Unfulfilled longings

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When was the last time excitement and happy anticipation filled all your waking thoughts about the future?  Like you were on the cusp of a grand adventure?

I have 3 such vivid memories.

The first was when I was 8.  It was summer.  Mom woke me up to the day of our trip to Europe.  With a rush of happiness I dove into my clothes.  We probably spent a couple of months in Europe that summer.  But I remember no details of that trip, just those few moments waking up and knowing something good was about to happen.

The next such memory was the summer before college.  My parents, my grandmother and I took off on a cross-country road trip from Hampton, Virginia with the goal of sampling the rich variety of America.  I don’t remember any place we visited.  Just the intense longing and excitement for the début of my college experience.  That 3rd week of August could not come fast enough!

The last thrill-providing time, flavored also with a touch of carefreeness, was when Mike and I were in between Army assignments.  We had officially ‘signed out’ of our duty stations in Germany and had NO responsibilities.  We leisurely spent 10 days, all expenses paid, staying in a cute German hotel, while we completed the out-processing steps typical of a bureaucracy.  Ahead of us were 30 days of visiting family, traveling coast to coast while angling south to our next assignment at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.  We also were expecting our first child and toyed with the idea of buying our first home.  The future glittered bright.

Since then?  It sounds sad, but I can’t recall anything else that has filled me with such pure joy, as intense as that very first morning.  But I keep longing for that something.

The other night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I wallowed in some self-pity and dread about work on the morrow.  Once again, I found myself tugging at God’s shirtsleeve and pleading for a new job to replace the one He has given me.  Yes, I am grateful for the income, but I long for something different.  Yet I fear more often than not that He only gives what is ‘hard’ and a ‘pain’ because through suffering we learn how to lean into Him. And I don’t give up asking and praying.

This morning I had my thinking tweaked in a helpful manner by John Piper.  His sermon about our inheritance as children, heirs and fellow sufferers with Christ reminded me that the way God has created this world is NOT for us to find ultimate satisfaction in earthly pleasures.

Yet He has wired us to WANT to be satisfied, to be thrilled, to be delighted and excited about the future.  So what’s up with that?  Is God a ‘cosmic kill-joy’?

May it never be thought so!  CS Lewis wrote once about unfulfilled desires when he penned:

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

So, what I concluded last night was this:  My longing for a job or SOMETHING that will thrill me is not wrong.  God put that ache in me by design.  But He never intended me to seek to satisfy it HERE on Earth with activities like: hot cars, extreme sports, binge shopping, or completing one’s bucket list.

He has told us in His Word that we ARE to stoke up our desire and longings, but not for what this world offers.  Rather we are to focus our yearnings on what He has promised and prepared for those who belong to Him.

“and we have a priceless inheritance–an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” 1 Peter 1:4

Just knowing and meditating on the FACT that ONE DAY all those hungers will be über-fulfilled IS enough for today.  In fact, each day I live brings me one day closer to my inheritance and that forever life WITH our happy, triune God.

“….in Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11

 

What God does by setting our boundaries

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The boundary/inheritance lines have fallen for me in pleasures….Psalm 16:6  (literal meaning from Blue Letter Bible)

Fences

We normally recite Psalm 16:6 with the phrase ‘pleasant places’ as describing the boundary lines.  So ‘pleasures’ should have jarred the ear a bit.  But that phrase happens to refer just as often to ‘pleasures’ and to ‘sweet things’ as it does to ‘pleasant places’.

If you’ve journeyed long enough in your life to reach your 30s, then surely you’ve accumulated your personal list of disappointments and closed doors.  Whether prom date rejections, cuts from the cast or team, wait listing at your first choice college or job terminations, sorrow is part of life.

For a while I have recognized that dead ends and startling abrupt turns are God’s intentional means to direct His children along the paths He has chosen. We, of course, don’t see all of his reasons and certainly God has many purposes. But one goal of God’s that I now understand more clearly is that, as my good Father, He is determined to maximize my enjoyment of Him.  He arranges my circumstances and structures my days to include ‘lessons’ (trials and suffering) that will increase my holiness.  I’m learning that as my holiness expands, so does my pleasure and joy in God.

This day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength – Nehemiah 8:9

Nehemiah exhorted the people to put an end to their sincere sorrow over past sins and move on to holy happiness in God.  He knew that their repentance was real  – a prerequisite to being cleansed or made holy. Now it was time to enjoy God and experience genuine joy and receive divine strength.

