Why does God have me around all the people-pleasers?

Since I have moved about a month ago, I have met the overwhelming power and presence of God over my life. Through a series of events and daily encouragements, I am so convinced that the Lord is with me, and it is certainly his will that I am here, learning to be a teacher. Overwhelming, nearly inexplicable strength has come over me despite having moved to a new city, making new friends, setting new habits, etc. I have found a wonderful church. I have people I am supposed to care for. I am being groomed for ministry through working with children and other people (and their parents). If ever God lays something so thick on your heart about the direction you should go but doesn’t explain it, listen. I would have never expected that the best training I could receive for ministry would be in a Master’s degree program for Early Childhood Education. The Lord knows all the details. I don’t yet, but it’s so obvious that this is his will that it’s hard to worry about all that.

For the past year or so, the Lord has brought friendships in my life with people who instinctively try to make everybody happy. Which to me, is madness. I am direct. I am decisive. I don’t mince words but I’ll go miles out of my way for a friend. I get the feeling that I’m supposed to learn something through all these people, and I have. I get the feeling also that I’m meant to strengthen people somehow, and model/teach about what healing is and the freedom available in Christ. It isn’t always easy.

When you are made aware of people’s needs by the Holy Spirit, that can be a heavy burden. It’s hard watching my friends struggle to parse out how to meet what they need. I often watch people pursue all sorts of paths that I can tell you from my own experience won’t serve you for nothing. I can often tell you why those paths are false, both from scripture and personal experience. I can even tell you what it feels like to be in that specific situation, because I remember. It’s maddening to know what people are going through and only be able to tell them what I know about the truth: That Jesus came and rose again so that we would not just have life, but have it to the full. That Christ is strong enough. That literally the only thing that is going to fill that hole is Jesus. It sounds crazy. It is crazy. It’s also true.

When people see where God has brought me but weren’t witness to where I’ve been, they just have to take my word for it. If you already have a hard time believing, that may be a stretch. I’m just trying to keep the same steadfast behavior and even become more kind. Shifting your heart attitude to a place to where you’re willing to believe that there could be a God takes time. You can’t rush it.

Which is maddening. I know what could heal you TODAY, but most people aren’t ready. I have to patiently wait and continue to show grace until the day comes (if it comes) where you’d be curious or desperate enough to seek Jesus. That’s hard. My soul mourns and cries out watching all of these people killing themselves for a grace that can’t be found where they’re seeking it.

God has honored me by teaching me these things while I am still young, but that’s also difficult. So few people have found God at this age. So few people of my generation believe that Christianity could be genuine. We are scattered in 1000 different directions because of the lack of integrity in the generations before us. We are desperately pursuing authenticity wherever we believe it might be, despite all of these bitter old people who want to act like we’re the most shallow generation that’s ever lived. When you criticize Millennials, you basically admit that you aren’t willing to help us, and you aren’t actually invested in growing the next generation of the kingdom of God. That’s selfish.

Lord, please teach us to bear with one another, ESPECIALLY when it’s hard. We are a people in need of healing. We believe that you are powerful. That you’re strong enough. Please come and heal us through your own name. Amen.

Advertisements

Spiritual slavery to false idols

Reflecting on Luke 8:26-39. In this passage, Jesus cures a man of many demons. Upon leaving his body, these demons (Legion) rush into some nearby pigs and drive them off the side of a cliff. Upon seeing a man previous naked and insane clothed and in his right mind, the people of this village beg Jesus to depart from them, in fear. Jesus tells that man to return home, and declare all that God has done for him.

For my mature Christians in the room, how often have y’all shared the gospel with someone, and because of past or present addictions, someone is afraid to receive the truth? How often do we let the demons in our lives that we have been worshiping continue to enslave us, after encountering the one true God? Maybe our hearts aren’t ready to receive it. I’ll say it again.

