Not Enough?

A copy of “Living Light News” showed up in my mailbox last week.  It’s a Christian publication that comes around a couple of times a year. When I got to the last page and read the headline, I groaned inwardly: “No Cheque is Big Enough to Pay This Off!”.  The picture under the headline is a zoom-in of a cheque with “NOT ENOUGH” written in as the ‘amount’. The article goes on to say that “we have all incurred a huge debt that no amount of money” (or good works or donations to charity) can pay off. The article ends with a prayer to God that starts off with, “Dear God, I am truly sorry for sinning against You. Please forgive me for the wrong things I have done…”

This is pretty typical in my experience of the “sinner’s prayer”. It always starts off with a focus on our sin and need for forgiveness. The focus is on how we are “bad” and because of that, God is going to punish us. This looks a lot like shaming a person into praying the sinner’s prayer to me. And in light of Brene Brown’s research on shame I would argue that this is a counterproductive approach to encouraging people towards a relationship with God. Here’s what Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012):

“…there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution. Again, it is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.” (p.73)

We all want to experience connection with others, to feel that we belong and that we are ‘enough’. ‘Enough’ to be accepted and loved apart from our actions. So why does evangelical Christianity think emphasizing that we are “not enough” for God is a good way to encourage people to follow Him? The motivating factor here is fear. Fear and shame lead to disconnection, not connection. And I don’t think that is God’s desire for us at all.  Love is the essence of who God is (1 John 4:8) and it is His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God loves us and wants connection with us. He doesn’t want us to hide from Him.

I believe it is our feelings of shame that keep us disconnected from God and others. Look at the story of Adam and Eve. Once they had tasted the forbidden fruit they hid because they were naked. I think it’s safe to say they were experiencing shame. I believe most, if not all, behaviors that are defined as ‘sin’ have their roots in shame.

So with that in mind, I propose there is a better, more positive way of introducing people to a relationship with God. And the foundation is love:

You are made in the image of God and He loves you. And because He loves you, He wants to experience this life with you. He longs for connection with YOU. His son, Jesus, came to earth to show us what God’s love is like. He came to break the power of shame in our lives that keeps us disconnected from God and from others. Jesus introduced us to grace. It means God already accepts you and that you are ‘enough’…right now. All He asks is that you believe it and accept it. If you’re feeling crappy about yourself, believe that you are forgiven. If you don’t think you’re ‘worthy’ of this kind of love, it’s simply not true. Your ‘worth’ is not based on your actions but on the fact that God says you are precious and beautiful to Him. He doesn’t want you to hide in shame any longer. He wants you to be free. Will you take Him up on His invitation?

Disclaimer: please understand that what I’ve written above does not mean I don’t believe what the Bible says about sin – I do believe that we are all broken (we have all sinned) and that we need to accept God’s forgiveness; I believe the consequences of sin is death…’death’ being the damage to our souls from years of living in shame and disconnection from God

Balancing Dreams & Disappointments

I’ve been thinking about dreams and disappointments lately.  How does one balance the two?

I was listening to a song by Hedley the other day, “Anything”.  Here’s part of the chorus:

Everybody said boy don’t go any higher
(uh, uh, forget that) I can do anything
Never push the limit and don’t play with fire
(uh, uh, forget that) I can do anything

I think there’s been a shift in our society and I see it expressed in pop culture: “follow your dreams – you can do anything”.  To a certain extent I agree with this.  I believe that it’s important to follow our dreams and that too many people (including me) have been told our dreams are not worth chasing, they’re impractical, irresponsible, and so on.

However…life does not happen exactly how we plan it and sometimes those dreams are never realized.  I admit that I’m jaded in this area.  I grew up in an environment that told me to be responsible, to play it safe, and that my dreams were irrelevant.  AND…my life has not happened how I planned it.  I had many dreams I wanted to share with my husband and then he passed away.  Part of the grieving process was learning to let go of some of those dreams and learning to fulfill some of them without him (like taking my boys to Legoland).

