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Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

Sometimes one huge thing completely derails an otherwise fine day. Sometimes lots of little mishaps add up to create an unpleasant week. Such things can really mess with rational thinking.

When you’re having a bad day, week, etc., does it ever start to make you feel miserable about something completely unrelated?

Personal example: Back when I had a sad, unhealthy body image, I would feel miserable about being fat even though that really had nothing to do with why I would have a bad day. Perhaps I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before, I had a difficult assignment at work, the coffee was stale, I was defriended by someone on Facebook, and my electric bill was higher than I expected it to be. Somehow this would end up with me being miserable about my weight, even though my weight had absolutely nothing to do with anything else going on. It was just something that seemed easy to point at and focus on and wish to be changed.

Since working to make peace with my body, this doesn’t happen so much anymore. But yesterday I found myself doing it again, only about something else.

I’m having some issues at work, and this week I felt quitting—and I mean quitting in a loud, dramatic way that would be truly memorable at the company for years to come. I didn’t; I’m still here. But it’s contributed to my already-growing job dissatisfaction, anger at a coworker who hates me for no reason, frustration with my limited budget, and exhaustion from two years of ridiculously early work hours.

Because of my penchant for the dramatic, the rise of formerly buried feelings, The Enemy sowing seeds of discontent, or any combination thereof, I began to feel frustration with other aspects of my life besides work. This occurred even for things I had been content with the day before—and my singleness in particular. It’s not really a surprise, since my singleness is still an area where my contentment is weak overall. But on my way home, exhausted and drained and just weary, I started to wish I wasn’t single, that I had a boyfriend to vent to (I don’t know why this would be different from calling an existent friend and ranting to her, but therein lie the logical fallacies), and the familiar feelings of “Ugh, WHY DON’T IT??” came back.

I’m not sure what it was that woke me up from this way of thinking—most likely simply the promptings of the Holy Spirit—but somehow I realized, “Hey, my singleness has nothing to do with these problems I’m going through right now. And if I magically became romantically attached at this moment, it still won’t solve these problems.”

I don’t know what human inclination it is that makes us place blame on some outside object, even if it’s completely irrelevant and irrational, but it seems to happen to a lot of us, and I am not immune.

So, based on my own recent experiences … if you find yourself feeling low about your single status (or something else entirely), try to trace your thoughts and feelings and pinpoint the true source of your discomfort. If it’s something you can fix or change, do your best and then move on. If it’s something completely outside of your control or abilities, submit it to the Lord, pray through it, and be patient.

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Whenever I read a description or participate in a discussion related to the oh-so-popular-in-Christian-circles topic of married v. single, something always leaves me squirming and dissatisfied. I may have finally pinned down the reason for this, but I’m not sure I can express it with any degree of eloquence.

One thing that bothers me is that singleness is almost always treated as a temporary condition. It’s usually a given that Christians will marry. Sometimes singleness is spoken of like a very long sickness that you must endure until you can be “cured” with marriage. I would, of course, be lying if I said that I have never thought of singleness like that. But lately I have been strongly considering and praying about the prospect of never marrying, and in some ways I find that a desirable future. The fact is, not all Christ-followers will marry, and I could very well be such a person. Granted, the odds indicate that most of us will marry, but God does not always follow statistics.

Another thing that bothers me in the topic of marriage/singleness is that many Christians like to talk about the great benefits there are to marriage. Not only is there the obvious (you get to have SEX!!!), but a Christ-centered marriage is a great evangelism opportunity, you have a (presumably) lifelong companion and best friend, it’s a reflection of the covenant between God and His people, it’s the foundation of the nuclear family that is the foundation of society, and so on.

But if you’re single … well, sorry, you don’t get any of those things.

What do you get? Um … I dunno. Something, I’m sure. I think Paul wrote about it somewhere. He liked being single, didn’t he? Yeah, I think he wanted everyone to be single. Haha, he was a funny guy.

The worst part of being single is that you can’t say any of this without sounding like a bitter spinster, even if you speak out of genuine concern for the issue (ok, even if it is with a twist of irony).

I really wish more people would speak about the benefits of singleness in Christ—ideally, those who are single themselves, or married people who can at least be honest about things they miss about being single. Although maybe it’s not practical, since as time progresses those of us who are singles will become even more of a minority, and it will just look like we want special treatment. Sigh. But then, I do understand that since most people will marry, that’s what gets the most attention. Also, the world has such a warped view of sex and marriage that I very deeply understand the necessity of addressing that within the church.

