Friend: “You overthink things.”
Me: “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“C.S. Lewis (on reading another author):
“He brought me violently face to face with…”
from Yours, Jack by C.S. Lewis
I LOVE it when that happens! It’s why I read dead guys and footnotes when I don’t have to. I love it when a writer makes me think. I love it when my beliefs are challenged, when my complacency is given a swift kick in the pants, when my arrogant assumptions are blindsided by something I never considered before.
Why do I love it when a writer brings me “violently face to face” with a new perspective I hadn’t considered or a truth I hadn’t realized?
Long story short? Complicated and detailed reasoning summarized? I have an extreme aversion to uninformed myopic opinions being spouted as declarations of objective truth.
I like to learn. To think. And I learn a LOT from books. I like to plow into what other people have written. Reading and learning fuel me and fuel the conversations I have, the words I write and the decisions I make.
You don’t have to be a reader to be informed. In the age of Google and Wikipedia, you can find out whether what you believe is hooey in a matter of seconds.
I’m allergic to hooey. The last thing I want to do is spread it around.
“It is hard, when difficulties arise to know whether one is meant to overcome them or whether they are signs that one is on the wrong tract. I suppose the deeper one’s own life of prayer and sacraments the more trustworthy one’s judgment will be.”
Yours, Jack by C.S. Lewis
Yet even then, I doubt. For me, the challenge is to take a step instead of standing still while waiting for a sign or a confirmation. Praying like a widow that God won’t allow me to be unintentionally disobedient and that He won’t allow my actions to cause harm to anyone else – or to myself. And not just physical harm, but spiritual or emotional harm. The thought that I might do something or say something that would hurl an obstacle in front of someone seeking Him. That’s the paralyzing fear.
But I have to move. Life isn’t Olive Garden. God does not serve me. I have to get my hands dirty. Sometimes all I end up doing is trashing my kitchen. Sometimes, the results are “meh.” But sometimes? Sometimes I get a God story that blows me away.
So. First, PRAY. Abide. Listen. Seek wise counsel. PRAY again. Abide and listen again. But then, take action (that’s not out of line with His Word) and keep praying that God will either throw barriers in my way if I start heading the wrong direction or that he would work my latest mistake for His ultimate good and Glory.
But doing nothing? Going through the motions? Playing it safe? Settling for “meh?” How is that abundant life in Christ?
Ran across an old video camera and lost a few hours watching old recordings. I have absolutely no memory of this one, but it’s an excellent reminder to pray for an awareness of God’s prompting in my life. You got an extra six minutes and 16 seconds? I’m praying this encourages you!
PinkGirl: “Mom, Is it okay to like to sing songs from Chicago?” (the musical, not the city)
Me: “yes. why?”
PinkGirl: “Because it has inappropriate things in it. Some of my teachers (from UnnamedChristianSchool) say it’s a sin to watch and listen to things that are inappropriate.”
Me: “hmmm. Does listening to and singing the songs from Chicago make you want to kill someone?”
Me: “Does it make you want to cheat on your husband?”
PinkGirl: “ummm. no.”
Me: “Does it make you want to sing and dance?”
Me: “uh oh.”
PinkGirl, cracking up: “Mo-om!”
Seriously. The music from Chicago is excellent. And we LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Todrick Hall’s Disney Villain version of Cell Block Tango called Spell Block Tango! Check it out below. Cruella Deville from 101 Dalmations, The Snow Queen from Snow White, Ursula from Little Mermaid, The Queen of Hearts from Alice and Wonderland, Scar from the Lion King and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. Spots. Six. Fish. Uh-uh. Figaro. Wishes.
If you know your Disney movies, really listen to what the Queen of Hearts is actually SAYING. (she’s the fourth one). LOVE it.
“A friend of mine is a singer. From time to time she goes to record vocal tracks at a studio here in town. One evening she went and she was in a different room than she had ever been in before. In a studio, there is always some form of sound absorbing material, so that the recording is clean and clear, but in this case the sound materials were unique. The guys in the studio called them “trees” because instead of being attached to the walls, the whole room was full of these sound absorbing columns. My friend would stand on her mark, and they would move the columns around her, surrounding her with the trees. Well at one point, the lights went out and if she hadn’t already been on her mark, she would not have known where she was, and would have been bumping into the “trees,” and unable to find her mark. Because her feet were planted before it got dark, she felt secure and confident, she just had to wait until the lights came back on. Do you see where I’m going with this? There will be struggles in this life. You will have suffering, and loss, and confusion. But the question is not “where are the trees,” but “where are your feet?” If you understand that Christ has made a way for you to be in the presence of God both now (through the Holy Spirit), and in the end (in the New Heavens and New Earth); if you cultivate a relationship with his Holy Spirit–becoming ever-more aware of his daily, constant presence with you; if you worship in light of these truths–knowing that God is here in Christ’s name, and if all of this seeps down into your heart, then when the lights go out you’ll be on your mark, you’ll be secure and confident, and you just have to wait until the lights come back on–in this life, or in glory.”
by Curtis Froisland
[to read my version of this story, CLICK HERE]
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Father, thank you for turning the lights out. again. Thank you for stripping away all the tangible, visible things that had become a stumbling block in my pursuit of an intimate relationship with You. Only You know the extent to which the extraction of those things rocked my faith and shattered my confidence. Even though these last 5 months have been the darkest of my life and I may never fully understand them, I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned. Thank you for striking me full in the face with the reminder that if I sincerely want the intimacy with You that I say I do, I have to be willing to be vulnerable. Transparent. I need to wholly surrender to Your sovereign plan. Thank you for helping me to find peace in the process and result of letting go of my own dreams and plans. Please help me find sustaining and true joy in trusting You and following You NO MATTER WHAT. Please, please help me find that fine line between dying to self and being a good steward of the gifts You bless me with. Please help me to relentlessly pursue my passions without allowing them to become idols. Please help me to overcome my fear and determination to NEVER put my love for them above my love for You ever again and to boldly “go and make disciples” in every single area of my life. Help me to step forward even though I know one of those steps could result in disobedience and discipline. again. Please help me to remember that pruning is necessary in order that I “bear much fruit. Thank you for helping me to understand Your silence doesn’t mean You’ve left me alone in in the dark.”
