In my opinion, the better part of wisdom is recognizing truth where ever you encounter it. Even when it seems to be a small thing embedded in a large pile of junk. Jesus said if we want to possess the Kingdom, we must be like a man who bought a whole field in order to get a pearl buried there. And wisdom, the bible says, is more valuable than pearls.
Most Christians never gain wisdom because they refuse to go looking for it in unlikely corners where it might be found. Instead, the become enthralled by denouncing the darkness. The enemy doesn’t care if you criticize him. Just so long as he keeps you staring at the darkness from off in the distance, you will never find the pearl.
Many never gain wisdom because wisdom means recognizing the truth. And the truth can be distasteful or hurtful. But God is truth, in him there are no lies. If you want to know God, you must be willing to walk through the pain of correction.
Make it a habit to look for something good in everything you see, particularly what you are prone to criticize and condemn. That’s where the pearls are hidden.
If you’re a regular reader, it’s probably hard to imagine a happy-clappy Rebecca, but honestly, I haven’t always been a broken, whiny, suffering Christian. In fact, for most of my adult life, I was pretty darn happy, although I never was very clappy. Unless there’s a good gospel-worship band going and I can get as clappy as the next gal.
Sure I had my ups and downs. Sometimes I was really unhappy and even fell into a serious depression once before. But those were passing phases, really. Most often, I was happy in the face of challenges and sometimes life was reasonably decent enough that I was simply content. Ah . . . those were the days.
One of the things I learned during those years was that I’m a much better Christian when things are going well than when they aren’t. As you may have noticed, when life really sucks – like way more than is normal for a life to suck, sucks – it doesn’t bring out the best in me, faith-wise. I get angry with God. I complain incessantly. I delve into despair. Bitterness crops up. I question every choice I ever made – especially the one to follow God. I feel betrayed. I complain. Did I mention that I get angry with God?
Yes, it is true that sucky times teach me a great deal. I grow in them. I’m sure it’s all for the good. Maybe. But really and truly, if you were to ask me when my walk with God is most faithful, most intimate and most life-giving, it would be during the good times. Hands down. And as is so often the case with me, it turns out that this is a little weird.
Many Christians who have had the experience of following God in hard times find that it’s actually easier to be faithful during those times. When life is crushing us, we are forced to depend on God completely. Not being able to do anything else, we may spend much more time in prayer, calling out to God for help. We rely on scriptures for comfort. And then when the clouds clear and life gets easier, and we don’t have to be so dependent, aren’t continually calling out for rescue and don’t need so much comfort, many people’s relationship with God kind of falls off. Continue reading
There’s an episode of the show Family Guy where Stewie, the talking baby, starts drinking so Brian, the family’s talking dog, decides to break him of the bad habit. His plan is to get Stewie so drunk and hungover that he never wants to drink again. So the two head to the local dive bar, The Bearded Oyster. They get soused and at one point as they are about to pound another drink, they are casting about for something to drink to. Stewie says, “Oh – I know, I know . . . to the black man. Thanks for taking it all in stride.”
My husband and I just laughed and laughed at that. Because it’s so true. Our society has basically expected that no matter how poorly treated, oppressed, disenfranchised or unjustly dealt with a black man is, he’s not allowed to be angry or bitter or just plain jacked up in the head. He’s just got to take it all in stride. No stumbling, no falling, no excuses, no empathy, no mercy.
The thing is that this “take it all in stride” ethos isn’t limited to black men. It’s a cultural attitude which affects a lot of us. Whatever happens to us, whatever baggage we got burdened with or barriers we faced or the trauma we’ve experienced, none of that is supposed to matter. You’re just supposed to find a way around or through like a trooper. Get a therapist if you need one, but hurry up and get over it. No use crying over spilled milk. Forgive and move on. Take responsibility for your own life. I’ve heard it and I’ve expected it of myself and you probably have to.
For the most part, it’s not bad advice. I mean you can’t change the past, might as well make the best of it and move forward the best you can, right? The problem is that this generally well meaning advice becomes a sort of moral bludgeoning tool. We stumble and beat ourselves up for it without allowing for the fact that some a-hole had tripped us while another tried to tackle us from behind.
I recently had someone I know say to me, “you’ve chosen such a hard road to walk” and part of me wanted to hunt them down and stab ‘em in the eye with a sharp stick. Because the reality is that despite my best efforts, I never did get the chance to walk down the road I had meant to take. Like most people, there were a lot of things that happened that I didn’t create or chose which pushed me down the road I took. And no one stepped forward to help make sure I was OK or that I landed on my feet. Except my husband, but he was even more screwed up than me and did his own fair share of tripping me up. I think I did a good job – a freaking fantastic job, really – of making the best of it. But because I’d deeply absorbed the “take it all in stride, never look back, don’t make excuses” ethos, until pretty recently, I couldn’t allow myself enough mercy to actually say, “I got pushed. I got tripped. My way was blocked and no one would help me out.” It was all my responsibility and I rendered harsh judgment on myself for everything that went wrong or I wished was different. And I allowed others to do the same.
