Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Losing Control

"If any would come after me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me."
Mark 8:34

In my last post I talked about fear. Specifically I talked about letting go of that fear to find peace. I think this verse fits that concept perfectly.
I, like many, have spent a lot of time focusing on the second part of this verse, the "pick up your cross" part. But that's not the part that stood out to me the other day. For the first time, my eyes were drawn to "deny yourself," and I began thinking about what exactly that looks like. At first, I thought of what I described in In the Face Of Fear, about how we must turn our fear over to Jesus. But how exactly does that go hand in hand with denying ourselves?

Fear comes from a lot of things. We fear change, we fear death, we fear loss, but largely I think a lot of fear comes from feeling like we no longer have control. Fear comes when something big is happening, something that could mean we have to change the way we live, act, or view the world. Fear comes when something happens that we really have no power to change. So, by surrendering that fear, we are denying ourselves in a sense.
But denying ourselves goes deeper than that. It's not just admitting to God we're afraid so He can eradicate that fear. It's denying ourselves the right we think we have to hang onto any negative and destructive habits and mindsets that we continue to cling to. Things like worry, doubt, anger, and judgment. But really all four of those boil down to fear--fear for ourselves, our loved ones, our comfort. But mostly we fear our loss of control. A dear friend of mine recently put it this way, "Fear makes us choose the easy route, the predictable route. But fear is never a solid foundation. Fear only breeds more fear. We think we're in control until the inevitable storms tear the notion from our hands and we discover we have absolutely no control. Hence, more fear."
When we deny ourselves, we say no to our desire to control our situation and give it back over to the only One who has control in the first place.

Recently I got to first hand experience what denying yourself is really like when God convicted me of holding onto something I knew wasn't mine.
You see, my boyfriend has been going through some health issues recently, and I have this bad habit of taking the pain of others onto myself. I mean, don't get me wrong, being able to empathize or even just sympathize with others is great, but I've always been good at taking everything a step farther than needed. I end up worrying and stressing over a problem in another's life as if it were my own problem. I would work myself into these knots where I could no longer feel God's presence, even though I knew He was there.
Now these aren't life threatening health issues or anything like that, just something that will require him to change the way he does certain things and even maybe give up some stuff neither of us expected he would have to quit this soon. Regardless of whether it's life threatening or not, I know how much pain he's in physically, as well as emotionally and spiritually, I can imagine. Having to face changes like this is never easy, and while I should be trying to offer some peace to him during this, I found myself as threatened by the storm as he was.

It was on a Sunday morning shortly after this all began that God brought to mind a prayer I had said several months before when facing something else that was out of my control.
"Lord," I had said. "I don't really know what to do with this situation, and there's not really anything I can do, so I'm sorry for trying to take over. You're in control, I know you are. So, here, you can have him back. Thanks for letting me have him in my life, but he's not mine anyways. So you do your thing, and if you would still have me be a part of this plan of yours, I would very much like to see how it unfolds."
Sitting there remembering that prayer, I gave this heavy sigh and said, "I know I've said this already, but I'm holding on again, and I shouldn't be because he's not mine anyway. Thanks for letting me borrow him for a while, but ultimately he is yours, and you know what you're doing. So here, you can have him back."

It wasn't until I denied my flesh the right it thought it had to worry and stress over what to do with this storm was I able to understand what to do with my situation. It's truly amazing how the Spirit works, bringing not only the fruit of the Spirit with which you longed for, peace in my case, but also those that will go hand in hand it help you face what is up ahead. For with the peace came a joy that made the clouds less scary and a courage to face the next road blocks.Also came patience to wait out this storm no matter how long it would take and strength to allow the one who's facing the storm to lean on me whenever he has trouble seeing Jesus, who I lean on, at the stern of the boat.
But along with equipping you, the Spirit also brings this inexplicable level of understanding. For when my peace came, so also came this understanding that though I may not know how long this will take or how painful it may be, we would come out of it and there would be something awesome at the end. I knew it like I knew I still breathed, like I knew the earth was still turning and my heart still beating. How I knew, I don't know, but I can't shake this knowing that goes beyond my understanding. Something good is coming, even if we can't see it yet.

But the same way we cannot ignore the first part of Mark 8:34, we shouldn't ignore the other half to focus on it. "Take up your cross daily and follow me."
Daily we must practice this denying our desire for control to follow the only One who knew true peace. Do not get discouraged when you find you've picked back up fears and insecurities that you've already surrendered in the past. Instead, keep in mind a prayer my sister shared with me several years back when she was facing her own storms and fighting her own demons, "I'm sorry, Lord, that I have picked back up what I already laid at your cross."
It is never too late to turn to the Lord and release the white-knuckled hold you have on your need to control that which is out of your grasp.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

In the Face Of Fear

"Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

Maybe it's just me, but these sound like fighting words. I've never really liked when people tell me I have no reason to feel the way I do about something, whether that be scared, excited, hurt, or something else entirely. I also would feel a little embarrassed and maybe a little put off if someone asked why I have so little faith. Both questions together just seem a little too uncomfortable and offensive for my liking.
Then how come, coming from Jesus, they bring such comfort?