“You move in the unseen. You set the captives free. As I stand and sing, you’re breaking the chains off me. Breathe in me Your life, I can feel You are close now. I can never hide You are here and You know me. All I need is You
And I love You…Breathe in me Your life ’til Your love overtakes me. Open up my eyes, let me see You more clearly.”
by Bones (Live) by Hillsong
I’ve known for a very long time that I’m different. Not “better” different. Because, really, “better” is relative. Better than what? The comparisons are limitless. and I’m thinking at least 50% of them wouldn’t be pretty. “Different” can imply too much trouble. too much work. weird. tiresome. exasperating. I don’t deny those adjectives. They’re not my favorite, but they’re not untrue.
I’m not a kid anymore.
I’ll be 49 this month. In 4 days actually. Time for (another) hard look in the mirror:
Retin-A prescription. check.
paralyzing self-doubt. che…WAIT.
WHAT THE H3LL is THAT DOING HERE?
no no no no no. That has got to GO.
Somehow, somewhere, some way, the idea that I’m “doing it WRONG” had planted itself smack in the middle of my writing path, taking me on a multi-month detour that led straight into a dead end. I stopped “doing it” altogether and focused instead on the WAY I was doing it. Which again, I
perceived believed was WRONG.
Ironically, the thing that triggered the paralyzing self-doubt was the exact same thing that knocked me free from it.
~ Someone telling me my blog posts were selfish made me forget that a blog, by definition is an online journal. So, by definition, MY blog is about what I think and how I feel and how I process. It’s not a place where I write one-size-fits all articles directed at the masses in exchange for money. I intentionally don’t monetize this blog because I want to say what I want to say without outside censorship. Almost overnight, internal censorship resulted in words that were so restricted and appropriately vanilla that proofing them was like reading something written by a complete stranger. A boring stranger. KMN. I forgot that clicking – or not clicking – a mouse button is a choice every single person who reads my blog is free to make…or NOT make.
~ Someone telling me they don’t read my blog because I tend to ramble on, somehow made me count my words – instead of considering the fact that maybe they just DON’T WANT TO READ it. I took the “ramble on” feedback to mean that I needed to learn to write more concisely – instead of considering the possibility that maybe – just maybe – what I have to say just flat out doesn’t interest them.
~ Two different people tell me they sometimes have to read something I’ve written twice and I focus on the one who tells me I lost them instead of focusing on the one who wants to have coffee to explore what I said and talk about what she took away from it after the second, slower read it required and the deeper thinking it led to.
~ And most frustrating and challenging of all, there were widespread tangential comments from, and conversations with, multiple people about both my Christ-centered church and my search for joy blog posts which didn’t seem to be related to the content of what I had actually written. I had written extensively about the why and how we do things and the feedback was all about what we do – or about something else entirely. I was overwhelmed and grieved with the heartbreaking realization that we were suffering from a fatal illness and the feedback I was hearing was all about how dedicated we are to our health and how hard we work to eat right and exercise. It was a disconnect I couldn’t reconcile.
and so I shut down. no more writing until I could learn how to do it with more clarity.
Finally, after months of being unable to even open my book draft, and after finally identifying exactly WHY (a lack of confidence in my ability to effectively encode ANYthing I wanted to say), I began asking people to restate, in their own words, what they thought I said. One after another, multiple people made it crystal clear to me that my encoding was spot on. The message was clear. It was understood.
It was just rejected.
wait. that’s probably just a different kind of bad.
BUT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MY ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY!
I’m used to rejection. Being dismissed is old hat. I’m SO much better at respectfully agreeing to disagree than I’ll ever be at pretending to agree.
But being an educator and believing I had become an incompetent communicator? That was paralyzing.
This feedback led to a significant pivot point. These people were able to succinctly restate my message. They had a very clear understanding of what I wrote and their ability to precisely restate what I said – along with their rejection of it – was just the epiphany I needed to break free from this quagmire. In that pivot point moment, I saw it. I was suffering from toxic levels of avoidance. I couldn’t write. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because by NOT writing, there was absolutely ZERO chance I could create selfish, rambling, rhetoric that loses people. I had spent weeks re-reading previous blog posts with the eye of an iron glute professor armed with textbook communication theory and a psychological red pen that could berate Dr. Seuss for lack of clarity and nonsensical vocabulary.
I’m not saying I’m going to insulate myself from honest, yet sometimes negative feedback because it might derail me again. I understand the dangers of a steady diet of rainbows. I’ve paid a therapist and a voice teacher to tell me the truth. I’m going to keep seeking feedback. And NOT only from people who believe every kid who plays should get a trophy. I just need to REMIND MYSELF of ONE thing EVERY. SINGLE. time I process a word of it:
I’m a square peg.
and I LIKE being square. I think round things are inefficient uses of space. And I know the look I get when I say that out loud to someone. It goes with the eye roll you just gave me. Nobody thinks or cares about the the spacial efficiency of square objects.
except maybe me. because I’m different.
