Bitter into Sweet

“Some of you have offense against God, that things didn’t happen the way you thought they would.  If that’s you, stand up.”  I was on my feet.

I’m not sure the exact moment when waiting turned to grief; nor the moment I covered over my grief with bitterness.  Over a year ago I imparted to a friend that the word “hope” could incite a string of profanities in my head.  At a women’s retreat over two years ago, God gave me the word “love” for 2016.  We had these beautiful river stones and wrote our words on them.  I nearly threw my rock across the empty parking lot.

So there I was, Friday before last, in a service about physical healing. I completely missed the context of her statement.  It’s not that my healing didn’t happen the way I thought it would.  It’s that my life didn’t happen the way I thought it would.  And when she said those words, “didn’t happen…” I knew that litany in my heart.

I repented.

I had no idea that beneath the bitterness would be the grief.  I had no idea how bitter I actually was.

Tuesday evenings I play violin with the worship team.  This last Tuesday, I was looking at what seemed like a whole paragraph of words, when one word in the middle leapt off the screen:

love.

I stared it down like a spiteful enemy.

Love.

God drops in, “Hey, you remember that time I gave you love for your word of the year?”

“Yes.”

“Remember how you rejected it?”

“Yes.”

“Remember on Friday when you repented?”

“Yes.”

“That’s your word for 2018. We’re going to keep doing that word, every year, until you get it.” It’s like I’m on the remedial plan with Jesus.

We moved into the newish song, Reckless Love by Cory Asbury and I was on my face leaving snot stains on the carpet.

I wish I could say my heart melted, and I got up a different woman.  Maybe I did, but I still have a string of swear words every time God mentions hope and hoping.  You guys, if this is up to me I’m toast.  There is no way I can change this on my own.  And yet…there has to be some way to respond to Jesus other than swearing or bawling. Yes, He’s big enough to handle both.  He always has been.  It’s just time to lay that down.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I can hear the verse of Mary, meek and mild, saying, “I am the Lord’s Servant.  Let it be done to me as He has willed.”  I am so far from her.  So far from being meek, so far from being mild.  So far from who I was when I identified with that verse.  But this morning, I realized the significance of her name.  Her name isn’t meek and mild.

Her name is Mary.

Mary means bitter.

Listen to the story from Luke 1 again, in that light.

And the angel came to Bitterness and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 

Um…

But Bitterness was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 

Me too.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Bitterness, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Bitterness said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.” 

Barren and bitter…and they’re going to change the world.

And Bitterness said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

I can do that. I think. I hope.

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Health and Heart

In the grocery store, a box of Kashi caught my eye as I passed.  I don’t go down the cereal aisle anymore.  It is rare that I stray from the vegetables and meat.  For some reason, seeing that Cheerio colored heart on the front of the box took me back to the beginning of my journey toward health, the beginning of my journey to my own heart.

In those days I could go days without eating and not even realize it.

I could also eat a gallon of Chex “Puppy Chow” without realizing.

I hated my body and punished myself by not eating.  I don’t mean to be dramatic.  It wasn’t pretty.  Before I could begin to start eating right, I had to recognize the beliefs fueling my actions.

And I had to decide I was worth taking care of.

I had a little bowl, in which I ate the little heart-shaped Kashi every morning.  I remember sitting in my morning chair with my Bible, journal, and those little hearts.  Slowly I allowed God into those beliefs, allowed Him to change me.

And I always carried a box with me, just in case.  Back then it was a new habit–one more thing to remember–and it took a tremendous amount of effort.  Now I see how monumental those daily acts were, making sure I had something healthy to eat, just in case.  It was a choice to take care of this life–and this body–that God has given me.

My choices have changed the more I have learned about taking care of my body.  I am still learning, and I am grateful. Tonight I am grateful for those early days, and those staples in my diet that I would never eat now (soy, anyone?).  Each vigilant new habit was a stake in the ground, claiming the foundations of the life I have now.  

Stewarding Desire, Part 1

Most of us are double minded, and in order to walk  in both authenticity and integrity, we must understand why.  In order to steward the desires of your heart, you need to understand the geography of your heart.  For the last 8 years or so, I’ve been working with this model:

Screenshot 2017-08-29 13.29.08

We, as people, can be thought of in three parts.

