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.

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?

Brief sketch of my family

My mom’s older sister has come to visit on their way to another destination, along with my cousin, my cousin’s husband, and their daughter. Watching their old Irish Catholic style of banter resurface is weird in a way that is worth describing. I’m using this as an opportunity to define the differences between my mom’s side (Irish Catholic) and my Dad’s (German).

My mom’s side:

  • We had corned beef and cabbage, chocolate cake, and veggie tray for dinner. My mom was drinking a Guinness. There is literally nothing left.
  • My mom feels the need to automatically insult the food (“the cake is dry”), and make similar comments while still not being able to take a compliment
  • My mother’s name is Katie (Kathleen). Her mother was Mary Kate. My second cousin who is my age is also Kate (Katie). The naming traditions are so repetitious.
  • Talking crap on the family members who aren’t present, while still using a bunch of euphemisms being ambivalent about raising hell. Being benevolently and malevolently mischief minded.
  • Statements that are ambiguously offensive and truly offensive caricatures of ethnic minorities. And just think, it’s not even a holiday!
  • Talking about car maintenance (my Grandpa worked his whole career at Goodyear and her three brothers were all at some point into working on cars). DIY home maintenance and fixing things.
  • High cheekbones, feathered hair, sensible yet muted color palette for clothing, home of the mom jeans.
  • “The little guy takes the kick in the pants for these oil robber barons” is literally something that I heard come out of my mom’s mouse. So much focus on working class values. Somebody talking about how the people who were rich and “cared about the community” left. Not really sure what town they were talking about, but for the most part, the comments are interchangeable.

My Dad’s side:

  • Much more vain philosophy, cynicism, and nihilism
  • More idealistic beliefs and the telling of fantastical tall tales
  • Dreaming/Imaginative quality blends into substance abuse
  • Glorified self-narrative in the style of bildungsroman (in which a young man finds himself), focus on personal fulfillment and proving oneself through glory/financial success. Look up the Wikipedia summary of Faust by Goethe and we’re nearly there.
  • More favoritism of male children
  • More schadenfreude (laughing at the suffering on your enemies/inventing enemies to laugh at), authoritarian values, and bullying
  • So much Iowa and farming and pork products and corn. Mix in cornbread and watermelon and we’ve almost got a potluck. Yay Midwest!
  • Bickering and debating at the dinner table. Whipping your opponent into submission. Tears/emotional expression as a sign of weakness. Caustic masculinity.
  • Weird fantasies of self-sufficiency.
  • More fascination with nature.
  • More intentional cheapness and acceptance of being poor/love of bargains

To be honest, I am a lot more like my mom and identify with the values on my mom’s side a lot more than my Dad’s, based partially on his various bad choices. I know that there are redeeming bits and pieces here and there, but so be it. My mom has always been very invested in our community, and I really resonate with her sense of mischief and the belief that authority figures hold social responsibility. My mom is very blunt, and very passionate, and she stands up for her beliefs (especially when she feels good about her self-esteem). I like how my both my parents but even more so my Dad raised me to eat what was set in front of me, and to not enjoy getting a bargain at Goodwill. I like how me and my Dad spent a lot of time enjoying silence observing nature on road trips and taking walks out by Kansas’ various man-made lakes. My Dad is a lot more striving, and he doesn’t believe in God. For the most part, I don’t like how a lot of the German literature I’ve read seems completely idealistic and nonsensical. It just reminds me of his broken promises and inflated self image.

I love my parents, but we are all broken people. I think that’s okay. If there’s anything I want to be able to pass on to my children, it would be competency with emotion-based skills, the ability to respect others while you disagree, and an intense love of honesty. I used to love debating with my Dad, but he rarely fought fair. My mom usually thought that talking philosophy was me arguing with her, and she never engaged with a lot of my desire to question and explore. They are both getting better. My mom is making more of an effort now that she feels less overwhelmed (and my sister and I have aged), and my Dad has become more sensitive and mellow now that he has less to boast about. I think they’ll be good grandparents to my kids, but on a personal level, I want to be a better parent to my own children. Childhood is so special. I guess it is what it is.

Being an idol instead of a wife

Even if I don’t actually end up getting married, God wastes no time teaching me about what it means. Sometimes, he’s so intentional about delivering the word or pattern that I need to understand him more fully in my specific season that it feels like curricula. Like he had a series of planned lessons already ready to go, and sent them in ways that a regular teacher couldn’t budget within his or her wildest dreams. I love thinking of God as a teacher. It helps add legitimacy when you focus on his teachings.

Anyways, I often think about what marriage is. At this stage of my life, it feels both appropriate and useful. And while I am not in charge of the answers, it helps me to be able to articulate whatever God is saying, at least for my own sake.