The spirit of the Enemy wants to kill, steal, and destroy. The spirit of confusion, disorder, death, and chaos will try whatever it can to take your peace, your joy, your faith, and in faith, your grounds for boasting in the power of God. If even demons (like Legion) beg not to be cast out, can anyone doubt the power of our God? So what keeps us from believing in his power? What present or past slavery still enslaves us?

With any kind of idolatry, there is a transaction being made. Unlike the free gift of grace, worshiping false idols costs you something. Whether it is worshiping self-image, substance abuse or other addictions, lies about the man or woman you were called to be, or other forms of false worship, you sacrifice God’s gifts in your life in order to believe more in the sin than in those things you surrender. For example, those of us who venerate our own image sacrifice the promise that there is a God that loves us just as we are, that we don’t need to perform to please him, that there is nothing more (or less) we could do to receive love from him, that his love is the most important. As debt racks up and we add sin to further sin, the Devil delights in casting us far away from God. His goal is to mislead as many people as possible, and his wages lead to death. We may enjoy attention we get from other people, but it’s a shallow joy. It’s being seen versus being RISEN. There is a power in Christ that can resurrect people from the grave, and resurrects all of us who believe in him in every weak place we surrender to him. So what stops us from surrendering our hearts?

Part of the issue is that a slave runs around thinking how she/he can do more to pay debt back, instead of slowing down long enough to comprehend the forgiveness of God. If Christ really loves you, then his love is absolutely free. Busyness is not godliness, but incites chaos that serves as an effective distraction. If the Lord’s peace is our strength, if his promises are certain, if his justice is sovereign, then who will slow down long enough to learn about the goodness of God? Who is willing to be a Mary and not just a Martha?

If there is a light in us, then it comes from Christ. Goodness is a spiritual goodness, not a man-made goodness. We have the image of God, but we need the light of Christ to illuminate that image of God in us, and give life to the places that are far from him. God can transform every area of your life if you are willing to submit to him. How many people are willing to accept that the good things in their lives are not their own? In order to become wise, are you willing to accept the limitations of your own understanding? Are you willing to be made a fool so that you might live?

The world doesn’t believe in spiritual activity unless we define it to be neutral. You talk about the Devil or the divinity of God, and immediately you piss off people who want to remain comfortable, because they are so afraid of the ways that oppressive spirit will move against them. On our own, there is no freedom. Only in Jesus is there resurrection. If you really want to break free, you have to submit to Christ and exchange the freedom you have on this earth for a spiritual freedom that transcends just what you can see, know, and hear. If you are willing to believe, freedom comes at no cost.

In a non-white classroom with Jesus

Spending time reading before I start my Master’s degree program in Early Childhood Ed, I often feel overwhelmed. There are so many pieces of information and gritty lessons that veteran teachers have cobbled together for our benefit. In a time where teaching affords you little prestige, little respect, and little political immunity, I am continually impressed by the teachers on the front lines. The sheer amount of responsibilities that even terrible teachers have makes you wonder how anyone stumbled into this profession. I wonder how many people are like me, who wonder if they are really up for the challenge. God will give me the strength.

I am reading a book called “Multiplication is for white people” by Lisa Delpit, and it’s phenomenal. In reading this book, I seriously wonder if my best efforts, genuine care, and previous life experience are enough to overcome any demographic differences between me and my students. Students of color or students living in poverty have such a hard run in today’s educational systems, and it’s overwhelming to think that it’s up to teachers to make up the difference. As a white woman with too little experience with latino, black, or native cultures, I’d be a fool not to seek out help where I can find it. I’m grateful that I have to be thinking about cultural differences before I start co-teaching, and I really hope God will create opportunities for me to learn from veteran teachers of color. I know that being bold in Kansas is not the same thing as being bold in a bigger city. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure I have the stamina or enough hope in anything greater than myself (even God, sometimes) to fight for students in the ways that they need. A lot of my faith has to do with grit and just getting by in hard circumstances. Do I have enough radical hope to give all I’ve got to try to make a difference? Right in this moment, the answer is no.