  • The Spirit is the part of a person that is immediately restored at the acceptance of Christ.  This is what the Bible refers to as “the new man”.  The Spirit has already been redeemed and is under the authority of Christ. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 7:17
  • The Soul, also called the heart, is comprised of the mind, will, and emotions.  The Soul is being redeemed.   See how the circles move outward?  Our soul is under the authority of the Spirit.  Some areas of the Soul are not yet under Christ’s authority, while other areas of the Soul are under Christ’s authority.
    • “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Romans 7:19-20
    • Mind…”We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:5
    • Will…”And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”  1 John 2:17 and “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
    • Emotions…”Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Psalm 43:5
  • The body, in this model, will be redeemed.  This is speaking of the last days, when the dead will rise.  Caveat: I think that the body and the soul are far more interconnected than we like to admit (hangry, anyone?).   I’m not sure they should get their own, separate circles…but for the sake of stewarding desire, we’ll stick with the model.

 

 

Springs of Water

I have this idea that we are stewards of our desire.  If God is moving in our hearts through desire…if he is both restoring our desires and putting His dreams inside of us…then we ought to take our longings very seriously.  This is a place were God lives and moves, breathes and speaks.  These are the things which will one day define us

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 KJV

You can tell it’s the King James, because it says “thy”.  I used that translation this time because I like that it says “out of it are the issues of life.”  My ESV translates it: from it flow the springs of life.  Both are important.

People quote this verse all the time.

I’m never quite sure how to take it when people tell me to “guard my heart.”

Usually people say “guard” in a certain amount of fear or warning.  I’m thinking I might need little heart shaped armor or something.

Usually people say “heart” in the context of romantic attraction.  

We’ll talk about “guard” later, but let’s throw the whole valentine heart thing out the window from the start.  Romance is only a small portion of what goes on in our hearts.  The Hebrew view, which is categorically Eastern, is that the heart is the seat of the mind, will, and emotions.  It is what we sometimes call the soul.  It is what you think, what you believe, how you feel, and what you decide.  These are truly the issues of life.

Issues of life.  Springs of water.  Another meaning of this word would be “borders.”  It makes me think of a landscape, where the water ways have carved out the topography.  Hills and valleys, canyons, trees and forests, watering holes and gathering places for people and animals, boundaries and borders for states and nations, springs of water etch all of these things into the land, define them before we even consider where we will live, where we will farm, and where we will fight.

In the same way, springs of water are flowing around in your heart, determining the landscape of your life.  Before you even go to make a decision, the springs that flow through your heart have already determined what the options will be.  If you want to truly live a free life, you need to be aware of them, aware of the current and how that impacts your decisions.  You need to steward these streams, which I believe are the desires mentioned in Psalm 37:4.

So what does it mean to keep your heart diligently, or as I am so often encouraged to do, guard your heart?

Keep: to guard, in a good sense (to protect, maintain, obey, etc.) or a bad one (to conceal, etc.):–besieged, hidden thing, keep, monument, observe, preserve, subtil, watcher.

Don’t be alarmed by that funny word “subtil” in there.  I’ll get to that one.  Let’s start with “to guard, in a good sense or a bad one.”  Since this is our heart we are talking about, our mind, will, and emotions, please note that our hearts can be either protected and maintained, or they can be locked away and hidden.  One is good, the other is not.  That is where I came to the term “steward.”  Like the springs of water, it gives me the sense that these things moving through our hearts are not things we can necessarily control.  I mean…have you ever tried to change the direction of a river’s flow?  Hercules is the only character I know who can do that, although I’m sure one of my sciency friends will come along and tell me otherwise.  More likely, we can only dam the flow of the river.  This creates stagnant water, which is no longer living.  Damming the water to create a lake might be useful in some situations, but as a general rule you want to keep the water flowing.

In the vein of stewardship, the next two definitions that stand out to me are “observe” and “preserve.”  Try that out for a moment in the sentence “Observe your heart with diligence.”  This feels like something I can do.  This does not feel like fear.  This feels like stewardship.

I have known people who steward waterways.  They know the river like the back of their hand, and above all they know that the river is constantly changing.  Animals come and go.  A sand bar that was there yesterday may be gone tomorrow.  A single rock moved can change the entire direction and flow of the river.

As a good steward, I am to notice what is going on in my heart…but not just the big stuff.  Subtil is an archaic version of the word subtle.  The currents in our hearts are filled with nuance, and it is important to monitor and maintain the subtleties in our hearts.  Do I want to do this good thing because of a good desire in my heart, or because of a need for self aggrandizement?  Is this longing for something I cannot have an indication of a deeper longing which God would like to restore?  Even more subtly, what is my motive in this moment and how can I adapt my choices to bring my motives into alignment with God?

How do I steward living water?  How do I steward my heart?

And He will give you…

I was on the train to LA, praying through a major decision.  I returned to the familiar passage in Psalm 37:4:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

So often we take the phrase “He will give you” to mean “He will fulfill,” but it is much more than that.

Many years ago, I discovered that this phrase also means “He will put His desires into your heart.”  The desire itself is a gift.  Desire is very important to God, and as we allow ourselves to be changed by Him, He changes our desire.  It is one of the ways in which He leads us.

