Last week we talked about our growth and spiritual maturity, in reference to toddlers. Today, I want to talk about teens. The truth is, our relationship with God often parellels that of children with their parents. With both, we begin as infants, relying on them for everything, trusting them with our lives. As we grow, and learn about the world around us, we begin to question them, and all that they've told us. We rebel, and often turn from their teachings in search of our own understandings. Then, as adults, we often gain a better understanding of how they raised us, and we come to appreciate their discipline and life lessons.
Many of us become stagnant and stuck in the unruly teen years in our relationship with God. I cannot even count the number of times in my life where I have played that part with God, giving Him the silent treatment because I felt like He wasn't listening, or He was never doing what I asked of Him anyway. It sounds silly and selfish when put that way, but don't we all go through that at times? We get tired of praying for the same things over and over again, to no avail. It can be infuriating, feeling like a confused teenager again, asking repeatedly for something, without an understanding as to why your parents won't allow it.
We can still find ourselves, in our rooms, shutting Him out, blaring our music, wrapped in a confusing variety of emotions because things aren't turning out the way we wanted.
But He is still there, waiting.
I found myself in just such a position this fall. I had just gotten over a case of MRSA, which was no fun at all, when my back, for about the 3rd time this year, quit on me. It is an area I have prayed for healing many times; more times than I can count. It is an injury my husband, my family, and my church have prayed for, on multiple occasions. I was sick and tired of the pain, and sick and tired of beating my head against the wall with God. I have never asked my doctor for medication, because I don't even like taking Tylenol, but this time, I was fed up.
In my moment of "I know best, and God won't do what I've asked anyway," I finally asked my doctor for something to help with the pain. I was prescribed a muscle relaxer and a pain killer I was assured was NOT a narcotic, only to get to the pharmacy, and receive all the paperwork warning me about this narcotic, and the potential risks of taking it. I didn't even pray about it. I took them anyway. At least the doctor was helping me, right?
I needn't have worried about a drug addiction. The medicine made me so sick, that it set my healing back several days. I couldn't move. I couldn't get out of bed. My husband had to work. My 3-year old was watching TV downstairs, and I couldn't even open my eyes. At this point, I finally prayed, simply, please help me get through this day.
There was a knock at the door. These days, people just don't "stop in" anymore, and especially not at 8:30 in the morning. I couldn't move, and I couldn't even open my mouth to yell to my daughter. She knew better than to open the door on her own, so she sat watching TV. My cell phone rang next to me, and I saw that it was a mom from our school, the mother of one of my son's friends, that I have been slowly getting to know. She was at the door. I answered the phone, and she knew from my voice something was very wrong. I briefly explained, and we talked Charlotte into opening the door.
This angel from God spent the day cleaning my house, and taking care of my child. Our daughters played, and their laughter and fun carried up the stairs to where I lay, and I knew we were going to be ok. But my pain didn't yet leave, and my struggle wasn't yet over. Still knocked off my feet the following day, another friend called; a church friend that at the moment, didn't know what was going on. She immediately took the afternoon off work and came to take care of my children, feeding them, and providing us all with dinner. The next night our school's principal arrived with meals and bags full of groceries provided by many of the teachers.
In my stubbornness, and eagerness to "do things myself," and in my anger and bitterness with Him, He could have shut me out, the way I was shutting Him out. He could have spitefully turned His back on me and walked away, but He didn't. He showed mercy and compassion in my time of need. I waited until I was completely out of other options before asking Him for help, and yet He came. He assembled an army around me to get me back on my feet and take care of my family in the process.
This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again.
8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
~ 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
When we think we know it all, and we know better than God, it doesn't make Him any less God. It simply prevents us from receiving the grace and the power of Christ.
Maybe God is preparing His army for you today. He's just waiting for your signal.