It’s still the beginning. I still haven’t learned much of anything, and I know that in my program, there will be many chances to learn. It’s just a lot to realize that as a teacher, you are responsible for so many people’s dreams outside of yourself. I am in a position of enormous responsibility in teaching other people’s children, and more often than not, I am in a role that a lot of parents cant do for themselves. Whether it’s time, money, skill sets, or just different life experience, for whatever reason, I am the one responsible. Outside of the white middle class where most of America’s comfy cultural conscience lives, people have various home traditions and relate to their kids in non-white ways. Unfortunately, the system is set up to undervalue and attack the personhood of non-white students. There are remarkably fewer opportunities for students of color to feel valued within our public education system.

As a white woman, can my teaching compensate for my “otherness”? For real. Is there a way to teach kids who are not from my own background in a way that demonstrates God’s love, and partners with their parents to prioritize their children’s learning and happiness? Every parent wants the best for their children, even if not all parents (regardless of demographic, white included) don’t pursue that “best” intentionally. Teachers don’t just provide help to students, but they provide a lot of support and good to student’s families. Given the generational way childhood trauma is passed on, my work as both a Teacher and a Christian is for my students AND their families. I believe God’s love can heal anything, but even if nobody knows why I teach, I can still show it. Teachers have the ability to influence students’ entire life trajectories, in ways that can often be even more powerful than what their parents can give them. What a good place to be a Christian.

Ultimately, it’s not about what’s easy, or what’s even possible. It’s about what God can do, through his spirit. I believe that the Lord desires that every family would be healed, that all people would come to know him, and that all people are able to trust in his name. If there isn’t help and healing for people’s families, why come to Christ? If he isn’t powerful enough to heal our most pressing wounds, is he even powerful? We need people willing to be pillars of strength in our communities, so that we know what the love of God even looks like. My job is to love in a way that shows God’s goodness. Even if it’s not enough, I trust him to make a way.

Though bucket 6/23/16

  • Without repentance, we are not fit to grow in our capacity to hold God’s love. As sacred vessels, if there is no intentional acknowledgement of the way we still fall short, our usefulness to God’s plan is limited. We cannot bear the good things he has for us if we allow ourselves to just coast.
  • Believe in who God is and his promises regardless of whether you feel happy with what he’s chosen to give you. There will be times when trusting God can’t be dependent on feeling happy with him or your present circumstance. Being confident in the Lord can’t just be about our feelings.
  • Do most people have good social skills? These days, I don’t think so. I’m not convinced that it’s bad to have some room to grow in how we relate to other people. It’s like beauty, or perfect physical appearance. We all want to be well liked, to be good looking, to be able to make other people like us, to fit in. It’s probably more important to be respectful and thoughtful than free of social mishaps. So long as you are trying to model Christ’s love for the people around you and do the little you can well, I think it’s okay to leave perfection up to God. God already loves us all more than we can imagine, even if only some of us decide to allow him to care for us. It’s okay to be imperfect and trust God to help compensate for your weakness.
  • Judgmental people are afraid to lose God’s love because they’re living their faith like it depends on their performance. Trust God. Pray for those people. Show them that the grace of God doesn’t depend on their performance, and set somebody free of bondage. Deep down, nobody really wants to wound others. We make decisions trying to compensate for what we are convinced that we need. Pray that people who make others feel condemned for minor flaws would realize that God’s love extends past their own character and past other human’s collective weaknesses. Pray that they encounter the abundance of God. People only judge like that when they are spiritually hungry and don’t know where to eat. Repay judgment with grace and kindness.
  • It’s good to have blessings large enough that they feel like burdens sometimes. Depending on whether you are grateful and trust God’s Holy Spirit, a gift will be good, neutral, or bad. It’s okay to have to take time to grow into the gifts God has for you, and to learn to steward the ones he’s already given. If you are actively trying to pursue Christ, becoming a better steward of what you already have is natural.
  •  A society where Teachers don’t parent and Parents don’t teach is doomed. A good Father teaches his children, and a good teacher cares for her students with a mother’s love.
  • I’m going to do the best I can with the little I have for as long as I can until it pleases the Lord to increase it. He who is faithful with little is faithful in much. Like the parable of the widow’s giving, we should aim to be faithful with what we have instead of feeling overwhelmed by what we don’t have. It’s more useful while you are waiting for certain life seasons to embrace God through the things you already have, than to be disappointed that it’s not here yet. Faith is based on what is unseen, not what is easy.