So how does one balance their dreams with their disappointments? IS there a balance?  Or is there a different angle to this?  I’ve been thinking about this in the context of my own life but more importantly I want to ‘wrestle this through’ for the sake of my children.  I don’t want to pass on my jaded upbringing to them where their dreams are not important.  At the same time I don’t want them to grow up believing life is going to go how they plan and then they’re unable to navigate the disappointments that come.

I was talking to a friend about this and she said sometimes we have to revise the plan.  Our dreams are still worth pursuing but sometimes there’s a different way than we envisioned to get to those dreams.  I think there’s wisdom in this. We need to learn to be flexible.

I’d also add another dimension: we cannot let our dreams define who we are.  My worth is far beyond the fulfillment of my dreams.  When my worth is wrapped up in my dreams and then the dreams don’t happen, it’s a disaster because unfulfilled dreams mean I am worthless.  And that’s when it’s really hard to swallow disappointment.  If I can keep my dreams separate from my sense of worth I can take risks and pursue my dreams and even if the dreams aren’t realized I can still be ok with it, knowing that at least I tried.  I think it’s worse to avoid pursuing our dreams in order to play it safe and live with regret never knowing if my dream could have happened because I never even tried.

This is a lesson I’m learning slowly.  Taking risks always seemed too scary for me because the thought of failing was paralyzing and kept me from trying.  And I would feel so annoyed with those people who seemed to freely pursue their dreams spouting that “they could do anything”.  I wanted to yell back, “So what happens when you can’t do anything?”  These people never seemed to live in reality like the rest of us who had to deal with the disappointments of life.  But maybe I was so negative because my dreams equaled my worth and it was better to avoid them than risk failing and being worthless.  And yet I wanted to follow them and I was annoyed with the people who seemed able to do that where I couldn’t.

So for me, the first step was to accept that I still have worth…even if I fail.  Mind you, I haven’t completely learned this yet.  But I’ve learned it enough to be able to take some risks and try things I’ve never done before.  To actually acknowledge that I have dreams and that they’re worth pursuing, even knowing that disappointments will come.  I am realizing that I am worth pursuing my dreams.

As I said I’m still ‘wrestling this through’ so I’d love to hear what you think about all this.  Feel free to leave a comment.

The Parable of the Hired Hand

I’ve been looking at the parable of the prodigal son in a new way lately (Luke 15:11-32).  I think it’s more a parable of the hired hand.

“I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.’” (Luke 15:18-19)

Twice the prodigal son says this.  Once to himself as he is rehearsing what he will say when he returns home and once when he actually sees his father.

And this is the older brother’s response:

“…but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.” (Luke 15:29, emphasis mine)

I think for many Christians, we have made ourselves the hired hand.  We have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior but we can’t accept God’s lavish grace.  We don’t deserve to be rescued.  We must do something to make up for it.  We OWE God.

So we make ourselves the hired hand.  We slave away in service to God but many of us don’t understand that He is not demanding works from us.

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6); which Jesus quotes twice (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7).

I know I certainly have lived that way.  And my ‘works’ were based on fear – fear that I would not be ‘good enough’ for God, that He would not accept me if I didn’t behave in an ‘acceptable’ way.  But as I’ve let go of striving and trying to be ‘good’ and simply…accepted…grace… I can be more like the prodigal son when he returned home.  He accepted the party his father threw for him.  He received the Father’s free gift.

What would have happened if the prodigal son had dug in his heels and said to the Father, “Absolutely not!  You can’t throw this party for me.  I don’t deserve it.  I’m making myself your hired hand and that’s that!”  I think we subconsciously do that to God.

And the older brother, the ‘good’ one, didn’t understand either.  He stayed behind and was faithful to the Father, but he didn’t see himself as the free recipient of the Father’s riches.  He saw himself as a slave, as a hired hand (“…all these years I’ve slaved for you…” Luke 15:29).

And yet…”His father said to him, ‘…everything I have is yours.’” (Luke 15:31, emphasis mine)

Do we understand that everything God has is ours without having to work for it?  That we can cease our striving and rest in grace?  Or do we live our lives as hired hands?

