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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Check that attitude, Donut Girl

I’m not a big donut eater. But I’m traveling. As you’re reading this post today, I’m on the road yet again, but this time I’m on the way home. The editing conference in Atlanta was absolutely wonderful, and I’ll be posting about it in more detail later on. But yesterday morning, as my friends and I were getting ready to go to church, we decided that we wanted donuts for breakfast.

And I figured it would serve as a reward for pretending to be an extrovert for almost an entire week. So I jumped in the car and drove down to the nearest donut shop. I won’t identify which one, but I can tell you they’re all over the place in this part of the world.

I went through the drive in and asked for chocolate-glazed donuts. Now, I don’t know if it’s a family thing or a cultural thing or a regional thing, but to me a chocolate-glazed donut was a chocolate-frosted donut. Apparently, that’s incorrect, because when the Donut Gal in the window showed me the box of donuts, I saw chocolate cake donuts with glaze on them. I realized my mistake immediately and apologized.

Well, Donut Girl heaved a heavy sigh, rolled her eyes, and stormed back to the donut case to replace the glazed donuts with the frosted ones. When she returned, she wouldn’t even look at me and initiated a conversation with the next person at the window behind me.

At first, I was really irritated, because that’s just rude.

Check that attitude donut girlYes, I was wrong and caused her some level of inconvenience, but I did apologize. And the least she could have done was acknowledge that I was sorry. But then, I thought about her. I mean, she’s working in a gas station donut shop. She probably doesn’t get tips. She may not even get paid well, And she works with the public. So I can understand some irritability.

It was mainly the attitude that irked me. I’ve never ordered donuts in a drive-thru before. I’m also not a normal customer of this particular donut chain. But if I were, I would be upset enough about this experience that I might not come back. Donut Girl has a responsibility to her employer to represent him to the public, and she did a poor job of that yesterday morning.

But you know what? I am Donut Girl.

People irritate me. They inconvenience me. They give me bad information and then act surprised when I deliver an incorrect product. And most of the time, my attitude stinks. I grumble and complain and roll my eyes. And while I don’t do that to their faces, doing it behind their backs is worse, because it’s evidence of what’s in my heart.

Donut Girl check your attitudeAnd I don’t represent a donut chain. I represent God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). As Jesus-followers, God has given us a job to point the way to Him, to show people how to be reconciled with God Himself. That makes us God’s ambassadors–God’s representatives on Earth. And if I mistreat people, whether they’re wrong or not, that’s a poor representation of who God is and how He treats people.

So before I criticize Donut Girl for her attitude, I need to check my own.

How about you this morning? Are the petty details of life turning you into a grumbler? Do you let people’s faults (or perceived faults) get under your skin? Are you forgetting who you represent?

Don’t be like Donut Girl. Be like Jesus.

Even Jesus needed a vacation

I don’t know how to rest. It’s not something that comes naturally to me, so the last thing on my mind is taking time off. But people weren’t made to run 24/7, despite what we tell ourselves.

As you read this post this morning, I’m heading home from a week-long vacation in Estes Park, thanks to some very dear friends who let me stay in their wonderful little cabin. I needed rest so desperately.

Rest looks different for each person. Some people need activity and socializing. Others need structure. For me, rest involved not talking, not wearing real pants, and watching cooking shows and nerdy movies for a week. After about three full days of that, I felt a bit more human. (If you’re an introvert, you totally get this.)

Everybody needs to rest. Everyone needs to take intentional time to refocus and refresh and restore themselves, and for a Christ-follower that means spending some real one-on-one time with Jesus (you know, in between cooking shows).

Even Jesus had to rest. So how did He do it? That’s what I asked myself as I started off on this journey. How did Jesus rest? And I thought I’d pass along what I learned from Jesus.

Jesus got away from the crazy

Matthew 8:18Jesus was the most popular guy in every town He visited. Crowds flocked around Him to hear Him speak, to be healed, to see Him. Can you imagine being surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people every moment of every day? I would self-destruct.

When Jesus got tired (because He did), He made time to separate Himself from the noise and chaos of the crowds. He got away. (Matthew 8:18)

Jesus spent time with God

Does that mess with your head? Yes, Jesus spent time with Father God, even though Jesus Himself is God. Don’t try to make sense of it. It’s not something our puny brains can understand. Just realize that Jesus took time (frequently, according to Scriptures) to talk to God, to be quiet with God, to listen to God. So we probably should too. (Luke 5:15-16)

Jesus connected with His inner circle

Jesus had best friends. He loves everyone, and He loved all His disciples, obviously. But there were three (some people believe four) guys who He just enjoyed spending time with—Peter, James, and John. And when Jesus was seeking God’s will and needing support, He turned to those three men. (Matthew 17:1Matthew 26:36-38)

You may be an introvert who needs your space, but that doesn’t mean you should become a recluse. God puts people in your life for a reason. Granted, that doesn’t mean you are required to spend every waking moment with those people, but you shouldn’t cut yourself off from human contact. God didn’t create us to be alone.

