Finding Contentment

Contentment is a fickle thing. It is something we seem to seek after but rarely attain. How many people do you know regularly say, “I’m just content. Content with my life in all areas.” It’s pretty rare to hear.

It’s the old carrot and stick routine, dangling out in front of our faces, always just out of our grasp. But, wouldn’t life be great if we were content?

I just finished reading Genesis, a favourite of mine. It always strikes me that, from chapter 37 onwards, Joseph dominates the story. He’s a chapter hog in Genesis (classic younger sibling, always seeking attention).

Adam and Eve get three chapters.
Noah gets four chapters.
The Tower of Babel get’s one.

Those are all important events but none get as much press as the ongoing saga of Joseph.

As I was reading yesterday, I was struck, the whole Joseph saga started with jealousy. None of Genesis 37-50 would have happened if Joseph’s brothers hadn’t been jealous. That’s how it all started. Jealousy.

Because of jealousy Joseph got sold into slavery by his brothers.
That triggered him going to Egypt, being put in prison and having the whole dream saga.
Those dreams triggered him getting recognised by Pharaoh.
Because of that, he got a pretty powerful role which led to the rescue of Egypt and the Israelites from famine.
Which led to the whole slavery thing.

I’ve always overlooked that it all started with jealousy. This unseen emotion, when acted upon, triggered a whole sequence of events that resulted in a nation in slavery.

Jealousy is a heart attitude that just simmers and stews. Eventually it can shape our actions in ways we can hardly identify. How often are we sitting in a mess and wondering, how the hell did I get here?!

I wonder how many of those situations actually started with jealousy.

God has been driving a nail into my own jealousy and envy for years. I want to be content. Truly, though, how can I get there if I’m not brutally honest about what prevents me from getting there?

The big lie is that if only I could obtain that object of desire (a material possession, a type of marriage, a person, or children or gifting or talent) then I could be content.

This makes my contentment about just obtaining enough of _________.

If only I could only have a certain home. If only I looked a certain way. If only I had a personality like that. If only.

A chase ensues.

If only my circumstances were better. When this financial season of hardship passes. When the stress at work subsides. Circumstances never seem to line up to our bidding though. But we can always buy more stuff!

If only I had that certain car and nicer clothes. Getting that certain car becomes getting the house with the bigger yard. Then we realise material possessions don’t satisfy, life is about relationships!

If only my kids behaved in that certain way. If only our spouse would become like that certain person. But changing and manipulating others also doesn’t satisfy so we work on ourselves first. Isn’t that what Oprah taught us to do?

If only I could look like that certain person (cue the Juice Fast and fresh commitment to Paleo). If only I could conquer that certain issue (2015 IS THE YEAR. I’M DOING IT. SERIOUSLY. THIS YEAR! I’M MAKING THE CHANGES! OK, 2016 will do also. Whatever. Cue guilt and self-loathing.)

The reality? Chasing the desire is an illusion. The reality is our “if only” has become an idol. The idol will do what idols always do, enslave us to a lifetime of hard labour with no end in sight.

Contentment cannot be achieved through attainment or abandonment.

Finding contentment through attainment is simply consumerism.

Finding contentment through abandonment (of desire for anything) is humanistic Buddhism. That is, we selfishly try to destroy our desire for anything because all of life is just an illusion… this is not the Gospel my friends.

The Apostle Paul speaks of being content no matter what the circumstance or situation.

Why?

Because, contentment starts and ends with God.

How?

Jesus satisfies our deepest longings. We no longer try to find contentment in things or people that can’t truly satisfy. We no longer try to satisfy our longing for meaning through a job. We no longer try to satisfy our deepest longings for identity through people’s approval of us.

Jesus gives us new desires shaped according to both his humility (I don’t need or deserve everything) and his goodness (The Father is able and willing to give good things to His children).

The Holy Spirit empowers us to be both generous (re-shaping of our hearts from consumers to generous givers) and content in all circumstances.

I’m happy to say that I’ve seen God work in deep ways in my heart. I recognise quickly how my envy and jealousy will just lead me deeper into slavery instead of contentment and joy. I lean on him more willingly. This is encouraging to me when envy knocks on the door of my heart.

