I’ve been thinking about gratitude lately. I often think of it as something to strive for and practice, but recently I’ve had some moments of gratitude sweep over me unexpectedly. It happens in the quieter, focused moments. A reminder to slow down, perhaps. To pay attention. In one particular moment, gratitude swept my heart off its feet a little and I was quickly aware how impossible it is for that to have come from me. It reminded me that the point of striving for gratitude in our lives isn’t just about being humble, but about actually letting the Lord into our lives and our hearts. The practice of gratitude is a calling, the feeling of gratitude is a gift.
Gratitude is so easily aimed outward – we identify things to be grateful for, and look for the Lord’s hand in our situations and good fortunes. It is good practice to attribute the good things in our outward lives to the Lord, but if we simply stop there perhaps we stumble into too external a picture of where the Lord is. After all, providence is about the good that’s allowed, that’s findable in any situation. It’s the ability to be grateful, turn to the Lord, and to live a good life regardless of whether our external situations are fortunate or not. So while I fully support being grateful for the good things in our worldly lives, I’ve lately been noticing more of how the Lord works within. I’ve been appreciating the great inward gifts that are the opportunity to see good and the push in my heart toward gratitude, which seem to come more deeply from the Lord, and sit more deeply in providence.
Continue reading Gratitude
There are countless examples of people vehemently standing for things in the world. There are big conversations and big issues that always seem to divide into big “sides.” How often do we identify with a belief, or a side, or a justice, and think we stand for it? In a culture so susceptible to polarization and contention, it’s not hard to “stand” for something. When things get polarized and contentious, we lose the details and the nuances and the honesty within them. We forget our deeper part in them; we forget to be seeking what we’re missing. We start seeing the side itself as the right place to be, rather than our own development within those ideas. We’re welcomed and comfortable beside those who share our perspectives, and it can feel like enough to simply help tip the scale away from the “other” sides.
This past year has been one of particular personal tension for me between the comfortability of what I’ve always (and still) valued, and the need to tease out some overlooked pieces I’ve only newly had the time or care to recognize. Part of my process has involved anger and resentment in situations where I feel alone in the attention to these values. Just because I know better than to shake my fist at those who disagree with my perspectives doesn’t mean I’m immune to the hells encouraging hatred in my heart in the name of something good. And really, I can’t think of anything worse. Anger and resentment from hurt alone is one thing, but to tangle it up in something valuable – to justify it because of something good – is one of the scariest things to me.
The problems of the world can feel so loud – it starts to feel like enough to condemn them. We feel we’re doing something right by standing for or against, but are we looking inward? Can I really pat myself on the back for what I find obvious or easy; for what perhaps comes along with a dose of pride? For the things that make me feel a bit wiser than those I’m comparing to? Can I really be standing for something I value if I’m using that same value as a jumping off point for resentment toward others instead of introspection? There is a fine line between standing honestly for what’s right, and self righteousness. I think the difference is in my own struggle: if I have to work for what I aim to stand for, I’m probably on the right track. If my energy is too consumed with standing against something outside myself, am I really fighting the fight the Lord calls me to?
Continue reading Taking A Stand
The holiday season is upon us, and it seems like a good time to ponder our readiness to accept the Lord in our lives. Christmas sparks celebration of the coming of the Lord into the world and into our hearts, but in the details of the Christmas story, many people were unprepared for this change: Joseph, Mary, and Herod, to name a few. This was surely not their original plan. Consider Mary’s response to the news of the Lord’s coming.
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
In my experience, opportunities to accept the Lord into my life are a whole lot easier when I’m prepared and looking for them. Here was a promise of something good, all tangled up in uncertainties. Yet Mary gracefully accepted: “let it be to me according to your word.” Joseph stood steadily by her when he could have walked away. The shepherds picked up and hastened to where Jesus lay. The wisemen diligently followed the star that led to Him. They all moved forward toward the call of the Lord without certainty or clarity of vision.
Continue reading But With God, All Things Are Possible
I admit, I’ve been more consumed by the problems of the world lately than by my efforts to live a useful life. That’s how it goes, isn’t it? When the world starts feeling impossible, we want to try to make a difference, or lean into the scary parts, which can lead to hopelessness, distraction, and/or underestimation of the difference we make in our homes and circles and personal relationships with the Lord. At least that’s how it goes for me. Caught up in rationalizations, zeal, and conversations about what to do about various things, at some point the idea of being a child of God landed in my head. With it came a distressing feeling that I had no idea how to see myself that way. I don’t know if this is a common struggle, or if it has to do with the oldest sibling “I can handle it” mindset I’ve had since I was quite small, but feeling so distant from a childlike safety made me weep.
So, in case someone out there needs to feel a little more held, I want to share a vision of being safe in the arms of the Lord. And for the record, I’m not saying that this safety means we needn’t worry about or do anything. We’re still responsible for our choices, and it’s important that we do the work of this life. But now I’ll focus on the protection, love, and mercy we can trust in as we do that.
A certain sense of trust comes naturally to children, but as adults the feeling of needing to be in control runs deep. It’s painfully obvious yet painfully difficult to remember that even the most unexpected, unplanned, unwelcomed things in our lives don’t veer away from the Lord’s Providence. His Providence continues seamlessly and unwaveringly through the seemingly impossible; through any and every state I find myself in. I can trust in what’s beyond my line of vision. That it’s there, and always was. Even before I realized I needed it to be.
Continue reading A Child of God