Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mom Guilt, and What Will Help

Mom Guilt.  I had my struggles with it when I raised my kids,

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But it seems to have hit today’s generation especially hard.

Yesenia

Celeste's family

When I surveyed my friends on Facebook about their Mom Guilt, the answers poured in.

“Oh man what do I not feel guilty about? There is so much contradicting advice to new mothers.  No matter how I do something it is easy to feel as if it is the wrong way.”

“I feel guilty during sleep training, when my baby cries for more than 5 min. I also feel guilty that I seem to struggle with finding a balance between taking care of her, meeting my family’s needs and school work/career.”

“I feel guilty about talents or strengths that I saw in my children that I did not nurture enough, or weaknesses that I did not discipline and help them overcome.”

“I feel guilty for overreacting, and for not playing with them every time they ask me to.”

Can you identify?  But what to do?  Dealing with Mom Guilt is like trying to get chewing gum off of the bottom of your shoe.  The more you try, the stickier it gets.

Our Mom Guilt is complicated.  But I’ve learned some things that will help, and I want to share them.

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LEGITIMATE GUILT V.S. ILLEGITIMATE GUILT

First of all, we need to figure out is whether our guilt is legitimate guilt or illegitimate guilt.  We’re plagued with remorse, but a lot of times we don’t need to be. I’m telling you, Satan has a field day with moms!  Just like the Bible says in John 8:44, lies are the devil’s native language.  Just like the Hebrew translation of his name, Satan is “the accuser.”  He whispers to us that we’re messing up, that we should do more, that other moms are better moms, that we’re damaging our children.

So how do we tell if our guilt is illegitimate?   We start by being honest with ourselves that we’re feeling guilty, and specify exactly what we’re feeling guilty about.  We have to see clearly what we’re dealing with.

That’s the easy part.  The hard part is seeing clearly whether the thing we did was wrong or not.

To address that, I’m going to recommend that you start praying about your guilt, “Father God, show me if it is true that I should have done better in this situation.” I’m also going to recommend that you ask for input from a trusted friend or family member.  Sometimes they can see more clearly than we can.  Plus, it feels good to talk about it with someone!

We can also tell if our guilt is illegitimate by looking at our motivations.  Does it stem from trying to please others?  From trying to live up to what they do?  Does it stem from trying to please ourselves?    You know, I think some of us are harder on ourselves than God is!

Here’s a verse that has helped me many a time, “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” (John 7:18)

If we seek anything other than the glory of God, it’s going to trip us up.  But seeking to please God is an absolutely pure motivation.  It feels so good to say, “God, you are completely awesome.  I want my life to be praise for you, and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.  It’s not so others will think I’m a great mom.  It’s not so I can pat myself on the back.   It’s so you will smile at me.  It’s so I can live out my love for you.”

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A huge source of illegitimate guilt is having unrealistic expectations.  One mom told me that she feels guilty anytime she goes against the “norm” of what motherhood says is acceptable, like when she chose formula over breastfeeding.  There are so many norms these days. We’re besieged by images of a mom should be.  In my day, we thought we needed to be supermom.  Now it’s like moms are supposed to have evolved through the increase in information to be the best moms in history!  There’s this constant message, “You should do this.  You should do that.  Should, should, should, should, should….”

Ack!  Here’s the verse that has saved my sanity,  “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)

We have to quit thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought!  We need to have sober judgement and realize that we don’t have the ability, or the capability, to do everything we think we should do.

Let’s look at this a little more.  First of all, let’s look at our abilities.  Each of us has unique strengths and weaknesses.  Why is it, then, that when we become a mom we think we’re supposed to be good at everything?  I love the reminder of I Corinthians 12, “If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. . . In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.”  This passage makes it plain that we each have something that we’re good at, and that is vitally important.  It also reminds us to not feel shame for not being able to excel at what someone else can do well.

Here’s an example.  I have a friend who suffers from mega guilt because she is often late.  Now I’m not saying that she shouldn’t work on being on time.  But I love that she is one of the few people I know who is good at being present.  She’s not always anxious about the next thing she needs to do.  She gives each person her full attention.  You feel important when you’re with her.  This is an awesome strength!

You have awesome strengths too, but they may come with a weakness you don’t like.

But speaking of time management, let’s talk about our capabilities.  We all have our schedule demands, so even if we do have the ability to do something, we may not have the time to do it.  In addition, we each have differing energy levels and health situations.  Some of us do better with nine hours of sleep, and some of us are wide awake after six hours.  Some of us can keep going all day and through the evening, and others of us are completely pooped by lunch time.  Be honest with yourself.  What can you realistically expect out of yourself?  I’m not giving you a license to be lazy.  But don’t allow yourself to feel guilty if you’re not wired to be Miss Energizer Bunny.  Don’t tell God that you should have been created differently, or be in a different situation.