PinkGirl: “Mom, did you pre-order that book for me?”
Me: “no. is there some incentive for PRE-ordering?
PinkGirl: “no, I’m just DYING to find out what happened.”
Me: “I have no sympathy. You have broken the family fiction series rule.”
PinkGirl: “What rule? (as if she didn’t know)
FavoriteDad: “You don’t start reading a fiction series until they’ve all been written.”
“I DON’T CARE!!!!!!!!
GET ME THE BOOK!!!”
Me, to FavoriteDad: “Are you going to let her talk to me in all caps like that?”
It’s taken me months to nail down the problem. WHY did I shut down after publishing my “Christ-centered church” series?
Anything I had to say was pointless. recycled and contrived. self-important rambling. vomit from my fingertips.
my confidence wasn’t the only thing that was shot. my credibility was in a crumpled heap:
Who did I think I was? If God has a message, He does NOT want me to share it. As a matter of fact, if He wants anybody to actually hear a message, He really needs to find someone else to share it. seriously. look at the history. I suck at this.
Not only did the message of the Christ-centered church series get vehemently rejected, it was so vehemently rejected, people rejected stuff I didn’t even SAY. Those posts shut down conversation and built unscalable walls of defensiveness that are still impenetrable today.
Vehement rejection aside, there seem to be just as many people who didn’t understand what I was trying to say in the first place. Not even a little. Then there are the people who are convinced they understand, but when they comment or talk to me, it’s clear. Not even close. I hadn’t succinctly explained what I was talking about. I sometimes wondered if I would have been better understood if I had written those posts in pig-Latin.
Am I dismissing the relatively few people who did understand? who identified with what I said? who responded positively?
of course I am. It’s what we humans do. In an employee review, we will dismiss the 9 “excellents” and obsess over the one “needs improvement.” Because the next review? We want that “needs improvement” to be improved. significantly.
For months after that series, I was convinced I couldn’t put words together in comprehensible sentences. I couldn’t write. I stopped the “conversations with a born-again athiest” series. If what I said about my faith caused CHRISTIANS such confusion and anger, I had NO business talking to an atheist. seriously.
I was paralyzed by a complete and total lack of confidence in my ability to discern ANYthing. God’s will, God’s prompting, God’s movement. Wisdom?
It was months of paralyzing doubt…no – paralyzing conviction – that I had nothing of value to contribute to…anyone – and even if I did – I was incapable of articulating it with any clarity at all.
I threw myself into physical labor. I can’t screw that up, right?
I began asking God for a mentor. To send someone wise and blessed with discernment. Then, just two weeks ago, I had coffee with a new friend. A deep thinker. We read the same authors. She took the time to listen and dig. She’s a question asker. It was a short four hours. I put my finger on it:
and I already KNEW it. I mentioned it in the middle of the Christ-centered church series, in a post entitled ““Christ-centered Church.” I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“Encoding is, to simplify it, the words and pictures I use to convey my message…it’s MY RESPONSIBILITY TO MODIFY MY ENCODING in an effort to clarify my message and minimize any misinterpretation”
I went back and read the Christ-centered church series again. and again. and again.
Was WHAT I said inaccurate? no. and I do NOT answer that question lightly. More than 6 months later and I’ve got even more and detailed reasons for believing it’s true. Hard. heart wrenchingly hard. but true.
So. Was HOW I shared the message ineffective? I shared personally and chronologically. I stepped through what I believe God was revealing to me in the order He revealed it. I explained how He revealed it. I read the series again. I went over and over it. I read my prayer journal entries from that time. I couldn’t see any other way to do it. Should I have left myself completely out of it? Excluded my thoughts and feelings? Should I have just stated facts and stuck exclusively with movie clips and metaphors, like dominoes? Was all that personal stuff just a self-indulgent, cathartic purge? If I had just stated the premise of the message up front, would it have had more clarity? Or, as I suspect, would the message have been rejected even faster? Having already decided I was wrong, no one would have come back to read any more; there would have been absolutely NO reason to hear me out.
And here’s the gist of it: If I did such a phenomenally poor job encoding a blog series, how in the world could I possibly encode a book?
I was a communication major. I should be able to structure and articulate a message. Supposedly, I’m an educator. What I came face to face with – what paralyzed me – was that it doesn’t matter a flyin flip WHAT I have to say if I’m incapable of saying it in a way it can be understood.
And then God reminded me of Balaam’s ass.
I don’t believe in coincidences. God led me to this book, and this passage:
“As the final song was sung before I was to be introduced, I leaned to Boneface and out of fear and desperation [I] blurted, “I don’t know why I am here. I don’t know why God would send me here to speak to these people, Why me?” Without hesitation, and with a big grin, Boneface turned to me and said, “You are here because the donkey was busy tonight.”
He was making a not-so-veiled reference to the prophet Balaam’s talking donkey in the Old Testament.
I got the message. God uses anything or anyone He chooses.”
Elijah, Steps to a Life of Power by Bob Saffrin
If God can speak through an ass, He can speak through me.
and it has not escaped my attention that Balaam beat the crap out of that donkey THREE times before he understood what the donkey was trying to tell him.
I just need to keep reminding myself of one thing:
“…Balaam replied. ‘But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.’”
specifically, providence and coincidence.
coincidence: the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection
I can’t ever remember believing in coincidences. My husband on the other hand, is a big believer in them. He believes some things – LOTS of things – just…happen. I believe some things happen randomly too. But I also believe that God takes each and every one of those random events and circumstances and, in His sovereign will, wrapped in undeserved and unearned grace and mercy, purposefully works them for His good.