“that’s not respectful”: God’s tenderness and a conversation about honor

In the school where I worked in the role of a classroom tutor, we had a five-point strategy to encourage good citizenship and kindness in our students. Different goals, such as “soaring to success” (academic excellence), “act responsibly” (good stewardship), and “be respectful” provided our classroom the words and benchmarks to encourage one another forward.

As a grown woman, I wonder how many people know what it is to be respectful. But not just that. Apart from complacently neutral, past the boundaries of pleasant contempt, who knows what it means to honor others?

If respect is the bare minimum allotment of honor, what does it mean not just to respect, but to honor our elders? To honor our husbands or wives? To honor our family and friends?

If love bears all things and believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things, how can we ignore this requirement?

The Lord does expect us to love one another. In Romans 12:10, Paul tells us “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” To be perfectly honest, I have not yet researched what the word “honor” means in this context, in Paul’s letter. Yet from what I do know about God, it sounds a lot like Ephesians 5:22-33, which commands husbands and wives to love and submit to one another. Out of abundance instead of hunger, we are called to build one another up.

The love of God is tender as much as it is kind. As God will glorify his children in the second coming, and vindicate his family on that day of judgement, so he gives us reason to be still because of himself. There are many angry people these days about the state of our families, marriages, and civic institutions, but few fulfill what it means to love one another.

In a perfect relationship, it is not a burden to be a woman. The man that loves his wife as he does himself honors her, and makes her happy to be married. He takes care of their children. He does not act as though he himself were a child. Instead of seeking his own interests, he seeks the welfare of his family. Like Jesus being willing to go so far out of his way for us and sacrifice for what we could not do on our own, the equipped man of Christ has everything he needs to fulfill his calling. God is able to equip each of his servants (male or female) for the love he has set before them. Contrary to popular ideology, marriage really is a blessing.

Historically, I have held many strong opinions. I get angry, though I try to contain it. I have been one to feel hopeless. I have been one to feel alone, and the Devil certainly used that in seasons where I was convinced nobody wanted me.

When you go to the Lord with your full heart and he restores those empty places, a funny thing happens. It’s not that your opinions become less valid. Or that you start to feel bad for holding them. It’s that you have less need to insist in your own way and be right about everything. Love does not insist in it’s own way, and as we become more satisfied, being right is no longer the priority.

There are some people that become bolder through the love of God, but I am not one of them. As a kid, I was prepared to raise hell at all times. In all my classes, I have never been shy to share my opinion. I am not often afraid in an external sense, but fear hits me internally.

I know that each person is different. In my case, the love of God made me rest more. It made me happy. More peaceable. Less alone. It gave me words to express mourning and hope for better. It gave me the sense that God does not abandon us when we are angry, but provides us the tools through faith to fight for justice. His love helped me make sense of my life, and use it for better. He constantly provides for me out of my need, and gives me very practical help in times of trouble.

God helps in unexpected ways. For example, making the decision that I will start tithing with my first paycheck this August gives me a sense of stability. This year will not be living off of abundance, but giving God my best gives me the peace of knowing he will provide for me. God also strengthens my body when I give thanksgiving for the food I receive. I have seen it happen, and I have seen this act of thanksgiving radically change my mind and body through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, when we live in relationship with him in thanksgiving. I am well aware that my last claim sounds crazy, but I invite anybody willing to thank the Lord for your food on a consistent basis and see if he doesn’t strengthen you (I’m talking physical strength).

So many good things are already prepared and provided to those willing to allow Jesus to change their hearts. You don’t have to live in bondage forever. To live enslaved long after you’ve been paid for is to miss the entire point.