What is NOT explicit, but is built into the text is the understanding that AS we are increasingly sanctified or made more holy (more like God), THEN we enjoy Him more and more.

  • Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14

A recent revelation has startled me:  All those disappointments, which I might lament, MAYBE they have been expressly for my joy.  Maybe had God allowed me to fulfill my dreams, I would have been ‘ruined’ for the real kind of joy.  It’s like a child who first eats sugar is ‘ruined’ for the taste and delight of fresh fruit and vegetables.

So maybe all the closed doors and thwarted plans, which have set my boundaries, (THIS far and no further!) have been sovereignly arranged with the EXPRESS purpose of maximizing my joy in God.  Could it be? Well, I wouldn’t put it past Him!

A further insight settled on me last week as I was listening to a secular colleague share his story of desires and closed doors.  His dreams of being a film producer had led nowhere and with mounting debt and a family to support, he finally came to grips with putting that career goal to bed and applied for a teaching job out of state.  He now teaches in the classroom next to me.  We’ve talked about God before and he’s easy to talk with but doesn’t seem to have any divine stirrings…yet!

But if God shuts doors and redirects my plans to maximize my enjoyment of Him, might this gentleman’s blocked efforts to move into another career along with desperation over increasing debt have God’s fingerprints all over?  Would it be unlike God to place him at this school in MY sphere to hear life-saving news?

I’m now praying for a soft heart on his part and alertness to know when to speak up.

Love my boundary lines!

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Sheep in a pen

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Psalm 16:6a

My thorn in the flesh that keeps driving me back to God in desperate need is my tendency to overeat and then get down on myself. I thought I had been liberated from that vicious cycle back in December.  It was then that I renounced once and for all slavishly weighing myself and tracking my exercise day by day.  But then, 10 days ago, I noticed that a certain pair of pants felt tight.  Immediately I spiraled into fear and loathing.

In a nutshell, I suffer from conflicting desires of wanting both to be lean AND to eat as much as I want.  I also fear future hunger and despise feeling stuffed. Taking liberty with the apostle Paul’s cry,

Oh wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me out of this ….(ceaseless struggle!) – Romans 7:24

As I went round and round with God both in prayer and reading my Bible, He brought to mind that psalm snippet above about limits.  Yes!  I NEED boundaries, both to feel safe and to forget about myself. I’m not much different from a dog that escapes from his restrictive yard only to find himself in a big, scary world on the other side.  Once he’s back home on the safe side of his fence or wall, he might then trust his owner’s wisdom and leave off future waywardness.  Actually I bet a dog needs far fewer repeat lessons than I do! After all, I’ve been fighting that wall with God since I was 16.

The Holy Spirit also reminded me what I have recently absorbed, that as Christians, our primary ministry is to our family. For me, my husband must be my focus. And if I am sucked inward, feeling bad about MY body, MY choices and MY satisfaction, I am NOT ministering to this man God has lovingly brought me.

Quickly my plea for guidance, “What am I to do, Lord?” turned into thanksgiving and praise for His Truth revealed in my heart.

Yes, I DO need limits and they DO make me happy.  Once THAT fact was settled, what I was to do fell into place.  No, I would not go back to weighing myself each day.  But I could cut out certain foods and reduce my portion size of others.

And if those parameters are what allow me to forget myself and focus on Mike and others in my sphere, then they truly ARE my happy limits.  Staying INSIDE the parameter is best.

Well, what about this fear of hunger and desire to eat abundantly?  I MUST ‘risk’ taking God at His Word and rely on His promise that I can do ALL things through him (Christ) who strengthens me – Phil 4:13. And all things means happily living with limited portions and occasional hunger pangs. For ifGod is leading me to stay within my boundary lines, then what He commands me to do, He will likewise enable me to do with Holy Spirit power.  As a Christian, it’s a fact that the Holy Spirit resides IN me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but One of love, power and integral/sound thinking.