Every. single. one of them. Because He is that good. He’s all powerful, all knowing and ever present.
When we find ourselves smack in the middle a seemingly random happening, both my husband and I agree that God has given us the freedom to choose. We are to be guided by wisdom (Bible, learned knowledge, prayer, experience, wise counsel, reason, etc.), but we get to choose how we respond. We both find loads of scriptural support for this belief.
The big difference between Hubs and I on this is that I tend to assume God’s hand in nearly everything – big or teeny, obvious or not, whether I ever get to know how or not. I’m not saying I believe God MAKES everything happen in this fallen world, although I believe He could. Again – He is that good. I’m saying I don’t find scriptural support for the extreme, exclusive idea that He makes EVERYthing happen. Sure, some things He makes happen. But some things He allows to happen. His sovereign will is unknown to us. In all cases, I believe the promise of Romans 8:28.
Who am I to determine what is meaningful or insignificant? The Bible tells me nothing is insignificant to God. The Bible tells me the hairs on my head are actually numbered.
Even being “in the dark,” as it were, I intuitively look for deeper meaning. What is God doing? Why did He allow something to happen? I immediately start thinking and praying about how to respond, whether it be taking action or figuring out what God wants me to learn or take away from the situation.
Last week, I had a friend remark to me “You see God in EVERYTHING.”
Not sure I ever consciously thought about it before, but she’s right. I do. I can’t imagine living any other way. To me, it’s completely normal. The fact that I see God in everything is probably one of the reasons I don’t believe in coincidences.
This might be a chicken or the egg kind of thing.
Either way, over the last few months, I’ve seen more of my own fingerprints than God’s. My life was one of the smudgiest sliding glass doors you’ve ever seen. And all the fingerprints were down low. Where I could reach.
To drastically summarize 16 “hard look in the mirror” blog posts: God has been silent in my life for a few months. I don’t like it. At. All. I feel like God the Father has taken His hand off the bicycle seat of my life to teach me…what? To be confident He is there even when I don’t feel the security of His hand? I researched the theology of “the dark night” and came out of all the reading grounded in one of the metaphors. I was going to stop swimming and float. Not drift – with no intention. FLOAT – in the current of God’s will. I wasn’t going to fight the current. I was going to stop swimming in the direction I thought God wanted me to go. I was going to FLOAT.
In the silence.
Seemed like a reasonable plan.
Until the silence became unbearable. I wrote last week, that I came to a breaking point. If you didn’t read that, “CLICK HERE” to check it out.
okay. so that Monday night, I went to sleep having intentionally chosen this season of silence and whatever God is teaching me over tried and true past remedies for finding Joy in God. I called it my darkest night.
Tuesday morning, I woke up to an email in my inbox. The local school where I’ve recorded for more than 3 years had two cancellations for that upcoming weekend. Could I cover two vocal labs (recording sessions)? (If you didn’t do it a minute ago, you’re gonna have to read “two steps forward. one step back.” to get the full impact of that “coincidence.”)
and remember. I see God’s hand in EVERYthing.
So, in the spirit of floating, I said yes.
I spent the entire morning looking for two songs to sing. Given that I had less than four days to prepare a lead and at least two harmonies for each song, I focused specifically on songs I already knew. Song after song – one obstacle after another. No track. Background vocals already on the track. Wrong key. just…wrong after wrong after wrong.
I left the house for the afternoon and when I came back, someone had posted on my facebook wall:
“Hey, so you know the song ‘He is with You” by Mandisa? I think you should sing it at church. Take a look….’”
I immediately thought: “Mandisa? I can’t sing Mandisa.” But again, in the spirit of floating, I responded:
“I’m gonna call that a God thing. LocalRecordingSchool called me today asking me to fill in two cancellations this weekend. I struggled to select tracks all day. One down. one to go. Thanks, friend. If the rough cut is any good, I’ll give you a copy.”
And then another facebook friend commented:
“‘There is a God’ by Lee Ann Womack?”
Monday night I had broken down, wimped out and asked God to let me/help me sing again, then almost immediately took back my request, choosing the lesson of the dark night over the temporal blessing that would have come with the singing.
Then all that happened on Tuesday. The fingerprints on my sliding glass door were MUCH bigger than my own.
and they weren’t anywhere near my reach.
and no. I’m not talking about Holy DARK KNIGHT, Batman.
I had never even heard about the dark night until I started reading about finding joy and delight in God, spiritual dryness, spiritual darkness and the silence of God. I first stumbled upon the term while reading “Prayer” by Philip Yancey. He said:
“I take some comfort in the fact that virtually all the masters of spirituality recount a dark night of the soul. Sometimes it passes quickly and sometimes it persists for months, even years. I have yet to find a single witness, though, who does not tell of going through a dry period.”
Is a “dry period” necessarily this “dark night”? Are these terms interchangeable? Both have been so eclectically described, I can’t lock down a globally accepted definition. People who have attempted to describe their experience have trouble articulating it. I’ve read John of the Cross, who is the originator of the term “dark night.” I’ve read Teresa of Avila and an unknown monk. Those three were not easy or complete reads. Thankfully, Thomas Green wrote extensively about the dark night and interpreted for me. C.S. Lewis, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Henri Nouwen and a number of others have written about dryness and/or the dark night.
It would appear that one dark night does not fit all.
Here’s the Cliff Notes version, courtesy of Eric Sammons
“Unfortunately, “Dark Night” has become a term used very loosely to designate any difficult or depressing time in life. But this is not the meaning St. John of the Cross gives to “Dark Night.”