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LEGITIMATE GUILT

Now that we’ve dispelled some of our illegitimate guilt, let’s talk about legitimate guilt.  Legitimate guilt comes from not doing the important things that you have the ability and capability to do.  But what is important?  We can think of twenty things that seem vital and necessary. I mean, this is our children we’re talking about.  How can it not be super important to see to their health, their education, their character development, and their need to be loved?

We have to make time periodically to reevaluate.  We have to prioritize. 

And God has to come first.

Here is one of my favorite verses, because it’s such a good reminder for me,  “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Ps 127:1-2)

Moms, if you’re not putting God first, all of the efforts you are putting into parenting can be in vain.  Putting God first means making time for personal devotion and church attendance.  It means obeying the Bible and teaching your children to do the same.

It’s the same principle as Matthew 6:33.  Seeking the kingdom first helps everything else to work out.  If you feel guilty because you’re letting other things in life crowd out God, this is legitimate.  It’s the important thing you need to address over the urgent demands.

The next priority is your marriage.   You made a covenant with him that is holy in God’s eyes.  You vowed to cherish him.

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So how is it that your husband got moved to the back burner?

I’m going to pass on to you what was stressed over and over to me: your husband comes before your children.  Yes, I know that your children’s needs are more immediate.  But God designated you to be your husband’s helper. (Genesis 2:18) That doesn’t mean to be his little wife slave.  It means you are in a singular position to support him, believe in him and build him up. What you say and do affects him more than the words and actions of anyone else on earth.

That is why God commands us to respect our husbands.  (Eph 5:33) They need our positive reinforcement, even if they don’t ask for it.  They need to feel like they are important to us.  And they’re not going to feel this if we don’t treat them like they are worthy of our time.

So if you feel guilty because you’re not making time for your husband, or not meeting his needs, you have legitimate guilt.  Be intentional.  Schedule them in.  Try to drop what you’re doing when they desire your attention.  I’m telling you, with the strongest conviction of 37 years of marriage, that it’s worth it.

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And THEN, you can decide what you can do for your children.  Top the list with spending time with your them.  In almost every statement about Mom Guilt, women wrote that they wished they spent more time with their children.  One mom lamented, “I think the biggest thing I feel guilty about is lost opportunities. When I realize that the day has slipped away and I didn’t spend my time the way I intended to, or when the months and years slip away and I don’t have as much to show for the time (in terms of relationship building with my children, character training, homeschooling, etc.) as I had hoped.”

So this is something we want to consciously work on.  Again, we need to have realistic expectations.  We often can’t spend as much time as we’d like to.  But knowing that we are making this a priority will go a long way towards assuaging Mom Guilt.

Make a list, in order of priority, of the other things you would like to do for your children (and for your life, that’s a whole other subject).  Decide what you can do, and resist the temptation to try to do more than that.

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ONE MORE THING — IMPATIENCE

The second highest source of guilt for the moms I surveyed was their loss of patience.  One mom shared, “I feel guilty constantly but what makes me feel the most guilty is when I sin in front of my kids (for example yell at them).”

On one hand this is legitimate guilt.  It’s our responsibility to work on our self-control. We can’t place the blame for the lack of it on the behavior of others.  We can’t excuse it by saying we’ve had a bad day, or that our PMS is making us crazy.  Jesus said,  “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.”  (Mark 7:21)  Maybe we don’t have evil thoughts, but we do need to work on our heart.

On the other hand, we need to remember that God is gentle and kind with us, so we need to be gentle and kind with ourselves.  I love that the fruits of the Spirit include goodness, gentleness and kindness. (Gal. 5:20-21) That means those are characteristics of God.  And it’s comforting that Isaiah 40:11 says, “He gently leads those that have young.”

So if you do or say something you regret, apologize (even to your child).  And then let it go.  Don’t let Satan use the guilt to open your ears to his lies. It might be true that you lost your temper.  But it’s probably not true that you are a terrible mother and you are ruining your child.

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CONCLUSION — LEARNING TO BE CONTENT

In conclusion, all of this is easy to say, and sooooo hard to do!  Because Mom Guilt is complicated.

Do you know what one of the biggest things is that I still can struggle with Mom Guilt about?  It’s that I didn’t give my youngest daughter better opportunities in extracurricular activities.

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I had two older children, and their sports travel teams took up most of our time.  So I sometimes put my youngest daughter in activities that were easy on the schedule.  I wish I had put her in the harp lessons across town, like she wanted at one time, or more advanced dance lessons.

As I reflect on this, I realize that it’s kind of an irrational guilt.  On one hand, I know I was trying really hard to juggle a lot of things.  But on the other hand, my daughter means the world to me, and I wanted to give her the best.

And that is why I think we have so much Mom Guilt.  We want to give our children the best, and we feel bad when we don’t, no matter what our abilities or our capabilities are.

When is all said and done, we have to realize that we’re never going to parent perfectly.  Yes, we need to strive to do what is most important.  But if we’re making an effort to do that, we also need to give ourselves a break.  We’re good moms!   We’re loving our children.  We’re making a lot of good parenting choices.

