Even if life turns upside-down

Ever been in one of those seasons in life where nothing feels stable? It’s like you’re trying to walk along the beach as the tide is rolling out, taking all the sand with it from under your feet. You aren’t sure where to stand because no ground is solid enough to support your weight. It’s an awkward dance, roaming the beach while the sand slides out from under you.

Welcome to my life

That’s sort of where life is for me right now. And it’s not just me. I know several people who are in similar predicaments. Life has thrown a curve ball they never expected. The job didn’t end up being a good fit. The job opportunity fell flat. People have passed away. New children have been born. New friendships are beginning, and some friendships are falling apart. New stories are starting, and others are ending.

Just about everyone I know is facing major transitions in their lives, and as I sit here this morning trying to knock out several thousand words on a novel, I’m tempted to despair. So much hurt and pain is happening right now. So many people are struggling with friendships and relationships and jobs and finances. People are scared and uncertain and feeling scattered. And I want to fix it. But I can’t. I can’t even fix my own problems. And some days it’s enough to make me want to give up.

I’m doing it wrong

That’s when I remember I’m doing this all wrong. In those moments I have to step back and remind myself who exactly is in charge here. It’s not me. And it’s not you either. None of us have the power to change much of anything in our lives, not without help. When we get to these points in life (and all of us do), we have to hold on to something. And the only anchor worth holding onto is God.

God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6). He’s the same today as He was 10,000 years ago. He’ll be the same 10,000 years from now. Not like us. We change all the time, finding new and improved ways to identify ourselves or uncover value in ourselves. And because God doesn’t change, we can trust that He’ll always keep His promises (Numbers 23:19).

It’s okay to feel hurt

instagram upside-downSo life hasn’t turned out the way you thought it would. Join the club. Peoples’ lives rarely work out the way we expect them to. That’s not a reason to give up or stop believing that God can do something miraculous. That’s when God does His best work.

Maybe something you thought was certain fell apart, and you’re hurting. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to not be okay. Nobody is okay, not really. As long as the world is broken and people are broken, “okay” is just a word we say to cover up what we’re actually feeling inside. But just because we’re not okay doesn’t mean God isn’t able. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

It doesn’t always help to remember that God’s got everything under control. Sometimes you’re just so hurt and so frightened and so unsure that you just need to feel sad, and I get that. And that’s okay too. But don’t make the mistake of thinking God doesn’t hear you, because He does. And don’t confuse His patience or His perfect timing for tardiness (2 Peter 3:9).

Nothing in life stays the same. Everything changes. Our dreams, our preferences, our stories, our families, our friendships. God is the only stable ground. He’s the only rock we can stand on that we can trust will stay put. (Psalm 18:2)

Our only hope

Life may be upside down for you right now. Or maybe you can see the chaos coming toward you like a tidal wave that threatens to sweep away the life you’ve built for yourself. Don’t assume God doesn’t know. He does, and He cares. And He’s your only hope.

Hebrews 6:18Knowing that God doesn’t change, that He always keeps His promises, that He offers hope to the hopeless, and that He is always good—maybe it won’t fix your troubles today. But maybe it’ll give you a different perspective on them. (Hebrews 6:13-19) Because it’s possible for life to be hard and good at the same time, just like you can be hurting and full of joy at the same time.

It all comes down to how you choose to see the trouble in your life. Yes, it can feel overwhelming, unfair, undeserved, and even malicious at times, but if that’s how you choose to see it, you’re missing the point. And you’re choosing to see God as an enemy who wants to hurt you, and nothing is further from the truth. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Breathe. Step back. Shut your eyes and listen to what God is telling you.

He’s got this. He’s got you, and all the little things (or big things) that you’re worrying about, He’s already figured out. And maybe He won’t give you a magic lamp and grant you three wishes. He won’t snap His fingers or wiggle His nose and solve all your problems. But you can be sure that however He chooses to act, it’ll be good, even if it doesn’t feel like it right away.

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It’s just the way I am

In the last few years, I’ve gotten really interested in the Meyers Briggs Personality Tests. I never used to put a lot of stock in personality quizzes, mainly because I thought they stereotyped people too much. But as I’ve gotten older and met more people, I’ve started to learn the value of having a basic knowledge of the different personality types.

No, you can’t (or at least you shouldn’t) label people. It doesn’t do much good because everyone is different. And putting people in a box limits their potential and can possible stifle your relationship with them (John 7:24). That being said, when it comes to getting to know someone, you have to start somewhere.

Example? I test as an INFJ, although that N is only 50% (because I’m 50% S). If you know MBTI, you understand. But my actual personality is closer to an INFP. But since I was raised by a family of Js, I have a lot of J tendencies that I’ve pushed to the forefront of my personality. The organization. The scheduling. The planning. The punctuality. And the perfectionism.

I don’t fit neatly in the INFP box either. And, honestly, when it comes to personality tests, very few people are perfect matches, and even the ones who do have their own quirks and eccentricities that make them who they are (Psalm 139:14).

But I hear something every now and then when I’m talking personalities with people. The phrase: “It’s just the way I am.” You’ve heard that right? I’m sure you’ve even used it once or twice. I have. And there’s some truth to it.

