Saturday, August 30, 2008

Praying for Terrorists: My Jonah Moment

Holly's latest blog entry on Today's Christian Woman magazine's website is now up:

Praying for Terrorists
Do American Christians have a right to be angry for 9/11?

To ponder:
1) What are some examples of how anger might lead to other behaviors that are sinful?

2) Do you think people can be angry without sinning?

3) Consider the definition of forgive. Do you think it's possible to forgive someone without condoning their actions?

4) Do you think it's possible to forgive someone without restoring or creating a relationship with them?

5) Why, in your opinion, is it difficult to forgive?

Friday, August 29, 2008

"Be" Like Jesus? How Do I "Do" That?

Ever feel overwhelmed by the goals you're supposed to attain? By the projects you're supposed to finish? By the length of your to-do list, which seems to only be getting longer?

Today, I'm overwhelmed. I started classes on Wednesday and just received my three syllabi for the semester. Hubby and I were on vacation last week, so on this frightful day I unpacked, began to tackle the laundry (which was already overflowing before our vacation), and updated my to-do list (bills need paying, refrigerator is empty, my car needs a smog check immediately). Meanwhile, I'm stressfully thinking about the freelance project I should be working on, which is due next week, as well as my homework for school, which I should be doing, too.
Once I figure out a plan for all this work, I know it won't be impossible. Everything will get done, and it doesn't all need to happen today. But stress still hovers over me, with that gnawing desire to just be finished. And things, as you well know, are never finished.

In my spiritual life, I perpetually feel unfinished. And I resent it. Every time God brings about some big change in me, I want to relax and say, "OK, God, we're done, right?" I wish I could be completely transformed by God, and just done with it. I dread the emotional work and the pain of change that goes along with transformation.

I even try to make to-do lists as a Christian. I look at Jesus and, seeing my benchmark, I think, That's how I'm supposed to live. How can I reach that goal? What do I have to do to get to that point?

Why do I feel compelled to be completely sanctified in this life? It simply isn't possible--so why do I categorize this as yet another goal to be attained, as if there's some spiritual to-do list I can complete?

My pastor says I get wrapped up in "do-ing." This is true: I want to do stuff to grow spiritually, like serving, reading the "right" books, evangelizing, whatever. Just give me the tasks and I'll do them. Instead, my pastor says, I should just "be." This frustrates me to no end. What does it mean to "be"? And, I wonder, what do I have to do in order to be?

I suppose we desire to do stuff because that's what we see in our lives: Everything from our daily tasks to our long-term goals and dreams are measured by how much progress we've made. How many to-do's did we cross off our lists today? Did we do enough work to get a promotion, a good grade, or kudos? Am I a good wife because I got the laundry done and put a hot meal on the table? Am I a good daughter because I called my mom and made plans to get together? Am I a good worshipper because I listened to a sermon on tape, read three chapters of my Bible, and prayed for a sick friend?

As much as I hate endless work, I've realized I'd rather have a to-do list because at least I'm clear on what needs to be done. But to just be? How am I supposed to measure how effective I am at be-ing?

If I could buy into this idea of be-ing, it would be such a relief. Do-ing is an exhausting, unending cycle. After my classes are completed this semester, there will be more classes. After my freelance assignment is turned in, there will be more things to write. And, of course, the laundry will get dirty again.

Like do-ing, be-ing is ongoing, but there seems to be rest in it. It's present tense, in the moment, and without expectation. If I could learn to give God this present moment, to surrender continuously, I wouldn't have to worry about what has been or what will be.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be content with your present situation, your character, and your life? Wouldn't it be wonderful to say, "Here am I, God. I'm tired of doing. I'm just going to be who you made me to be, and I'll let you be God and change me as you see fit."

I'm not there yet. But I want to be, without trying to figure out how to do this. Right now, a "yoke that's easy" and a "burden that's light" seem like contradictions. My to-do lists aren't easy or light. I hope I can let God show me what he means.

To ponder:
1) Do you measure your relationships with friends and family on how much you do for each other?

2) What do you think it means to "be" a good friend?

In your spiritual life, do you feel like you're mostly do-ing, or mostly be-ing?

What do you think it means to "just be" with God?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

It's No "Secret": We Don't Always Know What We Want

An H-n-T reader writes:
"I'm a strong Christian, but I tend to struggle with believing in the law of attraction. For instance, I have skydived before, and one day, I thought it would be cool to go again. By the end of that day, I was skydiving. Now, I had the idea and thought more and more about it. Did I get to skydive because I thought about it and I attracted it? Or how was it that God gave this opportunity to me? I want to live for God, but some of The Secret has to be somewhat true, or is it of the devil?"

Holly sez:
Thanks for sharing this example of something you wanted and got. I completely relate, as when I was a New Ager, I deeply believed I could obtain whatever I wanted just by thinking about it. And for a long time, I was amazed when I did get those things. For example, I wanted to be interviewed by my college's alumni magazine, and about a year after I graduated, they published a two-page article on me.