I just wish we singles could get a little more acknowledgment and encouragement is all—preferably some that doesn’t involve hearing, “Awww, don’t worry, it’s okay, you’ll find that guy someday!” I might not! That’s my whole point!

There are really a ton of perks with being single, but not everyone would agree with my idea of a “perk,” and I’m afraid that if I list them, I’ll look like I’m bitter, overcompensating, averse to marriage, family-hating, and so on. But I did anyway, months ago, and these things haven’t changed. Except to say that lately I have realized how God has gifted me with singleness (at least for the time being) as an opportunity to grow closer to Him. And NOT just in the sense of “relying on God so I can endure singleness until it’s over.” But God has given me so many opportunities that I do not think I would have had if I had not been single.

I must point out that in I Corinthians 7:7, Paul refers to both marriage and singleness as “gifts”—one for some, the second for others. And yes, he does not forbid marriage, but he does point out that marriage does bring its own difficulties, and singleness its own benefits in verses 32-35 (emphasis mine):

I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.

I know you can sigh and say yes, you’ve heard this passage a million times, it was written for a different time and place, you still hate being single, etc. etc.

Fair enough. I’ve been there. I’m sure I’ll be there again.

BUT. As I’ve grown in my faith and become closer to the Lord, the idea of a life devoted to Him and the ability to focus more on Him has become of greater importance. I don’t mean to bash marriage and say it’s less holy than singleness or that those of us who are single have a closer connection to Jesus. But it’s true that singleness can make it easier to focus on Christ, and that marriage, although a beautiful covenant established by God, does come with its own distractions and complications.

I should add that singleness is only less distracting if you are not focused on finding “the one” that God has for you. Not to say that you shouldn’t ever think about it, if you do want to get married someday. This is just another example of how you need to “let go and let God,” as they say. Please, trust my own experience when I say that letting go of such things makes worshiping, depending on, and learning more about God that much more special and rewarding.

But then, this applies to all believers, no matter their relationship status.

I am not trying to bash marriage. But if I said I still wanted to get married someday, I don’t know if that would be entirely true. And yet, saying that I don’t want to get married might also not be true.

I simply believe that people who are single and don’t want to be, should focus on Christ first and not be overly concerned with finding that other person, but concentrate on living a God-pleasing life.

Personally, right now I’m in a place where I no longer have any idea whether I am gifted for marriage someday or lifelong singleness anymore. But what I don’t want is anyone telling me, or making me feel, that my current / possibly future position in life is at all pitiable.

That’s all I ask.

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My Monday-night small group, not to be confused with my Sunday-night small group (I know, I know, you are just overwhelmed by my blinding holiness — i’m so spiritual, I get to use the carpool lane when I’m on my way to heaven) is currently discussing the idea of “true beauty” and the world’s view compared to the Lord’s view. One of the Scripture passages we read was:

1 Peter 3:3-4: Your adornment must not be merely external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

This got me thinking how the world’s recommendation—magazines, websites, TV, etc.—says to work on the outside first. Get fit, get the right makeup, wear clothes that comple/iment your body, act sexy, and then you’ll feel better inside—confident, radiant, motivated!

The problem with that is that it’s so unstable. Even if you’re totally put-together, if you step outside into one sudden rainstorm, the whole package of well-done hair/makeup/outfit is literally washed away.

But when you work on the inside first—focusing on the gentle and quiet spirit and putting emphasis on outward appearance last—then not even the heaviest rainstorm can wash that away. And of course, “gentle and quiet spirit” doesn’t mean being weak, a pushover, and never speaking (fortunately for me), but having peace in the Lord and resting in Him.

And although inner peace and the love of Christ can shine out of us even on our worst-looking days, not even the most professional makeup or trendiest clothes can completely hide a harsh tongue or a broken spirit.

Proverbs 31:30: Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

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Several weeks after joining an 11-week Bible study, and I have had my first “aha!” moment.

I love those moments.

I wasn’t sure if I would have one, truth be told. It seemed that the class would be very interesting, but would build on my preexisting knowledge rather than provide brilliant new insights. I should have been more patient, but the Spirit finally flipped that illuminating switch in my brain.