Jesus took care of Himself

This is one of the funniest moments in the Bible for me. Can’t you just imagine the storm? The disciples were just minding their own business when a massive storm kicked up on the Sea of Galilee, and they all freaked out. They went running to Jesus, and they found Him asleep. (Mark 4:38)

Dude, Jesus must sleep like I do. When I’m out, there’s not much that can wake me up.

The point?

Jesus was intentional about resting, so why aren't we?Jesus took intentional steps to rest. He made it a priority because He was human too, just like us. So if Jesus was intentional about rest, why aren’t we? Do we think we can do more than Jesus?

Sure, this week has been great, but I can’t just drop everything and run away to the mountains for an entire week whenever I want. You probably can’t either. So that means I need to learn how to integrate these strategies into my daily life. That means I need to start seeing myself and my goals from a more realistic perspective.

Rest is something we all need, so it’s something we can be intentional about. I don’t know about you, but I’m taking steps to make sure I rest. That way, I can always be at my best, and I can always be available to do what God has called me to do.

Faith and common sense work together

Have you ever sat in a chair that couldn’t hold your weight? There’s nothing like that terror as the legs wobble beneath you, and you freeze, paralyzed with uncertainty, because if you move at all, it might collapse and hurt you. At the very least, you’ll look like an idiot. My friends, welcome to faith.

That’s an encouraging thought, right? Faith is like a cheap plastic chair that you aren’t sure will hold your weight until you sit in it. That’s what it feels like sometimes, and honestly there is some truth to that concept.

If you rest your whole weight on a chair that’s too flimsy to support you, it’ll collapse beneath you. That’s just the way gravity works. That’s also the way cheap plastic works too. And to a certain extent, you won’t know if it will hold you until you try sitting in it.

God doesn’t ask for blind faith

Yes, sitting in a plastic chair takes faith. But faith doesn’t have to be blind, and anyone who tells you differently doesn’t really know what he believes in.

Do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.... There are many false prophets in the world. - 1 John 4:1Personally, I know there’s a lot of me to hold up, so I usually test a chair before I sit in it.

That’s not a lack of faith. That’s just common sense.

And I think that’s where a lot of folks gets confused, because faith and common sense don’t have to be at odds with each other.

Even the Bible says that we’re supposed to think about what we believe and why we believe it (1 John 4:1). Jesus never commanded us to turn our brains off. In fact, He said the opposite. (1 Peter 5:8)

Now, does that mean we’ll understand everything?

Instead of answering, let me ask another question. Do you understand everything anyway?

Faith isn’t an exclusively religious concept. Everyone has faith in some form or another, whether we’re talking about relationships or job positions or the integrity of a plastic chair’s design.

Most of the important questions of life can’t be answered without faith. Granted, maybe your faith is in science, but science can’t explain everything either, which is why some supposed sciences are accepted on faith. (And if you’ve been paying attention to the scientific community over the years, you’d notice that science continually proves the Bible is true. But that’s another blog post.)

The point is, you don’t have to sacrifice common sense to have faith.

You don't have to sacrifice common sense to have faith. - A.C. WilliamsIf a cheap plastic chair doesn’t look like it’s going to support you, don’t sit in it. If a pastor on YouTube is promising success and prosperity if you donate to his organization, you don’t have to do it if you don’t think he’s on the level. If a charity demonstrates a lack of ability to monitor their accounting, you aren’t required by faith to give your money to them.

Don’t turn your brain off. God doesn’t ask you to be blind. He’s gone to painstaking lengths to prove who He is through His Word and through the experiences of people who’ve followed Him.

So ask Him questions. Ask His followers questions. Examine Him. Get to know who He is for yourself, not just the picture that other people paint. He’s waiting for you.

Try it His way and see what happens. You might be surprise how common-sensical following Jesus actually is.

Truth hurts enough without our help

I never wore expensive clothes when I worked at the library at Wichita State University. It wasn’t that we were unprofessional. I always looked nice. But we worked with ink daily, and no matter how hard you tried, you always ended up covered in it. So there was no point to spend money on expensive clothes when you were only going to ruin them.

It never failed. I’d help a patron at the desk, and then I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. Smack dab on the tip of my nose would be a big smudge of ink. The person I was helping could have told me at any time. I wouldn’t have been offended. I would have been grateful. But people don’t like to speak up in those situations because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings or making you feel inferior in some way.

Telling people an uncomfortable truth is never fun, and it’s rarely easy. But truth, unpopular or not, should never be intentionally hurtful. Truth hurts enough by itself; it doesn’t need us to make it worse.

Everyone knows the verse about speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We quote it back and forth to each other all the time, but is it even possible to do?