One of the hardest thing about being a mom is having the ability to be content.  This passage speaks to our struggle so well, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  Phil 4:12-13

We always hear the last part of this verse about being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But do we remember that it is referring to contentment?

It takes a lot of strength to be able to be content, and we have to fight for it.  Just like we need learn to be content with what we have, instead of wishing for what we can’t have, we need to learn to be content with what we can do, instead of wishing to do more.

In material things, the Bible says that food and drink are all we need to be content.  “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”  (I Timothy 6:8)

In parenting, I’m going to say that putting God first and actively loving our children are all we need to do to be content and free from guilt.  When I started raising my children, I had loads of Mom Guilt.  But over the years, I learned to make these two things a priority.  I came to have much more peace.  I didn’t do them perfectly.  But having the confidence that I was doing what was most important made a huge difference in my sense of well being.

Mom Guilt. We all struggle with it.  But it doesn’t have to dominate, or dictate our lives.  Let’s fight for the joy of motherhood, with which we have been blessed!

Let’s put these into practice:

  1. Ask yourself, “What specifically am I feeling guilty about?”
  2. Pray, “God, should I feel guilty about this?”
  3. Ask someone you trust, “Should I feel guilty about this?”
  4. Look at your motivations. Who are you trying to please?  Seek only to please God.
  5. Ask yourself if you have realistic expectations, according to your abilities and capabilities.
  6. Determine what is most important, and make sure you are taking steps to do it.
  7. Reevaluate and prioritize on a periodic basis.
  8. Be kind and gentle with yourself.
  9. Pray to have the strength to be content with what you can do.

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“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42

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Repentance Brings Restoration

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Recently, I had the best time celebrating the graduation of my son and of my daughter in law.  They were both awarded their master’s degree in Nursing Anesthesia.

IMG_1010I am so proud of them, because I know some of what was behind these degrees.  I remember the days when my son was young, and hated schoolwork.  I think of how he had to do extra work to get in to the college he wanted to attend, and how he ultimately made the decision to switch from music to nursing, and rose to the top of his class.  I think of how difficult it was for him to go back to square one of not knowing anything and learn a new specialization, after being a respected ICU nurse.  Then recently, I know it was hard for him and my daughter in law to be newly married and have to be separated for all kinds of clinical rotations in all kinds of locations.

But they pushed through and made it.  And now they have great careers ahead of them.

There’s a life lesson in this.  We want the gain.  But are we willing to go through the pain?

Today’s reading speaks to this question in an amazing way.  Check it out —

And they asked him , “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”  Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?  But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” Mark 9:11-13

There are all kinds of cool things to discover about this passage.

First, let’s look at what the teachers of the law were talking about when they said that Elijah had to come before the Messiah would appear. They were referring to Malachi 4:5, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.”   This is the last thing written in the Old Testament.  It places readers on the edge of their seats, anticipating the Lord’s coming.

Second, how would Elijah come?  In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel prophesied about John the Baptist, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.”  (Luke 1:17)  Elijah came as John the Baptist.   John wasn’t the physical embodiment of Elijah (John 1:21), but he had the spirit and power of Elijah.

Third, looking more deeply at these two verses gives us insight into what the coming of Elijah/John the Baptist would be.  Malachi 4:5 is followed by, “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”  Luke 1:17 goes on to say, “He will change parents’ attitudes toward their children. He will change disobedient people so that they will accept the wisdom of those who have God’s approval. In this way he will prepare the people for their Lord.” (GWT)

The job of John the Baptist was to help people repent.  Then they would be prepared for Jesus to come, and ultimately, be in line for the final judgement.

I totally love how Jesus worded this: “Elijah does come first and restores all things.”

How wonderful it is that John the Baptist came to restore!  Through preaching repentance, he came to get people back the close relationship with God they were created to have.

For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  I Peter 2:25 

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We long for this restoration, to be right with the Lord, to be safe and comforted in his arms.  And we can have this now on earth.

But we will have it infinitely more in heaven.  Jesus went on to say, “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?”  You see, Jesus was talking about a progression of restoration.  First, Elijah would come, and people would repent.  Then, the Messiah would come, and he would suffer, die and be resurrected.  This would open the way for men to have their home with God forever.

Here’s the coolest thing — look how Peter’s words in Acts 3:19-21 sum this all up:  “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Acts 3:19-21

Repentance brings restoration.  It’s the path to the achievement of God’s will.  On a personal level, it’s the path to the things we need and want.

The question is, will we go through the pain to get the gain?

repentanceThis is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  Isa 30:15

During the holidays, my heart’s desire was to have a wonderful Christmas with my family.  But I had to constantly work at repentance for this to happen.  I had to keep denying my worry, anxiety, anger, grumpiness, fear, and especially, pride of thinking that things had to go a certain way.  I had to decide, over and over again, to trust God more completely, and find delight in pleasing him.