…not brought about by external events, such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Instead, they are brought about by God alone, who uses the Dark Nights to purge the soul of attachments to the things of this world….”
“…God becomes the primary initiator of prayer, not man…the soul experiences dryness in prayer. It is a painful state that tests the soul to see if it desires prayer for the consolations or because it desires God Himself. At this stage, the ability to meditate becomes difficult, even painful, as no fruit comes from it and the Holy Spirit wants to move the soul from meditation to contemplation.
I have to ask. Is there scriptural basis for this?
Make no mistake. I’m a strong believer in the “dry spell” of it all. I’m a witness to it. I KNOW it happens. and I know first-hand how devastating it is. How it can rock faith. I’m smack in the thick of it.
and it. SUCKS.
My skepticism is with the surety and scriptural foundation of the dark night as the reason.
I’ve seen a commenter on another blog ask about the scriptural foundation of the explanation of the dark night and he was effectively dismissed. The general assumption expressed by those who responded to him was that he didn’t understand and obviously hadn’t experienced it. It didn’t occur to anyone that the reason he didn’t understand was that their explanations were vague and weak.
and I find myself thinking of an emperor in his underwear.
offended? If the invisible shoe fits, wear it.
It would be so much simpler if I was just smack in the middle of disobedience and I could repent, claim the promise of Romans 8:1 and move forward. Instead, I’m compelled to keep reading….
“Why is this painful stage necessary?…It is necessary so that the soul can be purged of defects that still exist within it, defects which prevent the soul from being passively receptive to God’s grace.”
purged of defects?
I have defects. I reek of defects.
“…a person might flee from the Dark Night and regress into lower levels of prayer. The proper response to this temptation to regress, however, is renewing your trust in God, continuing to utilize acquired recollection in prayer, abstaining from seeking consolation, and seeking counsel from a good spiritual director.”
lower levels of prayer?
lower levels of prayer. like with consolations and meditations?
and the “proper” response is to
(1) renew my trust in God
(2) continue to utilize “acquired” recollection in prayer
(3) don’t seek consolation and
(4) seek counsel from a good spiritual advisor.
(2) I think that means remember what God has done in my life in the past.
(3) Don’t try to pray the way I used to pray. Because those prayers are “lower.”
(4) God, if you want me to have a spiritual mentor who’s experienced this before, you’re gonna have to send me one. Break the silence.
SEND. me. one. PLEASE.
I admit. I’m torn. Between
(1) wanting there to be such a thing as this dark night and
(2) thinking it’s just a scape goat for people who need to rationalize whatever spiritual obstacle they are facing.
Faaaarrrr more likely, I’m grasping at straws to rationalize failing.
I started this journey because I wanted to find joy and delight in the nature of who God is without the crutches of circumstance or experiences. This is the scripture that comes to mind right now:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4
count it all joy.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
If you read my last post, “growing pains” you know I’ve been having trouble seeing God’s hand in my life over the last few months.
God has been silent.
When I first became aware of the silence, I immediately assumed sin was separating me from God. I confessed all the sin I could identify. I raked through my life and identified the sin I had been rationalizing or been numb and oblivious to. I asked God to reveal to me anything I hadn’t found.
Be careful what you pray for.
I let go of some things in my life. Good things. One thing in particular that was responsible for actually helping me to discover how to worship God – to praise Him – for who He was instead just thank Him for what He did for me; for the blessings He afforded. This was something I had never understood or been able to do before. That’s what made leading worship a good thing. a very good thing.
I let it go because it had morphed into a crutch I had become dependent on to facilitate that worship.
I let go of other “good” things too. They had become obstacles in my relationship with Him.
But if you are one of the handful of people who actually read this blog regularly, you know all that.
Since then, God has been silent.
I’ve been seeking God every day. Relentlessly.
that’s an understatement.
Still. God has been silent.
After more than 6 years of sensing God’s presence and movement in my daily life, it took less than two months for me to become resigned to the silence.
Not seeing or sensing God’s hand in my life, I stopped looking for it.
I expected the silence. It became my new normal.
I began reading everything I could about finding delight and joy in God. About spiritual dryness, spiritual darkness, the absence of God and the silence of God. C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Philip Yancey and authors new to me, like Thomas Green, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila. People who experienced and wrote about the “dark night.” Some of them talked about the dark night lasting the rest of their life.
I stopped writing in my prayer journal.
I had nothing to say.
I began abiding.
I threw myself into the mindless work of purging my environment and my life of superfluous things.
I began learning how to “pray without words” as C.S. Lewis would say. I stopped filling up the space between me and God with my voice. my incessant talking. I shut up. and I listened.
And God was silent.
In the beginning, I hated it. It was unsettling.
I was brokenhearted. I don’t say that kind stuff about myself. But there’s really no better way to describe it.
C.S. Lewis described it this way:
“We can bear to be refused but not to be ignored. In other words, our faith can survive many refusals if they really are refusals and not mere disregards. The apparent stone will be bread to us if we believe that a Father’s hand put it into ours, in mercy or in justice or even in rebuke.”
from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
After a few weeks, there was peace in the quiet. Like sitting with a close friend. The kind of friend you can ride in a car with, not talking, and feel no need to fill the void with spoken words. completely grounded. no need for a stealth “#awkward” tweet from the passenger seat.
so, there was peace.
but not joy.
In my last post, I said that I hadn’t been able to pray any specific petitionary prayers because I didn’t trust my motives. I said that last Monday I had hit bottom. The silence had become unbearable.
I asked God to let me sing again. In my weakness, I instinctively reached out for the one thing that had allowed me to experience true JOY in God – regardless of my circumstances.
