Monday, April 18, 2011

Beautiful Things

When I was sixteen years old, I was preparing to attend my junior prom with my boyfriend (who is now my husband). I had tried on several dresses and had found one that I thought might be “the” dress. I begged my parents to come to the mall so I could try it on for them. They were helping pay for it, plus I wanted their feedback. But deep down, I knew (even though I never would have admitted it aloud) what I really wanted was for my father to tell me I was beautiful. I don’t know why it was so important to me, but in that moment, I  desperately wanted the man who raised me to look at me all dressed up and see that I was a beautiful young woman– not just outwardly, but inwardly. I was hungry to hear those words from this person who meant so much to me. Beautiful. You are so beautiful.

Recently I have been reflecting on that feeling and I’ve realized that for a long time, I have wanted so much to be told that I am beautiful. And again, it is not really about outward beauty (although I wouldn’t argue with having some of that!). It’s about my desire for the people I care about to look at me and see something special inside, something beautiful.

The problem is that I have spent so much time chasing after all sorts of things in hopes of making people see me as special and beautiful– and, for that matter, to try to see myself as special and beautiful. I have looked for my value and worth in numerous things, from achievements to physical attractiveness to my role as a mother. And yet, no matter how hard I’ve tried, it’s never been quite what I’m looking for. Underneath it all, I still have not felt beautiful or special. I have felt as though I’m whoring myself out in search of affirmation, and any affirmation I do get is short-lived and provides limited satisfaction.

What absolutely blows my mind is that I am beautiful, not because of anything I have done, but because God says so. I am created in his image, and he is the one who defines my worth and value. Anything I do on my own will be empty. When I am trying to show people how intelligent or insightful (or whatever else) I am, it is an attempt to take matters into my own hands in hopes that they will admire and validate me. But if I will step back and allow God to shine through me, people will certainly see something beautiful and special– but they won’t just be seeing me. They will be seeing him– and that is the beauty I want to reflect.

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.
-Gungor- Beautiful Things

Monday, April 11, 2011

Faith and Obedience

Many times I have heard the phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
But I am not convinced that this is actually an accurate statement. If I could handle everything that comes my way, I would have significantly fewer opportunities to put my faith in God.  After all, if I’ll never get more than I can handle, then it would be pretty easy to put my faith in myself.  No worries, God, I’ve got this one!

No, I absolutely believe that we are given more than we can handle ourselves. There comes a point when all you can do is give it to God and trust him.  And to be honest, when I look back at the things I have tried to handle on my own in the past, I am quite happy to admit that there are some things that God is better off handling because, well, he’s God and I’m not.

I am in one of those places in my life right now. With finances very tight, a house that is barely big enough for our family as it is, and a poor housing market, we have recently found out that we are expecting another child. And I am realizing that while, yes, there are some things we can do, we are going to have to trust God in a major way. Financially, long-term, this is a situation that is beyond our control. It is more than we can handle on our own.

Normally the realization that I cannot make it happen for myself would stress me out. But now I am seeing the beauty in surrendering to God and having faith in him to work in our situation in the way he sees fit. I know he will come through. Perhaps our house will sell, perhaps we will have just enough to get by, perhaps we will have more than enough, or perhaps God will give us the patience and fortitude we need to get through a challenging time. In what particular way he will come through, I do not know, but I know that he is faithful, he knows what we need better than I do, and I trust him.

Along with this faith and trust, though, is the willingness to listen and obey. Faith and trust are not passivity and laziness cloaked in clever spiritual-sounding terms. I must spend time in prayer, not only talking, but also listening. Is there something God wants me to do? Something he wants me to give up? Something he wants me to change? Then I must hear him and obey.

I cannot handle everything that comes my way, not on my own. But by experiencing situations that are beyond what I can handle, I am learning to put more faith in God, to listen more closely to his voice and to trust him to guide me. And, because I believe he is a good shepherd, I believe he will do what he knows is best for me, even if that doesn’t look the way I expected it to look.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Shepherd

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. A shepherd goes out searching for his sheep when he realizes one is lost, and once he finds it, he rejoices. He lifts it onto his shoulders and carries it to safety. John wrote that Jesus called himself the good shepherd. And most of us know the beginning of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.” 

But in modern American culture, we are limited in our understanding of sheep and shepherds. However, I recently had an experience that I think helps me understand the analogy a little better. While I was in another room of the house, making preparations for a family trip, I heard the front door open and close. Immediately I went to the living room to see what was going on, and I quickly realized my two year old son was missing. I looked out the front door, and to my horror, saw him gallivanting across the street with nothing on but a diaper and a pair of mismatched socks. My heart dropped, my mama bear instinct kicked in (or perhaps I should say my shepherd instinct!) and I ran out the door, calling his name. When I reached him at the other side of the street, I scooped him up in my arms, held him to me so closely and so tightly, and thanked God he was okay. Like the shepherd who found his lost sheep, I rejoiced and carried him to safety. 

It is worth noting that sheep, just like my toddler that afternoon, are not really aware that they’re putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations. They do not realize what could happen to them. This is why they need a shepherd to protect and guide them. The shepherd used his rod and staff to fight off predators and lead the sheep in the direction they should go. Psalm 23 references this as well: “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” These items were a comfort to the sheep, an assurance that the good shepherd would do everything in his power to protect them and lead them. Likewise, as a parent, I will do everything in my power to lead and protect my children. I will go out searching for them if they are missing, and I will fight anyone and anything that gets in my way. I am their shepherd, gently leading them and fiercely protecting them. 

Later, as I reflected on it, I felt as though God was reminding me that this is his heart toward me, toward all of us. God is my good shepherd, the one I can trust to guide and protect me. Notice that the shepherd in the parable does not become angry and punish the sheep once he finds it. Not even close. He rejoices! Many times in my life, I have wandered in the wrong direction and put myself in harm’s way. And God has never punished me for it or decided not to look for me. He has found me, he has protected me, and he has returned me to safety. He loves me– like the good shepherd loves his sheep, like parents love their children.