What about you?
Do you struggle with envy and jealousy?
In what ways does God want to journey with you towards contentment and peace?

Photo Credit: Evan P. Cordes

Anger, healing and swearing at God.

It was a beautiful summer day in Seattle and I had just finished an early morning shift at a coffee shop (4:30 a.m start time!). I was walking up the path to my apartment, thinking about nothing in particular except for perhaps a nap. Suddenly, I felt a stark and very direct question enter in to my mind. It was not a whisper from God. More like a shouted, “Hey, wake up, I’ve got a question for you!” sort of moment.

“What do you really think of ________?”.

I’m leaving out a name at the end of that sentence. It’s not important. What is important is this was someone who had hurt me. Hurt me more deeply than I thought possible. Hurt me in ways that I would still be dealing with many, many years later. But, I was being a good Christian about it. Quickly worded forgiveness, turning the other cheek, responding with “I’m ok, you’re ok” niceties.

But then this moment, with this question, came along.

I wasn’t thinking about this person or that situation so my guard was down. God knew that it would be. Before I could remember my normal script of “I forgive and release him! I pray God’s best for him!” an answer welled up within me and exploded into my heart and mind.

“He’s a f*&$#ing a$%hole!!!!!”

The magnitude of the anger startled and scared me. Up until that moment I had never entertained even a hint of that sentiment towards him. Everything was nicely packaged and under control. My ability to keep things under control can be a real curse I’ve come to learn.

I went up into my apartment and sat on my couch and just stared. What had just happened? Why had I just turned in to an angry woman with the mouth of a sailor?

And so on that summer day and in that way, my journey toward healing finally began. And it started with anger.

Anger is a funny thing. We know anger can be “righteous” or “unrighteous”. We interpret righteous anger as anger that is socially acceptable. Anger where we keep our voices down, say, “I’m really angry and I mean it!”, pray a prayer and then quickly move on.

A few months after my sailor outbursts I studied the book of Nahum in the Bible. Nahum can be a confusing book but one thing is not confusing, God is really, really angry.

Historically, one nation was viciously abusing Israel. God looked at his daughter, and could not just sit, watching the abuse. He could not calmly say, “Well, that’s just not nice. Come on everybody, let’s get along!”. No, his fatherly love demanded anger.

With that picture, I finally understood that God cared, he wept, he grieved. I understood that He is angered when his people are hurt, abused, betrayed and broken. God’s anger validates that the wound truly exists and that it truly is painful.

Anger is one of the most healing emotions because anger says, “This is not ok, I am not ok.”

What happened to me is soul crushing and the reason why is… I am more valuable than that.

The absence of anger is the choice to remain unaffected by sin.

The absence of anger is to agree that the wound and the wounded are of no significance. Not worthy of getting all worked up over.

The presence of anger is the acknowledgment of the depth of the wound and the deep value of the one wounded.

I have many, many students who deal with deep wounds from their parents. They all try so hard to not be angry, the very thing they should feel. For years they seek to “honour their father and mother”. By honour they mean, deny the hurt and remain unaffected by it.

When I tell them it is ok to be angry many instantly just begin weeping. They are acknowledging for the first time that their father or mother hurt them. Acknowledging their own deep wounds and thereby confirming that were not treated in accordance with their true value.

It is so painful to watch as they sob deeply but I know how healing it is to acknowledge their own value for the first time in their lives. They are finally absorbing the truth. Righteous anger screams out, “I was not treated in accordance to my value!!”

As I watched the angry racial events in Missouri and across America unfold, all I could think is, “I’ve felt that. I’ve felt exactly that”. I haven’t experienced the same thing as African-Americans have, but I know the anger that bursts out of it’s walls, suddenly, screaming with hot emotion, “I’m. Worth. More!!”

Many of us sit for years, pain after pain piling up until one final pain touches on them all and God loudly speaks that question, “How do you really feel about_______?”

If we obsess over answering with the right tone of voice and carefully chosen words, we miss the point entirely. If I focused on my swearing and boiling anger I’ve missed the point entirely. If we obsess on the few acts of violent protest in Missouri we’ve missed the point entirely.

Anger acknowledges value. Anger acknowledges worth. Anger sometimes comes rushing forth for healing to come pouring in.