‘K – something you need to know about me; I am freakishly un-photogenic. Seriously. Not that attractiveness is terribly important, but I am much better looking in person than on this video I’m going to share with y’all. Even my 13 y.o. when he was helping me format the video commented, “you don’t look anything like this in real life, mom. It’s really weird.”
Which is all cover to make myself feel better before coming out from behind the text and sharing my video with you. The video’s my top 5 strategies for forgiveness. Something which I have had my fair share of experience with. Ahem.
(If you were on facebook last night and saw me freaking out – this was what had me all in a tizzy. Thank you to all the peeps who gave me a boost. BTW, if you’re not following The Upside Down World on facebook, you should go do that. After you watch the video:)
If you enjoy the video, please pass it around. And all of the ideas I share here are also found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide To Enjoying the Hard Life. Along with 40-some other tidbits of brilliance. It’s totally worth the $5.98 that you should go spend on it right now. As long as I’m bossing y’all around! ;)
You know the story of the widow’s mite? How Jesus said this widow throwing her last two pennies into the collection box was more faithful than those putting in large amounts from their wealth? I always read the story and assumed that the widow was giving her last two pennies out of reverence. But lately, I’ve realized that I’ve been that woman throwing her last coins into the Salvation Army bucket. And it wasn’t often done out of reverence. When I was younger, I might put my penny in so I wouldn’t feel bad about walking past the bucket without putting anything in. Sometimes I did put my last coins in as a way of saying, “I know it’s not much, but it’s what I’ve got. I’ll just trust you to provide the increase.” A few times though, I put my last coins in as an act of protest and complaint; “You want everything? Fine take my last pennies. I do my best, I trust in you and I get left with nothing but a couple of pennies.”
Research has found that poorer people give more of their money away than others. A lot of that is because the amounts given as often so small that you weren’t going to do much with the money anyways. It occured to me that maybe the widow wasn’t so sanguine about her life and her struggles either. Two copper coins wasn’t worth much. It would barely have bought food for one meal. And then what? Maybe that widow too had been walking this path for too long. Maybe she was more broken than obedient and was throwing those copper pieces as a form of defiance and challenge to God? Maybe that was exactly what Jesus saw her doing when he praised her action. I know that if at one of those moments, God had praised those pennies I threw at him, it would have meant everything to me. Continue reading
In the minds of many people, the story of Christianity starts at the fall -with sin and our need for a savior. But that’s not true. The start of the Christian story is the secret of our true identities. We are image bearers. Before we are sinners. Before we need a savior. We are a people who bear the very image of God as our identity. When we skip over this truth and go straight to our sin, we allow the work of the enemy rather than the work of God to define us.
Too many Christians participate with this deception of seeing ourselves primarily as sinners. Perhaps this is because sin is what is easiest for us to see from the outside looking in. In scripture sin is usually spoken of in terms of being unclean, dirty, filthy. Sin obscures that core of who we were created to be – images of God himself. But sin can’t change it or take it away. Think of it like a diamond that gets left in a tide pool and becomes encrusted with mud, bits of shells, plant materials, maybe even eaten and crapped back out. The diamond is still there, unchanged. But it has been completely encrusted with filth until there is no remaining visible sign of it’s existence. There are many verses in scripture which speak of our sins being washed away. We are washed in the blood of Christ. And once those sins are washed away, what is revealed? Who we really are – images of the God who created us.
This is what salvation is. Continue reading
“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: ‘Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.’” Jurgen Moltmann
I’ve wrestled a lot with hope in the last few years. Mostly to try and send it away. “Hope deferred makes a heart sick.” I’ve had enough of being sick. But allowing oneself to venture into hell is a dangerous thing as well. I know – I’ve wandered into hell more than once as of late and couldn’t muster the strength to find my way back out.
I’ve taken to resisting comfort. I’ve fallen for it too many times before. I’ve read the words of scripture and their promises that God will not abandon me or let me fall. My heart has leapt at them only to find that holding onto comfort is like holding onto water as it slips out between your fingers. And God is no where to be seen but my failure is all around me. Better not to let myself try to grab hold any more.
I’ve gazed at the cross with its promise of redemption after suffering. But Jesus’ suffering lasted for a weekend and mine is lasting for years. Jesus’ suffering was probably greater than mine, but it’s not a competition. My neighbor’s broken leg doesn’t make my broken heart hurt any less. I’d say I just want my suffering to end, but the damage has already been done. What difference does it make now?
And then I realize that it is an evil thing I’m fighting with which bids me to remain in hell and refuse comfort as too little too late and far too quickly gone. Continue reading