Fragility and the help of Emmanuel

Getting ready to move makes you very aware of how much conversational give and take is really for other people. As I get closer to moving away, I feel as though some of my friends are more delicate than they would be otherwise. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells sometimes, trying to soften the things I’d normally be saying full strength, not wanting them to feel afraid or angry that I’m leaving, trying to hedge against burning bridges on both sides. When people sense that the end of a season is coming, in the frustration of changing, we can sometimes lash out in ways that wouldn’t be wise in a longer relationship. When people feel threatened, or they sense that a relationship is disposable, they don’t always act wisely.

I have some trouble with my boss sometimes, who is somewhat type A. She is not a fan of change, and she gets overwhelmed easily. Like some family members I know, she feels uncomfortable when I am not always sunny and happy. If I come in thinking about something complicated, or if I say something that shows too much frustration or mourning, she gets defensive and finds creative ways to take things personally. Sometimes when we have a lot going on, it can be difficult to work around my boss. She can get overwhelmed and make rash decisions that she wouldn’t make thinking clearly. There is tension because I’ve been there longer than her, but I just try to do what she asks of me. The nature of our work is to constantly answer questions that are both broad, complicated, and more often than not, somewhat critical. If you don’t keep a level head and pick your battles, you are liable to lose it.

I think my boss is afraid. Whenever there is a lot going on, she feels more helpless dealing with the situation. Sometimes, she will talk aloud or take a lap around the office just to calm her mind and break out of any discomfort. Though I think she would probably prefer a more predictable and less high-stress work environment, I’m just doing what I can to keep the peace. When she gets frustrated, she can be slightly verbally abusive and condescending. She makes choices without consulting anybody, and uses a tone of voice that is disrespectful towards the students we work with. Because there is often a language barrier, her stress makes her unable to helpfully work through counseling a student with limited English proficiency. When she gets overwhelmed, she relies on attitudes and actions that aren’t often professional. She took offense the other day when I told her that I don’t feel comfortable when she takes up so much of my personal space without asking (she was trying to explain something with her hands on the back of my chair and I really didn’t feel comfortable). She found a way to take that personally also.

When you allow difficult circumstances to make you afraid, that fear controls you. When you work in stressful work environments, you have to be skilled at de-escalating situations, not building them. Though my boss doesn’t yet understand this, I do my best to get out of her way and stay level headed. Since I leave soon, her taking my matter-of-fact statements personally is not ultimately my responsibility. My responsibility is to do the best work I can do, and try to set an example that may rub off. When she takes a second to cool down, she acts more respectfully. She does make an effort to understand where I’m coming from after she’s had a minute of peace. She does try to make me feel appreciated when she finally calms down. I just feel a little bad for her because I remember what it’s like to deal with all that anxiety and have to go through the emotional fireworks. Looking at it from the outside, I feel sorry for her because I know the ups and downs are unnecessary. And I know it’s something she tries to control, even if she can’t on her own strength. Those kind of patterns are exhausting.

The more I work with kids, the more I believe in being a facilitator instead of a judge. My job is to encourage the ones I love to come to productive conclusions by listening and giving supportive advice. My job is not to control people’s every waking action. A lot of parents try to control their children without really teaching. A well taught child learns how to teach others, and is useful to society. A micromanaged child doesn’t make sense of the constant ebbs and flows of life’s changes, and learns to be afraid instead of to take initiative.

I see God’s presence a lot more in this “Emmanuel” kind of role. “God with us” walks us through our problems and provides his own strength for us to work through them. Teaching is a reminder to rely on God’s strength, because it’s true that those who teach will be judged more fiercely. If you seek responsibility, you become liable for all that responsibility means.

I think that it’s a lot easier for people to come into a relationship with God through Christ by having teachers in this kind of “Emmanuel” position. If we aren’t willing to serve, we should not be teaching. If “Rabbi” was a good enough title for Christ, then teaching is an honorable position. Good teaching requires you to serve. You have to be patient.