Singing to Him. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do it since June 30th.
I went to bed that Monday night, the silence ringing in my mind. Disappointed in myself for caving. For chickening out and turning my back on whatever God is trying to teach me in this time of silence. Instead of trusting in the process of this journey, I reached out for old, tried and true, comfortable habits.
I wimped out.
I was convinced God was teaching me something. Something important. Although I had no idea what and I had no idea how long the lesson would last. It seemed that, at what appeared to be the hardest part of the lesson, I was asking God to give back what I had given up. I was going backward. I was turning my back on what He has for me now.
As I fell asleep, I took back my request. I told God that I didn’t want to settle for temporal blessings of comfort and happiness in exchange for this new relationship. Even if the new relationship meant years of silence.
Last Monday night was my darkest night.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
I’m totally confident I needed to give up leading worship when when I did.
(If you need to catch up, this is probably the post to read: “obedience and blessings. passion and delight.“)
The last six weeks have been some of the most honest, wrenching, unsettling, peaceful, secure and unstable moments of my life. I’ve heard and read the words “refining/refined by fire” more times than I can count.
I’ve been overdosing on the reading and the thinking.
The praying has been simple. There’s only one prayer I’ve been able to to pray for myself:
“Not my will Lord, but Yours.
No matter what that means.”
I found myself unable to take any action remotely related to ministry.
even one-on-one conversations were guarded and thin. On the sharing side, I only went below the surface in increments as I tested how correctly (or incorrectly) friends understood what I tried to explain – and how sincerely interested I sensed they were. On the listening side, I didn’t trust my instincts enough to reply with anything more than questions.
I didn’t trust my judgement. I was paralyzed by doubt about my ability to discern God’s prompting and my resulting choices.
past, present and future.
if in fact, I had gotten some things wrong, they were monumentally wrong.
I had completely – completely – lost the confidence to recognize and make sense of God’s movement in my mind, my spirit and the circumstances of my life.
wisdom was obscure. discernment was nonexistent.
God has pruned me to a nub.
It’s been extremely painful.
very, very good.
did I mention painful?
God has been silent.
At first, I immediately assumed my sin was separating me from Him. I confessed every sin I could recognize and still, God was silent. I prayed for him to show me any sin I wasn’t seeing.
Still, God was silent.
and in the quiet, I’ve been stripping away every superfluous thing in my life, from the contents of my house and yard to my commitments to the layers of “stuff” I’ve piled on top of my relationship with Christ.
I stumbled upon the concept of the “dark night.”
But that’s another post. or two. maybe.
I’ve been back and forth between peace and fear and hope and resignation. Last Monday night, I was in a bad place.
it was a very dark night.
resignation had morphed back into grieving. wretched. deep grieving.
but this was different. This wasn’t just grieving because I couldn’t bring myself to sing. That was part of it, for sure.
This grieving was mostly because of the silence. The conflict between my unrelenting desire to sense God’s presence and movement in my life and my exploration of the idea that this silence was God helping me grow.
At some point, a kid only learns how to ride a bike if dad takes his hand off the back of the seat and stops running along side.
If God had in fact taken His hand away, I was caught in that unfamiliar, terrifying and confident place between wanting the security of His hand on the bicycle seat of my life and wanting to learn to ride the bike.
I wanted to learn the lesson.
But I didn’t like it.
Both of those sentences are understatements.
After weeks of not being able to pray petitionary prayers for anything specific because I didn’t trust my motives, I broke.
I asked God to let me sing again.
I didn’t ask Him to let me lead worship again. Still can’t do that. That led to sin. selfish sin. I don’t want to ever put the art above the artist ever again.
I just asked Him to let me sing. I was hoping I could bring myself to sing in my car.
This post is getting too long…I’ll tell you what happened in my next post.
(Someone recently had the courage to tell me they don’t read my blog posts because I have a tendency to ramble on.)
PinkGirl is at call backs for The Little Mermaid. Ya know she dreams of being cast as Ariel. This was her instagram graphic and request yesterday:
“Hey guys tomorrow is the first rehearsal for Little Mermaid and it’s when I find out what part I get. Please Pray for me not to get the role I want but to get the role that God wants me to have and for me to accept that that role is the role God meant for me to have. I’m very nervous and I need to put total trust and faith in God. So please pray for me. Thank You.”
This is very different than where she was over a month ago, when she asked me to do something for her.
PinkGirl: “Mom, I want you to tell me every day that I won’t get it.”
Me: “No. I won’t do that. I would rather you be passionate about your dream and be heartbroken if it doesn’t come true than not be passionate about it. I won’t help you kill your dream to help you protect yourself from getting hurt. Joy and heartbreak are better than never being passionate about your dreams.”
And then she and I started growing in parallel. We both couldn’t help but notice the similarities in our situations. I’ll drill it down.
It was July 30th of last year when I made the first of many decisions that steadily led me to put my passion for leading worship ahead of my passion for God. 10 months later and I could clearly see that I was putting the art before the artist. Took another week to act on that knowledge and in the end, the only action I could bring myself to take was to pray: “Lord, I can’t give this up on my own. Please take it away.”
And He did.
PinkGirl felt how hard it was for me. Throughout her short 12 years, I’ve seen her deep capacity for empathy wreck her again and again. In this case, it’s hitting very, very close to home.
My daughter watched me let go of my passion in order to put God first in my life.
But she also knows that I didn’t do it by force of will or strength of character or any other noble ability.
I was honest with her. I confessed to her that I wasn’t able to do it on my own and asked God to help me. To intervene in my life. To take away the things that separated me from Him. To comfort me. To help me find joy in Him.
