From the Basement

July 20, 2010

Curls, Control, & Contentment: An Essay on Faith

I wrote this back in January (hence the references to grad school), but I really needed to read it today. How awesome is it when God uses us to remind ourselves of His goodness and mercy…

~*~

I’m currently sitting at my aunt’s office desk, and for some inexplicable reason I have a bottle of hairspray next to me. It is extreme hold hairspray. It literally says that. Extreme. It is beyond strong, beyond maximum – extreme (Aussie Instant Freeze). On the front, it says that it “arrests your style.” Seriously? My hair is under arrest! That is the level to which I’ve resorted in order to feel like I’m in control.

Let’s back up. In 7th grade, I cut my budding curls down to a pixie cut. As in, early 1990s Winona Ryder short. My hair, which went from straight to curly during those peachy puberty years, absolutely terrified me. I had no confidence in my ability to manage my curls. So I cut them off until I was ready to grow them back out, ready to deal with them (it took a year).

This is me in a nutshell. I was so scared of this unruly thing in my life (it just so happened to be growing on my head), that I cut it off and kept it at a distance until I was ready to let it back into my life, where I timidly began to think about creative ways to manage it. I am now to the point where I’m perfectly comfortable letting my three (maybe four) day hair be shown in public – or perhaps that’s senioritis attacking my personal hygiene. Who knows.

At the root of this fear is a lack of confidence. I didn’t have confidence in what I was given. I also didn’t have confidence in my ability to manage the situation. But really, I didn’t have confidence in myself (or my Creator). We control-freaks hold things with a death grip, terrified that letting go means falling into the unknown – into the painful truth that we don’t control nearly as much as we think we do. The world does not revolve around our plans and schedules, wants and desires. There are plenty of things that are absolutely outside of our control, and we have to learn to accept that. Easier said than done. I for one am so not there yet, but it’s where my heart wants to be, and I think that counts for something.

As graduating seniors, we are concerned with getting a job, getting into graduate school – things that are decidedly outside of our control. Our conversations abound with negative prophecies and heart-heavy predictions. There are so many unknown factors, things that can have absolutely nothing to do with us – budgets, hiring cuts, smaller acceptance rates. Maybe… maybe… maybe… We love to torture ourselves with fantasies of worst-case scenarios. And to what end? Imagining the future only leads to heartache. It distracts us from the present as well as from the promises of our faith. As C.S. Lewis said, the future is the thing that is least like eternity. When it comes down to it, dwelling on the future merely feeds my lust for control.

It helps to get perspective, and that can come from both good and bad situations. I most recently got a reality-check from the latter. I met a friend for lunch the other day. That morning, I’d completed yet another application and for some reason, the anxiety was shooting through the roof, to the point where I ended up running to the toilet. Proof that all those negative anxieties and fantasies we indulge in affect our bodies.

So I met my friend for lunch. My news – applications (what else is new?). Her news – her cousin, who is around our age, was diagnosed with cancer. Talk about perspective. Now, this is not one of those “it can always be worse” exhortations – that’s not a productive method of coping. Rather, that lunch was a reminder. Even though there is the fundamental difference that I invited my situation and her cousin did not, life remains a series of unknowns for us both and, indeed, for everyone. It takes a lot of faith to get through each day.

The unknowns can bad things we don’t expect. Illness. The death of a loved one. A breakup, a divorce. Arrest. And then they can be things that we do – like knowing we’ll hear back, one way or the other, from prospective jobs, internships, schools. Getting to hold a newborn baby. Going home for Christmas to find the house chock-full of treats baked in anticipation of your arrival. And then, wow, there are the genuine surprises – like meeting the right person at the right time or unexpectedly finding a way to pay for something you’ve needed. The fun chances, the joyful surprises – these happen all around us, too!

We forget that it’s not our ability to predict or expect outcomes that matters. None of us have that kind of foresight. It’s how we handle those outcomes, those journeys. It comes down to having confidence in yourself and not in your trappings or expectations. It’s about trusting who you are. Because we each have worth, we each have value, and no matter what situation we are placed in, those things are sure.

As believers, we are the beloved of Christ, and it is in His eyes that we are made whole and complete. When we find our identity in Him – when we know that Jesus is at our side and that He is our Abba Father who is for us, offering the gifts of peace and joy and grace and love – when we can rest in His loving arms and say “come what may” because all things work to the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose – when we know that if our earthly parents love us and want to give us good gifts, how much more does He want to give! – when we know these things and can rest in them, there is confidence. There is peace. There is light. And it is that light in a difficult situation, that peace that surpasses all understanding – those are the things that mark us as His.

