A Rule of Life

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I feel blah, relishing nothing in the future.  It’s a Friday night, on the cusp of summer and 9 weeks off from school.  My mind thinks about upcoming trips.  I should be excited.  I’ll be with family; there’s even a 5-day cruise in my future.  But nothing stirs.

I finish dinner.  It tasted good! But it’s over.  I briefly ponder the merits of having some chocolate with me tea.  Maybe that’ll make my unhappiness and blah-ness go away.

But I don’t indulge and the next morning I’m glad.  The dessert would not have made me content in the long run.

I go to bed before too long, for even my book doesn’t satisfy.  My husband checks in with me a couple of times, ‘You okay?’  He cares, but I rather not go into it then.  After all, he has his ‘Ecclesiastes Moments’ too, when, as penned by Solomon, nothing under the sun satisfies any more.

The next morning, Saturday, I start my morning with a John Piper archived sermon.  He’s preaching from Isaiah 58: 8-11 about how a certain kind of fasting brightens your day.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawnand your healing shall spring up speedily; if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

That’s the kind of light and satisfaction I yearn for!

There’s time for one more sermon as I exercise and I listen to John Piper in a current commencement address at Boyce college talk about ‘Sacred Schizophrenia.  Truth marinates as I finish up my exercise routine.  I settle in with a cup of hot coffee and open up God’s Word to read today’s assigned chapters according to the Chronological Reading Plan Mike and I follow.   

One foray into Scripture leads to another and I come upon Jesus’ harsh words to Peter that seem to reinforce Piper’s call to deal harshly with the unholy self (one of the two selves living in a kind of schizo struggle).  He corrects his outspoken disciple, Peter, admonishing him to move his mind OFF of man-centered priorities and onto what matters to God.  Matthew records what follows like this: 

Then Jesus told his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16: 24-25

I’ve always shied away from the idea of denying myself.  After all, I’m an arch hoarder of time, of energy.

But I’m feeling empty….maybe that’s where fencing off daily time and space for myself has gotten me. Bankrupt and unsatisfied.

Turning 60 this year has stimulated a lot of this kind of self-reflection.  In my 20s, 30s and early 40s, I was busy with children and work.  And then our sons left home for college, work and marriage and I had time to think.  A lot.  Mike has gone through this soul reflection as well.  The kind of wondering ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’.  Looking at others rushing to and fro and asking: ‘What is any of this for, any way?’

But this morning, I see a glimmer.  Piper says that once we have been born again, we have a new self.  But the facts are like this:  our old man is continually at war with our new man until the day we die.  This old man is a liar, as are Satan and the world.  But God doesn’t leave us clueless and alone.  Thankfully, He points us to what will TRULY satisfy, every time.  Speaking through the prophet Isaiah and then in Jesus’ words to His disciples, He instructs:

Only by putting to death the desires prompted by the old man and giving to those who are hungry and oppressed and naked will we find a life, daily, which satisfies.

So what does that look like, practically, when I’m on the cruise this summer, at my mother-in-law’s for a week, at home this summer, in my classroom?

Solomon has the last word and I find the peace that I need from Eccl 2: 24-26

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,

From Matthew and Isaiah I have already seen what pleases God:  

  • when someone hungry crosses my path, I can offer food in the form of a listening, sympathetic ear, some of God’s Word and a prayer right then and there when appropriate

But it starts with a daily re-commitment to suffer with Christ as necessary, to deny my old worldly self that hoards time and energy and a willingness to travel this day WITH Jesus, depending on Him to guide and supply and protect me.

And that’s not all.  God intends for me to also enjoy the simple pleasures of every day life, eating, drinking and working.  These are, indeed, gifts from God TO me.  When I do them acknowledging His goodness, I bring glory to God.

Later on during the day while we hike, I share with Mike what He has revealed. Already light has dawned.  I HAVE a mandate of how to live, a new rule of life.  I know what to do at each stage, whether now, almost 60 or at age 93 and in assisted living!  The burden and gloom have lifted. I revel in the beauty of the day and how good it feels to move my body and be with the man whom I love.

God’s sense of humor – my lunch hours

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For 3 years I resisted.  Finally, BEGRUDGINGLY, I gave Him one lunchtime per week. After all, that Holy Spirit can be a pretty persistent Friend and Counselor.

As a busy teacher, I cherish my lunchtime to catch up on personal email when neither duties nor meetings take precedent.

Most of my fellow teachers share lunch and conversation in the foyer, eating and socializing at an oblong table.  I have KNOWN I should join in, especially if I want to develop relationships and be available for Gospel opportunities.  But I have selfishly hoarded lunchtime, justifying my choice by reasoning that I use those minutes to encourage friends via emails and catching up on reading some quality posts.  All true, but……as God teaches in Ecclesiastes 3:1 There’s a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun.

