Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sustaining Love

For a long time in my life I thought it was unfair that others seemed to love me based on what I can do for them. But then I realized that I often do the same to others. I think it's a common mindset in our society that we should love people based on what we can get out of it. And yet, we wonder why relationships so often fail.

But in the process of "growing up" I am learning that true, wholesome, lasting, godly love cannot be sustained based on what we get from it, but what we can give. And it doesn't take long to learn that looking out for number one, seeking our own interests and even setting our expectations too high can lead to disappointment - for both sides.

We want all this stuff even while knowing our own humanity, and that we probably couldn't give it out as well as we think we could - yet we seek it from others still. And where does it get us? Alone? Lonely? Why? Many times it's all because we insist on our own way and because we refuse to accept the way another shows love. Sometimes it's because we are so selfish to think that having our own way is worth destroying everyone around us.

It's human nature to seek to please ourselves. But love originated with God, and it can't be sustained via man's way. Nothing changes, it seems, until we realize that our whole purpose in being is to serve others and not ourselves. Even then, it's hard to accept. Even then, it's hard for a faulty human to practice consistently.

I'm not suggesting we allow others to mistreat and abuse us. I am saying that we bring all this hurt on ourselves when we follow society's way of love. Many times. we put ourselves first in a relationship with the mindset that it's up to us to go after what we want and to expect others to meet all our needs. But is it really? Based on what I am learning from who God is, I don't think so.

I'm not suggesting that you are unimportant either. I am suggesting you make it a point to make someone else more important than yourself. When we stop thinking about how we feel or what we want all the time, we are happier because we are fulfilling our purposes. We can't be so dependent on people to meet our needs or we'll stay discourged non-stop because we are all so prone to mistakes. Trust me, I know.

We might begin a relationship seeking to meet our own needs but if we keep up that pace, we will either be destructive to that person and / or we will destroy the relationship. Selfishness builds a wall, and that wall is easier to prevent than to tear down.

I'm convinced that God's design for love is not possible until:
  1. You have an intimacy with God first and foremost.
  2. You accept that you were not meant to meet one's every need or to have one meet your every need. (This goes back to #1.)
  3. You realize that we are here to serve and are able to say "This isn't about me."  
  4. You are willing to sacrifice for others.
  5. The hurt of another is more important than your own.
This stuff wasn't meant to be easy. But nothing worth doing ever is. Keep the pace and never quit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Look in the Mirror

One thing I've noticed lately is that we humans tend to be quite quick to label others. We're good at it, and of course it makes us feel better about our own flaws. I only know because I tend to do it too. We have this need to feel good about ourselves and sometimes that need causes us to try to take down those around us, even without knowing it.

Lately I've been really agitated because I have the perception that I am quite often taken for granted, overlooked and disrespected. Oh poor me...I even threw a couple of minor hissy fits, hoping someone would take me seriously and change it for me. I knew deep down that I was focusing too much on others and not enough on God. But I was stuck clinging to it anyway because although we can know the truth, there are times when refuse to let go of the lie. You can't choose both.

I was quite a mess over things that I couldn't change and yet I refused to let go of my issues. I had not forgotten that the issues of others aren't about me and I knew there was a chance I could be wrong - but for goodness sake I had to make it all about ME. It eventually bottled up so much inside of me that I couldn't take the pressure of carrying something that I couldn't change anymore. That's when I asked for help.