Are there areas in your life that you’ve never allowed yourself to be angry over?

What value, freedom and healing are you then missing?

Photo Credit: Andrew McCluskey

There’s no crying on Christmas!

Yesterday I went to a children’s Christmas service at my church. Our children’s pastor did a great job of allowing kids to be kids. In fact, she started by telling all the adults to “sit back and relax, don’t be bothered by the noise, these are kids after all!” Wonderful.

The first song we sang was “Silent Night”. Oh the irony.

After a wonderful admonition to relax and let the chaos commence, we sang about how Christmas night must have been a picture of angelic silence and calm. The type that all parents can crave. My favourite line is this, “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”. Even the writer of this carol, all those years ago, was carrying the burden of the idealised Christmas.

Christmas is my favourite holiday. I love absolutely everything about it. The baking, cooking, gift giving, carol singing, decorating, friend inviting, exhaustion inducing glory of it all. But, with a holiday of this magnitude comes massive expectations on us and on our children.

Lets be honest. Kid’s here is your real Christmas list:

Guests are invited… behave!
Gifts are given… be thankful!
Memories are being made… treasure every moment!
Pictures are being taken… smile and look your best!
Mom is working hard… tell her you notice!
Jesus is the reason for the season… have a profound grasp of this!

Somehow, we wish some memo was sent deep into our children’s brains that told them, “It’s Christmas! Be perfect! Make memories! Enjoy every moment! Be thankful!”

Here’s the thing, with this holiday comes an even higher chance of none of the above happening. The chaos, change in routine, intense time together as a family all increases the chances of less than memorable moments. Even without this, our children’s ability to be less than “ideal” does not magically decrease at Christmas time (let’s be honest, it’s true for parents too).

No matter what the song tells us, even Jesus cried on Christmas.

So, today and tomorrow, don’t forget that your kids aren’t better than Jesus. When they open that present and say, “I wish it was blue!” don’t let it ruin your day. When the guests arrive and an epic tantrum ensues, don’t let it devastate. When a checked-out teenager doesn’t want to be bothered with visiting family, have grace.

Yes, it’s Christmas and we would all just love “one day of everyone getting along and behaving for the Love of God!!”

When the Christmas moments are less than glorious, just smile and say, “Even Jesus cried on Christmas!”

Photo Credit: Acrobat

Waiting and Dwelling in a Digital Age

Waiting & Dwelling

We are in a time collective hand-wringing over our digital addictions, vices and escapism. Whether a follower of Jesus or not, this is an age where one and all is wondering the effect of our romance turned co-dependency on a digital device. What effect is this having on our marriages? What does this do to our children and parenting? Are we literally altering our brains in ways that are a very real and present danger?

Putting guilt and condemnation aside, this season of Advent is the perfect time assess my place in this digital journey.

Advent is a Season of Waiting

Advent is a season of waiting, anticipating, expecting. Seasons of waiting are pregnant with possibility to dive deeper into our relationship with God and others. More than ever, our times of waiting are filled with the temptation to distract ourselves into our phones, i-pads or other devices.

Not all of our distractions are useless. In fact, “waiting” can become small gaps of time to fill up with “useful activities”. It is common to hear Christians say we need to “redeem the time”. So instead of waiting quietly at a doctors office, you can “redeem the time” by writing an important e-mail or listening to a podcast to learn something new.

The undercurrent is that simple, quiet waiting is wasted time.

The truth is that God repeatedly extols the virtue of simple waiting even when it has no clear- marked goal in sight. Mary and Elisabeth both waited. One for a long-desired birth. The other during an expected birth. Both waited for the coming of the Messiah.

What would happen if you embrace times of waiting instead of distract yourself from it?

Advent is a Season of Dwelling

Advent is also a time of reflecting on the incarnation, when God literally dwells with man. The magnitude of this event on our own lives is rarely understood. We accept that God became flesh all the while trying to escape our own fleshly living. We live in an age when dwelling in the flesh is the antithesis of our normal lives.

Skye Jethani reflected on this,

We may have no problem celebrating Jesus’ incarnation during this season, but we have great difficulty accepting our own. We live in an age that is in active denial of our bodies. Digital technology, for example, offers us the illusion of divine omnipresence. Through our devices we are no longer limited to our physical location. Any given day we may offer more of our attention to people and events on the other side of the planet than to what is happening in our own homes. Christ may have come to “dwell with us” but we prefer to dwell with the people on our phones.

