Friday, July 22, 2011

A spirit of love, power, self-discipline

I woke up in the middle of the night to go pee. It's not a terribly uncommon occurrence, but for me, it can often bring up the kind of anxious thoughts and feelings that seem to strike particularly deep long after the sun has gone down.

It wasn't even like I had prayed or asked God for comfort -- the thought was simply there, the second I was roused from sleep in the middle of the night. "I have not given you a spirit of fear."

It wasn't even a complete verse. I know I should remember the rest of it, and vaguely knew that it was in one of the Timothys, but it took me getting into the office to pick up my Bible and read through the rest of it. For that hour last night, laying in bed, mind racing, that was what I had to hold onto: "I have not given you a spirit of fear."

Mired as I had been in anxiety, I kept wondering: Then what is the spirit you have given me? You say it isn't one of fear, but perhaps I just got a raw deal. Maybe I'm not quite good enough to have actually inherited this spirit. It's probably one of those things that really wonderful, mostly sinless people experience, but that will sort of haunt me for now because on my worst days I feel that I am composed of fear, and not much more.

It's funny what seems like it makes sense to us at two in the morning -- what feels real, what our minds believe, what we tell ourselves. And if it was just at two in the morning, it wouldn't matter a whole lot. But this hour was just a sort of continuation of the kind of thinking that I can build up over days and months and years. I deserve a spirit of fear, I'll tell myself, because I don't trust in God enough or pray enough or read the Bible enough.

But I kept coming back to those words at two o'clock this morning, and at two-thirty, and three, and on and on until I finally fell back asleep. And the more that I heard them, the more that I knew, and know, that they are true. I think that God gave me those words as I stumbled bleary-eyed to the bathroom so that I could know, deep down to the marrow of my being, that my spirit was not a spirit of fear at that moment, and would not be a spirit of fear when I woke, or when I went to work, or at any other moment as long as I should live with him.

Our spirits are not meant to be fearful, but so often we live out of fear. So often, we make decisions that are motivated by fear - fear of failure, of the future, of being uncomfortable, of not being perceived well - and not out of the fact that we are loved by the creator of the universe, a fact which should give us all the confidence we need when it comes to failure, the future, comfort, perception.

Today, I am going to give these words as much credence as any words I have ever believed:

"For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that 
is within you through the laying on of my hands; 
for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, 
but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline." 
2 Timothy 1:6-7

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Yesterday was one of my worst days with anxiety in a long time. Anxiety is a funny thing that way; it can seem completely banished for a long time and then rears up at unexpected moments. There were no big changes occurring, nothing strange happening, nothing, in short, that would seem to predicate an onset of dizzying anxiousness. But there it was, a familiar specter, squeezing my heart like a vise and setting my mind racing about everything and nothing at once.

When I'm feeling that anxious, it's as if everything that doesn't really matter, in the long run, is of the utmost importance all of a sudden, and the things that really do matter to me almost disappear. I grasp at straws for hours on end, convincing myself that control over my circumstances is what I'm really looking for.

I'm trying to give myself a break today, to rest in what is important and how I am known. It is harder work for me than almost anything else I do. But I know that God is in it. And my job is to be found by Him.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Find the Source of Your Loneliness

with thanks to Henri Nouwen . . .

"Whenever you feel lonely, you must try to find the source of this feeling. You are inclined either to run away from your loneliness or to dwell in it. When you run away from it, your loneliness does not really diminish; you simply force it out of your mind temporarily. When you start dwelling in it, your feelings only become stronger, and you slip into depression.

The spiritual task is not to escape your lonelieness, not to let yourself drown in it, but to find its source This is not so easy to do, but when you can somehow identify the place from which these feelings emerge, they will lose some of their power over you.
This identification is not an intellectual task; 
it is a task of the heart. 
With your heart you must search for that place without fear.

This is an important seach because it leads you to discern something good about yourself. The pain of your loneliness may be rooted in your deepest vocation.
You might find that your loneliness is 
linked to your call to live completely for God. 
Thus your loneliness may be revealed to you as the other side of your unique gift. Once you can experience in your innermost being the truth of this, you may find your loneliness not only tolerable but even fruitful. What seemed primarily painful may then become a feeling that, thought painful, opens for you the way to an even deeper knowledge of God's love."

(From The Inner Voice of Love, emphasis added)

Monday, July 11, 2011

there's this thing...

there's this thing that no one tells you. after you graduate college, all you think about is how you're going to change the world. you can't believe that it hasn't already been done, really, because it's pretty simple.

then, one day, you wake up and you're twenty-six and you wonder where the years have gone. (yes, i realize how totally ridiculous that sounds), and you learn that the secret goes something like this:

it's not what you thought it would be.


it is everything that you thought it would be.

two of my greatest temptations since graduating college have been the drawing towards cynicism, on the one hand, and naive idealism on the other. most of us can probably understand that slide into cynicism, especially if the message we got (heard, created, received, whatever) in our undergraduate years was that the world was looking for people just like us. The world needed us -- our particular gifts, our affinity to parade around shoeless in solidarity with, um, the shoeless folks of the world, our strong messages and even more strongly-held convictions that had been thought out but never put to the test outside our college environment.

Now, we find ourselves in data entry jobs, or struggling conscientiously to create very small companies of our own, or working with people who could care less about our unique gifts and personal development and care mostly about a bottom line. To borrow from F. Buechner, the world doesn't seem to care about meeting its great hunger with our great gladness. It just wants to be fed.

(To be clear, I don't feel this way about my current job -- I don't want to give that impression. But I have been here, and return here from time to time.)

On the other hand, there is this truth that I believe in viscerally, that I would stake my life on, that undergirds most everything I do and believe and it is this: We are God's plan to change the world. We -- you and me and every other person who has ever lived -- are part of the work that God is doing in the world and, in fact, we ARE the work. And that is no small thing, because even when we are entering numbers into an Excel spreadsheet for eight hours a day, we are part of making this world better, making each other better, making ourselves better, participating in transformation -- and in that way, changing the world.

Dallas Willard, who is otherwise pretty much a slouch in the intellectual category, (I kid!) has said numerous times that 'eternity is already in session.' And isn't that good news?! We don't have to wait for death or heaven to become who God wants us to be -- that is available to us here, and now. When we allow our thinking to be transformed in this way, even eight hours of Excel data entry can become meaningful work (The caveat here is that it's still a good thing to want to work in your giftedness. Which, for me, would emphatically not be Excel). But no matter who you are our your giftedness, if you've found yourself at twenty-four (or fourty-four, or seventy-three) in a job where you don't feel your deep gladness meeting the world's deep hunger, there is still this remarkable opportunity to become who God wants you to be.

And we work hard to become that person, and we work hard to change the world. I'm not going to get into a James Davison Hunter/Andy Crouch conversation here (although I would highly recommend both "To Change the World" and "Culture Makers"), but I will say that at my core, I believe that God created people with specific gifts to be used in specific ways for no smaller purpose than reconciling the world to its Creator. And that is what we get to participate in -- Excel spreadsheet or not. We lose sight of that when we lapse into cynicism, and we take too much into our own hands when we don't acknowledge the help that we need and the power of community. God will use us - unleash us, if you will - to achieve his purposes. But it won't always look the way we assure ourselves it will look. So we are patient, and we walk in faithfulness the path that is before us...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I guest-blogged! And it's a good deal more thoughtful than the usual ramblings. You can read it over at Michele's...