I want more peace. I want to radiate joy and contentment, not anxiety and fear. I have nothing to be afraid of. Nothing! He has hedged me behind and before, and as long as I just crawl up into His lap and remember that, first and foremost, I am a daughter of the King, all is good. Because life with him is good.

I’m reminded of the Niebuhr prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The good news is that He gives us serenity, courage, and wisdom. All we have to do is ask. We should consistently turn our situations over to Him in prayer, but so too should we ask for the character and the mindset that will alter how we see the situation. More righteousness. More Christlikeness – more like Christ.

Christ is perfect love, and perfect love casts out all fear. Lately, my fear has been crowding out my excitement. I don’t always feel like I can choose excitement, and that’s partly due to my internalization of the world telling me that a good student and an ambitious individual should be worrisome, anxious, nervous for their future. But why on earth am I taking their advice? I have EVERY reason to be excited right now. Every reason to have faith that all will work to the good. I rebuke the words that tell me that sitting around every day nervously checking my email and mailbox is a proper way to manage my time. Like my curls, I have no control over what’s growing right now.

Another issue at play here is waiting. Waiting is a blessed time, truly. In the Bible (and in life), it’s a time of preparation. Of prayerful supplication. Of purification. In short, waiting is a process to be embraced.

And I want to embrace this time: the waiting, the joy, and the knowledge that come what may, my Abba has got me on His lap and He’s saying “Wait for what I do next – I’ve got so many wonderful things planned for you! You’re going to love how I have you do My work, the opportunities to love people, to reach people – you’re going to love it, you’re just going to love it.” I want to shuck fear off of me, to slither out of that skin of anxiety and worry, to just be joy. I want that. And as long as my eyes are focused on my Abba, the joy is for the taking.

June 30, 2010

The Glory of God

I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,

And on Your wondrous works ….

All your works shall praise You, O Lord,

And Your saints shall bless you.

They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,

And talk of Your power.

Psalm 145:5, 10-11

*

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty,

The whole earth is full of his glory.

Isaiah 6:3

Glory is… beauty and splendor. Worthy of praise, honor, and thanksgiving. The beatific happiness of heaven. A height of prosperity or achievement. – or so says Webster’s dictionary.

This post isn’t a cogent essay, or even an attempt at such. It is merely bits and pieces here and there – scriptures, songs, quotes – that point to the awesome glory of our God.

We worship a Glorious God. In Desiring God, John Piper says, “The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever,” and that it is because of this that we find such complete satisfaction and pleasure in Him (33). The basic building blocks of this idea are:

The happiness of God in God is the foundation of our happiness in God.

If God did not joyfully uphold and display his glory, the ground of our joy would be gone.

God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in him are in perfect harmony.

For God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. (Piper 50)

This is why acknowledging and praising his glory is important.

His creation reflects His glory. Nature. Newborn babies. Marriages. The person of Jesus Christ. Notwithstanding Christ, who is glory, everything else is a reflection of his glorious, wonderful, powerful nature – a testament of his love for us, that he shows us and lets us share in his glory. We are made complete in the praise of his glory and the satisfaction that follows. And that pleases him.

One of my favorite worship songs right now is “Everything Glorious” from David Crowder Band. The first time I heard (well, that I remember hearing it) was when I was driving back from Montana a few weeks ago. It was a Sunday morning, and my friends and I had our own church service in the car. We wound across the sprawling sort-of-mountains, over the hills. The clouds were so big and fluffy and close that you felt like if you stuck your hand out the window, you could touch them. As we drove down a hill that had clouds scattered across the landscape looking like cotton candy, this song was playing. The photos (taken in Utah) are courtesy of my friend A.S.

The day is brighter here with You

The night is lighter than its hue

Would lead me to believe

Which leads me to believe

(chorus)

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

What does that make me?

My eyes are small but they have seen

the beauty of enormous things

Which leads me to believe

there’s light enough to see that

(chorus)

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

From glory to glory

You are glorious You are glorious

From glory to glory

You are glorious. You are glorious

Which leads me to believe

why I can believe

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

He delights to show me his glory.

He delights when I delight in his glory.

