I doubt that many of us would be willing to wear the clothes seen on the fashion runway in exactly the way they are displayed, with all the accessories and interesting makeup. I look at the pictures and think it all looks ridiculous. But I remember thinking the same thing initially about ripped jeans, ankle boots and leopard print on the runway, yet all of these have eventually found their way into my closet.
We look at things in the extreme and laugh. We're no one's fool. We know where sensible ends and ridiculousness begins. Or do we? Is it possible that we are better at recognizing extreme fashion translating into items in our closets than we are at calling out extremely foolish definitions of what really matters in life and the way those views end up in our heads and hearts?
Why exactly do we feel so messed up? Why can we not answer the question, “Who am I?” Why don't we know our purpose in life? Why are we so unhappy?
Whether we realize it or not, we have been steeping in a false way of looking at life in the same way that a tea bag steeps in a pot. Bit by bit, it colors everything. Our culture has bought into a bunch of lies that are leading us on the road to nowhere. But perhaps most concerning is that many Christians are heading down that same road, and have no idea how inconsistent it all is when compared to how God sees things.
I think much of our trouble boils down to how we pursue happiness. To begin with, we need to start with the truth that God actually wants us to be happy, and knows just what will make that our reality. All too many of us have a faulty view of God- seeing Him as a cosmic killjoy, or as nothing but a disciplinarian who doesn't care how our heart is feeling as long as our behavior stays in line. Both of these ways of looking at God are wrong, and will keep us from knowing Him and finding true fulfillment.
God wants you to be happy. He knows exactly who you are meant to be, why you are here, the things that you need put inside you to work well, and the virtues that are going to keep you on the right path. But instead of asking Him for the answers to these questions, we turn to Instagram for a little inspiration. This is the sort of thing that we find:
“You are the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, you are in control of your life.”
“Live for you. Believe in yourself.”
“You are enough.”
“Trust in your own power.”
No matter how much it may make us feel good to stand in front of a mirror and recite these quotes to ourselves, it doesn't make a single one of them true.
Do you see who is at the center of all of these quotes? The almighty you. The empowered you. The tended to, self-care focused you. This means your focus turns inward which means things can get very dark very quickly.
If we want to find our way out of the mess, our starting point must be our ending point. Everything in your life is bringing you one step closer to the end, the day when you stand before God. That's the one sure thing; the appointment that can't be cancelled or delayed. When that day comes, we're going to want to be sure that we've spent our lives preparing well.
In contrast to the messages of the world, God says:
“I am the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, I am in control of your life.”
“Live for me. Believe in me.”
“I am enough.”
“Trust in my power. It is made perfect in your weakness.”
We are the most depressed, anxious, lost and empty people because we have moved our collective focus from God and placed it on ourselves. And we are collapsing under the weight of what was meant only for Him. But there is a way out from under that pile of garbage. It starts by shifting your focus away from you and placing it on God. It means stopping the pursuit of glory for yourself, and instead living every moment of every day for God's glory. In the words of Peter Kreeft:
Offer up everything to Him, everything you do and everything you see and everything you think and everything you love. For everything you do is to be done for Him, and everything you see is a preparation for seeing Him, and everything you think is a tiny truth that is part of His whole Truth, and everything you love is loved only because it resembles Him in some way Who is the Only Totally Lovable One. He left some of His perfume in the things He made, and as He passed by; and you can't help falling in love as you smell it.¹
There is a way out of the mess. God will give us everything we need for a fresh start, but His freely given gifts must be freely received. What do you need to let go of in order to lift your empty hands to the Only One who can fill them?
¹ Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 58.
I received the call halfway through my drive from Florida to Maine. With the dog in the backseat and the car full of Christmas presents, my world stopped for a moment with the news that Amy, our oldest, was in labor. We were about to welcome little Luke Anthony into the world, I was becoming “Nana,” and I couldn't get on a plane to them fast enough. Since I was in Philadelphia visiting my son (who couldn't hide the dog in his dorm room), I had to re-work plans and meet another son at the airport in Boston to pass off the dog, car, and gifts. Slight aside-this son met me curbside with his blonde hair dyed red; never a dull moment. But I digress.