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Sometimes it was the small stuff.  I remember one morning before Christmas I woke up and saw that Ken had been eating the cookies I had baked the day before.  It had taken a lot of energy to get the cookie making together, and ride herd over my rowdy grandkids to roll and cut out shapes, and then decorate them.  I felt like the cookies had to last all through Christmas.  I was so grumpy!

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I had to wrestle to be righteous.  Isn’t it funny?  It takes work to have a happy life.  And it’s the same thing in other areas.  It takes work to have a good marriage.  It takes work to have a functional family.  Like my son and daughter in law, it takes work to have a good career.

John the Baptist gave us the key.  We need to do the work of repentance.  This will bring us to the things we long for.

Yet we will still have tragedy.  After all, John the Baptist was executed.  Jesus alluded to this in the reading, “Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished.”

That is why the promise of a final restoration is so important.  That is why we continue to repent, even if we don’t see the fruit of it.  Being completely with God will be so incredible.  It will give us everything our heart ever longed for, and even things we didn’t realize we longed for.

“The biblical meaning of the word ‘restoration’ is to receive back more than has been lost to the point where the final state is greater than the original condition.  The main point is that someone or something is improved beyond measure.” (From a church website.)

The gain will be far greater than the pain.  Let’s remember that, and let it motivate us.  May it be our life’s work to help others to be restored as well.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  II Cor 5:20

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Vanquishing the Doom Gloom

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Last week someone close to me hurt my feelings, and it sent me into this crazy downward spiral of emotions.  I thought I dealt with that, but then I had other ups and downs, and realized that I still had some kind of strong uneasiness going on.

I finally put my finger on it.  The incident had triggered the Doom Gloom in me.  Doom Gloom is to be distinguished from Doom and Gloom, which is being characterized by a glum disposition. Doom Gloom is a strong foreboding that something got broken, and is not going to work, and life is going to stink!

As I studied out the passage for this week’s blog, it gave me some insight into my Doom Gloom, and led me to a powerful way to deal with it.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”  Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.  Mark 8:11-13

These verses talk about how the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to show them his creds.

This bummed Jesus out.  Why?  I mean, it seems reasonable to ask him to prove who he was.  Others in the Bible were given signs.  Gideon asked for and received a sign with the fleece.  God gave Moses a sign through his staff.

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To understand this, we have to understand how God views “testing.”  Look at the time when Jesus was tempted in the desert.  The devil took him to a high place and told him to throw himself off the edge, because the scriptures said the angels would catch him when he did.  Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

The scripture Jesus used refers to Exodus 17, when the Israelites were in the desert and came to a place where there wasn’t any water.   They freaked out and ganged up on Moses, telling him he had better come through with something to drink!  Moses told them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” (Ex 17:2)

So then we want to know how it was that they were putting God to the test in this situation.   The end of the story tells us, “they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7)

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When the Israelites couldn’t see God, they couldn’t have faith.  The Lord had helped them in so many ways.  Yet when they lacked water, they started doubting that he was among them.  They had to have a sign, physical evidence.

The Pharisees were doing the same thing.  Really, as Jesus said, it wasn’t just the Pharisees.  It was the whole generation.  Everyone wanted to see immediate physical evidence, over and over again, that the Lord was with them in the person of Jesus.  Otherwise they couldn’t have faith.

And I want to make one more point here.  In the case of the Pharisees, asking for a sign was probably bogus.  They already had their minds made up that he wasn’t from God.  In Mark 3, Jesus had been doing miracles and the teachers of the law said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”  They saw signs, but to them the signs meant that Jesus was working with the power of the devil.  Somehow all of their religious knowledge made them so wise in their own eyes that they couldn’t see the truth.

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And all this made Jesus sigh deeply.  He was sad that a generation which had a history of God being among them still couldn’t have faith.  He was sad that the religious leaders had closed the eyes and doors to their hearts.

The lesson for us, of course, is not to fall into either category.  We need to have steadfast faith and open hearts.

First, just like the Israelites, we need to steadfastly believe that God is with us because we, too, have a history of him being among us.  Look at these verses:

  • Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Acts 14:17
  • For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  Romans 1:20
  • “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  Job 12:8-10
  • Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. Isa 40:22

I know when I think over my life, I can see the mile markers of God taking care of me.  He orchestrated a way for me to know him and attend a wonderful church.  He provided a husband who would be my partner in faith, and made my marriage immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.  Over the years he’s given me a hope and purpose, an amazing job, success in raising my children, stronger mental health, and a mission that is a dream come true.  He’s worked in so many ways.  I could go on and on.

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A recent outing with my family. I am so blessed!

Yet when something goes wrong, I’m still like the Israelites, doubting that God’s going to take care of me.  I get the Doom Gloom.  I have to fight this!

Second, we need to constantly work on humility so that we won’t be so wise in our own eyes that we miss the truth.

“No!” we think.  “We’re not missing the truth.  We know it and we’re living by it.”  We think we’ve figured out God.

But God works in so many ways that we don’t expect.  And we have blind spots.  We still need to learn and grow.  We’re not there yet.