That’s when she started praying for God to give her the role He wants her to have – whether it breaks her heart or not. She’s praying for His will, her ability to accept it, for Him to comfort her if He says no and for her to find joy in Him.
She’ll tell you she flip flops between moments of peace and fear and hope and resignation. Sometimes all within the time it takes to draw a single breath.
She’s faced this kind of heartbreak before. When she was cast as Grace Farrell, she knew she had lost her last chance to be cast as Annie. She was much too tall. When she was cast as The Wardrobe in Beauty and the Beast, she experienced a crisis of faith that rocked her, but thankfully, turned out to be a pivot point in her spiritual growth and her relationship with Christ.
Today has the potential to deal her one of the happiest memories in her young life – or one of the greatest disappointments.
Either way, she and I are both learning the same lesson:
God is enough. Passion for God is better than passion for ANYthing in this world.
Last night, during bedtime prayers, after asking God to give her the part HE wants her to have, she prayed:
“God, please bless my voice – but I know it’s not mine. I know you’re just lending it to me while I’m here on earth.”
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
“…what I testify to is the power of visual art, and especially music…They have the potential to awaken the mind and heart to aspects of God’s glory that were not perceived before. Paintings or photographs of mountains and streams can call forth a sense of wonder and peace. If we are willing to “look along” (not just “at”) these pictures, as Lewis taught us, our eyes will run up the beams to the Original Glory, and the wonder and peace will rest finally in the wonderful and peaceful mountains and streams of God’s power and mercy.
…We must make it our aim that the joy awakened by music be joy in God…Then the effort to delight in God through music will involve a prior shaping of the mind by the Word…Then the effort to delight in God through music will also involve a thoughtful testing after the music has already awakened joy. Is this joy…stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort? So before and after music has its immediate effect, we pursue the goal that music make us more glad in the glory of God.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
Lord, thank you for using praise music and my worship through that music to awaken my mind and heart to aspects of Your Glory I had never perceived before. Thank You for the joy it brought and the delight I found in You because of WHO YOU ARE. Thank You for the overwhelming and undeniable awareness of Your presence in those moments. Thank You for helping me to completely forget myself and for moving me into deeper praise, no longer centered in gratitude for Your temporal blessings, but grounded and focused on eternal things: Your Sovereignty, Your Holiness, Your stubborn love for me and my desperate and relentless need for You.
Even though the lesson was one of the hardest I’ve ever faced, thank you for teaching me that finding worship through music wasn’t enough, that it only took me part way. It limited true praise to those brief moments. Thank you for showing me that my dependance on music was quenching Your Spirit. It prevented me from finding joy and delight in WHO YOU ARE in the ordinary, everyday moments of my life. Thank You for the understanding that I can’t find that joy and delight on my own, through my own striving, depending on anything in this world to facilitate it.
Holy Spirit, please bless me with joy and delight, so I won’t be tempted to settle for less by depending on anything or anybody but Christ.
“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good; his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God”
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 (NIV)
“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet. Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the Mount I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love
Here I raise my Ebenezer. Hither by Thy help I come.
Oh, and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home”
sung by Kings Kaleidoscope
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
I wrote a few weeks ago that when my head is a mess, I am compelled to order my environment. In practical application, this means three things: cleaning. purging. painting.
and I guess decorating. If you count framing stuff I’ve been meaning to frame for…ever. and putting new flooring in downstairs. and getting rid of useless decorative items that just take up space in my house.
Like a bowl of rocks.
at one point in my life, I PAID for a bowl of rocks and put them on a flat surface in my house. To hold candles. Candles that are – to this day – still wrapped in plastic.
purging. This particular purge isn’t so bad. The biggest purge I’ve done was after my hysterectomy in 2009. That was bad. My house and it’s contents suffered nearly two years of female neglect because of chronic anemia and limited activity, followed by another 6 months of recovery after the surgery.
This purge is deeper.
A stripping down to basics purge.
On May 31st, I said I wanted “I want every superfluous thing in my house gone. GONE.” I’m looking at EVERYTHING in my house as if I were moving. Would I want to pack it? or get rid of it?
I’ve thrown away and shredded so. much. paper. We’ve already made one trip to the dump. I’ve completely emptied every bathroom cabinet and only put back the things we need. I’ve gotten rid of pointless dust collecting decorations, including the bowl of rocks. I’ve even gotten rid of over 100 books.
I’ve been posting some of my progress on my public facebook page. You don’t even need to have a facebook account to see it.
Yesterday’s facebook post:
An entire pick-up truck load of furniture and multiple boxes of books, clothing, appliances, and pointless decorative dust collectors – all now in the FUMCO Whale of a Sale storage POD. I have zero dining room chairs and I do not care. I didn’t love them and they took up too much space, so they had to go. Based on that criteria, all members of my family will be staying. I suppose the cats can stay too. Tomorrow? The linen closet purge. I have to make room for the single tablecloth and the single set of placemats I’m keeping after giving away my buffet. #pruning #purging
Today’s facebook posts:
11:57am – Can’t decide what to do today. So I’m going to do everything. 5 minutes at a time. & fb/tweet my progress for accountability & motivation.
12:15pm – 1st micro-action of the day: Weeding the rose bed. Took 10 minutes. Love it when a huge bunch of weeds turns out to be a lot of runners.
