Juggling the Good Works

Well, it’s been a few month since I wrote anything. I had high hopes of writing every week and sharing some of the things the Lord has been teaching me about biblical womanhood. While I haven’t written in awhile, the Lord has been teaching me a lot.

One of my favorite books is The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. The best picture in the book is the one in which the cat is juggling several different items at once.

catinthehat

I like this image because on the very next page, the cat drops everything. It all comes crashing down. What a good reminder for my soul! I can’t hold everything. I’m fallible. When life gets busy, it’s no use pretending I can keep the cake on my head and the fishbowl on the rake. Either I can lay some things down, or we all see everything crash down on the next page.

This blog was something I laid down for the spring. Thank you for your patience – I have been so blessed by many of you who have encouraged me to keep writing. Now that the spring semester is ending, I plan to pick it back up. Remembering that I can only hold so many things at once.

Maybe this is true for you as well. Maybe you are trying to hold too many things at once. If you’re anything like me, there are some signs you can watch for to help you evaluate whether you’ve got too much on your plate:

  1. Vegging Out – When I’m overloaded but then get a few minutes to rest, all I want to do is watch Netflix. I don’t want my mind to be engaged. This is problematic because moments away from the work of life should give us sweet entrances into God’s throneroom. But we often don’t want to go there because it doesn’t feel restful at the outset. It challenges us to set our hearts on Him and turn our attention to something worthwhile. We must remember that no greater rest exists than in the arms of our Father.
  2. Irritability – I’ll be honest. There are many reasons I could be irritable. But when I’m maxed out, I feel justified in my irritability. I think I should be allowed to be the center of my universe because of all the things I’ve been doing for everyone else. It’s dangerous territory when I believe I deserve anything. In fact, the only thing I truly deserve is judgment.
  3. Isolation – I love my family and friends, but putting too much on my plate draws me into isolation. I know I have a million things to do, so I definitely don’t have time for conversation or laughter or enjoyment. I prefer to be alone, both in my work and in my rest. Nothing could be further than the design the Lord has for us! Working and resting are meant to be group efforts. Community is necessary to every aspect of our existence, and it brings joy to our lives.

So it’s been a busy semester. Some of you who know me personally know that the things I’ve been doing have been good works. But I never want to miss the learning moment – the Lord has designed me for good works, but not all the good works in the world are good works I should be doing. He knows which works are mine to do. Thank you for allowing the good work of writing to be put on hold as other good works were taking place. I look forward to continuing our learning together.

 

 

Empathy vs. Sympathy

I have spent many hours in conversation with women, couples, and children who are struggling. It’s something I truly love to do, and I have learned that not everyone is wired to listen to the hurt that pervades every heart. But as believers, and thus ambassadors of Christ, we are all called to walk in biblical community with fellow believers. Whether we love to listen or just want to get to the bottom line, our loving Father commands that we “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). What does it mean to obey this command?

Bearing another’s burden does not mean taking it completely off her shoulders. In fact, there is no way to shoulder someone else’s load entirely. However, many people try. They hate to see a loved one in pain, so they try to ‘fix’ the problem in one way or another. I have walked with women who were completely worn out because they spent so much time and energy trying to make others feel better. We are not called to take away another person’s burden by putting it on ourselves.

Neither does bearing another’s burden mean listening to the short version of the story and then spitting out Bible verses and suggestions to pray and serve more. The Bible is not a how-to manual. Those who follow it tediously often still suffer greatly. The Bible can act as a healing balm for the bleeding wounds of the heart, but it is not a band-aid to be used for covering and then forgetting about a deep injury to the soul.

What is the difference between empathy and sympathy? Picture a friend who has been incarcerated. You go to visit her in prison. You sit across from her with the glass between you and speak through a telephone. You can see her lips moving and can hear her voice, but there is still a wall of glass between you. This is a picture of sympathy. You may want to hear and see and be near, but you cannot deny the distance between you created by your situations. She is in prison – you are not. Therefore, you cannot truly understand her position (and you don’t really want to, either). So you try to speak kindly and offer words of encouragement, all the while knowing that you will leave in a few moments and enter the fresh air of freedom, and she will remain stuck behind bars.

Empathy, on the other hand, portrays a much different picture. Empathy goes into the prison cell with the inmate. It sits side by side on the hardened cot and smells the odors of urine and sweat. It hears the sounds of other prisoners yelling and cursing. It can touch, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There is no protective glass.

How do I go from sympathy to empathy? Must I have an experience similar to another person in order to feel what she feels? May it never be! I certainly hope I don’t have to experience every kind of pain for myself in order to empathize with my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. The first step to growing in empathy is a humble heart. If I know my place, my utter desperation for a Savior who heals, I can enter into the prison cell with another. No matter what kind of hardships I have endured, I know that my hardships represent a life in absolute need of Christ. With this understanding, I can see her imprisonment as similar to mine – we all need Jesus’ healing power for our suffering. I can step behind the bars and sit in the cell with someone else, because I have sat in  my own cell plenty of times, crying out for freedom.