I certainly have grown in my convictions over the years.  I’ve found out that I need to stay humble and open.  I need to keep going back to the scriptures to gain deeper insights.  I need to pray for wisdom and ask God to show me the truth.  I need to realize that although I’m pretty sure I’m right, I might be wrong.

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. Prov. 26:12

In the end, this passage about the Pharisees trying to test Jesus is changing my life.  I’m loving it! Why?  Because after I studied it out, I asked myself, “How would my day be different if I really believed that God is with me?”  I saw a lot of ways. It was convicting.

So I started remembering and believing that God is with me in the different things I do.  I found myself being less timid and more giving.   I believed God was with me when I checked out at the store, and I had a great chat with the clerk.  I believed God was with me when I got with someone who needed encouragement, and I found I had more to say. I believed God was with me when I was tired and emotional and wanted to hide, and I was able to push through.  I believed God is with me when I prayed, and I prayed for more impossible things.

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I am so thankful that God works in our times with friends!

Let me encourage you to do the same!  It is SO HARD when things go wrong and we get the Doom Gloom.  We so badly want to test God and have him show us that he is among us, instead of looking to ourselves to develop our faith muscle.

Let’s repeat over and over to ourselves, “God is with me.”

Satan wants us to freak out. Satan wants us to be blind in our own conceit.

But we can live with strength.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession. . . II Cor 2:14a

 

 

 

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When the Hurt Wins

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “My heart yearns over the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”

 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.  And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.  And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.  Mark 8:1-9 (mixture of translations)

To me, it’s pretty incredible that Jesus had compassion on this crowd.  It’s hard for me to have empathy for large groups of people.  It’s feels too overwhelming.  It seems to impossible to help them.

If ever there was a good time to read this Bible story about compassion, it’s now.  It’s CRAZY lately! We’re having hurricanes, wildfires, an earthquake.  My stepmother is very ill in the hospital.  A close friend just underwent a tragedy.  (Here’s Irma at my house.)

Yet I confess that I often don’t feel the compassion I should.  I was talking to my aunt earlier in the week.  She called to see if we were okay in the approaching storm.  As I listened to her, I could tell her heart was very heavy.   She was feeling really down about all the hurricanes and wildfires.  It was a heart check for me.  I need to be more like her.

The goal is always to have a soft heart.

And one thing I am learning is that, although some people have the gift of compassion, most of us need to work at softening our hearts.   For me, I tend to get intent on my life, and what I need to do.  I might even be intent on the way I need to serve others.  But when I do so, it’s like I have blinders on and I don’t see anything else.  The needs around me don’t make a great impression on me.blinders1

So how do we soften our hearts to be more like Jesus?  First, we need to try to see things from their perspective.  Jesus said, “if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

Jesus really looked at what it was like for them.  He saw they faced a long hungry journey home. In the same way, we need to constantly ask ourselves, “What are they going through?  What does it feel like?”

Second, we try to relate.  As I thought about those whose houses had been flooded in Hurricane Harvey, I remembered when my house was hit by an ice storm and we were without power for several days.  I had to made accommodations to live and sleep elsewhere.  I was homeless, just as they are.  This made me more motivated to help the hurricane victims.

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The fallout from the ice storm, many branches down in our yard.

What will help in relating is admitting just how needy we, ourselves, are, on a daily basis.  When we are in touch with our own desperation, we can connect to the desperation of others.  Our prayer time with God needs to be real.  We need to lower the barricades and and pour out our hearts to Him.

Third,  we need to put a face to it.  The news and social media are great for this.  When we see the individuals, we care more.

This week I’m reading a book that is in part about the boat people who fled Vietnam after the war there.  It was a terrible situation, and many lost their lives.

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One American man saw a picture in the paper of the face of one of the boat people.  Maybe something like this —

Boat people

That man happened to be the president of World Vision.  The face he saw motivated him so much that he put in a great deal of effort and fought for six months against many odds to expand World Vision to start caring for the boat people.  They were able to save many lives.

Will we look at the faces?  Will we see the person behind the face, and let it motivate us?

Because here’s the thing.  We’re all brothers.  That is why Jesus made the effort to help the crowd.

I love what Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Have we forgotten, or do we remember?  Do we remember that the second most important commandment is to love your brother as yourself?  Do we remember that, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it?”  (I Cor 12:26a)

Do we feel kinship, or do we feel apart from the rest, like they’re not our tribe, or like we’re better than them in some way?  In the book I mentioned in my last blog, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle wrote, “”Often we strike the high moral distance the separates ‘us’ from ‘them,’ and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us . . . Jesus was not a ‘man for others’; he was one with them.”

Jesus was one with others.  It is God’s dream come true that we live this out as well.

But now I’m back at the place I started.  I want to have a softer heart.  I’m working on it. But it’s still too overwhelming!  There are too many people, and too many needs.

Last night I watched a well done documentary about missionaries to New Guinea.

What really inspired me was what the missionaries in the field said were the qualifications  for being a missionary there.  It wasn’t being a Bible scholar or an eloquent speaker or having some special gift.  It was having a willingness to go and do what they could.

