Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Spilled Milk Taught Me About Shame

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." - Romans 8:1

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You know the expression “There’s no use crying over spilled milk”? Well, the eight-year-old version of me never got the memo.

It was around that time in my life when a glass of perfectly good 2% milk tragically spilled all over the dark blue carpet in my room -- and I panicked.

I knew that if my folks found out what I had done, there would be dire consequences. Maybe a timeout or -- worse -- no television, which meant no Rugrats or Hey Arnold! for me. (My parents probably wouldn’t have resorted to those measures for such a minor offense, but I was 8. What did I know?)

So I went into cover-up mode. I had to hide all the evidence. No one could know about this. Ever.

It’s a pretty random and distant memory, but I still remember it vividly. I think one of the reasons I responded so rashly wasn’t just fear, but also shame. I was ashamed of the mistake I had made, and I think it was one of the first instances I can remember feeling that way. And definitely not the last.

IT'S COVERED 

Shame is as painful as it is powerful. It makes us feel guilty. It fills us with regret. It makes us look for the nearest rock to duck under. It makes us feel like worthless failures, and not good for anything. And in doing so, it drives us into isolation.

Shame will try to tie our past to our present by convincing you and me that our mistakes are not forgivable. Shame will try to tell you that one person’s rejection of you means you are a failure and not good enough.

It was shame that drove Adam and Eve to hide from God after they disobeyed Him in the Garden of Eden. It was shame that drove Peter to withdraw and weep bitterly after denying Jesus three times right before He was crucified.

But even after their mess-ups, God covered up Adam and Eve when they realized their nakedness. Jesus redeemed Peter and he went on to become one of the major players of the early Church. And God still offers that today -- He will cover your shame, too.

CONFRONTING SHAME

I don’t know what it is you’re holding on to. Maybe it’s a mistake you made years ago or the hurtful words of a loved one that still echo in your head or a crushing failure that left you embarrassed. Whatever it is, the longer we hold on to it, the longer we’ll be stuck in a cycle of shame.

Shame keeps us chained to the past while God offers freedom in the present and hope for the future.

When we bring all of our shame, all of our sin, all of our regrets, all of our guilt to God, He will toss them into depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and they will be as far from us as the east is to the west (Psalm 103:12). And because of that, if you are a Christ follower, there is no more condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). It’s done, it’s over, it’s forgiven and forgotten.

Still, even when shame shows up today, I’ll do what the 8-year-old version of me did -- I’ll try and hide it. I’ll try and run from it. I’ll try to avoid dealing with it. Sometimes, I’ll even believe what it says about me.

At some point, we all have to decide to confront shame when it shows up in our lives. We have to bring it to God and replace shame with His truth. Then, and only then, can we move forward towards whatever He has planned for us.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

God Wants Your Mess

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help… my cry to him reached his ears.” - Psalm 18:6

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There is something intimidating about opening a blank Word document and staring at that cursor sitting on that first line. That blasted cursor... just blinking away. Waiting for me to get started. I initially set out to write something for this blog, something I’ve struggled to do lately. As I kept staring at that blasted cursor, I knew that what was on my heart wouldn’t be for this blog. It would be messy and raw. It wouldn’t be for anyone else besides God. He knew the words that I was holding onto in my heart and was simply waiting for me say them. So I began to type and that cursor began to move. And the words that were being contained in my heart poured out onto the page, like a frustrated painter hurling the contents of a bucket of paint onto a white canvas. 

Lord, here I am -- mess and all. I don't have it all together, I am broken, but I'm showing up anyway. Only You can restore me and put me back together again. Only You can support me and strengthen me. So before I take another step, here's my mess.

God doesn’t want or expect the edited, final draft of what you're feeling. He wants the raw, unedited, unfiltered version. He wants your mess. He wants to meet you where you’re at and then help you begin putting everything back together again. 

But we have to willingly participate in the process. He will mold us, shape us and guide us through the messy situations we face, but in order to do that we have to come before Him as we are -- mess and all.

Getting all those words and emotions all out on paper didn’t fix everything, but that step -- simply bringing my mess before Him -- is the first step.  
Maybe you’ve got something in your heart, feelings and emotions and words you’ve tried to keep locked up and hidden. Let them out. Lay them out before God. Healing starts when we lay it all out there in front of Him.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Coach's List: Lessons Learned From Rejection

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.” - Psalm 56:8

* * * * * * *

I looked over the list that was taped outside my high school baseball coach’s classroom.

Then I looked over it again. And then once more. Each time, my heart sank a little deeper until the reality sunk in: my name wasn’t on the list.

I was a freshman in high school, and I had made it my mission in life from Day One to make sure my name was on that list, which held the names of every player who made the school's baseball team.

