A Soul Only a Father Could Love

Perhaps it is a cultural value, this need we have to impress others. It starts at home, the desire to make our parents proud, as if we have to prove our worthiness to justify their admittance of us into their family. We may have siblings, and we fight to prove we’re cool enough and fun enough to join in playtime games.

We learn to make friends by showing off our skills, or toys, or unique personality traits, and we never really grow out of it. We enter school, and we’re tested and graded on our intellect and learning abilities to determine if we’re worth graduating and sending out into “the real world.”

We start dating, and we struggle between the balance of “be yourself” and “be someone worthy of his love,” believing the two could perhaps be the same if we’re seen in the right light. We get jobs, and we work hard to prove ourselves worthy of the tasks entrusted to us, worthy of raises and promotions and hard-earned retirement parties.

At some point our lives end, and–I haven’t experienced this first-person–I imagine we leave this earth wanting to know we’ve made a difference in someone’s life, that our time on earth wasn’t wasted, that our life’s work was worth the time we were given to live it. We hope and pray we’re found worthy enough to advance into an afterlife of bright lights and joy and comfort.

And all along, we spend our whole lives overcompensating for the one truth we’re not willing to admit–we’re not worthy. We’ve never been worthy.

We are ugly, sinful people. If you cracked each of us open, you’d find layers of disgusting filth and grime in our souls. You’d find lying souls and cheating souls and adulterous, murdering, idolizing, thieving souls. You’d find souls who shamelessly covet and crave the most dangerous and harmful elements of this world. You’d find souls only a Father could love.

We do not deserve blessings and peace and admiration for our accomplishments. We don’t deserve to be included in a family or circle of friends. We simply are not worthy to take accolades from anyone, because anything useful or worthwhile we have to offer is a gift from God to bless others and be used for his glory, neither of which we care much about when we’re focused on using them for our own glory and for others to bless us.

But–

There is hope. When God looks at me, he doesn’t see me for the lying idolator I am. He sees Jesus. He sees me as worthy of an eternal relationship with him, not because of any inherent worth, but because of Jesus’ worth. Because when I said, “Okay, God, I believe you. You are the only God, and you saved me through your son’s sacrifice,” I took on the righteousness of Jesus. At that moment, the dirty, old soul inside me was changed into a clean, new soul reflecting the love of Christ. The habits of the dirty, old soul remain, and will continue to linger until my dying breath on earth, but the soul is all-new.

And now we return the favor. We extend to others the same courtesy God extended to us when we were at our very ugliest. We love others, we show grace to others, we make amends for others. Not because others are worthy of our love, but because we aren’t worthy of God’s love. We love others as an offering back to God, an appreciation of his grace.

It is only when we surrender our need to be found inherently worthy that we can “lead a life worthy of [our] calling, for [we] have been called by God” (Ephesians 4:1). And this call, of course, is to love.

What are some areas in which you constantly struggle to be found worthy? 

about how it’s not just me

 

lonely boy

I keep up with Michael Hyatt’s blog pretty regularly. He’s full of great advice about life, leadership, software, and just about everything else. A couple days ago I was reading through some of the comments on his blog and was shocked. The post was about Evernote (an app I’m trying for the third time in the hopes of finally getting digitally organized), but people were randomly insulting him. They insulted his typing, challenged his motives, and some were just downright nasty. Of course, he handled them with grace.

My first response was anger. I was tempted to reply to the rude commenters and defend him, but that’s not my place. My second response? Comfort. I thought, “It’s not just me.” I’m amazed how often people use the most bizarre and arbitrary circumstances to attack others. Turns out, I’m not the only one who gets attacked.

It’s funny how much others’ struggles can reassure us.

I’m increasingly convinced that “it’s not just me” is one of the most comforting realizations we can come to in our lives, no matter the topic. In a little over a week, I’ll be leading a group of fantastic girls in a Beth Moore study on insecurity. We definitely need it. I wrote about insecurity a while back after coming to the “it’s not just me” conclusion. In response to that blog, I received numerous comments and text messages and emails from girls who were going through the same thing.

The Bible is filled with examples to comfort us in knowing it’s not just us. Whether our problem is anger or lust or depression or greed, we can look to the Bible and find others who have struggled with the same things. Some of them handled their situations in godly ways. Some of them not so much. Either way, they’re great examples.

The “it’s not just me” is another reason community is so important, especially in a church setting. I absolutely LOVE the small group we attend (we call them Gospel Communities because, well, that’s what they are). Not only are the other members fantastic, but it’s incredibly reassuring to be completely transparent about your struggles and have several other people chime in with, “Yeah, I deal with that too.”

Last night I spent an extended amount of time in a conversation with a beautiful friend in my Gospel Community about a major struggle in both of our lives. Because she empathized with some of what I was going through, she was able to speak directly into me and reassure me not only with godly advice, but with solid scriptural references to back it up.