In my last post, When Storms Come Raging, I talked more about the passage in which these questions can be found (Mark 4). This passage tells of how Jesus calmed the disciples' fears with only a few words in the face of an overwhelming storm. While this is a great story about Jesus calming a literal storm, it is sometimes hard to transfer the meaning behind stories to our day to day lives.
How exactly do we find peace amidst the storms of our lives?

In the last year, I have heard a lot of speakers, authors, and pastors talk on the topic of forgiveness and letting go of fear (two things that definitely should happen if you are to have true peace in your life). Since this is all about storms, and storms often bring an extra large helping of fear to the table, the thought seemed very fitting.
I can't remember who was speaking, all I remember is they said that the only way to conquer fear is to not allow it to rule over you. Meaning, do not dwell on fear. A Graham Cooke quote I heard recently perfectly explains how this works. He says, "Take your eyes off the negative and you will disempower it." Anything you focus on, anything you dwell on, you give power to. You allow it to rule a part of your life and consciousness.
The speaker continued by saying that you can't ignore the fear either, because that creates pain where it does not need to be. For the fear will not just go away, it will linger beneath the surface and make you feel like there is something wrong with you for having that fear. And that shame will keep you from actually facing and eradicating it once and for all.
So then what do we do?
As he instructed, and I have implemented on more than one occasion, we must look our fear straight in the face. We must recognize that it is there, but not dwell on it or allow ourselves to slip into a pit of self-pity. Then we must turn to God in prayer and say, "I am afraid."

Believe me, I thought it sounded silly too, the first time I heard it. But it's just like what the disciples did in that boat. They turned to Jesus and said, "Lord, I am afraid."
I have had several chances to do this since hearing that speaker, and each time it was one of the most freeing things I could have done. There was something about recognizing my fear, not bottling it inside, and actually turning it over simply with no complicated prayers or formulas, just saying, "I am afraid," that lifted this huge weight off my shoulders. And that's because I could almost hear Him saying to me, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
The words don't come in a condescending or condemning way, but gently, as a father comforts a child who is scared of the dark. It is in those words that you know you really have nothing to fear. And the warmth and peace that comes from that has always been overwhelming enough to keep me in tears long after the fear filled ones have ceased.

Trust me, I know it sounds too simple to work that way. In all honesty, I was a little uncertain about it the first time I tried it. But I was scared and I was desperate and I was tired of feeling that way. But I can also tell you where that uncertainty came from.
I, like many, have trouble seeing God in the midst of the storm. When urgent or life altering matters press heavily on your mind, it's easy to forget He's there.

I think the biggest thing overlooked in the story of Jesus calming the storm is that He was there the whole time. He had never once left them alone to face the storm by themselves, but was sitting in the very same boat they were worried was about to capsize. It wasn't until they turned to Him with their fear and called on His name did He calm the storm.
He hasn't left you, but so long as you continue to cling to your fear and your need to be in control, He can't do much to calm the storms raging inside of you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

When Storms Come Raging

After a long day of teaching, Jesus and His disciples get in a boat to set out across the Sea of Galilee. On their journey across, Jesus decides to take a little snooze in the stern of the boat. And all of a sudden, a powerful storm comes up, and the disciples are afraid. They're not afraid because they've never seen a storm before, for if you do any research on the Sea of Galilee, you'll find that its position in this basin, this valley, means it gets storms a lot. Being fishermen, who are used to making their living on these and other waters, this is definitely not the first storm they've faced. But this storm is more powerful than any they've seen before.
According to the fourth chapter of the gospel of Mark, the storm was so furious that the waves broke over the boat and swamped it. So, naturally, the disciples believed they were going to drown. They believed they were going to die. In their panic, they turn to Jesus, who is still sleeping, and they woke him to say, "Teacher, we are going to drown, we are going to die. Don't you care?"

Life is filled with storms that threaten to overtake. Storms that come in the form of illness, doubt, insecurity, and fear. This being life and us being human, we have seen our fair share of these storms just as the disciples had seen their fair share of storms. But again, like the disciples, our experience with surviving through the storms sometimes isn't enough. Because sometimes, life comes in with a doozy.
I'm sure you know the kind I'm talking about. The job lost during a time when money was something you desperately needed. The diagnosis that changes everything. The threat to the one thing you've identified with the most for most of your life. Whatever the storm may be, all the other storms pale in comparison.