So under the gentle but persistent pressure of the Holy Spirit I yielded and agreed to dine with my fellow teachers once per week.  I even taped an index card on my desk to keep myself accountable, jotting down the date of my ‘ weekly sacrifice’.

To my surprise, I have found that I truly enjoy this social time with colleagues, even to the point of choosing more than once a week to join in the group.  God does have a sense of humor and doesn’t give up on stubborn daughters who think they know what is best for them.

Two benefits:

  • A tangible reminder that God changes our desires so we can find delight in obeying Him

Luke 11:28 – ……how blessed are those who hear God’s word and obey it!

  • I actually was given an opening to share why I am happy as a Christian and to explain the Gospel briefly at one of those lunchtime table talks.

May this experience make me more willing NEXT time to obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit!

 

The Gospel according to the Preacher

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78 - my blue hydrangeas with lots of blooms

Fear God and keep his commandments….eat and drink and find satisfaction in (your) work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?….Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love….Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Ecclesiastes 12: 13b; 2: 24-25; 9: 9a, 10a

Having pursued projects and pleasures, the Preacher’s life principle emerges, germinates and blooms. And I inhale:

Treasure and fear God. Then obey Him, enjoying every good gift He gives, namely the ‘dailies’. The accompanying joy will cleave to me as I work with my heart at what He assigns me.

When life feels blah

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I read a blog recently where the young 20-something author said that she appreciates loneliness & pain because at least she knows she’s alive at those moments.

Mike and I were savoring a coffee at one of Historic Waynesville’s ‘café-cum-curio’ boutiques when I asked him how he thought this gal might describe the OPPOSITE of her painful – but alive times.  He offered that maybe she lived depressed in the Ecclesiastes-type sense (Life is meaningless, even and ESPECIALLY after you’ve tasted all of Life’s goodies).  And that pain (perhaps she’s a cutter??) is welcome in the midst of the numbness of depression.

These reflections on pain, aliveness & deadness nestled themselves in the midst of some recent thoughts on ‘blah-ness’.

I’m a peppy, perky optimist 95 % of the time, but the other day I was feeling blah.  Zero perkiness as in “I’m excited about XYZ!”  I wasn’t excited about ANYTHING.

But, God be praised, because of some readings that the Holy Spirit has led me through in recent years, I was able quickly to remember and apply one of CS Lewis’ philosophies:

“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

When the blahs DO strike, we can console ourselves with the truth that SOON, we will be in a land where there are NO blahs.

In other words, there is NO need to be depressed about feeling depressed.  It’s part and parcel of living in a physically and morally fallen world. Our mental state is more connected to our physical condition than we acknowledge:

  • How did I sleep last night?
  • Do I feel fat this morning?
  • Am I constipated?
  • Am I worried about a twinge or a growing mole?

Our mental state is ALSO influenced by many temporary circumstances:

  • Will we be able to pay our bills?
  • What if our cat Leia doesn’t get better?
  • What if my new job is more demanding than I have anticipated?
  • What if Mike can’t find any paying clients?

Only by talking to ourselves and re-membering / re-hearsing / re-peating God’s truths can we hold on to the correct perspective so we can value the permanent and hold the temporary more loosely.

And the good news is that those moments when we DO feel alive/hopeful/ excited, they are VERY real fore-tastes of life to come.  They’re not meant to taunt us but to reassure us and make us long all the more for eternal life with the happy triune God.

The Power of an Ecclesiastes Moment

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Two posts ago I described the objective news that is very good, hence ‘gospel’. I spelled out what God did to make a way for us to be in right relationship with Him. Yes, every single human being has a relationship with God, the Almighty Father.  As one British man put it, we all have a personal relationship with God.  Some are enemies of God and will be judged worthy of eternal separation and punishment; some are friends of God and will be graced with the gift of pardon and joyful eternal fellowship with the Holy family.

Today I want to describe the subjective changes that can occur when one’s status shifts from “Enemy of God” to “Beloved Child and Friend of God”.

Context and frameworks are important to me.  I grew up learning lots of data via education, reading and ‘attending’ church.  But I had no system in which to file, store or make sense of the information.   (As an aside, having been ‘educated’ in public schools to include my four years at “The University” aka University of Virginia and then having taught for 12 years at an elite ‘independent’ school, I was hungry for a better way to educate students.  Hence my delight upon discovering the classical method; subsequently I have found a HOME teaching logic and French at a classical Christian school in Yorktown, VA.  The classical method gives students a structure on which to hang the data they absorb.  Then students are drawn into making connections, learning to reason and ultimately expressing themselves with eloquence.)