Sometimes I get really selfish in my marriage. And it’s not just me. Sometimes I base my self-worth on others’ opinions of me. And it’s not just me. Sometimes I let all the little things get to me and allow that to affect my relationships with everyone around me. And it’s not just me. Sometimes I get angry at God for not handling situations the way I want him to handle them. And you know what? It’s not just me.

Consider this a PSA encouraging you to get involved in a small group community if you don’t already have one. It’s the most reassuring, encouraging, teaching, and comforting experiences I’ve ever known. I learn from the others in the group and I’d like to think they learn from me as well.

What are some situations about which you’ve been comforted by “it’s not just me”? Are you involved in a church community/small group? What’s the best part of that community?

about apologies

This is a story about blame.

When I was a student at Texas Tech, I had an inappropriate relationship with my professor. We’ll call him Jeff. It never got physical, no more than a handshake here and there. But we carried on an emotional relationship via email, Facebook, instant messaging, etc. that went on for many months. It was inappropriate on many levels: the level of conversation would only be appropriate with one’s spouse; he was my professor and, although he was clearly impartial when it came to grades, my guess is that sort of thing is forbidden; he was involved in a serious relationship with a live-in girlfriend; I was involved in a not-serious relationship with another guy at the time. I knew all these things, but I wasn’t walking with Jesus, I was attracted to Jeff in many ways, and I made the same bad decisions probably every other early twenty-something makes.

Zach Braff’s The Last Kiss came out about that time, a jarring movie about cheating. I hated it, maybe just because I related too much to the feeling of being the other woman. I was overwhelmed with guilt, and when the new semester rolled around and Jeff wanted to get together, I refused. I became interested in a coworker and the conversations with Jeff dwindled down to occasional ugly, passive-aggressive emails to one another. Over, but I felt guilty for years afterward like I had some horrible secret I couldn’t tell anyone but my closest friends. I found out later Jeff’s live-in girlfriend was also a professor in the same department with an office a few doors down from his, where I’d gone to visit him. The guilt compiled along with disgust for him. And the human part of me reasoned I didn’t really do anything wrong, so that was it. Done and forgotten.

Early last year, through a serious of bizarre coincidences, I found out that while Jeff was talking to me, he was wrapping up a nearly identical, although slightly more scandalous, relationship with another former student. I won’t share all the details because they’re moot and I don’t want to get all Gossip Girl here. (I really don’t know what that means, but someone referenced the show the other night and I thought if I referenced it, I’d look hip.) But needless to say, my mind hit paranoia-level and I began wondering how many other students he’d had similar relationships with. I was completely and totally disgusted in him. And then, as abruptly as the coincidences had shown up, I quickly let them go. I didn’t want to have anything to do with Jeff, even in my memory.

Fast forward about six months. In my quiet time one morning, God suddenly brought Jeff to mind and gently—but forcefully—reminded me, “You haven’t dealt with this.” So my first response was, “You’re right, I need to be praying for him. And I need to let the Dean know what kind of professor they have there.” I knew God was reminding me in that time for several reasons—one of which being that as non-physical as the relationship was, it still carried a certain level of scandal that could discredit me intellectually as well as spiritually. I prayed about it at length, talked with my husband, and then sought godly counsel with my former pastor. His first question to me was simple: Was I asking how to apologize?

Wait, okay, apologizing was not something I was planning, nor was it something I felt I had to do. But as my pastor pointed out, I did have an ungodly role in the situation and, for that, I owed Jeff an apology. Crap.

It’s easy to make excuses. There are several of them listed above, if you caught them. But what it all boiled down to was I expected Jeff to take responsibility for his actions all along and I never, throughout it all, wanted to accept the responsibility for mine.

I contacted him to apologize and also contacted the Dean, both to let him know about the professor and as a way of saying, “If this calls my degree into question, so be it.” Jeff wrote back right away and apologized for his part as well. I never heard back from the Dean’s office. But at this point, I did what God asked of me, even though it really sucked.

Now another story. This one’s a little more vague, for personal reasons.

Last year a girl at the church where I worked began sharing with me about a decision she was making that she felt was “the right thing” in God’s eyes. Unfortunately, it was a decision strongly forbidden in Scripture. When I shared Scripture, she felt judged and left the church. That’s the short story version.

Through my conversations with her, God gently pointed out yet another not-fun lesson. I was bold in sharing Scripture with mere acquaintances, but was I bold enough to share with people who meant the world to me, even if it brought a risk of alienation? Several years ago, someone dear to me made the same decision as this other girl. This too was before I was walking with Christ and I strongly encouraged my friend that the decision was “the right thing” in God’s eyes. God’s point to me now was I had to tell my friend the truth with the same boldness I had for this other girl. But every time we were around each other, we had no time for that discussion. When I approached the topic, we were interrupted. I felt God was telling me to wait for the right time, so I stayed silent and didn’t force it.