For the past couple of months, I have been struggling with what it means to be a white woman. Hear me out for a minute. Within my own family, and within a lot of families over time, white women have been this kind of household fixture that has been forced to be polished, tidy, self-possessed, etc. Although we haven’t been fetishized in the same rapey way that African American women have throughout US history, so many white women I know act out these cocktail party set of moral requirements that seem to aspire after being like [insert glamorous white actresses’ name here]. While these rules certainly have lost place within my generation, it is bizarre to me that as a woman with naturally light eyes and hair color, I could force myself into the era of the pin-up girl if I tried. I could put on this false sense of self, and this artificial confidence. While I respect my mom a lot and she is a very independent woman, sometimes she puts on these cocktail party manners in a way I legitimately do not understand (holidays, when we have company over, etc). To me, it’s like trying to sell off pieces of yourself in order to be the best candidate for being coveted. Success is defined by how many boys you have after you. For me, life is too short for that.

It’s such a generational thing that I don’t think she means anything by it. Those roles weren’t really shoved on most women my age, as they have been in the past. It’s weird how sharply they are used whenever there is a formal event, in the style of a public benefit or a fundraising event. It feels like playing house.

The ideal of the trophy wife freaks me out. Part of that is because of class-based resentments I’m trying to work through about what it means to have money, and shut yourself off from the rest of society. A lot of what bothers me has to do with the idea that by putting on these roles, we are essentially completing a transaction. It feels disingenuous. Instead of becoming the woman of Christ you are meant to be, you sell off parts of yourself (an arm, a leg) to become like a household idol, a mantelpiece dressing. Having a carved wooden woman isn’t the same thing as having a wife who is entirely satisfied in Christ, who is capable of actually being a helper, and who has gifts to contribute more than being a doll. It throws away the things that God has put in women away and inserts an infinitely less valuable set of requirements that fall short of the blessings God intended. My character is not going to weaken my marriage, but strengthen it, because I am already satisfied in Christ. My husband shouldn’t have to lust after me in a way that makes him covet me. That is weird. The best gift a guy could get his wife is to be the best version of himself, and to boldly walk into the gifts God has given him. And to let his wife do the same.

You can’t substitute God’s diverse blessings for each of us into etiquette and then expect the same blessing. While I am not saying that virtues like tact and self-control are important, those things mean nothing if they aren’t part of a larger image of Jesus, and two people striving to become like Christ together. No sane woman wants to be idolized. It’s a lot easier to be a follower of Jesus than to be made into an idol.

Love is a freewill offering, and it is not coerced. If we make finding love into a paint by numbers set and make following God’s plan as formulaic as human-devised codes of conduct, we entirely miss out on the sublime miracle of supporting somebody who through marriage, actually strengthens you, and submitting to one another. Love can’t be free otherwise, and you can’t do it with your full heart.

Caring about justice, not knowing how to fix it

One of the biggest lies I have ever met when trying to reconcile my desire for justice with the world is that I have to know what I’m doing. While some people think action is prudent only after you’ve developed a perfectly thought out plan, I want to share a couple reasons I’ve decided to abandon that belief.

Rarely in life do we have a perfect understand of where our actions (or lack thereof) will lead us. We all live within a limited amount of time, and despite comfy illusions to the contrary, none of us knows when it will end. Because we still do not understand how the outcomes of our actions will be described in history books, it’s kind of a touch and go situation most of the time when we are confronted with choices based on whether or not we care.

And while some ambiguity is helpful, what isn’t helpful is the assumption that you have to be in control in order to pray and work towards a solution. I am an independent young woman, and I like to know that my actions are working towards some kind of a solution. While it’s good to examine how solutions are born, sometimes my part to play in that solution is relatively small. It’s not because of who I am. It’s because if I really care about something, I need to be willing to serve long before I am ready to lead. If I really care about something, I need to commit to building up the people who are working with me. If I really care about something, it’s not about how I think something should be done, but what kind of change I can facilitate as part of a group. And though these lessons take years to learn, while I am still able and still relatively young, I need to let go of the delusion that change should always be under my authority.

As someone who desires to live out ministry, I surrender my right to an opinion. For the love of my friends and Christian family, I can make myself less. It’s not because I’m a woman. It’s because more often than not, the roles that no one really wants to take are the most necessary. Listener. Witness. Encouragement. If Christ came in order to serve all of us, then my image of leadership should start with making myself less.

It’s not about what I can do to be a better person, it’s about how I can grow in faith to become more like Jesus Christ. My goal for my ministry here on earth is to empower others in their faith, and to be willing to make myself as a servant in order to invest in all people’s leadership. On my own, I have no clue how to solve nearly all of the world’s problems. One of the most important parts about allowing justice to happen is to follow the people who are most worthy of leadership and know more than you. If who I am needs to be put on the sideline to minister to people and to give them what they need, I accept that.