And that is what I see in the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000.  Jesus wasn’t paralyzed by the great number and the great need.  He was willing to do what he could.

Are we willing to do something, even if it seems like we only have a “few loaves and a few small fish?”

I guess the question is not, “Can God use me to meet this need?”  But it’s, “How can I not put myself out there to be used to meet this need?”

In Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle tells the story of a mother who lost two of her grown children to gang violence.  It absolutely tore her up.  And then she had heart attack symptoms and found herself in an emergency room bed next to a rival gang member who had been shot.  The medical staff was frantically trying to save this guy, and as she looked over, she realized it was probably someone who had killed one of her sons.  At that point she had a battle going on inside.  She could wish he would die or pray for him to live.  She found herself crying as never before and fervently begging God to save his life.  Why?  Because she realized didn’t want his mother to go through what she went through.  “The hurt wins,” she explained.

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We have to find a way to let the hurt win.  We must soften our hearts enough so that the pain of the need motivates us more than the other things that pull at us.

That is having the heart of Jesus.  That is why we put ourselves out there even when it seems overwhelming.

And when we are moved to put ourselves out there with what little we can do, God takes over and does amazing things, just as he multiplied the loaves and the fish.  I believe it.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  II Cor 8:12

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Compassion that Transforms

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!”(which means “Be opened!”).   At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.  People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  (Mark 7:31-37)

Can you imagine being locked away in your head, not able to hear, not able to articulate your thoughts?

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Deaf Chinese girl

It would be tough.   For most of us, it’s way outside of our realm of experience.

But there are other ways of feeling locked away.  I recently read a fictional story about a college age girl who had been in foster care all her life, and was finally adopted at 16.  Because of the deep scars from her past, when she gained a family she still found it almost impossible to engage with the world.  She couldn’t believe that she had worth, that people could really care about her.  She isolated herself and did everything alone.

The story isn’t about a real person, but it probably resonates with a lot of us. We also have had hard times in life that have caused us to withdraw.  And the irony is that although our circumstances might be the cause of our withdrawal, we ourselves choose to continue staying in confinement long after the circumstances have passed.

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I’m speaking from experience.  As I’ve been working on my character, I’ve come up against these walls I didn’t even know I had.  I hide behind them in fear.  I’m scared to step out and engage.

It’s interesting.  The passage above says that Jesus gave a deep sigh when he healed the deaf man.  The Greek word used here for sigh actually means to groan.  I think it was the sound Jesus made as he felt the man’s inner anguish and the magnitude of the task of healing.  Healing for Jesus wasn’t just a callous flick of miraculous power.   No, he was MOVED to his core to focus his whole efforts on helping that person.

That’s the kind of amazing compassion Jesus has for us.  Yet it’s hard to believe in.

In the story, the girl’s father sends her care packages while she is at college.  But she can’t bring herself to open them.  Finally, the day comes when she cautiously unwraps the most recent one.  She sees that her father has written her a note, “I know you’re not opening these, but I’m still going to send them.  Because that’s what fathers do.”

Doesn’t this remind of of God?  He gives to us, not because we deserve it, but because that is what he does.

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The question is, can we venture out of our internal refuge and unwrap the gifts God is giving us?  Can we engage more fully?  I want to.  But often I have this sense of dread and fear that holds me back.

Going back to the passage, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, he put his fingers in the man’s ears.  He touched his tongue.  That is another manifestation of the compassion of Jesus.  He doesn’t just tell us to get better.  He reaches out to us and puts his finger on the blockage, the source of our problem.

As I was praying this morning, I realized that the blockage for me is feeling like I am not enough.  I play over my recent interactions and think I should have done better.  I contemplate the day ahead and feel weight of expectation.

My problem is guilt and shame.

I’ve been reading another book lately, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” by Gregory Boyle.  (Warning:  this book contains rough language.)

It is written by a Catholic Jesuit who ministers to the inner city gangs in Los Angeles. Boyle writes that all of the gang members have one thing in common: shame.  “There is a palpable sense of disgrace strapped like an oxygen tank onto the back of every homie I know.  In a letter from prison, a gang member writes, ‘people see me like less.'”

So many of us feel like people see us like less, and we come to believe it is true.

We need the compassion of Jesus, that he would touch our shame.  We need the truth of it to penetrate our walls.

Here are verses that are penetrating my walls.  I’m learning to be kind and gentle with myself, as I see God’s kindness and gentleness.

  • He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Luke 6:36b
  • While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8b
  • He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matt 5:45
  • If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matt 7:11
  • Love is patient, love is kind. . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  I Cor 13:4,7
  • His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.  Lam. 3:22b-23a
  • As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.  Ps 103:13-14

In conclusion, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, Mark says the people were overwhelmed with amazement.  Why were they so amazed?  Hadn’t they seen or heard of other miracles Jesus performed?  This healing had to have been especially wonderful for them.  A man who had never uttered a word could not only hear, he could also hold a conversation.  When you think about it, it IS astounding.