The blahs or joy-less-ness

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Psalm 51:7–12 “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice.  Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

By God’s gifting, I am more a joy-filled gal than not. I wasn’t always so, but as I have come to know more and more the Biblical God, I have grown happier.  Multiple events each day cause me to look forward to getting up.  But occasionally, God blesses me with a short period of the ‘blahs’.  My dad used to say he had lost his ‘perk’.  He meant physical energy to move about, but I apply the same principle to the state of my emotions.  I say this is a gift, because feeling like there is NOTHING that excites me connects me to those I love who live in that place more time than not.  My empathy grows as a result.

depressed Snoopy

I’m not sure what prompted this recent attack of the blahs, but they came on last Thursday and lasted through Friday. Nothing appealed.  Nothing beckoned.  I felt bored and in that state of mind, I could see no change on the horizon.  I know, it sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?  And pathetic!  That’s what emotions do; they cloud our reasoning.

Knowing WHAT to do, I started preaching to myself, on my commute home from school, instead of listening to myself as many advice.  Truths about my identity in Christ; facts about God’s character; my treasure awaiting me in heaven….everything that I knew to be true.  None of that seemed to lift the mood.

But ‘out of the blue’ came a new thought: “The best is yet to be!” That’s a line either from a poem or a song but those 6 words actually express a truth taught throughout the Bible.  I took it and ran – in logical fashion:

  • If we live in a fallen world and are flawed people…..
  • If one of the consequences of the fall is painful labor…..
  • If God gives not only faith in Himself but suffering as gifts (for it is granted to you to believe and to suffer in Christ – Phil 1:29….)
  • AND if in the presence of God, there is fullness of joy and pleasures evermore (Ps 16:11)…..

Then….I don’t have to expect that I will experience fullness of joy HERE and NOW!!

It’s so easy to self-medicate to erase the joylessness.  Numerous times have I turned either to food or to purchases or to withdrawing into my world of books.  But if periods of joylessness are to be expected, then there is nothing that needs remedying.

Those thoughts in themselves were liberating.  “Well no wonder that I experience some of the blahs….true full joy is promised later!  I can wait,” rang this fresh understanding.

After a sigh of relief, my rescued thoughts (still in the car) turned to the possibility of calling ‘so-and-so’ and catching up with her.  I reached her and sealed my renewed thinking by getting my mind off myself, a comfort.  By the time I reached home, I had forgotten that I was feeling blah.

Okay, I can hear you say, “Well, bully for her!  My condition is chronic. I seem to have been born melancholic by temperament.”  I recognize that compared to you, I don’t even know what suffering is. And my heart goes out to you. I think after these 2 days becoming familiarized once again with what you awaken to daily, I can better understand your struggle.

Here are my two cents’ worth of advice, for what you can glean from it:

  • DO NOT beat up on yourself.  You are not being a bad Christian.  Soak in the fact that the Father loves you and chose you IN THIS STATE, if melancholy is your natural bent.
  • DO take care of yourself physically and keep up the habits of Bible-reading and prayer, especially when you don’t feel like it!

I bring up prayer because David models for us a Godly man who experienced periods of the blahs or joylessness.  Why would he ASK God to restore to him the joy of his initial salvation, if he were not missing it?  And look how he frames that request?  Make me to HEAR all about true joy and gladness.  Initial and on-going hope and assurance, i.e. FAITH, come from hearing the Word. But if we are talking to ourselves about how flat we feel, then we can’t give any attention to facts contrary to our feeling.

So prayer which arises from within Bible reading is life-rejuvenating.  In fact, the two most encouraging words I know from Scripture are:  But God!

He is the unpredictable (at times) God who does more than we can ask or imagine.  Those 2 words happen to pop up in numerous passages, but I’ll leave one to encourage you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Psalm 73:26

Don’t follow the world’s advice!

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Follow your heart!

Listen to your body!

Two aphorisms glibly and yet soberly offered as though they were truth incarnate.

But the Bible teaches otherwise.  And I am learning –

  • NOT to lean on my own understanding
  • NOR to look to contemporary worldly messages to guide my thinking

As I journey with God, not having the guidance and parental examples of graceful, dependent Christian aging for inspiration, I am discovering to my surprise that God recycles His lessons.  Their very familiarity shocks me. Didn’t I just journal about this 2 months ago?  Didn’t I just discover this verse and sincerely pledge to let it guide me?

Yet, due to amnesia or just plain drifting or a diabolical plot, I HAVE forgotten.

But God is patient, apparently.