More than jars of clay

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 1 Corinthians 4:7 (emphasis mine)

For the month of December I decided to follow a Bible Plan.  From the 1st of December to Christmas day I am reading someone else’s thoughts on the Christmas story.  I never use these plans as I find I get more out of just reading the Bible by itself and talking about it with other people than following a prescribed plan but I thought I’d do something different this year.

There are a few things that have quickly become apparent to me.  I’ve been out of the evangelical Christian mainstream for a while.  Until very recently I have not attended an institutional church that meets on Sunday mornings nor have I really hung around the people who attend those churches.  There’s a lot of evangelical Christian jargon that I haven’t heard for a while.

So when I started reading this Bible plan all this Christian jargon started popping up again.  It’s not that I haven’t heard these things before, albeit many years ago. But some of the lingo sounds very ‘odd’ to me now even though I had just accepted it in the past.  Some of the lingo downright bothers me, in fact.

Take, for example, this quote (in speaking of God’s favor to Mary): “…favor means, simply, that God is willing to use you.” (emphasis mine)  What?!  ‘Use you’?  Why would the author employ this language?  Where, in the realm of our human relationships, would we ever speak of ‘using’ people?  Not in any healthy relationships, that’s for sure!  When we hear the language of ‘using’ people, it is largely in a negative context, such as cases of abuse and exploitation.  Is this the picture we would want to paint of God?  The concept of ‘using’ people implies a devaluing, that people are ‘property’ to be ‘used’ rather than holding any intrinsic worth.  This is certainly not how I believe God views people or how He views humanity.

However, to be fair, there are Bible references that have been used to reinforce this concept of God using people.  Very often it is the references of God being the potter and man being the clay (Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18:6, Romans 9:21).  When I looked closer at these passages, from my perspective, their main point is to emphasize that God is greater than we are, so who are we to question His actions or think we can hide our actions from Him.  These passages don’t explicitly speak of God ‘using’ people.  When I looked for specific references that would say “God uses…” or “God used <so and so>…” I couldn’t find any…in the whole Bible.  There is one passage I found that speaks of us being ‘useful’ to God (2 Timothy 2:21) but that doesn’t communicate the same thing as God ‘using’ us.  You can still have intrinsic value and be useful to a task or project.  Rather, I’ve found references of God appointing people or choosing them for a purpose.  Again, this doesn’t communicate the same devaluing message as the idea of ‘using’ people.

My point in all of this is we should be careful the language we employ when describing God and His relationship to us.  All throughout the Bible, the stronger message is that God loves the human race, that He put Himself in harms way for humanity, that He goes to whatever lengths necessary to communicate to mankind that we are dearly loved by Him.  But when we say things like “God uses us”, it undercuts that whole message of love.  If a person hears such things long enough, they will subconsciously start to believe that they do not have worth in God’s sight or that He actually loves them, rather that their only worth is in what they can ‘do’ for God.  This message marginalizes grace.  The Gospel is no longer the ‘Good News’.  It puts heavy chains on people who are broken and just trying to scrape by.  If they do not know they are loved, if they do not believe they are precious and beautiful…in the midst of their brokenness…, what hope will they have?

We all need to know we are loved and valued.  We need to know we are so much more than jars of clay.

Humbled and honoured that you would join me

It has been one month of daily blogging.  NaBloPoMo is officially over!

I ran into an acquaintance yesterday.  We grew up in the same small town and are friends on Facebook.  She told me she’s been reading my blog this month.  Really?  And this morning when I tried to pop onto my blog, an error message came up saying my bandwidth was exceeded.  My IT husband told me that is because a lot of people are reading my blog (and thank goodness for him, he could very easily remedy the problem).  Again I say, “really?”  I know there are the handful of friends I’m fairly close to that read my blog.  But beyond that, I’m always surprised to find out there are others reading as well.