Waiting and Dwelling

And so this season is both a time of waiting and a time of dwelling. Two things that digital devices cannot help us with. They are good for so much but in waiting and dwelling they hinder.

What would it look like for you to embrace quiet waiting and physical dwelling as you head in to Christmas? What practical steps could you take to avoid diving into digital distractions? How could you be more physically present in the location God has placed you each and every day?

Waiting and dwelling, may this advent season find you doing more of both.

Photo Credit: Joe Hunt

Immigrants, Orphans and Jesus

My maternal grandparents were immigrants from Norway. My Grandma Edie would enthrall me with the story of her first sighting of American soil. As a young girl, she peaked through the window of the ship and there stood the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, New York City.

When Grandma Edie and Grandpa John fought around my sister and I, often they would do it in Norwegian so we couldn’t understand what they were saying! My grandmother made fish-balls and lutefisk and lefse. The town they lived in was full of Norwegian immigrants and it’s official motto is still officially, “Little Norway”.

Being surrounded by so many Norwegians brought the inevitable Swedish jokes. I just thought it was like an old high-school rivalry. I didn’t know why Norwegians and Swedes teased each-other, it’s just what we did. In fact, my Grandfather posted a sign at the top of his drive-way that said, “Norwegians Only! No Swedes Allowed!” Little did I know that this rivalry came out of a deep-rooted history. But, it was all good fun for the family in those times.

The last two weeks I’ve thought a lot about my precious grandparents. I was always acutely aware we were a Norwegian-American family. But, there was so much I never knew to ask them. They were immigrants. The family didn’t know english when they came, I know that. But what else? What was it like to be foreigners in a strange land?

The reason I thought of this was because I’ve been surrounded by a whole new set of “foreigners” here in South Africa. My husband and I bought a house and we are doing a few renovations this month before we move in. We’ve had the privilege of hiring a number of men from Malawi to help us with some of the work.

In talking with them, they’ve told us stories of living in a country where they are not always wanted or welcome. Just this morning I dealt with a situation where Victor and Dave (two of these men from Malawi) shared how they felt targeted for bad treatment in our area. I’m a foreigner here too. People often make fun of my accent or make known to me their distaste for America. But I’m not unwanted like them… that is the painful truth.

My home country, the United States, is consumed with this same word, “immigrant”. The headlines are filled with a conversation America is having on the presence of immigrants in her land.

In fact it seems everywhere I looked this week, immigrants or immigration was being talked about.

This is what brings me to my Grandpa John and Grandma Edie and my un-asked questions. What was it like for them to be an “immigrant”? How were they treated? Did people target them for ill-treatment? Did they get accused of stealing jobs? Did people make fun of the way they spoke English? Were they refused service because they couldn’t yet speak english? What was it like to walk their journey and be the outsider?

Each day these past two weeks I would make Victor and Dave (and others) their lunch. Each morning I would bring them tea as they got the day started. I contemplated what they would like for a tea break and lunch. What was my obligation to provide for them? God dropped a thought in my mind the first day, “Remember Lindsey, the majority of the time in scripture, immigrant or foreigner is mentioned with two other groups… orphan and widow.”

This wasn’t a new thought to me. I actually read through the Bible one year and circled the word “immigrant” or “foreigner” every time it was mentioned. I was shocked. God see’s immigrants the same way as widows and orphans. Not as weak, not to be pitied… but they are vulnerable and deserve a special place of honour and care in the Christian community.

So every time I made mid-morning tea and lunches I thought, “What would I make if a widow was eating this? What would I want provided if it was for an orphan?” I let that guide me. I then realised, “What would I make if it was my Grandpa John and Grandma Edie”? This was once them and their parents. They were once the immigrant worker.

I wonder if people gave my great-grandparents the worst mid-morning tea and and the cheapest lunches. I wonder if they even fed them anything at all? I wonder if they paid them a fair wage?

