Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grace and Different Relationships

I have a dear friend (you know who you are) who often hesitates to divulge her life issues with others, feeling they would burden those who hear. I have felt the same way before with people I knew little or with whom I was not entirely comfortable. But as she and I talked, I had such a desire for her not to feel this way- for her to feel at ease and safe, for her to see that I want to know about her life because I care about her.
Then, a comparison came into mind courtesy of my mother that, in turn, taught both my friend and I a lesson about God. 

I related to my friend how my mom and I will have these great late-night talks that begin with a "goodnight" and then go on for over an hour. Most often, these conversations consist of me rambling, jumping from subject to subject, asking for advice and help to figure out my thinking, etc..., etc... I imagine sometimes these talks are a lot to bear for her, especially as they usually contain material for many lengthy conversations bound up into one tangled package. However, I never feel as if I am burdening my mother during these talks because I know she wants to hear and help. She wants to be close to me and to know the goings on of my life. In short- I have no reason to doubt her love for me. Then the realization hit me that I want my friend to feel the same about my love for her. To trust in it and have no reason to doubt it.

Because of my trust in my mom's love, I can approach her with confidence instead of in fear that she would reject me, chastise me, or worse- laugh at me (in a negative way). Is it not in the same way that God desires that I "draw near" him "with true heart and full assurance of faith" (Heb. 10:22)? As John reminds us, "There is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 Jn. 4:18). Since "punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds" (Is. 53:5), those who are in Christ are truly perfected before God, and their fears eradicated. So, I need never feel like I am burdening God because there is no greater burden I can put on him than that which he has already born upon the cross. Grace...confidence in justification. The absence of fear. Praise God.

Truly, my love for my friend, though great in my eyes, is very dim in comparison to God's. It will fail her because it is spotted with sin. Yet, because we both are accountable to God to love each other, we still have no reason to doubt each others' love, since God will continually call us back to the standard our LORD has set down for us. "Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Rom. 13:8). Another grace! The ability to love and trust other humans because our greater trust and love is first in God. (Isn't it because of fear that the world teaches we can't trust anyone??? HA! God provides a way out! Amen.)

So to my brothers and sisters- you have my love forever because God will forever be teaching me how to love. ("About brotherly love: you don't need me to write you because you yourselves are taught by God to love one another" 1 Thes. 4:9). And since I know He is doing the same for you, our "love will cover over a MULTITUDE of sins" (1 Peter 4:8) and we will be able to bear one another's burdens while Jesus provides the strength. What a joy and triumph over the world!

Friday, July 1, 2011

An Exercise in Futility

It is now the beginning of July and, boy, did May and June pass quickly! I am now running headlong into the most truly transitional time in my life I've ever experienced: closing the chapter of my life in Athens with the International Campus Ministry Conference next week, planning trips to the big cities of NYC, LA, Chicago, and maybe a couple others, and making the necessary arrangements to move forward with the marketing of my one-woman show and myself. (I hate the way that sounds, but so is the case in acting.)

I have not posted in a couple months because I haven't felt very aware of grace- or perhaps I just wasn't quite able to sit down and reflect on it. Whatever the case, nothing struck me I felt was insightful enough to blog until last night during a long conversation with a close friend. (It's those spontaneous heart to hearts that are the most special times- is it not?) I'm amazed by how much one can learn about oneself through listening to the questions, insights, fears, and hopes of another. Sometimes his or her present state resonates with your own, sometimes it reminds you of where you have been and how far you have come; sometimes it presents a challenge for where you'd like to be- or rather who. And maybe sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll experience a bit of all these, and for a brief few moments mental clouds give way to a perspective as clear as bright, expansive skies, and suddenly its rays of light show all of life's issues for the little things they really are. But before I divulge the nature of that glorious little moment I had, however, let me explain my state leading up to it.