12:23pm – How many fridge shelves can I clean in 5 minutes? Three. & I cooled off enough to go back outside. I’m gonna need shoes. #microactions
1:15pm – Prune long neglected roses-10 minutes, put roses in vase, download & learn photo editing app-15 min. #microactions (click any of the photos to enlarge)
3:06pm – An hour deep cleaning the kitchen, including the window, the front of the cabinets, the wall, the prints and my cobalt. More dust collecting decorations to get rid of. #microactions
3:13pm – This is going to be hideous. & hot. But tomorrow is yard waste day. Any guesses how long it will take? #microactions
4:06pm – If you do it fast enough, weeding is cardio. (posted “before” pic earlier) #microactions
4:56pm – 20 minutes to make this mess. But my view is much clearer. Gotta bind all this up after I pick PinkGirl up.#microactions
9:28pm – Got on a roll. FavoriteSon and I mowed and he whacked weeds while I bound up what seemed to equate to a small forest. I ran out of daylight. And I may have discovered a new smell. A cross between sunscreen, bug spray, gasoline and sweat. #pruning #purging
I took an antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory. Hopefully, I’ll be good to go tomorrow. I never did get to that linen closet today.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve discovered that I desperately want to delight in God more than I delight in the things I’m passionate about.
and I’ve come face to ugly face with the fact that I don’t.
Some of my Christian friends are very uncomfortable with this admission.
Some get exactly what I’m talking about and are on the same path.
Some have been there. I’m learning from and am encouraged by their journey.
Some have no interest and are waiting for me to just chill out and forget about all this.
Some think they know exactly what I’m talking about, but in reality, they think I’m talking about obedience and blessings.
I’ll try to clarify.
I’m not talking about obedience and blessings. or personal satisfaction. or security. or peace. This is not about serving God, helping others and living a “good Christian life.”
I’m talking about DELIGHT. JOY. A passionate desire for God. Because He’s GOD.
I don’t define “finding delight in God’s gifts” as the satisfaction that comes from living a good, moral Christian life that provides me with a sense of accomplishment and a good night’s sleep at the end of the day.
I haven’t found that consistent prayer and Bible reading automatically result in intimacy with God. I’ve experienced spiritual dryness smack in the middle of some of the most prayerful seasons of my life. I’ve had to pray my way out of a pit before. It’s dark. It’s painful. It’s slow. and I hated it. but it was good.
I don’t hold to the belief that if I’m obedient, God will bless me. I know there ain’t no tit for tat when it comes to obedience and blessing. Checking off a Christian to-do list won’t earn me protection from trials. I have absolutely NO deluded sense that “if” I’m obedient, “then” God will reward me in this life.
I’ve read the book of Job.
I haven’t found that intimacy with Christ means I delight in Him because of WHO HE IS. I am more intimate with God than with any human. He knows what I look like naked. and I don’t mean nekkid. I mean He KNOWS me. I tell Him everything. EVERYthing. Even the stuff I don’t want to tell Him about myself because I don’t want to hear it. or face it. I thank Him. often. For SO. MUCH. I confess to Him. often. For SO. MUCH. I plead with Him. often. For SO. MUCH.
In 2007, 27 years after I became a Christian, I entered into an intimate relationship with God that has changed my life. But I want to be closer. So I asked Him to show me what separates me from Him. (Be careful what you pray for.) He’s been showing me for over a year and I’ve been arguing with Him.
I’ve decided to stop doing the activities that I’ve come to depend on to fill me with delight and desire for God.
That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped living a good, moral Christian life. Doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading my Bible, or praying or seeking God’s will or striving to be obedient to God. Although the praying, seeking God’s will and striving to be obedient look very, Very, VERY different than they did a few months ago, I’m NOT going to stop doing any of those things.
I need to let go of the things I’m passionate about. They are crutches that I’ve come to depend on to lead me to delight in the Lord. I need to lean on HIM. I need to find a way to experience delight and joy in HIM ALONE. Even in the absence of those things.
I experience true joy and I delight in the essence of WHO God IS when I lead worship. Leading worship is not something I do as service. I am PASSIONATE about it. It fuels me. I’m up at 5:45am on Sunday morning so I have time to pray before I have to be at rehearsal at 8:15am. During most praise sets, I find a connection with the Holy Spirit that makes me forget myself. It’s my mountaintop. every. week. I don’t do it out of obedience. I do it because when I do it, I find joy and delight in WHO GOD IS.
And I’ve come to realize I depend on it too much. I don’t know how to find that same joy and delight in God without it. I’ve realized that I find joy in the artist through the joy I find in the art. And that’s no longer enough for me. I want more. I need to figure out how to be fully satisfied in God even if I never get to lead worship again.
When I’ve discovered how to do that, will He let me lead worship again? Don’t know yet. Maybe not. and I need to be okay with that or this entire search is a lie.
I find joy and delight in WHO GOD IS when sharing my faith through writing and speaking. I’m passionate about both. Ideas wake me up in the middle of the night and demand to be written down. I start writing and realize I haven’t eaten all day. I start speaking and realize I’m supposed to be wrapping up. 10 minutes ago. I need to learn how to find joy and delight in HIM, not just through speaking and writing about Him.
When I’ve discovered how to do that, will He give me something to say and write about again? Don’t know yet. Maybe not. and I need to be okay with that or this search is a lie.
A friend hit it head on in a blog comment a few days ago:
“If desire implies that you are not content without it, I would think it sinful.”
I am not content with the thought of not writing a book.
I am not content with the thought of not being a Christian speaker or teacher.
I am not content with the thought of never leading worship again.
and there it is.
I need – desperately need – to be content without these things. I need to desire GOD and find joy in Him directly, not through the joy and delight I experience when I write about him, speak about Him or sing to Him. I prayed for Him to show me what separated me from Him and He has.
I need to be fully satisfied in Him because of WHO HE IS.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]