It gives me faith as I work on my character.  I can change, with Jesus’ help.  He believes in me.  His compassion loosens the stuck places in my heart.  He gives me “gifts” that help me grow, if I will unwrap them.

Here is one gift I’ve been given.  We now have a mature women’s discipling group!  We call it WOW, “Woman of Wisdom.

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One of the greatest things about the WOW group is that I don’t have to feel shame with them.  We bare our souls and see that we all have similar weaknesses.  We have compassion on one another, and say, “you are enough.”

That is how God is.  He sees all our warts and failures and still is merciful.  He delights in us and tells us, “you are enough.”  That is what will melt our defenses and transform us.

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How Do I Give When I’m Tired?

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The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. . .

(Then Jesus sees that they have no food)

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  They all ate and were satisfied,   Mark 6:30-34, 41-42

This passage challenges me!  It’s hard for me to imagine giving as Jesus did, when he was so tired and depleted.  Yet somehow he found the strength and inspiration to teach, and feed masses of people.

I think the key was that Jesus was accessing a deep well of compassion.  It was like he was pulling from God’s heart, and that gave him what he needed to give to others.

Sometimes we forget how big God’s heart is.  Look at how God describes himself:

And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”  Ex 34:6

God has this huge reservoir of tenderness, this innate concern for people.  God has empathy.

I’ve been learning about the power of empathy lately, and it has been one of the most profound, life changing lessons for me.  Check out this video by Brene’ Brown.

The message of the video is that if someone is in a pit, it’s much more helpful to them if you to get down in the pit with them, rather than if you just tell them how to get out of the pit or stress the positive side of being in the pit.

And that is what I think Jesus did with this crowd.  He got in the pit with them.  He was moved by their their helplessness and their hurts, so he made their desperate needs his own.  He confidently drew from God’s power to meet these needs, creating a feast from a snack, knowing that God also was moved to get in the pit with these people.

This thrills my heart!  And it is even more thrilling to think of the cross, where Jesus gets down in the pit with us in an epic way.

I love what Ann Voscamp wrote about the cross in The Broken Way:  “Over all of us is the image of the wounded God, the God who breaks open and bleeds with us.  How do you live with your one broken heart?  All I can think is — only the wounds of God can heal our wounds.”

This reminds me of Isaiah 53:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities . . .

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.  v. 4a, 5

Jesus saw our plight and our misery, and came and lifted the burden off of our shoulders and onto his own.  He saw the overwhelming mess we made for ourselves, and got in there and cleaned it up for us.   And that means he himself experienced the mess — the anguish, the depravity, the limitations of the flesh.

Sometimes, when I’m not doing well, it’s hard for me to go to God. I know he’s compassionate, but he seems so stern.

But I can go to Jesus on the cross.

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The cross is the place we can bring our hurts, our inadequacies, our despair over a world gone wrong.  The cross reflects everything that’s broken, so we don’t have to be ashamed of our own brokenness.  The cross is a place we can relate to, where hope seems lost, but then where we are lifted up because we know that Jesus experienced the worst and came out on the other side.

The cross is the place where his wounds will heal our wounds and his brokenness will heal ours.

And this doesn’t just happen with salvation.  There’s something immensely powerful that happens as we remember the cross.  It’s like we get down in the pit with Jesus, as he got in the pit with us, and there we are able to experience God’s deep well of compassion, his huge reservoir of tenderness.

Every time we do this, it gives us the strength and inspiration to go out and give to others.  We tap into the same source that Jesus had.

That’s what we need so much.  That’s what I need.  Because it’s easy for me to feel empathetic to someone’s plight.  It’s much harder to act empathetic,and stop whatever I’m doing to get in the pit with someone

Yesterday, I had a root canal.

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Okay, it wasn’t as bad as this picture, but it was challenging.  It started with a crown that cracked two weeks ago, continued with a visit to the dentist a week ago that was supposed to fix the problem but left me in increasing pain, and ended (hopefully) with multiple shots of Novocaine, prolonged drilling of my tooth roots and bleary convalescence.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I was also experiencing stomach problems and some kind of respiratory virus.  Ugh.

But the best thing about all this was that it makes me more empathetic to those who are going through physical challenges.  It reminds me how lousy it feels to be down and out, and how nice it is when others remember you in prayer, text to asking how you’re feeling, offer to drive you to your appointment, or drop by some soup.

It totally motivates me to empathize more with others by doing something, and not just by sympathizing with them.

The cross is like this example, but on steroids multiplied by a gazillion.  It changed things for all time.  We have a real solid example of the vastness of God’s compassion.  We can never be the same.

Empathy becomes vital to how we practice our faith.

How do we give when we are depleted? We do as Jesus did. We tap into the compassion of God. 

But God knew it would be hard for us sometimes, so he gave us a conduit to make it easier for us to tap in.  He gave us the cross, that takes us straight into the huge heart of God.

And there we are healed. We are inspired.  We are empowered.