Then I thought of Jesus. Not his heart or his values. I thought of his life. Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus fleeing to the foreign land of Egypt. I wonder if people made fun of the way Joseph and Mary spoke the local language. I wonder what sort of lunches Joseph’s boss made him… or if he even fed him at all?

Foreigners, exiles, aliens, immigrants. Let us not forget that these people’s names are always mentioned in the same breath as orphans and widows in God’s living word. “The alien, the orphan and the widow”… the trinity of the vulnerable.

Let us remember that these precious people are somebodies parents, grandparents and great-grandparents… they were once mine. Let us not forget they have other names: Dave, Victor, Grandpa John, Grandma Edie, Joseph, Mary… Jesus.

When you make lunch, mention their status, read headlines about them or have to summon the patience to truly listen as they stumble along in broken English… is your heart shaped by God’s heart for these precious people? Would you speak of an orphan and widow in the same way as the immigrant? Would you post Facebook memes about orphans and widows the same as we do of immigrants? Would you post a sign in your restaurant that said, “Orphan who doesn’t speak English? No Service!”

Immigrants, orphans and widows… God’s precious people. Full of dignity and value even if it’s not always recognized by those who profess the name of our own Egyptian-immigrant saviour, Jesus Christ.

Christianity is a crutch. And other true statements.

If you are a parent, or around kids for any amount of time, you know how they love a good cover-up. My boys can compound a deception with another lie in record time. I love being a parent because I know EXACTLY what they are doing and they seem oblivious that “I AM ON TO YOU, BUDDY!”

So often, one of them has something in their hand. Candy, an off limits electronic item… just anything they know is contraband. They see me, they subtly hide it. But, I know. I know the whole thing.

“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Nothing” they reply in a contrived innocent tone.
I prod some more, “Do you have something in your hand?”
“No, nothing, I’ve got nothing”
Smiling sweetly I say, “Well you are adding lying to your thievery, it’s all going down-hill isn’t it?”
“Mom!!! How do you know!!?!”

How? Because Mom’s and Dad’s know. They see all the great things about their kids but they know the rest too.

Too often, the cover-up becomes a life-long way of living. Even as adults, we are reluctant to come out of hiding. If we can hide, we will hide. That seems to be our default ever since the Garden of Eden.

Why do we do this? Our Father knows. He’s watching it all. We are that kid with the contraband chocolate chips from the kitchen cupboard.

Why? Because we still have a death-grip on a faith that is about me and what I do instead of about Him and what He’s done. When it’s about me and what I do, cover-up is necessary, hiding is essential. In order to measure up we have to cover up anything that feels messed up.

Our inner life becomes like a Queen Size mattress with Single bed sheets… something is always exposed and we are constantly trying to fix that.

So goes the great life-long effort at covering up our weaknesses, failures and sins. And when we do this, you know what happens? Crap. Crap happens. That’s the truth.

My son covers up stealing with a lie. Then he lies about the lie. Then he starts accusing me of being unfair. Then our relationship because distant and hurtful.

When I lack humility and honesty I am doing the same thing with the same consequences to myself and those around me.

Living a life of constantly trying to avoid exposing the unseemly bits destroys us and our relationships. It may be slow but it is unrelenting.

What’s the markings of a Christian? Love? Patience? Peace? Yes. But before all that our first act is one of honesty and humility. We can’t let it stop there, the gosepl is not an event, it is a way of life.

Some people say to me, “You know, religion is a crutch” or “Religion is for weak people”.

I don’t deny this at all. In fact, that just is not taking it far enough in my opinion. Faith is not a crutch, it’s a stretcher. Jesus is for dead people. Jesus is for weak people. Jesus is for tired of the cover-up people.

Who do I want to be? I want to be this:

God: “Lindsey, what’s in your hands”
Me: “It’s stolen candy!! And that’s not all, I’ve got a bunch of crap in my pockets that doesn’t belong to me! In fact, things are pretty messy here God!

All our relationships need deep honesty and humility. Our relationship with God would be deeper if we’d be quicker to transparency. Humility and honesty is the oxygen to a life-giving marriage. We are willing to work with anything, if our kids would just be quick to be open with us. A boss, so often is willing to extend mercy if the employee will confess right away an error.

What about you? Christianity is for messed up people. This is the truth. In what ways can you dive more deeply into humility and honesty with God and those around you?