As I said before, we have been studying Abraham, starting from Genesis mid-12 and so far reaching chapter 18. This covers about 25 years of Abraham’s life, and guess what we haven’t even gotten to yet? The birth of Isaac, the child God promised to Abraham and Sarah.

When studying patience, learning to wait on God, and searching our hearts to decide if we really think anything is too difficult for God, Bible studies and leaders often refer to Abraham. After all, he waited about 25 years before he began to see God’s promises fulfilled in the birth of Isaac, not counting the 75 years he had lived before God made His first promise to Abraham. But there’s another part of the story that I had never seen until today.

I never considered how gradual the Lord was in revealing His plans to Abraham.

The Lord didn’t just appear to Abraham one day and say, “Look, here’s what’s going down and what I’m gonna do for you. You’re going to the land of Canaan, which I’ll give to you and your descendants and all the nations that will come out of them. In a few years, say about 25, your wife, Sarah, is going to have a son by you at an insanely old age, say 90 or 91, and you’ll name him Isaac. Several generations from then my Son will be born of your descendants and He will redeem all of mankind forever and ever.”

That’s what was promised, but that’s not how God announced it.

First He says, “Leave your family and go to this place that I’ll show you.”

Once that was complete: “OK, see this land? You and your descendants will possess it all.”

Then, in the face of doubt: “Don’t worry, your descendants will come from your own body.”

Then: “OK, ‘wife’ should have been implied, but yes, it is your wife Sarah who will have your promised child. Oh, Ishmael? No, it’s okay, he’s taken care of.”

A little later: “All right, next year is when it’s all happening—you’ll have a son, and name him Isaac, and he will live under My covenant and all his descendants. Sarah, stop laughing. Just you wait. Trust Me, I’m God. I can do this.”

And guess what happened? All of it.

I can’t tell you what Abraham was thinking for those 25 years, but I can imagine. Maybe he was hoping that God would be a little more specific a little sooner. Maybe he wondered if he had misheard God in the first place, or that God hadn’t given him all the information he needed. Perhaps he wondered if God had deliberately left out information that Abraham had to figure out on his own.

God gave Abraham the information that he needed, as he needed it. God took the time to build a relationship with Abraham, who was living in a pagan land and probably was not entirely familiar with El Roi when He called him elsewhere. God did not overwhelm Abraham with a barrage of details regarding what would happen in his life. God led Abraham step by step, working through his human mistakes, assuring his human concerns, and finally bringing an answer to his wife’s doubtful laughter.

It all came together, but only the Lord knew every step and how they would all match up. And in several thousand years, I can’t see how that’s changed much.

What will happen in our lives? If we truly live by faith, if we really trust the Lord, and if we truly believe that nothing is too difficult for him, then all we can do is take everything one day at a time, working with the information that He provides, and having faith that He knows what’s going on. Because God’s got a plan, and it will work out somehow, even if it’s not exactly how we might have preferred, and even if we don’t have all the details.

As usual, the breakthrough is the easy part. The hard part is 1. Remembering the lesson, and 2. Applying it to the rest of my life.

Romans 4:18-22 is a relevant passage in Scripture, and one that was part of my Bible study homework this week:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

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I deserve to marry Josh Groban more than his average fan.

Why?

Because I find him unattractive.

Huh?

Yes. And yet I adore him. Because I love his music and his voice. (Cheesy? Indeed, sometimes, but I’m rather fond of certain cheeses.) And his Twitter account is absolutely hilarious. Therefore, my love is not based on something shallow like appearance. … Plus, he has a doofy charm about him.

(Please, no one email/comment to tell me what a jerk he is in real life. I don’t want to know.)

It’s kind of like a mild version of Phantom of the Opera — physically unattractive with a beautiful singing voice. Though I hope that Josh Groban doesn’t kill people with magical lassos and trap them in torture chambers. That is, I’m assuming he doesn’t, but you never know with these celebrity types.

But if I may be serious for a moment, listening to his music actually does makes me think, “I should keep Josh Groban in mind when I think of my future husband.” Not that I’m going to marry Josh Groban — just that I should remember that I’m probably going to marry a man who is not 100% my ideal, physically. But, just like my job, and Josh Groban, he will have a number of qualities that will more than make up for it.

There. That’s my not-entirely-sober thought for the day. Tomorrow’s Friday Frivolity will actually make more sense.