The spiritual side of my life paralleled my educational experiences. The seemingly random chunks of unanchored God-knowledge I was collecting came from years of attending church. God had been calling me for a time into a deeper relationship with Him. But no matter what I learned, it had minimal impact on my life, for without a proper worldview or system, I had no idea what to do with the information.  Until my mid-forties, I was busy being a wife and a working mom with two sons.  I didn’t have much time to think.  You know what it’s like coordinating sports schedules and keeping up with the social lives of teens.

The year I turned 40, my life changed. I started studying and learning biblical truth via Bible Study Fellowship.  The concept and importance of having a Biblical worldview also began to percolate somewhere in my mind as I read books recommended by mentors.  But one day (I must have had a pocket of time to think), I was sitting at a traffic light waiting to turn left into our neighborhood when I was caught up in the meaninglessness of life.  It was an Ecclesiastes Meltdown Moment.

Have you ever had one of those?  It’s when you can somehow stand outside of yourself and observe both yourself and those around you.  Everything seemed meaningless, an entry right out of Solomon’s diary:  Chapter 1, verse 8:  All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it.  The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.

I FELT the futility of everything and I was depressed.  It was rush hour; people were in that tired/no think/ rat-race zone, just doing the next thing on the list and stressing because they had not allowed enough time to GET there, wherever THERE is.  There seemed to be no purpose to anything in my life.  And I was very scared.  I can see why men have mid-life affairs or buy a big toy or why women want a new house and throw themselves into decorating it.  Humans crave purpose, meaning, and drama!  And if they don’t find it where God intended them to (in HIM!), they will imbue something created with that kind of transcendent meaning.

My spiritual angst did not last more than a couple of days, but I won’t ever forget it.  Somehow through all that I had been learning from God’s word, books and podcasts, a framework for making sense of life as it really is was forming.  All was NOT meaningless.  There was a purpose.  Whew!  I would not want to live unanchored every day with the burden of having to make up a purpose à la existentialists. But sometimes God gives me a taste of that empty world as a reminder.  I am exceedingly thankful when I come back to my senses.

I’ve told you the above back story to show you the sad truth that without a relationship with God as one of His own, people live quiet and despairingly grey lives. Oh, they may LOOK happy and even be satisfied for a while as they busy themselves with all the entertaining options the world offers.  But with no proper framework or world view to explain the ‘teleos’ (purpose) of life, eventually the baubles of life break or satisfy no more.  Even uninformed Christians can get caught up in the snares of modern, frenzied life and not know that they have it all wrong.

I became a Christian at age 24, but did not start to study my Bible in an organized fashion until I was 40 and even then it took about 5 years for some of the truths to make a serious difference.  (Hint, hint, hint:  when you share the Gospel with someone, it’s really important that you plug them into a Bible-believing Church so they can grow and learn.)

So here are some of the SUBJECTIVE benefits to being an informed Christian.  Objectively, yes, your eternal destination and future have changed.  And that is HUGE.  But there are some very precious subjective (i.e. FEELING) blessings for this present life that come with being a growing, abiding, well-fed little lamb of Christ:

  • Purpose in life – As a believer every day that you are alive you have a mission.  You are an ambassador of Christ whose job is to make God look good in your current circumstances, among the ‘neighbors’ that God has placed around you.  God is of course incredibly good..but most people don’t know that.  To use ‘christianese’, we are to be salty and emit the fragrance of the Savior. When someone is interested in talking about God, then we can tell them the truth about their personal relationship with their Creator.
  • Explanation for evil – there is a real cosmic battle going on.  Evil exists because of the fall.  Sinful humans hurt other sinful humans.  Natural disasters happen.  Satan, as temporary ruler of this world’s systems, is at war with God and His people.  But God is still in charge.  All that happens is under His sovereign control.  I would be VERY depressed if I thought pain was random and meaningless.
  • A prepared Father who knows what is happening next – Nothing surprises God about me or life.  There is no Plan B.  God knows all that is going to happen to me and has stockpiled resources that are perfect for the circumstances.
  • Nothing wasted – Everything that is painful, tough and frustrating is used by God for my ultimate good.  If I yield it to God, the ‘bad stuff’ is not wasted.
  • Riches waiting – As a child of God, one of His family, I have access to hundreds of riches through very real promises of God as He has revealed in Scriptures.  And there is REAL power in His words.  The Bible is not just a historical account of what happened, but living words that reveal a loving God who is alive!  He has planned provisions waiting for me in the Scriptures.
  • No end – this is more important to me as I age.  I recall past 7-day cruises we have enjoyed.  Each time the week flies by.  Soon there is only one or two days left and we are sad.  All good things inevitably come to an end.  Now as I approach mid-fifties, I find comfort that the best is yet to be and it won’t ever end.

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