God leads through desire.

This is an unsettling concept to many of my friends.  After all, it is our desire that can lead us astray.  I went back to the original Hebrew recently, to dig in deeper.  That phrase “and He will give you” means so many things! Fulfill…direct…restore…

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will restore the desires of your heart.

Dear God, yes!  Yes please!  All of us…our desires are sometimes amiss, sometimes tarnished, sometimes broken.  If I am going to live from a full heart, I need my broken or tarnished desires to be restored.

How?  How do I get this?  I want to want what God wants.

Delight myself in the Lord…according to my Strong’s Concordance app, this is a primitive root that means “to be soft or pliable.”

I feel like that should be a mic drop.  I mean…in my heart, that was a mic drop.   More often than my desire leading me astray, it is my strength of will.  Once I decide a thing, I see it through.  So I sat before God with this decision before me.  And I decided to be flexible.  I decided to allow God to change my plans.

I want to want what God wants.

Substrates of Thought: Truth

2. What is real and true goes on being real and true, no matter what I believe.

All of us, each and every one, put our faith in something.  We trust our senses and our mental faculties, our own ability to reason.  We put faith in the things which we have then reasonably concluded to be reliable.

  • Change
  • Natural selection
  • Scientific advancement
  • The good of humankind
  • The evil of humankind
  • God
  • Family
  • The government
  • Love
  • Education
  • Our own resourcefulness
  • Money
  • Medicine
  • Nature

These are some of the things where people place their faith.  However, history teaches us that we as a society can be very, very wrong.  The shape of the earth (flat vs. round) and spontaneous generation are two examples of western society’s misguided understanding.  We find these historical examples laughable, and yet as time marches on we will one day be a place in history.

Some of the things we place our faith in are more subtle, though.

As the songwriters say, “Gravity keeps bringing me down.”  Gravity, each sunrise and sunset, fundamental properties of heating and cooling, these are things where we effortlessly place our faith.  We only consider their failure in science-fiction and apocalyptic fantasy.   They go on being true whether we acknowledge them or not.

Returning to my original premise (Substrates of Thought: Limitations), my own and society’s limitations in knowledge, logic, and reasoning, I must conclude that some things go on being true even if no one knows about them.

This is, of course, the foundation for my own beliefs in morality, absolute Truth, and ultimately the foundation of my theistic world view.  It is enough for one day, though, to discuss the principal of faith.

What do you place your faith in?

 

Substrates of Thought: Limitations

  1. What I don’t know is greater than what I do know.

I have had the blessing of having been very, very wrong about some things.

This could get existential real quick, so I’ll start with the simple.  If you get nothing else out of this post, please understand this: it’s okay to be wrong.  We cannot engage one another and truth until we are really okay with being wrong.  Let that sink in deep.

Our view of the world is based on our perception of it: our sensory and processing systems, our memory, our logic and reasoning.  How do we know we can trust these faculties?  What a terrifying question!  And yet I can recount for you, and I’m sure all of us to some degree can recall, a time when each of these faculties failed us.  Have you ever lost your sense of taste because of a cold?  Looked straight at something and didn’t see it?  Forgotten someone’s name?  Misread a situation?  These are innocuous examples of a greater challenge.  Can we really trust our interpretation of the world?

How do we live with that question?

The conclusion I have come to is that we must.  We must accept that what we don’t know is far greater than what we do know, and that what we do know and believe could be incorrect.  We must engage with other people and cultures and allow them to change us, not so that we can be like them, but so that they can expose our assumptions.  We must know which of our beliefs are not up for debate, and allow the rest to be adaptable.

As we go on, you will see how pervasively this understanding impacts my thinking.  One practical way I try to apply this truth is when I listen to another person speak or read something they have read.  So many times we listen to another person, assuming we already know what they are going to say.  We fill in the details based on what we assume they are saying.  What if we let the gaps be silence and listened to their silence as much as their words?  One of my best friends told me many years ago, “You say more in your silences than you do with your words.”  What if we gave everyone the same respect she gave to me?

Another practical application is to understand my particular filter.  I am a millennial white girl from the Midwest, and I always will be.  Sometimes, when I know my filter, I can sort out my assumptions from the other person’s message.  Sometimes, I miss it.  Sometimes sorting out a message takes more effort, and I know not to engage if I am tired or hangry.  How does your awareness of your own limitations impact your life in practical ways?

The longer I live, the more lightly I hold my assumptions about the world.  However, in the crucible of this existential conundrum, I take great comfort in those beliefs (assumptions, really) which are not up for debate.  What is real and true goes on being real and true, no matter what I believe.

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