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Philippians 2:14-16: Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

Moving from the MidWest to the DC Metro Area has been a massive learning experience. One thing I have learned is that Washington, D.C., really does have an attitude of, “I am the center of the universe and everything works through Me.” Considering the nature of government, and everything that goes on here, this attitude is definitely not unfounded—though that doesn’t mean it’s right. Even someone like myself, who neither works nor lives within The District (and indeed has a suspicion of government that runs deep, long, and wide), can get a little bit caught up in this sentiment.

But you know what? It’s not just me, and it’s not just here. It is, in fact, one of the less beautiful things about being human. To each of us, our problems, our feelings, our ideas and opinions, are the most important in the world. In a small way, that’s necessary to maintain a sense of self-preservation, without which the human race would die out. But we always take that too far, turning it into a terrible attitude of arrogance, self-importance, and disinterest in our fellow human beings.

I started thinking about this in depth yesterday, when I had to summarize an article about children in Guinea who are dying of preventable diseases such as smallpox, measles, and mumps. Their health needs are going unheeded because of sectarian violence that has gripped the nation and distracted the government, the economy, and the people, while international sanctions are preventing any kind of aid from reaching them. The article is here if you’re interested, but be warned that there are some pictures that may be disturbing.

Anyway, I shared this article with Bethany, who pointed out that this made her feel kind of ashamed of the things she complains about. This got me thinking: If I kept track of everything I complained about in a single day, I think I would be overwhelmed, embarrassed, and probably a little indignant, too.

Right now, the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region is still reeling from 8 days of heavy snows and wind. I’ve gone to the office only 4 of the past 9 workdays. Two weekends’ worth of plans have been disrupted, and I’ve been crabby with my roommate and bored with the food supplies I had stocked up in anticipation of these storms. We’ve had electricity and Internet go out a couple times. There’s been a lot for us to complain about.

BUT: I do not wake up in fear for my life, and I do not worry that I’m going to get shot as I go about the course of my day. I’m concerned about germs and proper food storage, but in my daily activities I’m not actually worried that I will catch a life-threatening disease. I’m not worried where my next meal is coming from, or that it is not coming at all. I’m not worried that my entire family could be killed simply because my religion is different from my neighbor’s.

But guess what I have? A roof over my head. A refrigerator full of food. Bottles full of basic medicines and vitamins. Bottles of vitamin water. Soap, makeup, perfume, and shampoo. A car with a full tank of gas and a snow shovel to dislodge it from its parking space. Hot water. Piles of blankets. Piles of clothes. Clean air and sunshine. A cell phone to keep in touch with people. Grocery stores within walking distance. The power has not been out for more than a few hours at a time. I can work from home and not use up vacation days or risk my safety.

And what have I been complaining about lately? How much I hate Valentine’s Day. How disappointed I am at not seeing the friends I want to see when I wanted to see them. I’m stuck inside, in the warmth. I have to shovel snow off my car. I’m not getting the right attention from the right guys. The sidewalks aren’t shoveled. My bedroom window is drafty. I don’t have any chocolate in my apartment. My church service was canceled last week. My boss actually expects me to work and do my job. I’m tired. I’m bored. My mom is too busy to call me back. The Subway where I’m writing this post is playing country music.

Maybe, just maybe, that whenever I complain about truly vain and trivial things, I will think of the children in Guinea, and I’ll pray for their physical health and spiritual salvation, and maybe I’ll have an attitude with a little more gratitude and humility. And remember Philippians 2:14-16.

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Can I tell you a story?

Of course I can.

Would you like to hear it?

Of course you would.

Once upon a time (yes, we’re going with this intro), there was a young woman who moved from the MidWest United States to the Nation’s Capital to seek her fortune. She targeted many positions at some glamorous companies and organizations, attending interview after interview, constantly searching for her perception of the ideal job. Friends, former coworkers, former employers, and college professors recommended her highly. It was an exciting place to be at one of the most exciting, freest times of her life, and she was determined to see her dreams come true.

Unfortunately, time after time, her applications were so often denied, or she reached the top of the interview process only to be passed over for someone else who had just a liiiiittle bit more to offer. After months of such disappointments, the young woman began to wonder if anyone would ever want to hire her. She had a variety of talents, recommendations, and passions, although perhaps she lacked experience—but that could be changed, if she were only given the chance! Maybe there was no place in existence that could use her set of skills. Perhaps she had made a terrible mistake by moving there in the first place. Perhaps there was something wrong with her approach, or her resume, or her interview skills.