I’m not an expert. But one thing I’ve learned about confronting someone with Truth is that your motivation matters.

I have known Christ-followers who have beaten me half to death, using Truth as a sledgehammer to pound me into submission. And on the other hand, I’ve known Christians who are willing to overlook the worst sins just to make me feel better about myself. Where’s the middle ground? Can you speak uncompromising Truth without doing lasting damage?

Well, what about the ink incident at the library? Why would you tell me that I had ink on my nose? To make me feel bad or to help me not look like a moron?

If your desire is to help me, you aren’t going to address me with self-righteous bravado. You aren’t going to insult me as you point out the ink on my nose. No, you’ll gently mention to me that I’ve got ink on my nose. And you might even relate a story about when something similar happened to you.

Gentle. Kind. Humble. And still true.

Confronting someone with Truth should never be about you (Philippians 2:3). It shouldn’t be about promoting yourself as an example to follow, and it should never be intended to humiliate them. Even if you’re talking to another Christ-follower, if the language you use doesn’t build them up or encourage them (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6), you aren’t drawing them back to God. Instead, you’re forcing them away.

Maybe what you’re saying is absolutely true. But if the truth you’re speaking is mixed up with cruel judgments, baseless assumptions, and biting sarcasm, you aren’t being kind. You’re being mean.

God expects us to live justly, yes (Micah 6:8-9), but we’re also supposed to love mercy and walk humbly. That means you look for opportunities to extend grace to people. It doesn’t mean you can compromise what God says is right, but it also doesn’t justify being mean-spirited.

That’s how you speak truth in love. It starts with your attitude toward God and your perspective on yourself. Before you confront anyone, before you take God’s Truth into battle, get those two things on the level. Make sure you and God are on the same page. Otherwise, it’s not about Him. It’s about you.

Any time you make life about yourself, you don’t leave any room for God to work.

But if you make it about Him, He’ll work it out. He’ll bring beauty from ashes. He’ll redeem what you forfeited. But you have to leave it in His hands first.

God keeps track so I don’t have to

Have you ever been so far behind that you’ve got practically no chance of catching up in your lifetime? Have you ever been so surrounded by chaos and craziness that you can’t keep your head above the waves no matter how good a swimmer you are? Have you ever trusted someone to help you stand up after life has beaten you down only to feel the shock of them kicking you while you’re too tired to defend yourself?

Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. How about you?

This isn’t a very good blog post.

Since last fall I’ve tried to make these posts deep and rich, full of more than one Bible reference and practical stories from life. But today’s post isn’t going to be like that, simply because I haven’t been able to write that kind of post.

But what’s true in the long, deep, rich posts is true in smaller posts like this one: God is always good, even when your situation isn’t; He never makes mistakes; and He always keeps His promises.

When I reach low points in my life, I run to the Psalms. It’s reassuring to me to read the words of the writers, especially the Psalms of David. David asked God hard questions. “Where are you?” and “How long will you be angry with me?” and “Why are these horrible things happening?” and “Why have my friends turned against me?”

There are no easy answers. God didn’t respond with platitudes or religious verbiage. He didn’t wave the questions away as though they didn’t matter. Instead He granted David (and the other Psalm writers) an understanding of Who He is.

Psalm 56

O God, have mercy on me,
for people are hounding me.
My foes attack me all day long.
I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,
and many are boldly attacking me.
But when I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

They are always twisting what I say;
they spend their days plotting to harm me.
They come together to spy on me—
watching my every step, eager to kill me.
Don’t let them get away with their wickedness;
in your anger, O God, bring them down.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
This I know: God is on my side!
I praise God for what he has promised;
yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

I will fulfill my vows to you, O God,
and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help.
For you have rescued me from death;
you have kept my feet from slipping.
So now I can walk in your presence, O God,
in your life-giving light.

Not an overused religious cliche in sight, right? David doesn’t pull any punches when he’s talking about the state of the world and the kinds of people who want to destroy him. And I don’t know about you, but some of that sounds awfully familiar to me.

Everyone has people in their lives who are hurtful. We all have relationships that aren’t healthy in some way or another. And maybe no one is actively trying to kill you (I hope not, at least), I’d be willing to bet there are several who are trying to hurt your reputation. Maybe they’re even succeeding. But don’t give up. 

God isn’t blind. He isn’t ignoring you. And He isn’t ignoring them either.

But just because they’re getting away with it now doesn’t mean they’ll get away with it forever. Just because your life is rocky and crazy and overwhelming and frustrating right now doesn’t mean it will continue to be that way. Just because there are people and obstacles in your path that are causing destruction and pain right now doesn’t mean they’ll always be there.

Things may be tough right now, but God hasn’t gone anywhere. Instead of being angry and upset at Him for your life going differently than you wanted, spend the time asking Him what He has planned. Trust me, His plan is better anyway. Just trust Him. Do what He says is right. And keep moving forward.

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.