The Lord began to show me how I was discouraging those around me, especially my husband - and they deserve better from me. While I need to address my issues, I was called to put the needs of those around me first. My husband has needed my patience and grace and if I put myself first here when I have an opportunity to minister to his needs,  I fail and hubby loses out. But here's what woke me up most.
My alarm clock went off and I got out of bed as was my normal routine. I was closing the door behind me, and as I stood in the dark at the end of the hall I instatnly got a good look at myself. It was as if I was watching myself from afar, realizing how foolish my mindset has been. I saw the hypocrisy in my selfish attitude - expecting others to put my issues ahead of their own. I had been accusing certain people of selfishness but I was at least as selfish, if not more, for being willing to fight and discourage others in order to get my own way. No more "poor me".
The only way I know how to describe it is an attitude adjustment from God himself. And I needed it. Other people can't fix us and we can't expect them to. We often place expectations on them that they just couldn't meet even if they wanted to. Expectations are no less of a burden on the expecter, although we somehow think we need them. I have learned that we typically don't need the things we think we need and when we do without them, we either grow up or grow bitter. It was time for me to grow up some more. It isn't easy but it must be done.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Panic or Peace

I used to be one who was easily worked up. I thought I was stuck with panic attacks and uncontrollable anxiety forever. My tendencies to over think were always justifiable. I felt it was only right to want to understand everything, even to the point of which it left me anxious striving on my own. I look back and realize how miserable I was, and how uncontrollable it all seemed as I watch others struggle with the same things. It seemed that this would be my affliction, just as Paul had his. It seemed I needed to learn to be content with the way things were and the issues within myself...but God.

Of course I have been saved for years prior but nothing ever changed in this area of my life. I got to my breaking point, as we all have to do, and I cried out for help because I couldn't take anymore of this constant stress that seemed to be making me sick. Of course I thought about trying medication but I felt God wanted something more from me. I couldn't take anymore of this lack of self control over my own mind. God heard my cries for help, brought me in close and put a desire on my heart for intimacy with Him. It was because of that intimacy that I was changed, not because of my own doings. It was because of the strength I see in Him, that I can rest just knowing that no matter what - He is still in control.

This is not to say I never fail, or never get worked up. It's not to say that I never for a moment forget what I've learned. But I will say this, I don't fall near as far and I bounce back in a fraction of the time it used to take me. You won't find this peace in owning things, your dream job, your family, or anything else for that matter. And I firmly believe that our peace, as a believer, speaks louder than anything we say or do.

He isn't going to force His way on us. We have to want it. He wants us to seek it. We have to realize that our way doesn't work first and then we have to ask for His help. Until we are sick and tired of our own ways, we will be constantly at battle with His ways.

It's obvious to me, as I watch people get so easily riled up and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, that we can't change ourselves. We can't even see our desperation until we are far beyond it. Even then, we scramble around in the dark looking for someone to help us and we cry out to God mostly because He's our last option - but why shouldn't He be our first?

You see, the problem with we humans is that we want help but we don't want to have to give anything up - especially our "cherished" mindsets. We want to do things our own we have to learn this lesson before we can move forward.

