demanding it of others. I needed to survive so bad that sooner or later I would take what I needed which caused me to hurt those around me who were also trying to survive. I hated myself for this.

My soul was full of confusion and conflict because my mind knew what was right. I knew I shouldn’t be selfish. My emotions would fluctuate wildly between guilt because I should be doing better, pride because I was doing better than others, depression because I’d never get better, and elation because I finally got something right. My will would sometimes follow my mind, and sometimes follow my emotions. I had nothing stable within myself.

My body was full of stress. I was regularly tired and after 11 years of living like this, I was chronically exhausted even though I was only 19 years old. Of course, body, soul, and spirit work in many directions, much like the old question, which came first the chicken or the egg? I believe that my body was unhealthy anyway, but the stress of my soul in turmoil certainly didn’t help. I believe that both were involved in the depression I’ve been through, and I can’t point to either as the cause or either as the relief. My body needed relief from my soul and my soul needed relief from my body. My empty spirit had no relief to offer to either.

This was all before I understood the completed work of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus came to deal with broken humans from the inside out. He came to fill our empty spirits, which frees our conflicted souls, which gives our broken and dying bodies relief from the inside until He gives us new ones in the future.

In accepting Jesus’ completed work, my spirit for the first time was filled with life. I had a consistent and flowing source of life in my deepest place. I had an eternal source of love, acceptance, and respect. I no longer had to grab for these things or suck them out of other people. For the first time I was copiously full. I was satisfied. I also knew who I was. I was Loved.

My spirit was immediately and forever totally altered. My soul took much longer. My mind is still getting used to new thinking habits; my will is still learning to live out of my spirit’s fullness. My emotions . . . well, they are still emotional but they are learning not to despair.

The fact is that my emotions seem to be the most unstable part of my soul, and maddeningly, my mind and will follow my emotions more often than not. Thankfully, this is not a problem for God. My mind can be convinced with reason, my will can follow the reason my mind produces but the only control I have over my emotions is an on or off switch. When I have tried to protect myself from my negative emotions, I stop feeling any emotion.

What do I do with emotions then? If I deny them, I lose a part of myself. If I follow them, I will go everywhere and end up nowhere. Is there another option? Yes, there is another option; it is simple, but not easy. I can trust God with them. As I have done this, God has taught me a few things about my emotions and a few things about Himself.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thoughts on Sin & Righteousness

I believe that it wasn’t my acts of sin that I needed redemption from because they were only a symptom of a spiritual brokenness that was passed down all the way from Adam to me. I needed redemption from the inside out, from my spirit to my actions.

The law is good for two things, for making the symptom, sin, all the more evident and secondly for revealing the life we were meant to live before Adam’s rebellion. We were created for perfection but none of us since Adam have any idea of what that might look like. The law helps fill in this gap by showing us what perfection looks like (obviously Jesus revealed this even further in His person). The law was never given the power to free us from sin. It was only given the power to reveal sin to us.

So then, Christ arrives born of a virgin, the first man since Adam to have a spirit unmarred by the sin of his father, he meets all the temptations known to man and falls for none of them. (When I considered what this meant, 33 years of being constantly bombarded with temptations and never giving in, it gave me a whole new appreciation for the suffering of Christ.) I now have two options, to live in Adam or in Christ. In Adam I am aware that I was created for holiness but I can never attain it because I can never overcome the heritage of brokenness/law of sin that I was born into. (The fact that I was born into sin through Adam does not by any means lessen my own personal guilt.)

In Adam I was a proud, idol worshiping, blasphemous, covetous, lying, murderous, thief, whose heart was deceitful and wicked. Even if by the Law of Moses I missed becoming a few of these, Jesus says to break one part of the law is to break the whole law and thinking impurely is just as bad as the action. In short, I was doomed and I was gross in spite of the fact that the whole world would have said that I was an exceptionally good person.

However, in Christ I am a totally new creation. My former history literally is no longer attached to me because that person died and a totally new one without sin was born. It’s not just that I have a new identity for the future; I also have a new past. Eternity does not stretch only into the future it stretches to the past as well and I now have eternal life in Christ. In Christ, I am pure, holy, beloved, and righteous, my heart is pure, my spirit and the Holy Spirit are one, I have the mind of Christ, I have the wisdom of God, I lack nothing that Christ currently has sitting at the right hand of the Father.

I am no longer a slave to sin, I am a slave to righteousness. I know longer have the desire or the bent towards sin that I previously had. On the contrary I desire to act in accordance with my new holy nature. It is still possible for me to commit an act of sin but it is no longer probable or normal for me.

The confusion comes when my present life/actions don’t seem to add up to what God says that I have in Christ. It doesn’t feel like I’m any holier, and God knows it may or may not look like it at any given moment. This is where the process of becoming what I already am comes into play. My spirit is totally free, totally new, totally one with Christ as I already mentioned, but my body and my brain (this includes mind, will, and emotions) are used to my old habits. My spirit has been born new but I am stuck with the same brain I had before. It is a lot like being born into a new culture, the culture suits me, I was made for it, it is my culture, but I haven’t grown up in it, I don’t understand and haven’t even experienced those things that I like best. Thus, the renewal of my mind to think in accordance with my new nature takes time and will never be completed until my body dies and I get a new one.

This is how sanctification can be both completed and in process at the same time. I am very truly in a very concrete sense, totally perfect. But I will also be more perfect tomorrow. I like to think of the way a baby grows. Everyone loves to say that a new born baby is perfect, and so it is, but at the same time, if it stopped changing and growing, if the baby never became a child, and in turn an adult, something would be terribly wrong.

This also takes away all opportunity for either pride or shame because God is not judging my actions. He judges only the fact that I was born into the family of Christ and I can take no credit for that. This is what it means to be free. I am free to act sinfully or to act righteously but most of all I am free from the fear that any of my actions will either save me or ruin me.

So then my actions, whether sin or not are reduced to their true importance. What suits me? The law again comes into play here. Because I have the life of Christ, obeying the law suits me. Literally it is pleasurable for me to obey the law. The law is now written in my spirit and I rejoice to act in accordance with it. It is also profitable, for me and for those around me.

The only power Satan (or sin) still has over me are his words and they only have power if I believe them. If I sin with this new nature it is because my mind, will, or emotions (usually a combo of the three) still believes his lie that this sin will please me better than the law of God. God has freed me from a number of habitual sins simply by feeding them to me until I woke up one day and realized they weren't giving me pleasure.

I believe it is a common ploy of Satan to keep us trying to act better. If I focus on my actions I will never be freed of them. If you tell someone not to think of purple elephants you have just insured that they will be thinking of purple elephants and Satan loves using this trick on us. In fact it is often preached from pulpits. “Do not sin! You know what sin you fall for, plan carefully not to fall for it again!” Translated, focus on your sin, think about your sin, consume yourself with your sin but do not act out the very thing you have been meditating on. This method will insure the continuance of habitual sin.

The cure for sin is Jesus. First we need His life in us and second our minds must be trained to think on His righteousness. This is the only way the Church collectively or a person individually will ever be free from the actions of sin they are fighting and planning so hard to change.