Are you growing more holy, more like Jesus? How can you tell?

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Let your gentleness be apparent to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 BSB

A friend of mine has a daughter who drives herself. She is a very hard worker, skilled and competent. But she is too busy. Her mom can see that, as can I. Maybe that’s why an image of an earlier Maria popped into my mind this morning: ‘Grim Maria’.

This is a well-rehearsed character from maybe 15 years ago. Pretty much on a regular basis, I would set myself up with a list of ‘stuff that has to get done’.  Where did all these tasks come from?  I don’t remember. What I do recall is the belief: ‘If it’s gonna be, it’s gotta be up to me!’  My MO (modus operandi) never changed: work past fatigue and then feel resentful.  Mike called that persona, “Grim Bean” (Bean being my pet name).

How refreshing this morning to realize I haven’t seen that Maria in some years.  But thinking about my friend’s daughter, a busy mom and medical professional, I CAN recall being in her shoes. She probably truly believes she has no other choice, that there is no alternative to all she drives herself to get done.  That’s how irrational my thinking was.

Did I set out to quit playing ‘Grim Bean’?  No, that’s the marvel of it all. Since Mike and I as well as our adult sons have moved toward a more reformed theology, we’ve all come to appreciate the fact of God’s sovereignty, his total control over everything that happens in the universe.

Does that sound frightening, that an all-powerful God actually directs every molecule that exists?  Not at all.   This God is not a cold, impersonal force, directing events, nature and people, but a personal, loving and good Father who kindly offers his supernatural help to all his children who depend on him.

As this truth of who God is has sunk into my heart, I have relaxed more and off-loaded much of my life to him. For example, I don’t rush anymore, trying to cram more stuff into my day. I accept with ease what doesn’t get done.  I actually feel at peace with Jesus’ leadership and his setting of the pace of what we do together. I’m learning that none of what I do is truly ‘up to me’.

Our pastor’s sermon yesterday reenforced this posture of yielding control to God. Jim focused on the practice of forgiveness as laid out in Ephesians 4:32. He emphasized that the actions preceding Paul’s exhortation to offer forgiveness along with kindness uses the verb form of ‘Let….. (this action) take place in.’ It’s passive. It follows then that this behavioral change is something the Holy Spirit affects in us. We don’t work at it. We allow God to change us as we meditate on how gracious his initial forgiveness was and the fact that daily he welcomes us to confess and receive his cleansing. His compassions and mercies are as regular and welcome as the dawn’s early light.

I think often about the wonder and gift of having a heavenly Father and God who is in charge of both the universe and me. This is how I can relax throughout my day.  I believe that my inward state is transforming how I present to the world around me.  A gentle Maria is more the norm.

Can you see why I felt so encouraged this morning when the the Holy Spirit prompted the memory of a grim version of me? “Maria, this is evidence of spiritual growth!” 

Nevertheless, God is still about the business of growing my humility, letting me know that plenty of change is built into his holiness curriculum. One of my sins that occasionally reoccurs reminds me of the former Maria.  It’s the desire for someone to feel sorry for me and to offer me praise mixed with pity.  Namely, Mike.  Here’s how that looks. 

Yesterday after having some friends over for an early Sunday lunch, I set out to do some food prep. Two tasks morphed into several so that by the time I finished cleaning up in the kitchen it was almost 3 in the afternoon. Mike was coming down the stairs and I felt the urge to say with a staged self-deprecating sound, “I just finished doing food prep!” But by grace, the Holy Spirit poked me gently and I resisted that temptation. 

Yes, that indicates more growth. But it still shows me that I need to be mindful of how I self-assign tasks. No one is expecting me to spend that kind of time in the kitchen, not even Jesus. In fact, I didn’t even check with him first.  Now that I’m writing this, I see I should have asked, “Jesus, how do you want me to spend this Sabbath afternoon?”

Definitely God is transforming me. But with each step forward, the Holy Spirit gently shows me what the next assignment is. Glad it’s not all up to me!

Delilah Sins

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Don’t say anything that would hurt [another person]. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you. Ephesians 4:29 God’s Word Translation

I’m home again from my trip out to Seattle where I spent 4 nights with my mother-in-law.  I decided to travel sooner than I had planned because she seemed to need some encouragement and company.  A few health setbacks had recently plagued her and she sounded sad and lonely on the phone.

Five days before arriving, I had hurt her during a Zoom call when I brought up a couple of subjects, asking her pointed questions meant to hurt her and make me look superior.   Cousin Terry, who knows my heart only too well, calls it ‘being imperial’. She suggested apologizing to my mother-in-law when I arrived.

Within 20 minutes of being welcomed into her apartment, I did just that. I told Mom how sorry I was for deliberately hurting her.  She apparently hadn’t noticed during that Zoom call, or so she said.  But I pressed the issue so she would know that what I had said was UNKIND and that the Holy Spirit had leaned on me hard in the days that followed.  I confessed how sorry I was for hurting her.  Then I asked her forgiveness.  She responsive hug brought me relief, that sense of being washed clean and separated from my sin.

During the 4 days with her, God gave me several occasions to notice and not to succumb to my decades-old tendency to bring up a topic with the intention of criticizing one of her viewpoints. The prime test came when together we viewed her church’s Sunday service, streamed on You Tube. I knew that several girlfriends (thank you Joyce, Jill, Frances, Cousin Terry and others) as well as Mike were praying for me to cultivate a heart of kindness to source my words.

What startled me was noticing the obvious places, where up until this week, I would have initiated a comment meant to put down something she said and/or to point to how ‘wise’ and knowledgeable I was about the topic. Instead, I kept my mouth shut. 

What I did do, for a change, was to look for something positive I could respond with when she made a comment.  For example, when she praised the young deacon who gave the homily during the service, I simply said: “Yes, he enunciated well (through the mask) and spoke with clarity about the topic.”

I realize now that Mom is not someone who asks me for my opinion or viewpoint.  She’s not curious that way.  I cringe thinking of the countless times I have offered my views, unbidden.

What cemented this lesson in choosing words meant only to bless and help others came from what I read in a book from Joyce, Watchfulness: Recovering a Lost Spiritual Discipline.

In the section I read only three days ago while still in Seattle, the author describes ‘Delilah Sins’.  These are those evil habits that we cherish, that we love to indulge in. It didn’t take me long to articulate my # 1 Delilah Sin, that of provocation.

I have been a ‘provocatrice’ for as long as I can remember. 

I am SO glad that the Lord has finally intervened before it’s too late.  NOW is the time for me to kill this practice. This temptation has for far too long promised a moment of delightful satisfaction….only to leave me UN-satisfied and feeling ‘sour’.

I praise God that for the first time, I actually feel a new desire growing, one where I keep my viewpoints to myself unless asked.  Now, I want to use my words simply to give help and hope.  Looking back over my life, I see clearly that the majority of my words have often been unnecessary and many times meant to make Maria look good, not Christ.  Thank you, Lord, for your gift of new mercies.

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