I've put together a list of thoughts He has taught me and I want to share them with you.
  • Don't over think things. You don't have to understand it all, no matter what your brain tells you. Faith is sometimes believing and obeying in the absence of proof.
  • Don't bottle it up or lie about how you feel. This stuff has to be addressed or it will come out the wrong way. Talk to God about it, ask for explanations from others when it makes sense, or ask for insight from Him. But don't let your issues turn into hate and resentment. A hard heart and unforgiveness will hinder your prayers.
  • Learn that other people's issues aren't about you, even when they affect you. You can only work through your own. The best thing you can do for them is be consistent, love them and pray for them.
  • Don't get defensive when facing accusations or insults. It's always a good thing to explain yourself, but if you are doing what you truly know is right you have nothing to defend. Notice that Jesus didn't get defensive. He said very little. It's not about being confident in yourself. it's about having a godly confidence.
  • Don't expect other people to fix you or heal your pain. They can't even do this for themselves any more than you can.
  • Don't overreact when things aren't going your way. Life isn't about making you comfortable and happy...our best opportunities as Christians is during our suffering. We were never promised a rose garden as believers.
  • Love others for who they are, and accept that you can't change them. I've learned that if I ask God for understanding, I can learn far more about a person. Showing love doesn't mean we don't set healthy boundaries in how they treat us, it means we show them love no matter how we feel.
  • Don't be cynical. That just shows your over-dependence on people to fix you and your lack of faith in God. I don't believe we have to be cynical to be realistic and faithful. Being cynical comes off as angry to others...and anger never made anyone feel loved or at ease. Anger is selfishness 99% of the time. Jesus wasn't selfish.
  • You don't need the approval of others. When you think you do, you are at their mercy and a prisoner to human emotions and actions. You only need the acceptance of God and you already have that.
  • Trust God - no matter what. Trust His timing, trust that He can make any situation good for you spiritually (because that's where it matters most.)
  • Don't let other people determine your relationship with God. People are going to fail are going to fail them. Being let down isn't the end of the world when your God is still in control. Focus on Him and on serving Him, not so much what's in it for you. I have found that if I focus on people for too long, I become resentful and sometimes angry. This impacts my relationship with Him.
  • Don't focus on your wants and needs more than you focus on serving others. There really is healing in putting others first.
  • Ask that He make you more like Him and ask that regularly. Focus on who He is by staying in the Bible. Ask for more faith when you are doubting. Focus on the reasons to believe and not the ones not to.
  • Study and read His word regularly. You need His truths implanted in your mind in order to combat the old man in you.
  • Pray....I can't emphasize enough that He wants us to seek Him and spend time with Him. Even though He knows our heart, He blesses prayer. There are countless places in the Old testament where the Israelites cried out and He responded to their cries. It had nothing to do with how great they were, but how great He is.
  • Continue godly habits even when it seems they aren't working. It takes time to kill off our old ways. And Satan wants you to think godly habits don't work.

I want to encourage you that it doesn't have to be this way--you don't have to bottle it up, over think it or fix issues everywhere. We as believers, don't have to be victims to every circumstance, situation or the thoughts / actions of others. Faith overcomes that. We were meant to be overcomers in spite of suffering. People are watching and they desperately need to see us live what we say we believe. Our attitude shows our measure of faith more than we realize.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Starting from Scratch

It is a new year and with that comes a fresh start. With the fresh start comes hope of a better future and freedom from shame and hurt caused by previous experiences. Each day brings a new beginning as well, but we so often overlook that. But even though a new beginning can bring relief, it can and often does bring about some very hard times.

Starting from scratch can be a very desolate place to be. It brings about a new scenery, many times of unflattering things in us that we've never seen before. It can be very discouraging to look at yourself and see how many changes need to be made in you. And if you don't have some truths to cling to, you may find yourself running back to your past sooner than later in search of familiarity. At the same time, starting from scratch provides a sort of redemption. It means we can shrug off the shame, hurt and pain for the hope of something better.

The thing about starting from scratch is that you have to have a goal and eager focus on the truths of your basic foundation. That brings up another point. Your foundation has to be solid, and if it isn't you need to ditch it for one that is. Otherwise the this whole thing is simply based on intentions, and good intentions alone never accomlished anything. I only know of one foundation that is solid enough to withstand anything.

I know what it means to start from scratch - to realize just how little I have to offer on my own. I have come to think that those who endure the walk come to this realization over and over  in life. It's not just a one time thing, if you truly want to keep growing.

On one hand it can be discouraging to see how wrong my mindsets, motivations and intentions really are. It stings to see my heart in the eyes of God sometimes. And it is also quite intimidating if I don't know or forget some basic truths. There have been times when I've seen felt crippled by the mere thought of the amount of change I need.

But on the other hand, that fresh start just confirms that God is still working in me. It means I don't have to cleanse myself from the issues I have. I don't have to, nor can I make myself better. But I can listen, and I can follow the lead of the One who does. It means He loves me too much to let me sit and grow stale. But he requires my obedience.

I hope you savor the opportunity of a fresh start in some area of your life. Don't let it intimidate you. We weren't called to let fear stop us.

(Those of you who have been here before know that I haven't written in months. I felt called to sit out for a while to learn some things. Thank you for returning.)