Walled garden

So once again, I have run back into my garden with its limits, relieved to be safely within the walls.  I shout with joy along with David and affirm, The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; Psalm 16:6a

Yes, dear friends, it’s about food again that I write.  I don’t know why I meandered away from what I had previously recognized WORKED.  But this time, God in providentially and lovingly allowing me to struggle through depressing self-absorption gave me deeper insight into the harmful thinking in which I’ve swum and lingered.

But it’s not fair!  I LIKE bread and yogurt and fruit and lots of salad stuff and veggies (and dark chocolate)…….

Yes, but as Paul says in chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians: “23 All things are legitimate [permissible—and we are free to do anything we please], but not all things are helpful (expedient, profitable, and wholesome). All things are legitimate, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life].

Please read the entirety of Chapter 10, for the context sets up an even more powerful argument to support Paul’s conclusion in verse 23.

So, yes – just as the Hebrews yearned for seemingly healthy food items, an ‘innocent desire’ – “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” Exodus 11:5we must keep in mind that they were enslaved.

So too have I been enslaved by my desires.  I NOW see that the food my body desires is NOT healthy for it.  (I get plugged up and bloated, which sends me spiraling into a self-pity party.  If it sounds ‘sick’, it IS ‘sick’.  It’s called S-I-N!)

Hence my conclusion – that when authors and experts proclaim that our bodies crave what is good for them, we must respond ‘Phooey!’ Would you offer the same advice to a drug addict or alcoholic? Maybe it’s just the opposite – that we must take notice of what our body sidles up to and flee!

As for the other dangerous adage about following one’s heart, I’ll leave that for someone else to tackle.

As for me, I’m going to stay within my garden and thank God for the manna He has provided me this day.  He alone knows what is best for me, for He created me.

God’s protective glasses enhance sight

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I’ve never been tempted to glance or gaze at an eclipse.  But were I to, I’d be sure to use protective glasses. As dangerous as a solar event might be, gazing at the world with the naked eye is far more so.  Especially perilous is this unfiltered sight during our current upside-down times when the majority of institutions consider ‘good’ what God calls ‘evil’. (see Isaiah 5:20)

Solar Eclipse glasses

Yet often I unwittingly and quite stupidly look at the world around me without protective glasses.

I’m talking about spiritual glasses, God-glasses:

  • Psalm 16:18 – 19  I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.

What can we draw out of King David’s example and implicit counsel? Much!

Keeping our two eyes on God at all times:

  • requires looking toward God no matter what is going on in the world.
  • implies that ‘shaking’ or troubling instability is normal.
  • enjoins agreement between the eyes to look primarily and firstly at God.
  • assumes glasses are meant to assist BOTH eyes to see the same thing, equally well.
  • indicates seeing God PLUS! Since there is no mention of stumbling or blockage of visibility, looking at God is a kind of looking through or by means of God, but safely and accurately to where one is going. It includes a correct understanding and truthful contextualization or framing of what is going on around. In the natural world, people use the sun for this purpose. Other than those special eclipse-viewing occasions, one doesn’t just gaze AT the Sun.  We see BY means of the Sun.
  • results in a glad heart, a rejoicing self, a peaceful body.  Viewing the world THROUGH the filtering knowledge of God is mental and emotional sanity and physical health.

What alternatives are there for understanding all things, if you reject God-glasses?  Without access to the Creator’s view of the world, one is left to take in and make sense of everything through unprotected eyes.  Jesus diagnosed this condition and warned, “But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness..” Matt 6:23a

  1. resulting in harm
  2. resulting in poor vision and no sense of location OR direction
  3. resulting in fear and depression, due to unfiltered content
  4. resulting in confusion in moral issues
  5. resulting in suspicion of others, isolation during this life, and loneliness
  6. resulting in resignation because of ignorance of Holy Spirit power and other resources available to the spirit-born Christian
  7. resulting in cynicism when unable to glimpse reflections of God’s goodness and glory
  8. resulting in forever death with concomitant permanent isolation

So why doesn’t everyone take advantage of these glasses?  Is it because it’s difficult or costly to secure a pair?

Not difficult for those empty or poor people, the ones who know their vision is lacking or harmed.

But if you think you don’t need any glasses to see fine….

eyeglasses

And you’re more concerned by how you might look goofy in the world’s estimation wearing God-Glasses…..

At the least it’ll cost you your pride, your already-mapped out plan for your life and your reputation.  At the most, it could cost you your pilgrim life.

Question: How badly do you want to see correctly?  How badly do you want true and lasting health and happiness?