Many months went by and, perhaps as a result of the Jeff incident, I understood I must apologize to my friend as well. I owed her an apology for supporting her and encouraging her to make an unscriptural decision. I can only assume God wanted me to wait to talk to her before I went charging ahead full of accusations without taking responsibility for what I’d done as well.

So that’s it, those are the stories. I don’t believe I have to try to think of every sin I’ve ever committed in my life and track people down and apologize, but I know if God brings to mind something in my past and convicts me of it, I have to address it. It’s part of being obedient—not just moving forward with Christ, but acknowledging with repentance times when I wasn’t moving forward with him. Times when I encouraged others by my words and behaviors to move backward from him.

I’d like to think I’m done, and I’ve apologized and repented for everything else, but I seriously doubt that’s the case. Sometimes I think God’s just being sadistic or sarcastic and wants to put me in awkward situations because it’s funny. But in truth, I know he’s teaching me, refining me. So next time I’m quick to look at someone and see everything sinful they’re doing, I might just stop and evaluate my own role. And before I go on advising someone how to get out of a bad situation, I may just have to ask for forgiveness for helping them get into it in the first place.

about the (misnomer about the) joy of being single

I’m 28 (and a half). I’ve been married six months (and one week). Prior to getting married, Ronnie and I were dating or engaged (it pretty much all ran together) for just over four months, and that was almost the longest relationship I’d had to that point. Did you catch that? Prior to Ronnie, my longest dating relationship was five months. Before that, something like three months. Then one that lasted twenty-eight ill-fated days. Then several that lasted two or three weeks at a time. What this means is: I’m really, really good at being single. Really. I’m so good at being single that I led (or co-led) three different small groups for singles in the years leading up to my marriage (and I like to think I was a pretty good singles’ leader as well). When it comes to being single, I’ve totally got this one down.

Several weeks ago in my quiet time I was praying for some of my single friends. A few of them were going through some very single-related struggles, and I was praying for peace and wisdom for them, God, please give them focus, and also please reveal to them the joy of being single–

Those words actually came out of my mouth: “the joy of being single.” I was horrified. The next thing I said to God was, “What the heck? Now I’m one of those people who talks about ‘the joy of being single’?!” I laughed. I like to think God laughed along with me, maybe shook his head at me, probably even called me a tool.

Let me be clear, for those of you married folk who have forgotten what it was like: there is no joy of being single for single’s sake. There is a very definite (and definitely bittersweet) lack of responsibility, but other than that? Nothing. Being single sucks. And anyone who says otherwise is either married, lying, or a sociopath. Or maybe even all three.

Here’s why being single sucks, from a girl’s perspective: you really want to be nurturing to someone. You want someone to protect you and provide for you and be able to make those final decisions when you’re feeling particularly indecisive, like which movie you should go see or whether you should order your usual at a restaurant or try something new. You want someone to cuddle with when you’re watching a movie or when you just wake up or sometimes just for no reason at all. You want someone to bring you medicine and 7up and crackers when you’re sick, without you having to ask for it. You want someone to tell you how beautiful you look, especially when you feel ugly but spent hours getting ready to look like someone who really is beautiful and not just someone trying to look like someone who is beautiful. And your girlfriends are great and sweet and supportive, but sometimes they just don’t cut it. Especially when they start a serious relationship and just aren’t around anymore. Then you naturally gravitate to other single friends and start using them as your substitute but somewhat inadequate partner.

Then there’s the BS about that whole dating thing. It might just be the worst idea we’ve had yet. In fact, I had a long rant here about it, but I took it out. We’ll save that one for later. In the meantime, if you want an idea of what relationships should be, check out Joshua Harris’ “Boy Meets Girl.” I firmly believe that every single person should read it. Today.

And then, the absolute worst thing about being single is (drum roll, please): time. Let’s be honest, when you’re single, you’ve got a lot of time. And that can be great when you want to watch a One Tree Hill marathon or take an overnight trip to Austin or spend hours shopping. But when you’ve got a lot of time, you’ve got a lot of time to think. And that inevitably will turn to thinking about how badly you want to be nurturing to someone. And how you want someone to protect you and make decisions and bring medicine and cuddle and tell you you’re beautiful and smart and witty and, uh, well-spoken and friendly and hilarious and fun to be around and, well, you get the picture. When you’re single, you have the time to focus on what you wish you had. Granted, there have been several times in the past six months (and one week) when I had time to think about what I wish I had, like more clothes or Criminal Minds on DVD or a car door that actually opens when I pull the handle. But the things I wish I had seem to be less in focus now than they used to be. It would be easy to say it’s because my husband has completed me and I now have everything I need in life and am just completely fulfilled as a result of our marriage. That would be a lie. Don’t get me wrong, we have a great marriage. Ronnie says we have the marriage that everyone wishes they had, and I tend to agree. Even at our worst, he’s the only person I always want around. But the truth is, he has not “completed” me, not in that way. Even in our premarital class last Spring, one of the first statements they taught us was, “Your spouse will not complete you.” It’s a lie that Jerry McGuire told us fourteen years ago, and for some reason, we all bought into it.