Then, one day, this young woman went in for an interview at a small, unassuming company she had never heard of—except for an ad it had placed in an unexpected location, seeking someone with just the sort of skills she could offer. She liked the people she met there, and the office had a nice atmosphere. Over the course of the interview, she began to think she liked the sound of this job. There were a few things that made her balk—a start time of 6:30am, for one thing, and a low starting salary. It definitely was not the sort of work, or sort of office, she had anticipated when she had first begun to seek adventure. But she liked her would-be boss, the work sounded interesting enough, it matched her skills, it would give her experience, and after all, she didn’t have to stick with it forever, right?

Suddenly, the young woman woke up and realized that she had been at this job for well over a year. What had happened? Well, she had made friends there, and learned new skills and new information, received raises and bonuses, and learned to appreciate the shift of 6:30am to 2:45pm—especially in the winter, when she could leave the office and still have daylight left. She had more than enough money to get by, and an easy commute, and a job that provided somewhat interesting dinner-party chatter. Of course, there were things she did not like about her job all the time, such as a 10pm bedtime and 5am wakeup call, but they were simply part of the whole package, and she considered it well worth the trouble. She was not too far away from friends and family, and had weekends and holidays free. Of course, she had made some sacrifices, but her life was far from over, and she knew that other adventures would soon come her way. Some days she would wake up and think, “What am I doing? I hate this. I’m so bored,” but that would change after a while, and she would realize she was right where she was supposed to be, and that it was all going to be okay.

Now for, as Paul Harvey would say, the “rest of the story.”

Yes, that young woman is me, and yes, I went through all of that in my process of moving to the DC area and getting a job. Occasionally I think, “How did I get here?” and it’s pretty clear that God’s grace was fully involved.

So, what’s my point? Why did I tell you this?

Well, I started thinking how my job search is kind of like my “search” for a boyfriend, a husband, a significant other. Of course, I’m not actually ready to be married, and I don’t intend to be for a while. But most days, I think that I would at least like a boyfriend. Some days I think, “Why would anyone want to be married? Being single is ridiculously great.” Other days I think, “When will this terrible season of life-sucking singleness end?”

The thought that dominates in these times, though, is: “Where is he, and why haven’t I found him yet?”

I often forget this, but I believe that, if I do get married, or enter into a long-term relationship of some kind, it will be similar to how I got my current job. I had no idea what was going to happen and I was about to give up, and it just kind of worked out over time, often in unexpected ways. There are things that are difficult about it, of course, but it has benefits that go hand-in-hand, and other great things that I never even expected.

For example, I’m not a morning person, and I hate that I can’t go out too late (at least not often) and I hate that it’s difficult for me to sleep. I hate waking up before dawn every day of the year. BUT … if I had the option of starting later and getting out later, at 5:30pm with everyone else, I wouldn’t do it. I like being able to have a couple hours of daylight left, even in the winter. I like being able to go to the bank, get a haircut, or go to the dentist during normal office hours without having to take off work. And I love being able to leave and drive to visit family and get there at a reasonable hour, and not having to deal with the brunt of rush hour either in the morning or evening.

The scariest part is that the 6:30 start time had not been posted in the ad. If it had, I would not have looked twice at it, and would have kept searching for something else. Not until I was at the interview did I find that out, but by then I realized that I did want the job, and I was going to have to make it work somehow.

When I think about that, I remember that God has it all worked out, even in the boyfriend department, even in the lifetime-single-or-not department. Even if I have an idea of what I want to do, it may not work out that way. What does happen is not going to be perfect, but it’s going to work out in ways that I didn’t even fathom.

If I am going to get married someday, he is probably not going to match my idea of what is perfect for me, and he may not be someone to whom I would otherwise give a second look. Maybe he will be. But ultimately it’s in God’s hands, and he knows what’s best for me, and how it’s all going to happen. It will probably not be what I thought I wanted, or should have, but it’s going to be fantastic in ways I hadn’t considered. There will be things I don’t like about him and our relationship, but taking the bad with the good is what life is all about.

ULTIMATE LESSON(S):

1. Trust God.

2. Don’t give up hope, but keep an open mind.

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