The danger of freedom

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I’m learning to think through what I hear in sermons and what I read.  When God wants to impress a truth on me, He tends to funnel the same message through multiple media.  The lesson last week that perked down into my resistant sinful pattern of thinking was: It’s not about me!

Before you scoff at how obvious that message is, let me assure you that it is VERY counter-cultural.  As pastor John Piper teaches, our society has been saturated with the mantra of the importance of Self-Esteem.  And you know as well as I, that a lie repeated oft enough takes on the weightiness and respectability of Truth.

self esteem

We slavishly work to think well of ourselves or gather praise from others.  That need becomes more than something nice to have.  It becomes our master, our God, and we its slave.

The other day, though, I was given a new thought.  I was feeling ‘sick of myself’ – just tired of thinking about me, what I eat, what my body feels like, how I’m doing with that perpetual thorn, how it’s the lens through which I view the world, the regulator that governs how much positive energy and interest I give to others.  Gradually, a life-altering truth took on substance:

  • It’s not about me.
  • It doesn’t have to be about me.
  • I don’t HAVE to even think about me.
  • Thinking about me doesn’t bring me any joy or energy.
  • I can actually be freed from thinking about me.
  • In point of fact, it’s about Him.  I exist, the birds sing, the trees sway, the oceans roar, the stars glisten, all of us alive to make much of God!

I had gone to bed the previous night with such new inklings swirling about in my head.  And when I awoke and greeted the gravel road for my morning walk and conversation with God, I started to think about me, as ‘per usual’.  But suddenly, the fragrance of freedom tickled my nose and I looked up at the stars and said:  I don’t HAVE to think about me today.  I’m FREE!!!

Well, if I’m not pondering me or my problems, then what am I thinking about when not occupied with teaching or conversing with someone or reading?  In all those interior, unencumbered moments, I get to mull over what makes our God so great.  And in fact, the Bible promises that far MORE joy, TRUE joy comes from those God-truths than any introspection.

  • Psalm 1:2  (How happy is the one who….) delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night.
  • Psalm 119:97  Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long

There’s also that statement of fact in verse 11 of  Psalm 16In your presence is fullness of joy….. I don’t think the psalmist is referring just to when we are in heaven with Jesus.  We are present with Him in a conscious way when we are thinking of Him. Therefore, joy comes from shifting the focus of my waking mind off of ME and onto God.

All day long, I felt like a little child, giddy with delight over a secret treasure.  I would stop and reflect, “Why do I feel so happy?” and then all of a sudden, the truth would flood back. “That’s it!  I don’t have to think about me!  I’m free!!

ball and chain

Do you want to know what happened that night?  I risked sharing this oh-so-tenuous feeling of potential permanent freedom with Mike.  He got it, what I was feeling.  All was well. We were enjoying some close moments of joy that come from sharing truth about God.

We sat down to our treat of dinner on trays and another episode of Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. At the conclusion of both, a tiff flared up ‘out of nowhere’ that isolated us one from the other. Mike headed down to the smoking cave in withdrawn silence and I mulled over delaying a grace-filled loving response to his probable text apologizing for his anger. “I want him to know how it feels to be the recipient of his chill!” I selfishly thought.

I sat down to read the paper and sure enough within 10 minutes, ‘ping!’, the apology popped up.  But his words changed my feelings.  He wrote: “I don’t know what came over me!  These feelings came out of nowhere!  I’m confused and hurt!’

Suddenly, I knew.  It was spiritual attack.  I immediately closed ranks with my husband.  Fingers flew furiously as I consoled him that none of this was about us, but about a new God-truth, that promise of freedom he and I had rejoiced over.  Satan does NOT want us to trust God.  He works to thwart that glorious Freedom from Self.  This enemy of God also wants to disrupt and destroy married couples.

With that life-restoring revelation from God, our conversation whipped back and forth as we discussed this dark assault.  We moved closer together but weren’t quite restored.  More conversation by email brought light and by our evening reunion, we were back on the same side, glad to be reunited.  But we were more aware of the need to remain one with each other, with God at our back, our side and in front.  He is our sure refuge in times of trouble AND in times of blessing.  Blessings can be dangerous, too, if we are not aware of our vulnerability.

PS:  It’s been 4 days and that freedom from self IS authentic and available anytime I want to let go of the boring!

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