Knowing how Amy's life was about to change, wanting to comfort her during any pain, desperate to hold this new precious life… I told every person I encountered that I was becoming a grandmother. Someone told me once that when you have a grandchild, all the love you have for your own child just multiplies and passes to the new baby. It's a chance to do motherhood again, but without the heaviness of responsibility. I'm allowed to just enjoy little Luke, to kiss his little cheeks and enjoy his snuggles, and know that while my prayers for him will be powerful, the disciplining is someone else's job. My husband, Leo, and I were able to enjoy a taste of this delicious experience this weekend, and it was the supreme gift.
When we were driving back to the airport, Leo talked about the effect little Luke had on him. “When I just held him, sleeping on my chest, all the things I've been worried about just faded away. There was a power in that little baby. He commanded all the attention in the room, simply by being there.”
It makes me think of a night thousands of years ago when another baby was born. It was the night that changed everything. Hope was ushered in, just because of His presence. Suddenly, everything else faded in importance. The door between heaven and earth was opened, and a baby entered. In the words of Ann Voskamp, Jesus came “as the most vulnerable imaginable. Because He wants unimaginable intimacy with you. What religion ever had a god that wanted such intimacy with us that He came with such vulnerability to us? What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death.”
Mingled with this outpouring of love is death. The incarnation and the Cross. This self-giving is the price of true intimacy. It's always demanding and brings with it a feeling of vulnerability.
I wonder where this Christmas Eve finds your heart. Is it weary from giving? Is it apprehensive, wondering how family dynamics will play out over the next few days? Are you feeling tempted to self-protect, to draw back, to fall into old coping mechanisms? Stress does that to the best of us.
So my prayer for you is that you can pause and feel the power of the baby in your midst. The Christ child comes and reminds us that all else can fade in importance, if we will focus on Him. It's His birthday, but He comes to offer gifts to us. He offers us kindness, hopeful that we will use it to offer forgiveness to those who don't seem to deserve it. He offers us patience, hopeful that we will use it to listen to the relative's story that we have already heard a million times. He offers us goodness, hopeful that we will do small things with great love for the people who are sitting in their chairs when we think they should be helping us. He offers us gentleness, hopeful that we'll be the balm between frustrated loved ones. He offers us self-control so that we close our mouths when the quick retort is on the tip of our tongues.
Just as being a grandmother offers a fresh opportunity to love again and perhaps love differently, the advent of Jesus gives us a chance to chart a new course in our relationships. So we pray…Oh come, oh come Emmanuel, and breathe new life into our families and homes. This Christmas Eve, we welcome you.
Summer invites me to slow down- to settle in to the here and now- to eat the ice cream cone slowly enough that it melts down my hand. So, I usually order ice cream in a dish and eat it fast. I don't say this with pride in my efficiency. It's more of a confession- an admission of guilt for rushing through life too quickly.
Talk to me about charging forward as a warrior and my ears perk up. Tell me about the next new challenge or potential adventure and I'm ready to go. Point out the souls that need to hear about Jesus and I strap on the armor of God and am equipped and available. But staying in the day-to-day, the ordinary? I seem to have trouble with that.
God is calling to my heart, asking me to battle in a different way- to fight to stay in the present moment.
What is the alternative- my default? I spend time in the past, mulling over what was said, what I could have done better, what I missed. It leaves me wistful and sad. I also spend a lot of time living in the future. Instead of being rooted in the now, my eyes are looking ahead to what is next. I think my mind spends the most time about three months out- looking at the looming deadline, the upcoming event, the next thing. Always the next thing.
This is robbing me of the joy of the ordinary day, and I want to battle to grasp hold of it.
Is it possible to live in ordinary time? I believe it is, but I won't make that shift until I take a hard look at what lies beneath my hustle. I am so grateful to author Kate Bowler for revealing it to me through her beautiful writing in Everything Happens for a Reason. Kate writes while eying the clock- knowing that her life expectancy hangs in the balance as she battles stage 4 colon cancer in her mid-thirties. She reflects back on how she lived in the apocalyptic future:
If I were to invent a sin to describe what that was- for how I lived- I would not say it was simply that I didn't stop to smell the roses. It was the sin of arrogance, of becoming impervious to life itself. I failed to love what was present and decided to love what was possible instead. (1)
Becoming impervious to life itself. What a thought… but isn't this what happens when we trade accomplishments for relationships? Life isn't the checked box, the money in the bank, the whirl of activity. Life is seeing the freckles on your child's nose, listening to the dreams of your spouse, laughter, gripping someone's hand when they suffer, serving in the hidden places, breathing in the new morning.