I delight when acknowledging his glory brings me into a deeper understanding of his awesome, all-encompassing, knock-out, drop-dead gorgeous love.

Praise gives perspective.

How awesome it is that he lets us choose to revel in his glory.

It’s like splashing in the lake as a child. You’re only a few inches deep but it’s so good.

How much deeper can we go?

April 23, 2010

Happiness vs. Contentment

Filed under: Choices,Faith — jeannablue @ 2:37 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So often, we hear “I’m just not happy” as an excuse, whether for leaving a relationship, a job, an obligation, a family. While a continued lack of happiness may be indicative of an issue in your life, happiness is an emotion that is impossible to sustain 24/7. Contentment, however, is something that can be sustained, primarily because it comes directly from the Creator.

There is a reason why the Bible does not often talk about happiness but rather joy and contentment. To be sure, happiness is a good emotion! We may be extraordinarily happy when witnessing the work of the Lord, be it through a sunset or a newborn baby. I know that I am happy when I see a loved one after a time apart. Happiness abounds when friends unite for good conversation and laughter. But happiness cannot be continuously sustained, and consequently, it cannot sustain us.

And this makes sense: happiness is a uniquely temporal, earthly emotion, I think – an honest one, a good one, one that can be wrapped up in joy and contentment, but one that is altogether divorced from joy and contentment.

I’m mentioning joy and contentment together, but I really want to focus on contentment because it is such a different animal than happiness or even joy. In Philippians 4:11, Paul says, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.”

Contentment happens in all situations, good and bad. You can be content in the face of anything. You cannot be happy in the face of anything. At least, most people find it difficult to be happy in every situation.

Happiness and contentment are different in the ways they play out in our lives. Personally, contentment is a lot harder. Happiness is an emotion often induced by action – be it laughter, good conversation, or going down a zipline over volcanoes in Guatemala. Contentment, on the flip side, is similar to peace in that it’s not initially an action. We can choose to be content or to accept the peace of the Lord, but it’s not something we can strive for.

Contentment is something we rest in and accept. Happiness is the result of something we do. Do you see the difference?

Contentment comes through resting in the everlasting arms of our comforter, our lover, Jesus Christ. Are you resting in His arms? Or are you striving against them?

Christ gives us so many reasons to trust Him, so many reasons to rest in Him. The beautiful promises of our awesome God abound throughout the Old and New Testaments. The following are a random assortment of promises spoken by Jesus in the some of the Gospels…

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

“The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:30-31

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…. If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed!” John 8:31, 36

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by my own…. My sheep hear My voice… and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:14, 27-28 (italics mine)

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 17:33

Do you hear the voice of your beautiful Savior? His very words promise knowledge of His truth, an abundant life, gifts that are good in His sight. He promises that He has overcome the world – for us. He sets us free from the confines of worry and pain, anxiety and a troubled heart… who the Son sets free is free indeed!

One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is when Jesus tells us that He is the good shepherd and that we are His sheep. It is so humbling. I have no idea why He chooses us, but I am so very grateful that He does! What awesome gifts He gives us! What a blessing it is to be able to rest. In a troubled world filled with turmoil and tension, we as the beloved of Christ are offered rest… it is a free gift to any who believe in Him.

“I know My sheep, and am known by my own…. Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand…”

That is why we can be content. Paul has learned in all things to be content – through shipwreck and snakebite and illness and prison and being jeered at and tormented… and this verse goes a long way in explaining why He is content. He knows his Savior, and his Saviors knows him, and Paul is able to rest in that. In the face of everything else, Paul knows that Jesus is right there with him. Paul was not alone, and we are not alone, either.

We are known by our Savior. You are known by Him. I am known by Him. Even when we do not acknowledge Him, He knows us. He loves us. He is the good shepherd who goes in search of His lost sheep.

Happiness comes and goes, and it is certainly fun, but I pray that it is not the litmus test that we measure our lives by. It is so inconstant, so reliant on our own selves and those around us. Contentment, though, is a guarantee from the one who put the stars in the sky. Contentment enables us to respond in faith to every situation. It is also perspective – contentment in the Lord gives us a good perspective on our lives.

Contentment = peace. No striving. No anxiety. No worry. Just an utter trust in our Lord and Savior. He is our Deliverer – He always delivers on His promises. His love never fails.

In all things, indeed, I am learning to be content. Lord, let that be so.

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