And you know what? As a follower of Christ, it is my duty to try to understand where hurting people are coming from, based on a Savior that was nailed to the cross. Mark 2:17 “On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” How can I pray for God to heal people’s pain if I’m not interested in a ministry of intercession? Disengaging from the world’s pain is not appropriate for someone who believes in God’s almighty power to heal.

Respecting the differences in our Christian family when you disagree with people

Romans 14:22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. (NIV)

I was just reading an article about how modern worship styles diminish from Jesus, and although I know that I can be unkind myself, I just didn’t find the article helpful.

I respect that we are a large Christian family, and I know that I for one love to insist in my own way when I think I’m right. I’m trying to do that less, because I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter whether or not you are right. How you respond to others when you think they are not right is what matters.

I think this passage of Romans is meant to let people know that the differences are okay. Even though it’s hard to come to understanding with traditions or practices in Christianity that are unfamiliar to us, that doesn’t mean that different denominations or groups of people have an invalid perspective. It is easy to condemn others, and exclude attempts at understanding from your lifestyle. Part of the reason that the person who does not condemn him or herself for what he or she approves is blessed is because generally, it takes a little bit of effort to understand a tradition long enough to recognize it’s value. If you view someone else’s traditions with the desire to understand in what ways they might constitute worship, then you will recognize a lot more meaning and richness of human experience than if you chose to be a sourpuss and stay stuck. I believe that God is reflected in every human culture, and although I rarely understand people without trying, I recognize more of God when I engage with what I do not know instead of shutting people out. It’s really hard to care about your brothers and sisters in Christ if you don’t make an honest effort to understand them. Being willing to listen and grow is an act of love.

To me, the way of life mentioned in this scripture reflects a person who makes significant attempts on a regular basis to reconcile with perspectives he or she does not know. By seeking God over what you do not understand, you work through how you see the world with him. By keeping what you know and don’t know before God’s throne and continuing to seek him, you neither condemn your neighbor or keep your secret thoughts private, instead displaying them before God. Because not every disagreement is helpful, I personally would rather have my friends and Christian family try to seek God for what they see as character flaws in me, instead of judging me but doing it quietly. While it is important to have enough reverence for God that you desire to bring to him the things you don’t understand, if my Christian family does not do so in love, it is basically useless to them or me. It’s more of 1st Corinthians 13:4-7 in practice: if your intentions are to dismantle instead of build up, then your actions will generally have that effect.

While I respect individual differences, I dream about having differences of opinion communicated respectfully. Even if you don’t like the way I engage with God, it means so much more when you honor a person’s perspective by trying to understand instead of quietly disengaging. I would rather be wrong and respected/respectful than right and rude/selfish. While I know that the person who wrote this article probably didn’t mean for it to hurt anyone, that person’s words certainly did have that effect on me. As a writer and as a friend, I will use this experience as an opportunity to examine what impact my words have on others (like 2 Timothy 2, James 3:5, etc). As a Christian living in community with others, maybe I can use the times where I feel upset by someone else’s words as a time to fear God and reconsecrate myself towards serving my Christian family, having been reminded of how my words can wound. Besides, I’m not really upset by what this person had to say, but how they chose to communicate it.

When we use groups of people as burnt offerings

Do you know what it means to be made into a scapegoat? Have you ever felt the burden of social rejection because people were trying to use rejecting you as atonement for their own sin? Have you ever experienced discrimination based on whether or not people called you “holy”? How do you reconcile yourself back to the church, after all that?

You love God more than you hate his broken children. You accept the sin in your own heart and (over time), forgive. This isn’t easy. When I see the “church” persecuting gay people, even under the belief that their sexual practices are not holy, it makes my skin prickle. Are we using this one group of people as martyrs to project unto and atone for our own sexual sin? Do you really want to quarantine some of God’s children and deem them as unholy? Doesn’t that make you a judge with evil thoughts?

Maybe you cant understand this unless you have been made the victim of it, but when you pick a group of people who share a common trait for religious and social exclusion, usually that leads to pain, an escalation of brokenness, violence, and ultimately, death. We all are children of God. We all want the opportunity to become holy, and through Jesus, it is offered to all.

Maybe we wouldn’t need to isolate and divide if we loved God and the people we are serving more. Even if you are right, does belittling the poor in spirit do any good? Do you serve your God by insulting the created? How can you address your sin, if not in prayer, directly? We create these spaces and places where we are certain we will be judged, because we don’t love God enough to let his forgiveness and approval come from him. Is that the spirit of impartiality?