Our youngest daughter is less than 3 months away from turning 4 years old, and up until last week, we could not get her to use the toilet. There were none of the tell tale signs of being ready for potty training; no dry morning or post nap diapers, no warning signals as she was about to go. In fact, she didn't seem at all aware of when she was going. There was not a single motivating bribe that seemed to interest her to even try. I tried stickers, suckers, and chocolates. She would just say, "No, thanks." I bought fun, themed underpants of which she had little to no interest in wearing.
I actually gave up trying because my back wasn't well enough for the battles, and I could so much as dangle an M&M in front of her face, and she'd just say, "Nah," and proceed to use her diaper.
A little less than two weeks ago, she began telling us when she had to go, and suddenly, because it was hers, using the potty seemed like the best idea ever! And she didn't forget about those M&Ms tucked away in the cupboard either. After completing the task of using the potty, she exclaimed, "Yay! Now I can have my special treat!"
I had stopped bribing her. I had stopped offering her the candy. I had stopped forcing my own will upon her. She is living in a house with 5 other humans who know how to use the toilet. She has seen it done her whole life. She has had all the tools and all the knowledge she has needed, but until that very moment, she just wasn't ready.
How often do we turn away God's blessings; God's M&Ms if you will, because we are not ready for the responsibility? When we have not yet matured enough, spiritually, to do what God has called us to do, we are essentially saying, "Nah. No, thanks. I'm good just like this, sitting in my own mess." Nevermind all the M&Ms. Just the freedom alone that this task provides, is a blessing in and of itself.
My daughter may have felt that going potty was taking away valuable play time. She didn't realize that much more time was wasted on the changing table. She may have felt that the toilet was big and scary and loud, but really, it takes care of her messes for her, so she doesn't have to sit in them. She can be clean and free.
What does that sound like?
God has given us free will to choose. He has allowed for us to make our own decisions. But, He also has great plans for us if we follow His teachings. Sometimes that step toward His will can be scary. It can feel like we don't know what we're doing or we don't have the time. It might be loud, and it might be completely different from what we're used to. But if we lean into Him, there is freedom and cleansing in His will, and He is waiting there, with His blessing for our obedience.
When God holds that M&M out for you, will you be ready to receive it?
Last week we talked about how God is still working on us. We are a never ending work in progress. And instead of being hard on ourselves over the faults we have difficulty ridding ourselves of, we should use that opportunity to lean on Him even more.
We often have difficulty letting go of the things which have hurt us; whether they have deeply saddened us or angered us, that which has made us feel deeply, often stays with us, even if we don't want it to.
Today, in my daily devotional, I read some of Lamentations, which by its very definition, is about grief and sadness. It is understood that the book of Lamentations is a collection of songs written to express grief and suffering after experiencing the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, at the hands of the Babylonians. These are people of faith, crying out to God, putting their sadness and suffering into words, as they question why God would allow such a city to fall.
Yet, even these passionate expressions of deep grief, are not without hope.
The highlighted verse is often what Christians will quote. It is the hope that we hear of most frequently, and understandable so, but how much more might we relate to these people of the Bible, knowing that they struggled with the same doubts and sorrow that we do today? Here are the prior 21 verses:
I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of
he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the
I remember my affliction and my
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
~Lamentations 3:1-21 NIV
There are 21 verses, before this often quoted verse; verses of doubt, bitterness, crying, blaming, despair, and yet, yet, there was hope. In my youth, I found this confusing, even contradictory.
How can someone seemingly blame God for their suffering, and still find hope in Him?
But this is real. That is real life. This is not hypocrisy. This is human emotion. We often express our sadness not only with this world, and the suffering around us, but with a God we cannot fully understand; wondering how He can allow suffering such as this, to happen.
God has actually shown us how normal this is! He has shown us that lamenting over our broken, suffering world is quite biblical. But because of God's great love, it need not consume us. Express your grief, your sadness, your misgivings and doubts. Cry them all out to Him; pour them onto paper. He knows them anyway!
Then remind yourself of the hope you still have in Him. Remind yourself of His blessings, big and small. Take comfort in His word; even the laments. They were included in His scriptures for a reason! Know that you are not alone in your emotions.