I don't chalk that up to coincidence or good fortune; I know I appeared in the magazine because I wanted to be in it. But I now recognize I wasn't mentally manipulating others to do my will. Getting what I wanted had to do with establishing relationships and subtly expressing my desires. I knew the magazine editor well and was freelancing for him at the time. I'd had many personal conversations with him, and told him how much I loved my full-time job as a reporter for a community newspaper. He happened to appreciate community newspapers and had wanted to feature someone in the alumni magazine who worked in publishing. So even though I never directly said, "Hey, profile me in the magazine!" I got what I wanted because I was seeking out that opportunity.

Of course, no one needs to be so subtle to get what they want. I once asked an employer why I hadn't gotten a promotion, and he told me, "Holly, I didn't know you wanted one." After that, I got promoted into the positions I wanted because: 1) I worked hard and wanted to do well in the company, and 2) my boss knew my goals.

Much of the time, the things we want are available to us if we're willing to work for them and are seeking opportunities. I'd say you got to skydive a second time because you really wanted to do this. You enjoyed your first experience, so you were alert to the opportunity of skydiving again and you made the desire known in some way.

Now for the spiritual perspective: James 1:17 reads, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." This doesn't say, "You'll get everything you want," but it also doesn't say God withholds good things. One thing's for sure: God isn't interested in giving us the bad things we may want.

Before I became a Christian, the things I wanted often weren't good for me. I wanted random guys to notice me or for someone to give me free alcohol. I constantly wanted people to tell me that I was talented, attractive, and cool. Back then, I believed the law of attraction worked because I got those things that I wanted. I got noticed and praised, and for awhile, everything was fun. But soon, I was left feeling painfully empty—the things I wanted were unsatisfying. Worse, I didn't know what I wanted anymore. I felt incompetent, unable to choose good things for myself. When I saw my own lack, I began to believe there had to be a God who was smarter and more competent than me. I wanted that God to give me direction and purpose. It took me nearly 10 years to become humble enough to have a relationship with God; I had to un-learn the habit of trying to control everything and everyone around me.

My friend Kevin says he doesn't believe God says "no" to the good things we want for ourselves. Rather, God says, "Yes—and I have something better for you." In other words, God always gives us the "good and perfect" blessing. The things we want might be good, but they might not be as perfect as what God wants to give us.

My friend Becky had been dating a guy, and that relationship was negatively affecting her relationship with God. When Becky prayed about her desire to have a good relationship with both a boyfriend and with God, God's response was, "Yes, Becky—and I have something better for you." Becky then did a scary thing by letting go of what she thought she'd wanted. She broke up with her boyfriend. She trusted that God would eventually give her a good and perfect relationship with a man. She didn't have to wait long; soon after the breakup, Becky met Trevor, a wonderful Christian man. I had the privilege of attending their wedding.

As for the question: How did God give you that skydiving trip? I'm sure you'll agree that skydiving was a good and perfect gift for you. (Not so much for me—planes, high places, and the feeling of weightlessness all freak me out!) At the moment you had the opportunity to go, you had the resources: perhaps money and time to go, and a body that was healthy enough for the activity. About a year ago, I was able to start dance lessons, and I immediately recognized this was a gift from God. God's given my husband a great job, so there's enough money in our budget for me to dance. Since God's given me the opportunity to work at home, I set my own schedule; thus, I can make time for my dance classes. And God's given me a healthy body, with two legs that are strong enough to jump around.

We need to be willing to talk to God about our desires, and to let go of what we think we want so God can give us something better. I now feel very comfortable praying, "God, these are the things I want with all my heart. You already know what I feel passionate about. And you know what's best for me. Please bless me with the good and perfect gifts that only you can give."

We should have personal goals and desires, and it's OK to make our wishes known to other people. But first, the Christ-follower should talk to God about the things we want. Then he will move us toward the true desires of our hearts and give us something even better than we'd imagined.

To ponder:
1) What do you really want? If you don't know, ask God to help clarify what is good and perfect for you.

2) Gratitude keeps us from becoming entitled and selfish. Make a list of five things for which you're thankful. Next to each, write how you are specifically grateful to God and others.

For example: "I'm thankful for my blogs. Thank you, God, for giving me the opportunity to write them. Thank you for the many people who give me great ideas to write about. I'm especially thankful for my friends Angela and LaTonya, who are always willing to read and edit my posts. Thank you for honest friends who give me truthful feedback. Thank you for providing time for me to write, and for the ability to pull my thoughts together into sentences. Thank you for providing teachers and editors who taught me about grammar and structure, and resources like this computer and the Blogger website that make it possible for me to write. (Wow, I'm so thankful that there are folks who have the ability to design and make stuff like computers and websites!) Thank you, God, for providing me the means to receive so much joy."

"The Secret" Versus The Bible

Is the Real "Secret" that Some People Are Better Than Others?