I trained with the team during the fall and winter months, went to every practice, played in several exhibition games, had a decent tryout and did everything that was asked of me.

Now it was spring, and I was sure I would make the cut. Baseball season was right around the corner and I expected my name to show up on that list. It wasn’t. Many of my friends were on it, but not me.

I went home utterly feeling defeated and deflated, alternating between red-hot anger and deep-blue sadness, wondering what I had done wrong and what I could have done differently.

It was the first time I really, truly felt the sting of rejection. It wouldn’t be the last. And it never gets easier.

There’s no sugarcoating it — rejection stinks. It hurts. It feels like you got sucker-punched in the stomach and brings you down to your knees. It feels like you’ve failed. And because you failed, you feel like a complete and utter failure. In your head, everything you did leading up to whatever kind of rejection you received was for nothing.

Sometimes our dreams die. Sometimes our prayers don’t get answered — or don’t get answered the way we would have wanted them to. Sometimes we give it our all, we give it everything we’ve got, but it just doesn’t work out.

I’m not going to minimize the pain, anger and sadness that comes with rejection. It’s okay to feel hurt and angry and sad. It’s okay to mourn a loss. In the midst of your rejection and loss, God is still there. You might be angry with Him. You might be asking Him why He allowed it to happen. He might not answer right away. He might not answer at all. But God is there in the midst of your pain and mine.

Here are some things I've learned about God in the midst of rejection:

HE IS WITH YOU

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” - Psalm 34:18

You don’t have to go through rejection alone. Even though we might feel alone, God is still with us in our pain and in our rejection. He wants to comfort you while you’re still in pain. He wants to give you peace even as your mind struggles to understand why. He wants to provide healing for your wounds. We only need to cry out to Him.

HE CARES ABOUT YOU AND YOUR SITUATION

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” - 1 Peter 5:8

God is not indifferent to what you’re going through. He cares about your heart. He cares about your situation. He cares about you. And because He cares about you, you don’t have to try and hide what you’re going through from Him.

I love how the verse above says that we should cast all our anxiety on Him. It's tempting to internalize the pain and struggle that comes with rejection, but instead God wants us to cast all of that on Him.

God is not surprised by your emotions, and there a many examples in the Bible of people being raw before God in the midst of their pain. King David brought his emotions to the Lord in a raw and real way throughout Psalms. Job unleashed his feelings to God after he had lost everything. God can handle your emotions.  

Whatever you are feeling, cast it to God. He can handle your tears. Your pain. Your sadness. You don’t have to have it all together to come to Him.

HE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU'RE GOING THROUGH

“The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: ‘Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.’ And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” - Luke 22:61-62

No one understands what it means to be rejected like Jesus did. He can sympathize and empathize with us when we’ve been rejected because He was rejected Himself — often by the people who were closest to Him. Peter, one of His disciples, denied Him not once but three times during Jesus’s greatest hour of need, even though just hours before he swore he would never deny Him.

God is not a detached deity. He understands what you're dealing with and experiencing.

HE STILL ACCEPTS YOU

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8

No matter what kind of rejection you might have experienced in the past, present or future, God still accepts you. He still loves you. He still wants you. When we realize this truth and live it out in our daily lives, we can overcome any rejection we may encounter in this life. When we know that God accepts us, we don’t have to worry about rejection.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Cost Of Every Answered Prayer

I used to think that if God answered all my prayers and gave me everything I wanted, life would be a whole lot easier. Key words: “used to.”

Here’s the thing I’ve learned: we often forget that every answered prayer comes with a cost. Every answered prayer requires work. They make life more complicated instead of simpler.

Don’t get me wrong: obviously, every answered prayer comes with awesome blessings and is a blessing in and of itself. It's okay, and actually very important, to celebrate them as if your team just won the World Series.

But there is another side to the coin of an answered prayer. On one side are all those blessings -- and on the other are the challenges. The bigger the blessings, the bigger the challenges that come along with it.

Every answered prayer doesn’t make life easier. Each one makes life a little (or a lot) harder and a little (or, again, a lot) more complicated.

Coming to this realization was kind of frightening for me. It still is, especially since I’m at a point in my life where I feel like every answered prayer from here on out will mean a more complicated life.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN

We like to think that if we just got that new job, started dating that girl, bought that new house or got that raise, the story will end, the credits start to roll and everything will be “happily ever after.”

Not so fast, Prince Charming/Sleeping Beauty. 

The truth is that once God gives us what we desire according to His will, the story is just getting revved up.

You get that new job with a nice paycheck and benefits and a retirement plan. But a new job means you might have to learn the ropes of the business and put in the hours and the work to be successful.

You start dating somebody and it's fun and exciting and thrilling. But dating also means investing time into the relationship and managing all the emotional complexities that come with it (and boy, are there many of those).