The second thing that creates empathy in my heart is an understanding of the sovereignty of God. I am not called to fix anyone’s problems. I am not God, and therefore am not responsible for making things better for anyone. He alone is sovereign to heal and cleanse and grow. Therefore, I can enter the prison cell without fear, knowing that we will walk the road of healing together. I will offer myself, not just my words. This is what bearing one another’s burdens looks like. And this is the heart of empathy.

Revelations from the Mall

My wonderful husband has given me a beautiful gift today…I am spending the evening alone at a hotel in order to think and pray and plan the next few months of my life. Quite honestly, I’ve been thinking about it nonstop all week, trying to figure out the best way to spend the 21 hours I would be given. Making the best use of time is not my strong suit…

While I was waiting for my hotel room to become available, I decided to go to the mall and walk around. As I was pulling into a parking spot, a woman drove up behind me and rolled down her window. She began yelling at the top of her lungs (I could hear every word even though the radio was on and my windows were closed). She was railing about the fact that I had ‘stolen’ her parking space. She informed me (in colorful terms) that she had been waiting for that space for quite some time. I was so shocked that all I could say was ‘I’m sorry’. But I had no desire to simply give in and back out of the space. Her attitude toward me had the opposite effect of what she wanted.

What makes a person so angry that she lashes out at a perfect stranger for stealing her parking space? Obviously there was much more going on in her heart than simply frustration over the busyness of the mall. And, because I knew she was clearly angry at something (or someone) else rather than me and was just throwing her anger my way because I was convenient, I wasn’t angry in return. I felt sorry for her. At first. Then I just marveled at the depravity of humanity.

As I walked through the mall, I people-watched. This is something I really love to do. It reminds me that the world is much bigger than my little existence. And how many of these souls lounging on benches and browsing the sales racks have no idea that the Creator of the universe is desperately in love with them? How many of them are lost in very dark wildernesses, longing for someone to kindle a flame and light the way for their retreat into peace? And, more poignantly, how often am I thinking of these souls? How many times do I intercede for them? How much do I even consider my calling to shine the light of the gospel of peace toward their veiled faces?

The woman whose parking space I stole remains hidden under the heavy veil of deceit. The pregnant mother of three, the business owner, the child riding the merry-go-round, the sales associate. All of them waiting, not even knowing what they are waiting for, but waiting nonetheless. Waiting for light to break through the veil. The light I have burning in my soul.

What am I so afraid of? Light permeates my existence, and the darkness cannot defeat it. Yet I hesitate. O Father of Light, grant me a willing spirit and an angst for pushing back the darkness.

Bread and Water

Isaiah 30:20-22: “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. They you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, ‘Be gone!'”

Very often I have discovered that adversity and affliction are my classrooms of sanctification. I wish I could learn life’s lessons without having to walk through dark valleys, but that’s not the way of it. The wording used by the Teacher in Isaiah 30 is so interesting – He compares adversity and affliction with bread and water. These are things we need. They give us strength and nourishment, and we must partake of them often. But He promises not to hide Himself from us in the midst of it all. He promises that this food will cause us to hate our idols and cast them away.

I would love to live my life only eating sweets, but bread and water are essential to my survival. I must learn to live James 1:3-4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” If perfection and completion are the goal – that is, total sanctification in Christ – the bread of adversity and the water of affliction must be joyfully digested. Make it so, Lord.

Taking Out the Garbage

This week, my husband is out of town. And today is trash day. I can honestly say that there are very few things I enjoy less than gathering up and dragging the garbage to the street, so this morning I argued with myself in my mind about whether it could wait till next week when he gets back. But my sensibility won out, and I held my nose and took care of it. On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about the implications of choosing not to take out the trash. I have a friend who lived in Guatemala for a year, and they don’t have a city trash service. This means that garbage is basically piled up in certain places, and it just sits there and rots. Gross.

I visited with a young lady over the weekend who said she was having great difficulty knowing God’s will and sensing His presence in her life. She wondered if she was even a Christian. I remember telling her that sometimes our sin and suffering seems to pile up in our hearts, making the sweet aroma of the Spirit less easy to notice. And, if you’re like me, you may try to stuff that garbage as much as possible, choosing not to deal with it because it’s too hurtful or difficult. But sooner or later, the pile of garbage (and its stench) cannot be ignored. For me, the stench comes out in irritated remarks toward my loved ones or refusal to commune with God or idolatry of comfort. But those are outward smells of the garbage within. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (I Peter 5:6-9)

What garbage is piled up in our hearts? Our Lord calls us to cast it all at His feet, knowing that He cares for us and wants our freedom. I encourage you to take stock of your heart this week, perhaps writing down the things that seem to be causing a stench in your heart and then confessing to a sister or brother in Christ. Then, in faith, let us cast it all at the beautiful feet of Jesus. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).