I have wide shoulders and a broad back. I’m built with a large frame, and even if I ever get down to where my BMI tells me I should be, I won’t be dainty. There’s nothing dainty about me. But that’s just the way I am. That’s the way I’m made. I can’t change that.

Personality wise? I’m an introvert. That doesn’t automatically make me shy, but it means being around crowds of people wears me out. I recharge by being alone. And I’ve always been that way, even from childhood. I like being around people, but I reach a saturation point where I’ve got to get away. That’s just the way I am.

But do I have to stay just the way I am? What if “just the way I am” is an excuse I use to protect myself or to avoid doing something I don’t want to do? Ever thought of it that way?

Physically speaking, I can’t change the way I look. God built me this way, and I’m perfectly content to stay this way (Isaiah 64:8). But my personality (I think) is a different issue. No, I can’t change who I am as a person, and that’s not what God asks of me (Jeremiah 1:4-5). But I also don’t think I should hide behind it either.

Let’s say God tells me that I need to go talk to someone I don’t know. It would be so easy to remind God that I’m an introvert, and I don’t like talking to people I don’t know. And that’s true. Some days I would rather put my own eye out than walk over to a stranger and strike up a conversation. But if God tells me to do it, shouldn’t I do it? If God tells me to do it, won’t He give me what I need to make it happen? (Psalm 107:28-30)

That’s what’s He’s promised. Over and over again, He tells us that we can do things we think are impossible. And if it’s just us trying to do them, they are impossible. But with God, we can do it. (Matthew 19:26)

No, your personality isn’t something to overcome. Understanding your personality is a vital step in learning who God made you and what you can do for Him. But if you turn your personality into an excuse or use it to avoid obeying God, you’re asking for trouble.

So, yes. Take the tests and quizzes. Get to know what it means to be you. Understand why you operate the way you do, why you think the way you do, and embrace it. You’re unique and individual, and God made you that way because He has a plan for you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t rise above your personality and its limitations.

You may be an introvert, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to strangers. You may be a hardcore S, but that doesn’t mean you must lack empathy. And if you’re a full-on J, that doesn’t mean the sky will fall if you’re late for a meeting because you stopped to help someone. And so on and so forth.

Labeling our personalities is helpful, but when we start using them as reasons why we aren’t doing what God has called us to do or living how God has called us to live, all we’re doing is offering excuses. And that never flies with God.

God invented personalities. He knows what you’re capable of doing, and—what’s more—He knows what He can do through you.

Lions chilling out at Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

What God requires

I like to perform, not on stage but in life. If I don’t deliver a good performance that meets or exceeds expectations in anything that I do, I get depressed. I like to please people, and I like to go above and beyond what people expect of me. But to accomplish that, I have to know what they expect me to do to begin with.

I’ve tried to break myself of this whole performance-based acceptance concept because God doesn’t work like that. God doesn’t care about our performance in regards to how much He loves us, but He does have expectations for how His children should behave.

Lions chilling out at Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Lions chilling out at Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Micah 6:6-8.

What can we bring to the Lord?
What kind of offerings should we give him?
Should we bow before God
with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
to pay for our sins?

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.So many times I think we try to bribe God with money or giving up things we view as essential or important. I have many friends who give up things for Lent, which I believe is a period of time before Easter. It’s a religious tradition in some families. One friend gave up pop for a year. Another friend gave up chocolate for a year. And so on and so forth. They do it to show devotion, that things like that mean less to them than God does.

But is that what God requires of us?  What does God require from us? What does He want us to give up? What does He wants us to do for Him? What does He want us to sacrifice?

Well … here’s the thing. All of those requirements have been met through Christ. Christ was our sacrifice. Christ paid the price for our sins. Christ was the offering God required to symbolically cleanse us of our wrong and make us right with Him. So we aren’t required to give up anything. We aren’t required to sacrifice anything. We aren’t required to do anything, save making the choice to trust Christ in the first place.

People like to add things to God’s free gift so it makes us feel like we have some say in it. But God doesn’t need us to do anything more. He already did it all.

However, He does expect that we will behave in a certain way, and because God is a God of communication, He tells us exactly what those expectations are:

Do right. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

Here’s how The Message puts it:

Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.

Is that too much to ask?

It’s certainly not easy. In the world we’re living in, doing what is fair and just is difficult because those qualities mark a higher road. And the higher road is always harder.

And when it comes to loving others? Love is easier from a distance, but that’s not real love. The kind of love here is compassionate love and loyal love, and both  of those require closeness. Another way to translate that says to love mercy and kindness, and that means to look for opportunities to show mercy to people. And that is even harder than taking the high road in doing right. You can take the high road and do the right thing without having to interact with people. But God expects us as His children to look for people to do good things for, even if they aren’t interested in doing good back to us.

And walking humbly? Not taking yourself too seriously? That’s difficult too, especially if you’ve already accomplished the other two. Because if you can always take the high road and always manage to do good to others, it’s easy to slip into the thought that you’re better than everybody else. But you’re not. You just take God seriously. That’s the key. You’re no different than anyone else; you just made a choice.

Another interesting thing to note is that each of these expectations starts with an action verb. Just a fun fact for all the grammar nerds out there. God expects us to move, to do these things, to be people of action, not people who absorb Bible verses and rest on their blessed assurance.

So get out there. Do right. Love mercy. And be humble about it. That’s what God expects from us.