I feel humbled and honoured that you would join me in my journey.  I am but one voice and there are many, many other voices with varied and rich stories to tell.  Who am I, that you would take an interest in my story?  I’ve never been one seeking a blog ‘following’.  It doesn’t really matter to me if there are 2 or 200 reading my blog.  I use this space as a way to process what I’m thinking (sometimes I do a lot of thinking) and as an opportunity to share what I’m learning about life. I haven’t ‘arrived’ yet so I’m sharing as I go, sometimes stumbling through the mud and sometime leaping through the meadows.  I think I’ve gained a bit of wisdom along the way and I’m very happy to share that with you.

My greatest desire is to make the world a better place by helping others, whether that is an encouraging word or volunteering at my daughter’s school or helping a client plan an event.  In the realm of this blog, it brings me joy to think I am able to spread some empathy and hope and encouragement to others along their journeys.  Let us never feel we are alone.  May there always be a listening ear and someone to say “me, too.”  Though I don’t hear from many of you (apparently) may this blog be a space shedding a little more light in your world.  I am honoured that you have chosen to spend some of your time here.

‘Tis the season…for schmoozing

In 2 days it will be December and the time of Christmas celebrations begins: client receptions, dinners, lunches.  As someone who is trying to “get the word out there” about my business I know it is important to ‘network’ and I will have plenty of opportunities to do so in the coming days.  I know it is necessary, but I’m not necessarily looking forward to it.  Sure, I’m looking forward to enjoying lots of good food.  But lots of business people I don’t really know…not so much.  It is getting better…slowly.  At my last client reception I ended up talking to a few different people and realized I am getting to know more and more people in the business community.

Yet these sorts of events push me out of my comfort zone every time.  My discomfort stems from a few places.  Being an introvert means ‘schmoozing’ does not come naturally for me.  But I think one of the things that these networking events brings me back to is this: memories of being in high school at community dances and standing off by myself, not knowing anyone, being too shy or afraid to talk to anyone, feeling alone and insignificant.  It was not a pleasant feeling. 

It’s not that I have the same experience now.  I can make conversation with people I don’t know.  But there is a subconscious fear of being ‘left out’ and my feelings from high school come back to me.

Isn’t it amazing, how our experiences from 20+ years ago can still have an impact on us today?

Sometimes the hardest part…is letting go

Parenting is hard work.  It can tax you, frustrate you, and drive you crazy. Sometimes the hardest part is to “let go”.  And when I say let go I mean let your children have freedom to choose a bit of their fate…even if that means they are going to fall down.  Even if it means they will fail.  Sometimes the only way we learn is the hard way.  It’s not pleasant but it’s necessary if we are ever going to learn and grow and mature.  But as a parent, it’s not easy…this “letting go”.

Oh stress, my old friend

I’ve been thinking about stress lately.

There have been periods in my life when I have had a LOT of stress (like when my husband died and my last years of working at the hotel).  Over time I’ve learned strategies to cope with the stress in my life.  I’m better able to identify my sources of stress than I used to be.  Plus I’ve made choices (and had the freedom to make the choice) to remove certain sources of stress – or shall I say I’ve removed myself from them?

Stress is a funny thing.  It doesn’t necessarily ‘announce’ itself saying, “alert, alert, stress is here”.  Each of our bodies, minds, and souls respond to it differently and the response is not the same in every situation.  There are so many factors which can cause stress.  We live in a world of noise, and distractions, and busyness…and these things don’t help in the stress department either.

What have I learned about stress so far?

1. When living in a high stress situation over an extended period of time, I became somewhat acclimatized to the stress.  However, when the stress in my situation was finally significantly reduced, it took a very long time for my stress levels to come back down to ‘normal’.  Rest is important.

2. I can create my own stress.  If my expectations of others or a situation are not being met and I don’t stop to evaluate and adjust the expectations, I will experience stress.  Often, the expectations I have of myself are my greatest sources of stress.  Being kind to myself is important.