In the Fearless and Free lessons about the third stage of the journey (The Warrior) we focus on Ephesians 6. This is where we find the beautiful passages about the armor of God, and we don't just need this to move forward to lead others to spiritual freedom. We need it in order to fight for the present moment, for the gift of an ordinary day.
In this passage, St. Paul tells us to “put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). The enemy wants us to be consumed by the pain of the past and the fear of the future, and to miss the sacredness of the present. St. Paul challenges us to “hold our ground” (Eph. 6:13), to be rooted right here, right now.
To do this, we need to “stand fast with our loins girded in truth” (Eph. 6:14). I think one of the things that makes us jump into the future is because we don't like aspects of our painful present. This can lead us to buy into lies like “things will never change,” “I can't endure this” and “it's all up to me.” The truth is, God is at work, right now. In this very moment, He is weaving redemption into the tapestry of your life. He is not an absentee father, detained on a trip. He is involved in every detail of your life and nothing escapes His notice. He will never abandon you. He will see you through to the other side. Always moving in the unseen, God's very breath sustains you. He sees your need. He is on it-going before you and preparing the road- so that you can stop and enjoy today.
It isn't all up to you. It isn't all up to me. This means we can rest. We can slow down and return to a childlike rhythm made possible by trust.
This is His invitation to us this summer… to pause and delight in the ordinary. May we grasp hold of this one wild and beautiful life that we've been given and love what is present and right in front of us.
Praying for eyes to truly see,
(1) Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason (New York, NY: Random House, 2018), 156.
The Elf on the Shelf is stressing me out. For those of you who haven't noticed this little fellow in the stores, here is his happy little story:
“The Elf on the Shelf® is a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day's adventures. Each morning, the elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their elf each morning.”
While it is true that “children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their elf each morning,” the children are not so happy and excited when the elf has failed to move. It's too much pressure, my friend. I can't take the look of utter disappointment on their faces. And all these mothers from school are upping the ante by having their elf do things like fish in the sink, wrap the tree (seriously? I could barely get mine decorated), build towers out of forks, and decorate little baggies of red and green m&ms with the label “elf poo.”
Our seven-year-old, Bobby is still a believer in all things magical. Although our elf is rather inconsistent in terms of “perching in a different place to watch the fun”, Bobby has nevertheless cried every night out of fear that the elf will end up in his room, staring at him when he sleeps. None of us like to be watched when we aren't putting our best foot forward.
In the rush to relocate the elf, deck the halls, plow through crowded shops, wrap, bake, etc., I sometimes forget that Jesus is “watching the fun” as I prepare for His birthday.
Is it fun?
Or has the sparkle of Christmas grown dim because of the quantity of stuff, the steady activities, and the pressure to keep up with the latest electronic or name brand gifts?
Do you ever get to the end of the Christmas season, and find that your strongest emotion is relief that you got through it?
Advent is supposed to be about preparing for the coming of Christ, but too often, all we're really preparing for is more stuff to shove in drawers and closets, and hefty credit card bills in January.
I was walking to my car the other day with my arms full of heavy bags. (I had a lot of blessed people to bless with more things this Christmas season.) Feeling a little sorry for myself that my car was parked at the far end of the lot, I started thinking about God's perspective on it all. I was thinking about the fact that He doesn't just see me in the parking lot. His view is higher, and includes a young African girl on the other side of the world. We're both walking, but she's up when it's still dark, afraid as she makes her daily trek to a well to get fresh water. And it occurs to me that maybe my perspective has been a little faulty. And then I do the same self-talk that I've been doing for years, “So be grateful for what you have. It's not all about the finding the perfect gifts. Keep Christ in Christmas.”
Is that as far as God wants me to go?
Did He bring the disparity between my lifestyle and that of so many others to my mind simply to call me to a place of gratitude? Or would He actually like me to do something about it?
My mind travels to His words in Micah 6:8, “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We are to be the “pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing,” 2 Corinthians 2:15. It's more important for me to be the scent of Christ to someone in need than for my house to smell like pine, gingerbread and peppermint. This requires that I go beyond being grateful for what I have, to actually doing something. God didn't say that He required for us to think about the importance of justice. He requires that we do justice. He didn't say that we should love kindness in theory. Our love of kindness needs to be seen in our actions. And God invites us to walk humbly with Him during the Advent season and each day afterwards. He didn't say, “Run around frantically while checking things off your list, while ignoring me.”