I did not want to write this message. I don't mean this particular message. I just mean that I didn't want to write one at all. I didn't want to be bothered. I didn't have a message in mind. I'm exhausted. I've been battling an infection for two weeks. The weather has turned miserably cold and wet, which always has an ill effect on my mood. I hate that I struggle so much, seasonally. It makes me feel weak and out of control of my own emotions. It doesn't help that I live in an area that is cold and miserable more often than not. I am bothered by my own complaining about it, because truly someone who resides in Buffalo, should come to expect the sudden and drastic season changes, but the emotions, and heaviness that I can't seem to shake until spring are more complicated than simply just deciding to be in a better mood. I truly hate feeling this way. The other day, staring out the kitchen window, I actually had tears in my eyes, watching green leaves fall from the trees. Our fall is so brief, and so fleeting, that we often don't even get to experience its full beauty. This fills me with such a sad heaviness that suddenly really small, daily tasks seem incredibly difficult.
After some whining to my husband last night, about how I just wanted to crochet, or read, or go to bed, for goodness sake, and I didn't want to have to write this message, I began to do the dishes in a rare bit of silence, as the kids were getting ready for bed. A blast from the past song began playing in my head, from when I used to homeschool our children. There was a musical part of our curriculum, which included some fun nursery rhyme jingles, as well as some children's Christian songs. I can still picture my little ones singing this with me, with their sweet hand gestures:
He's still working on me
To make me what I ought to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
He's still workin' on me
There really ought to be a sign upon my heart
Don't judge me yet, there's an unfinished part
But I'll be perfect just according to His plan
Fashioned by the Master's loving hands
Sometimes the simple Sunday school songs for children surprise me the most with their depth. Listen, we are complex beings, with complex bodies, minds, and emotions. God created the moon and sun, the stars and the earth, and all its inhabitants in a single week. It was a set it and forget it moment, like when I throw dinner in the crock pot and walk away. He made it, and saw that it was good.
But with us, made in His image, He did not walk away. He created us with purpose and meaning, not to leave us to our own devices, but with the intent of walking with us, in our hearts; shaping our journey, molding our minds and our lives, if we so choose. He never promised it would be easy. Complex things never are. But He promised to be with us if we let Him.
And this simple children's ministry song, is a powerful reminder to extend grace to others as well as ourselves. Don't be so hard on yourself. No one has it all together. We're all struggling with something. Whatever it is you are going through is real, but you are not alone. The Potter is still molding His clay. Know that He is God, and you are not. Lean into Him that much harder during difficult emotions. While unfinished and under construction, instead of beating yourself up about it, learn to take rest in the Master's hands.
Bad things happen.
There are no disqualifiers here. They don't just happen to good people. They don't avoid bad people. They just happen.
They happen because we live in an imperfect world. They happen because this is not Heaven. This is not our permanent home. Imagine if bad things didn't happen at all, ever. How would we ever appreciate the good? How would we learn to rely on God? Why would we even look toward Heaven if we had it so good on earth?
God never promises us that bad things wouldn't happen. In fact, the Bible repeatedly warns us of hard times, and tries to teach us how to prepare for them.
One of my favorite songs in Sunday school as a child, was The Wise Man Built His House, based off the above verse. The song came complete with fun hand motions and everything, but an even more valuable lesson.
The storm was not diverted away from the wise man. The storm came to both the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The storm hit them both. The only difference was that the wise man was better prepared with a stronger foundation.
Life is hard. Bad things happen...to everyone. This lesson is not only about how some bad situations are avoidable by making wise decisions, but also about preparing our foundation.
The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. ~Matthew 7:25
The storm still comes, with its dark clouds of sadness and difficult winds of change. You will still feel it sweep through, but you will not be broken. With God as your Rock, your Foundation, prepared with His Word, you will not fall.
As a wife, mom of 4, and business owner, finding time to spend in the Word, can be difficult, so I get it! Come join me each Monday for a simple message of hope, faith, and encouragement amidst some honest mommy moments.
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