Is your suffering worth it?

The entire point of a life following Jesus is that if you get to times where you have to sacrifice, at least the sacrifice is worth it.

I know a lot of Christians who seem to reject the misery of Christ. For the past year or so, I’ve been so bothered by how so many people can take it easy and get comfortable while there is a world churning and burning for a God that many don’t want to know. Instead of making space for people who still have yet to receive Jesus, we cloister ourselves in the suburbs and every high place and expect that on Judgment Day, telling our stories will be equally easy. What if there is more work to do?

But I don’t believe in a life without sacrifice. As Christians trying to conform to the life of Jesus, how can we forget about the cross? Christ promised that we’d have hardship in this life. It’s not whether you encounter hard times, it’s whether the suffering was worth something.

For the past year or so, I’ve also received a lot of peace. For the longest time, I avoided suffering. I’d do hard things, and take calculated risks, but if I’m being honest with myself, I was still trying to receive healing for my past. I wouldn’t have been caught dead humbling myself to constantly remember how I felt as a child. As a teacher who is constantly around kids, my current reality is consistently informed by memories I wish I could forget entirely. I wish I could forget so much of other people’s indifference and lack of understanding. I wish I could forget so many people who made my life hell. I wish I could forget the way I reciprocated. But when I try to stand as a pillar of strength for the children I work with, God somehow uses that history of pain and abuse to do something. I know who to spend extra time with. I can sense a lot of what is behind this or that word. If I hadn’t felt so unwanted as a kid, how could I love the ones I work with now so much? At 22 years old, I know my inconvenient past was worth something. I find the value of my own suffering in being able to encourage the kids I work with. I become a healthier child with time.

Sometimes, I wish I could forget the people who I still care about. Who have intentionally or unintentionally wandered out of my life. I know that it’s a gift to love people indefinitely, even after they’ve left. I know it’s ultimately good, because it helps me remember to pray for them. There are a collection of people I think about ALL THE TIME that I can’t forget or stop loving. If they came back into my life fifty years from now, I’d probably still care for them. But caring for people who are no longer around also sucks. It sucks to inevitably love and remember people who are so far from you, some of which have no desire to care. It’s ultimately better to be the one still loving. But it hurts.

I believe that God holds on like that. I don’t think that it’s much of a choice for him either. It must be so hard to be God and watch all of us endlessly make bad choices. It’s not convenient for him to love us, but he holds on.

Christianity breeds hypocrisy when it’s convenient. All of these bittersweet moments that no one has the stones to talk about should be more commonly discussed in church. So much of following Jesus is heartbreak and putting up with suffering, even with endurance. I love God and he brings me joy, but his people have wandered the earth for thousands and thousands of years now. We’ve been enslaved, tortured, beaten, raped, captured, in famine, war, etc. Pictures of suffering paint the bible. Whether it’s the child raped by her half brother or Jeremiah cast into a well to die or the Samaritan women who has never really been known for who she is or the crucified body of Jesus. If we have the power of Christ, why do so few Christians acknowledge that this life is filled with horrible suffering? The world around us is full of hurting people, and somehow, we believe so little of Heaven that we just try to pretend it doesn’t hurt.

The suffering isn’t worth it if you just die. Even death wont be “resting in peace” if you don’t believe in God’s goodness. You just die after a miserable, meaningless life that had no intelligible design. If you don’t allow yourself to believe there could be better, everything is relative.

You can have an eternity that really does make up for the suffering, or you can have an eternity of punishment for not being willing to listen. God really does understand the suffering. It’s not like he doesn’t know. It’s not like he hasn’t done something about it. Are we going to act too stupid to know, or do we accept Jesus? The only thing that actually helps you bear the suffering of life is the surpassing suffering and glory of God. Without his misery, he couldn’t relate to us. Without his resurrection, there would be no escape. In faith, it’s possible to have peace as well as heavenly resurrection. Or are we too wise to know?