I can't solve world hunger. I can't build a well in every village that needs clean water. I can't hold every orphaned child that is longing for a mother's arms. But if all God's children decide to celebrate Jesus' birthday by doing justice and showing kindness in action, we would see change. That scent of Christ would fill the air and people would be drawn to Him. Now that would be a birthday gift fit for a King.
Can we spend less on gifts for loved ones who already have so much, and give to someone truly in need?
Can we forgo a luxury for ourselves in order to be more generous?
Can we practice kindness in unlikely places, like the mall parking lot and the long line in the store?
Can we walk humbly with God by prioritizing time with Him over creating the “perfect Christmas?”
The next time I relocate our little Elf on the Shelf, I'm going to remind myself that Jesus watches the fun of Christmas, and nothing delights Him more than seeing love in action.
May we be the fragrance of Christ as we prepare for His coming.
Blessings to you this Advent season-
This month, I wanted to share with you a second excerpt from the Beholding His Glory talk that I gave at the WWP Leadership Conference in August. This is the second part of a two part reflection, so if you missed Part I, feel free to check it out on our website here: https://walkingwithpurpose.com/august-2013-reflection/
In Part I, I discussed what “Less of me and more of God” means in my personal life. The following excerpt describes a third area where God is working in me. “Less of me and more of God” has meant less self-sufficiency, less approval seeking, and…
Less accumulation and consumption.
Excess. My life is saturated with excess. I sometimes wonder how long my family could live on the food in our pantry. The supply never seems to go down. There's always a stockpile, yet we still manage to say that we're hungry and we can't find anything to eat. Dinner is served and too much of it ends up in the garbage. My closet is full of clothes but there are times that I can't find anything to wear, at least not the right thing to wear, and to me, the two seem like the same thing. We can barely move around in our storage room in the basement because it's loaded with things that I might need at some point, and I'd better keep, just in case.
I read Jesus' words in the gospel, telling the rich young ruler to go and sell everything he has and give it to the poor, and make myself feel better by saying that he didn't say that to everyone, so he must not mean me. “Please,” I whisper, “May that not mean me.”
Why do I pad my life with too many possessions? Why do I panic at the thought of letting the excess go?
Where is my security found? A convicting thought - one that has been niggling at my heart for some time.
And ladies, most of us are in this boat. Most of us are wealthy by the world's standards. Do you make $35,000 a year? Then you are in the top 4 percent of wealth in the world. $50,000? Top 1 percent.
In the words of Jen Hatmaker,
Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. We're tangled in unmanageable debt while feeding the machine, because we feel entitled to more. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, and we can't manage a fulfilling life on twenty-five thousand times that amount? Fifty thousand time that amount? It says we have too much, and it is ruining us.
God got a hold of her heart, and her husband's heart, and led them to a radical change. They are following the command in Scripture to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and give away half of what they make. They decided to adopt two children from Ethiopia. Jen wrote a book called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, based on a seven month experiment where she fasted from one thing each month. During the month when she focused on food, she made a commitment to only eat seven foods and fast from the rest. One particular night, she had made dinner for herself, and then fried up some fish for her kids. These were her three biological children, because she was still waiting for the adoptions to go through. Two of her children were in Ethiopia that night. She went upstairs to do laundry while they ate. When she came back down, they were done with dinner and watching television.
She asked, “Did you finish eating already?”
“Did you eat everything?”
She went to the trashcan and saw five of the six fish fillets uneaten, even unbitten. When the kids saw her face, they mumbled, “We didn't have any ketchup.”
And tonight, my kids here with me in the land of plenty threw away a pound of food because they didn't have ketchup…I wept for all my children tonight, my Ethiopian children orphaned by disease or hunger or poverty who will go to bed with no mother tonight and my biological children who will battle American complacency and overindulgence for the rest of their lives. I don't know who I feel worse for.
God has convicted my heart about this. And honestly, I don't know exactly what to do about it. I don't know what the solution is. But step one for me is calling it what it is and asking for God's forgiveness. Step two is going on right now. I'm daily praying with Leo that God will show us what needs to change so that we are seeking His glory with too many possessions instead of our glory and security.
He hasn't yet given us the answer, but I know that He will. And I also know that although letting go is hard, what God places in our hands in exchange is always better.