It's during these storms that we react exactly as the disciples had, with questions of, "Don't you even care?" It's easy to react this way, even natural sometimes, when our world seems to be crashing down around us. After all, if Jesus is the great protector, shouldn't He keep us from heartaches and loss such as these?
But if there's one thing I've learned from the scripture, it's that some of the best things come from the worst circumstance. Just take a look at any of the stories from the Old or New Testament. Many people faced trials aplenty, having to leave their homes, families, jobs, and comforts behind to follow God to the promise He offered. I could give some examples, but I think Jon Jorgenson of The Anima Series did an amazing job in his spoken word poem called "The Wall."
So allow me to pass the torch to him for a moment:

Jesus never promised there wouldn't be pain, in fact He practically assured us that it would be difficult. "Pick up your cross and follow me," He said, and if I remember correctly, His path of the cross was not an easy one lined with flowers and tea parties in the sun with a herd of passing unicorns. His path was difficult, it was painful, and it lead Him even to death. But from it came the most glorious victory ever seen.
Do you think that victory would ever come to pass, or we would even know a thing about this man, if He had not decided to deny His own comfort to take the sometimes painful road to redemption?

So of course He cares, just as you care when you hear a loved one going through some sort of trial. Because He has been there Himself before. He knows what it's like and is more than willing to help you conquer the storms in your life. I know this because the story of the storm doesn't stop there.

While the men are freaking, sure they are going to die, Jesus calmly gets up and looks out over the wind and waves and He says, "Quiet! Be still!"
If you've ever read the same scripture at different points in your life and gotten something different from it each time because of your life circumstances are different and your perspective has changed, then you understand when I say that sometimes I look at passages and wonder if there's something more there than what I'm just seeing.
Since there's not a lot of context as to what the disciples were thinking and feeling during this moment, it's hard to tell for sure, but I think Jesus was speaking to more than just the wind and waves on that stormy afternoon. I think He was speaking straight to their hearts. I think while He was telling the waves to calm and commanding the wind to be still, He was wishing the same over His followers' troubled spirits.

So next time you find yourself in a tough life situation, remind yourself that while the storm may be scary, we have someone at work on our behalf to either push back the storm itself, or calm the storms of fear and doubt that rage within.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Frustrating Beauty of Relationships

If, like me, you've ever experienced what it's like to truly click with someone, you understand what I mean when I say it is both a beautiful and frustrating experience. To those who have never experienced this, what I just described makes absolutely no sense. So, for any who are not completely sure what I mean, allow me to explain.

There are these wonderfully rare moments in life where you meet someone with whom you can just connect. The connection is strong and seemingly illogical. Or at least, it looks that way in light of a society that tells us people must earn our trust and prove they are worth having in our life before we keep them around. But these sorts of friendships are different. They blossom out of seeming nothingness. They reach a level of mutual trust and depth that would normally take months or even years, depending on the person, to develop. Instead they form in only a fraction of the time. I'm talking a matter of days or weeks.
I find these sorts of friendships to be the purest sorts of friendships, for they form out of trust and understanding when, logically, there is no reason to offer either. But since when was love logical?

Isn't that, though, what makes friendship one of the most beautiful and mysterious things about human existence? For life is a journey, and when we form any sort of relationship with someone, we allow our life paths to coincide for a season, if not longer.
But just as you can't rush through any other part of your life journey--the ups and downs, the joys and struggles, the love and loss--you can't rush through a relationship. When we forget this simple truth is when the frustration I spoke of sets in.
There is actually a word for it, according to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Its adronitis, which they describe as the "frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone."

I had been feeling this very frustration for several weeks before I discovered this definition in one of the many times I was wasting time on Facebook rather than doing something productive. And it got me thinking. Why does this frustration even exist?
Before I even had time to think in depth on the question, a thought popped in my head, "It's because you're so close."

And really, that's exactly it. Like I said, most friendships take a while to form depth, only very rarely do you meet someone you can have such a strong connection with instantly. We usually have to wait months to reach a point where we feel comfortable like that with someone, in that time we've lived life together and grown in the slow deliberate way that life paths frequently like to take. But when one of these rare friendships comes about, we forget that we've only known the other person for a short period of time, despite how comfortable we feel with them. We forget that just because we trust the other on this level that would normally take longer to reach, doesn't mean we have walked through the life with them we normally would have to walk through to reach that level of trust.
If you've ever heard someone say something along the lines of, "I feel like we've known each other forever, but also like it hasn't been that long at all," then they are probably talking about one of these beautifully frustrating friendships.

In my time thinking about these friendships, and just friendships in general, I began marveling at their beauty more than ever. For the very fact that each and every one of us longs for companionship shows our Maker's mark more than anything else I can think of. This desire to not only be loved, but to love others in return is one of the many beautiful ways our relational Creator made us in His image. After all, He made someone else for Adam, not because He wasn't enough for Adam, but because Adam needed a place to pour out all the love the Father was pouring into him.
And it is in these rare, unquestioning, deep friendships that pop up out of seemingly nowhere that I see God the most. For just like with those friends we're close to, but don't quite yet know fully, when we first delve into a relationship with He who made us, this trust  and understanding comes quickly, but full knowledge of His nature and character takes a life time to grasp.

Maybe we should learn a thing or two from this picture. Maybe this deep trust and slow learning was the way He intended it. Maybe we should learn to be more forgiving and nonjudgmental in our relationships, then patiently walk through life together.