About a week back I was overwhelmed again. The play (As You Like It) had finished, but now there remained to me no excuse for putting off the inevitable and varied life decisions and responsibilities I've been needing to make. My thinking was somewhat as follows: "Now I've got all these people to keep reaching out to and friendships to maintain. How do I not spread myself too thin? And then there's everything I need to do with Last Nights of the King and the ICMC and planning trips and a move and my parents are moving and I need to spend time with so and so and oh! I forgot about so and so over here and don't forget about those bigger subjects I'm wanting to study out and I need to get myself on a good track health-wise because I'm feeling irregular with my habits which makes me feel insecure and. then there's this stuff to journal about and confess.. and...and..." So then I stumbled across a brilliant idea that I was certain would help me find my way through the Spaghetti Junction of thought streams in my mind: I would draw out a large spider chart of all the subjects and sub-subjects and I would use old calendar pages and construction paper to at least make it pretty. I'd write out ministry thoughts in one color, professional stuff in another, random things to do in another, health in another, and so on and so forth. Sounds great, doesn't it! Thanks all you high school administrators who harped on and on about graphic organizers for preparing me to take on this exercise in knowing and understanding myself, an exercise in learning how to move forward in my life when my mind is full, and- as I'm sure you may have guessed by now- an exercise in futility! HA! If ever you desire to feel overwhelmed by all the goings on in your own life- by all means- try to write down every detail and separate them into nice, neat little categories, color-coded and taped to a pretty picture you intended to sooth you. I worked steadily at it for about 45 minutes before bed one night, then when my eyes tired, tossed it to the side and told myself I'd finish it the following day. I toted it around with that intention for two or three days until finally throwing the thing away convinced the effort had done nothing to help me. My mom laughed when I told her about it and gave her advice- which is always simpler and better than the intricately grandiose schemes I concoct- "Take one day at a time and focus on one thing. Why make life harder for yourself than it needs to be?" *Sigh* Thank you, Mommy. Thinking I can make headway in every area of my life at one time is foolish- impractical at best, whereas applying focused effort in one area usually produces better results that then tend to spill over into other areas- seeing as- in one way or another- they are all connected anyhow.

Ah  my. Grace teaches us to laugh at ourselves.

So...onto the heart to heart revelation. My dear friend was explaining her own feelings of being overwhelmed- the pressure of feeling like she needed to simultaneously tackle every facet of her life she is learning needs to change or expand. Unconsciously the truth of my mother's words (which are really the words of Mat. 6:36- Do not worry about tomorrow for each day has enough trouble of its own) began to come out in my counsel. As we talked, the following thoughts became evermore clear: The more we grow and learn, the more we see how broken we are, how guilty we are, how little we deserve, how little we actually understand. In general, my understanding of myself now is much more sober than it was even a year ago. Yet, if I were to focus on the vastness of my ineptitude or my insufficiency- my weakness- and take the burden of making up for it upon myself, the burden would become greater and greater every year. I would be striving for the impossible goal of making myself perfect to earn the praise of my God- or of myself and others as the case may be. But if instead, I am able to embrace the grace that makes up for my growing weakness, then I will see that the grace- and therefore the humility- will also grow greater and greater each year. So- to say it again- if my knowledge of my weakness is growing constantly then so can too, either my guilt or my freedom. Maybe now I have finally begun to glimpse what it means to "grow in the grace" (2 Peter 3:18). Paul, for example, became less and less in his own mind over time (from "the least of the apostles" to "the least of the saints" to "the worst of sinners") yet was increasingly empowered to do God's work.
So, I'm left with no other conclusion but that these times in which I get overwhelmed are the greatest of opportunities to learn about God's grace!  In them I get to glimpse- just a little bit- of how great is God's patience with me, his power to fix things, his mercy to forgive me and still use me for his purposes. What a relief. What a treasure worth sharing.
Praise God life goes on, and the life he gives is to the full.

Parting thought: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you... (1 Thes. 5:16-18).