But even if I knew specifically what God is calling my family to, I don't know that I would share it here. Not because I don't trust you. It's more because I think we love formulas, and it would be just too tempting for everyone to assume that what God is asking of me is what He's asking of you. And that's not how it works. God speaks to each one of us, personally. The path to holiness isn't created with a cookie cutter. Each one of us is unique, and God has a special plan and a purpose for each one of His children.
But one thing I do know, He wants all of us to behold His glory, to know the fullness of Who He is. He wants every one of us to want Him more than we want anything else.
Matthew 6:21 says,
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
And I want my heart to belong to Him.
 Jen Hatmaker, 7 (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group 202), 21.
 Ibid, 22.
We had a wonderful time at our 2013 WWP Leadership Conference! For those of you who weren't able to attend, and for those who want a little recap, here is an excerpt from the keynote talk, Beholding His Glory. The excerpt will be delivered in two parts- part I in August, part II in September.
“Whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”
2 Corinthians 3:16-18
When we behold God's glory with an unveiled face, something amazing happens. The Holy Spirit works on us on the soul level, and transforms us so that we become more like Christ. Glory is God's holiness on display. When we become more like Christ, we bring God glory (which is our highest purpose in life) because His glory is displayed through us.
It cost Jesus everything for us to experience gazing with an unveiled face on the glory of God. He wants nothing more than to see each one of us being transformed. But is this what we are experiencing?
Are you experiencing the freedom that comes from the veil being lifted?
Are you experiencing transformation?
Are you Beholding God's Glory in this life-changing way?
In order to behold His glory, we have to let go of our own.
And this, my friend, is hard to do. This is radical living. This involves abandoning all sorts of behaviors with which we are quite comfortable.
We're comfortable with them, in part, because we are encouraged to live the American Dream. We're commended for achievement, self-sufficiency, accumulation of possessions, productivity, and success in the here and now. And as we pursue these things, and feel emptier and emptier, what we fail to realize is that we have fooled ourselves, pulling a veil over our faces that clouds our ability to Behold God's glory.
If I want to behold God's glory and there's no room- no sacred space for Him- if I'm keeping Him small in my life, then there's just one solution.
Less of me, and more of God.
What this means- Less of me and more of God- will look different for each one of us. But I want to share this morning what it means in my life today. Because I want to Behold God's Glory. I want it more than anything. And there are things in my life that are getting in the way of that. I am on a journey. I'm talking to you in the middle of it. I'm not sharing what has worked at the end of it. I'm saying, this is where I am today. And maybe this will resonate with you. But what I want you to do is to go before God, and ask Him, “What does Less of me and more of You mean in my life?”
1) Less relying on myself
For years, one area that God has been focusing on with me is my self-sufficiency. We are commended for believing in ourselves, trusting in and developing our own abilities, pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, and making things happen. Of course, hard work and diligence are good traits. But we get into trouble when we start to believe the lie that it's all up to us. Jesus calls us to be like Him, and to rely utterly on God's power. St. Paul echoes that teaching in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when he says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I used to pray that God would lighten my load- that it wouldn't be so hard all the time to get done the things that I believe he has called me to do. On a daily basis, there is far more on my plate than seems possible to accomplish, and I'm talking about the things that matter in the long run, not making the showiest birthday treat for my child to bring to school. Just when I think I might be able to get it all done (I've figured it out), something happens that throws my plans into disarray.
Because my self-sufficiency is so hard wired into me, it seems that the busyness of my schedule, the demands on my time, is the thorn in my side that God is allowing so that I rely utterly on Him. I'm not saying that we shouldn't pursue balance and that there's no place for rest. I'm just saying that in my life, God allows things to feel impossible, so that I rely on His power instead of my own ability.
2) Less craving for approval
Writing my book was a scary thing for me to do. There's so much of my heart splashed all over those pages. It's one thing to share it in the form of a talk, which I give among friends at Walking with Purpose. It's another thing to put it out there, knowing that for every person who loves it, someone might hate it and write something awful about it on Amazon.com. And I need to let this go. I need to get rid of my craving for approval, and my people pleasing behaviors. I need to live in such a way that I'm more concerned with my character than I am with my reputation. My character is who I really am. My reputation is who others think I am. God's got His eye on my character, and it's my character that should reflect Him to a world that is watching. People want to see a faith that makes a difference. People are asking, “does it work?” and then are looking at us to find the answer. They may not ask overtly, but they are observing. Character counts more than reputation. In an “image is everything world,” living like that is truly radical.