3. Sometimes I’m not aware I’m experiencing stress but it ‘bleeds out’ in my lack of patience and reactions to others.  At those times it is good for me to take a step back and try to identify the source of my stress.  For example, I was feeling sad and overwhelmed this week and realized I was stressed.  I’ve been fighting a cold for a while and been resting to combat it.  But that meant I wasn’t staying on top of the clutter which tends to creep into our house.  While clutter doesn’t really seem to bother the rest of my family, it is a source of stress for me.  When I figured out the clutter accumulating in our kitchen and living room was stressing me out, I was able to communicate this to my husband who very willingly helped me to de-clutter these areas.  I can say I am feeling much better today.  What a simple fix!  But if I didn’t take note of the ‘symptoms’ I might have missed this and still been in a state of stress.  Paying attention is important.

4. We can function in stressful circumstances for such a long time that they become ‘normal’ to us.  We don’t realize we are under as much stress as we are.  It was not until I stopped working at the hotel that I realized how stressed I really was AND the degree of impact that was making on the rest of my life.  As much as I tried very hard to maintain a work-life balance, the stresses of my work situation meant I had very little left of ‘me’ for my family and friends.  I might have only been putting in 40-45 hours a week but I didn’t have much physical, mental, or emotional energy left at the end of my day/week.  I realize sometimes people don’t have a choice regarding their circumstances but for the times when a person does have a choice, evaluating the ‘cost’ of remaining in the stressful situation is important.

5. There are things we can do to cope with stress and this will look different for each person.  Some things are universal, such as regular exercise and getting enough sleep.  Other things are individual.  I like hot baths, getting massages, listening to spa music, and going for walks outdoors.  Temperament and personality also play a part.  As an introvert, I need more time alone by myself to re-energize.  Extroverts might benefit from enjoying time with others.  Finding what de-stresses you and practicing this on a consistent basis is important.

6.  When I am stressed, EVERYTHING seems worse.  This might be more applicable to women because our brains connect everything to everything else in our minds.  But I know I am much more prone to ‘catastrophize’ when I am stressed than when I am not.  Reminding myself that “everything is going to be all right” is important.

Whiles stress can never be completely removed from our lives we can learn to recognize it, cope with it, and become more resilient to it.

What have you learned about stress?

Why are we here?

In Christian circles I’ve heard a couple of reasons for “why we are here”.  One of those reasons is “to glorify God”.  I used to blindly accept this but I’m coming to the place where I’d say I disagree with that.  I believe there’s a much better reason for “why we are here”.

We are here to love each other.

Simple, yet profound.  In this world of so many broken and hurting people I believe our greatest purpose is to extend love and grace and acceptance and gentleness and forgiveness.  It is the outworking of love that truly changes people’s lives.  Love does not use coercion or fear to elicit a desired behaviour from someone.  It does not stem from our own sense of shame.

Love brings freedom.

Freedom from fear, freedom from shame, freedom from obligation.  Having experienced love I believe our natural response is to love in return.  And I think the world would be a better place if we learned to do that.

I’ve been volunteering once a week at my daughter’s class at school.  It’s only been a couple of weeks but I’m coming to know and love the children there.  I get the impression that some of these children do not come from the most loving of families.  And I can’t help but think what some love and gentleness could do for them.  I understand that life is not that simple, however I do believe that if people (whether they are children or adults) feel safe and loved in their environment they will do much better than if they don’t feel those things.  Where often our responses are to address the behaviours (the symptoms), if love and understanding were applied to the roots, I think many behaviours would diminish or disappear.

You may think me idealistic (and I probably am) but I still believe that love is a better way, a better approach, than anything else.  And I would rather “be here” to be an agent of God’s love to the world than anything else.  I believe we all need it.

A hopeless romantic

image

I just recently started watching Downton Abbey.  My husband and I bought the first three seasons.  Tonight we finished season 2 with “Christmas at Downton Abbey” and when we got to the very end I cheered.  For those of you who haven’t seen Downton Abbey I won’t tell you what happened but let’s just say I am (and always will be) a hopeless romantic.