So, if being married or having less me-time isn’t what gave me focus and fulfillment, what did? It was a learning process. Focus and fulfillment were gradual lessons I’ve learned, and not just lessons I started six months (and one week) ago, or even since Ronnie and I started dating last January. It was a process I started learning several years ago when I committed my life to Christ and actually meant it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but something had shifted in me. I gradually stopped thinking of my time as my time and started thinking it more along the lines of time God had given me to accomplish his work. Being single has a significant lack of responsibility and more “free” time, and we–whether we’re aware of it or not–make a choice on how to use that responsibility and that time. Not long after I’d begun working for the church, one of our pastors made the comment to me, “Now I know what Paul meant when he said people shouldn’t get married.” At the time, I was constantly going somewhere or doing something for God. I was working way more hours than I was supposed to, volunteering with the youth, volunteering as a small group leader, volunteering with the children on the weekends, attending our prayer gathering, and, in my spare time, was working on various projects for other people. Truthfully, it was a lot, probably way more than what God actually wanted me doing. It took its toll on me and, over the next couple months, God destroyed my world and built it back up again. If I ever finish my book one of these days, you’ll know what I mean.

But what I had begun to realize was: if I stopped looking at myself and my wants and my needs and my time, I had so much time to do God’s work.

I don’t believe there is a joy in being single. I do, however, believe there is a joy in doing God’s work. There is a joy in having less familial responsibilities so you can focus on God’s will for your life. There is a joy in having less in-depth earthly relationships so you can focus on building up your relationship with God. I don’t believe God wants people to be single just for the heck of it. It’s because he needs them to do a work for him that they need to be single for. Or because he wants them to focus on their relationship with him before introducing them to more relationships with others.

I would not have married Ronnie if I didn’t believe 100% that God has a plan for us to serve him as a couple that will bring more glory to him than if we were serving him separately. For whatever reason, God can use us together in some specific way that we wouldn’t be usable apart from one another. And that thought excites me more than I can put into words. But he didn’t say, “Okay, Rebecca just committed her life to me, so now she can get married.” He said, “Okay, great, now Rebecca’s working for me, and when she’s done working for me by herself, I’ll have Ronnie ready as well and they’ll get married and accomplish these great works for me.” It’s in his plan, and Ronnie and I have both known it going into this.

So. As a side note, I wouldn’t recommend anyone following exactly the way I did things. I don’t recommend anyone getting engaged within three days of dating someone or getting married in four months. Because if I wasn’t me, I would think me was crazy getting married so quickly. But I had been trained over the past few years in how to hear God and how to recognize his moving and his timing, and we both knew what God’s intentions were (and are) for us. And I wouldn’t recommend anyone filling up all of their waking hours with work and volunteering. I do know now, after God has forced me to see it, the importance of rest and a Sabbath.

I told one of my best friends this week that I have the spiritual gift of unsolicited advice. And, to be frank, that’s pretty much what all the spiritual gifts tests have told me. So here’s my recommendation, to all my single brothers and sisters:
First, if you don’t have a daily quiet time with God, you have to make that happen. Start now. Start with five minutes a day, work up to ten, and thirty, and an hour. You won’t ever know what God’s best is for your life (whether in relationships or otherwise), if you’re not listening to him.
Second: get involved. Get involved in a church, get involved in a small group of like-minded singles. What I mean by “like-minded” is a group that isn’t just a dating game. Like-minded people are the people who are going to church and small groups to actually learn more about God and develop godly relationships. There are some groups like that out there. Not a lot, but some. Get accountability. Find people who will support you without encouraging selfish behavior.
Third: serve. Serve in your church, serve outside of your church. Pray daily about who you can serve that day. Look for ways every day to inconvenience yourself to show love to others.

No, I’m not an expert on being married and relationships and blah, blah, blah. But if there ever was any kind of joy of being single, I think I’m an expert on it. Or at least on redefining it. I don’t know a lot in this world, but I do know the power of a relationship with God. I do know his blessings. And I do know that if you’re single, he wants you that way for now. Maybe not next week, maybe not next month, maybe not in five years. But now, in this moment, he wants to use you more where you’re at as a single girl or guy than as a married person.