Our vision clears.  We see the person and the need, and we are moved.  And we find ourselves giving more than we ever thought we could.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”   Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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God, Why Did You Allow This?

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King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”  Mark 6:14

Friends, I feel like I have been learning so much!  And this passage, that is next in my study of Mark, goes right along with what I am learning.

It’s horrible that John the Baptist was put to death in this way.  I mean, he did so many good things, he was totally focused on serving God, and his reward was to get his head chopped off!

Why does God allow such things to happen?

I’ve been thinking about this lately. Why does God allow us to go through tough situations?  On one level we know that life is hard, and there will be challenging times.  But on the other hand, we struggle when they happen to us.

On the cross, Jesus prayed, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

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And that is what we all ask when we go through trials, “God, why are you allowing me to suffer like this?  I thought you loved me.  Where are you?”

It’s funny, because I think I’m a good Christian.  I think I know how to have the right attitude in suffering.  I apply verses like I would take ibuprofen, and they dull the pain for awhile.  But deep down, I’m still angry.

And now I’m realizing that I’m still angry because I haven’t wrestled it through with God.  I haven’t been completely honest with him.  I tell myself that my struggle is due to situations or people.  But my struggle is really with God.

So last week, I got down on my knees and dug through my heart in prayer.

I uncovered layers of hidden thoughts and emotions, and bared them to God.   I realized what I was really feeling was, “God,  I’ve been trying so very hard to do all the right things.  Why do I have to deal with this?  It feels wrong.”  It wasn’t just that I didn’t like dealing with what was going on.  It was that I felt like I shouldn’t have to go through it because of my constant striving to be what I should be.

Once I saw that, I could feel the Spirit begin to respond to the question with the answer, “Because I am God.  I will do what I will do, and I don’t have to give a reason.  It is not your right to be free of this struggle.”

Ken and I just just took a little vacation trip down to Jacksonville to see his dad and stepmom.

With Dad

It gave us a good chance to talk in the car.  It was Father’s Day, and we were discussing how many people attribute their emotional angst to wounds they received from their relationship with their dad.  Ken said that while he knows his father wasn’t perfect and this has an affect on him, he sees much more that he, himself, made bad choices, and suffers the consequences of those choices.

I told him that the difference between me and him is that when I look at myself, I don’t see all the bad choices I’ve made (although I know there are there) as much as I see how hard I’ve tried hard to make a lot of good choices.  So it’s easy for me to get resentful or even blame someone when things go wrong.  Why would it be my fault?.  I was trying hard.  I was doing good.

What a Pharisee I am!!!  Pride in doing the right thing is every bit as destructive as it is to do the wrong thing.  It’s deceptive.  It keeps me from taking personal responsibility.  It makes me feel entitled.  It opens me up to become paralyzed by anger for long periods of my life.

“In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” Ps. 36:2

Pride keeps me from being able to deal with the worst.  I think I have my armor on.  I think I’m ready.  But Satan always manages to hit me with that one thing I didn’t anticipate, that one thing that strikes me where I am most vulnerable, that one thing that I’m sure God shouldn’t allow to happen.

And there’s that word that becomes a stumbling block for prideful people like me: “shouldn’t.”  As soon as I think God “shouldn’t” do something, I’m in trouble, because I start thinking I know better than God.

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God is God.  It’s not for us to question or criticize. All through the Bible we see how he protected his people, but also sometimes allowed the worst to happen.  John the Baptist was beheaded.  Herod had all of the boys aged 2 and younger to be slaughtered.  James the apostle was executed by the sword.

“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.”  Hebrews 11:35-37

I’ve been reading church history.  It amazes me and appalls me how many people died over the course of history for their faith.  It didn’t just happen in the early church, with the Romans.  It didn’t just happen during the reformation, when Catholics killed Protestants, and vice versa.  There is a copious trail of blood ALL through the history of Christianity.  People of faith were always killing other people of faith who had different beliefs.  .

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Why would God allow his people to go through this?  We’re back to the question again.

One thing we do begin to see is that see that we’re not a special case.  If people all through ages endured this, how can we feel entitled to be exempt from suffering? Let’s face the fact that God sometimes allows bad stuff to happen to others, and to us, things that wound us, things that seem wrong and make us feel abandoned.

And when the bad stuff does happen, our job is to wrestle through it with God.

“Not one thing in your life is more important that figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.”  (Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way)

We need to fight that battle in prayer to figure it out.  Figure out how to let our light shine when the world is dark and broken.  How to face hardship with integrity instead of bitterness, anger, avoidance or self medication.  How to live out the cross.

I’ve been fighting that battle, and I’m finding that the battle makes me dig deeper to find peace, joy and affirmation in HIM, and not in my efforts to do the right thing.

I really don’t understand why God allows us to go through tough situations.  I have verses I could quote that would be a partial answer.

But this much I do know: the more Satan tries to shut us down, the more we find regeneration in Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. . .

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  II Cor 4:7-10, 16-17

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