You buy that house you’ve been hunting down, and it's great because now you have a home that is yours. But becoming a homeowner also means dealing with the occasional broken air conditioner in July or termite infestation.

To quote the great philosopher and thinker Rocky Balboa, "life ain't all butterflies and rainbows." Every answered prayer comes with more responsibility, more work, and more complications. The bigger the prayer, the greater the challenge. But greater challenges lead to fulfilling rewards.

ON THE PRECIPICE

Many of us are standing on the precipice of some big prayers and blessings in life, but we’re afraid to take the leap because of that queasy feeling we look down and see all of the hard work, the challenges, the complications and the responsibilities that lie at the bottom.

It would be easier and safer to not pray. To not take a leap (or even just a step) of faith.

But easy is not the goal. Safe is not the goal. The goal is to make an impact. The goal is to love God and love others. And that's not easy. That's hard. That takes work. That takes sacrifice.

The only way I can achieve those goals is to pray bold prayers and dream big dreams. We have to be willing to take righteous risks and leaps of faith in order to reach the goals we set for ourselves. I have to do the math and count the cost of every answered prayer – and realize that it’s all worth it. 

THANK GOD FOR COMPLICATIONS  

The bottom line is this: the blessings that come with every answered prayer teach me to praise God, while the challenges that come with those answered prayers teach me depend on God.

I thank God for the hard work, responsibilities, challenges and complications of every answered prayer, because they drive me towards a daily dependence on Him.

I’ve had to ask myself: What am I doing that would require God to show up in a huge way? What am I praying for that scares the living daylights out of me because I know I couldn’t handle it unless I trusted God with it?

The only way we grow is through stretched faith. And the only way our faith is stretched is by taking some leaps and embracing the complications and work that come with every answered prayer. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What Woke Me Up At 4:14 A.M.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. 
You believe in God; believe also in me." - Jesus (John 14:1)

* * * * * * *

4:14 a.m.

Those numbers stared back at me a few nights ago after waking up from a fitful sleep. I tried to go back to sleep, but by then it was too late. My mind was racing with thoughts and feelings and frustrations from the day before. I thought sleep would chase them away, but I've learned that issues that go unsettled during the day will often follow you into the middle of the night.

Even at 4:14 a.m.

I tossed and turned, figuring eventually my exhaustion would take over and mercifully send me back to sleep. No dice. As five minutes turned to 10, and then 10 into half an hour, I was forced to acknowledge that something was wrong.

There were emotions I was letting get the best of me and worries that were spinning rotisserie-style in my mind. I knew why. I was clinging tightly to something that was beyond my control (always a bad idea, by the way). Something that was near and dear to my heart.

And so I wake up at 4:14 a.m. and soon thereafter, in a mix of frustration and exhaustion, anger sets in. I’m frustrated by a bunch of small things that didn’t go the way I thought it would and upset about not being in control the way I hoped I would be.

Eventually, I finish my internal venting and, as if He were waiting the whole time, God whispers a question that always cuts through all of the noise: Do you trust Me?

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

It’s such a simple question, one that I’ve had to wrestle with again and again during my life.

Yes. Yes, I trust You, Lord... But I say it as I clutch onto this thing I’ve been holding onto so tightly, afraid that if I let it go and leave it at His feet, I’ll lose it.

There it is again. Fear. Fear always seems to be the thing that holds me back. Fear always tricks me into thinking I can do it all on my own and take on more than I can handle.

The closer something is to your heart, the harder it is to let go. The harder it is to trust God with it. In my head, I know that everything in my life was better off in God’s hands than it was in mine. But fear can be so convincing as it screams that it's not.

I was either going to lay this down into God’s hands and trust Him with it or I was going to let fear win and tighten my grip. God always proved His faithfulness again and again when I chose to trust Him and I remember how I manage to mess things up big time when I didn’t.

In John 12:25, Jesus said, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” The challenge I get from this verse is to live life with an open hand, letting God have His way in me. And that means opening up everything to Him.

LOOSENING MY GRIP

It’s easy to say God, I trust You. It’s harder to say God, I trust You with this thing that is so close to my heart. It’s much more difficult to then actually surrender it to Him.

I always wonder what will happen if I do surrender it, though. That’s just how I am; I want to know the end result of every decision I make. But that’s not how life works. That’s not how faith works. I may not know how it all ends, but if I trust God through it anyway, I know I’ll be alright.

So I start to loosen my grip, finger by finger, until my hands are open and I can place my hopes, my fears, my concerns, my everything into His hands.

Once I do that, the burden is lifted, peace returns, and -- finally -- I slip back to sleep.

When I trust God with the things that are close to my heart, they won’t wake me up at 4:14 a.m.