Is this all there is?

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Meaningless We spent Thanksgiving week with our kids and grandkids and that was a gift!  For the couple hosting the Cochrane Clan, it was their first time cooking a turkey and planning such a large meal.  They carried it off with grace, good humor and amazing calm.  Of course we all pitched in.

Hanging out with these young parents, I’ve been reflecting on how exciting life was when we were in our 20s and 30s.  Each new experience was thrilling, from eating out in a fine restaurant, to moving into our first apartment, to bringing home new babies and even taking on a mortgage for our very own house.

But as I’ve aged, many events no longer exhilarate.  Whether holidays, anniversaries, travel, purchases, new homes or new jobs.

I can understand middle-aged depression. I thought about that even in church today as our pastor announced his family’s good news that they were gaining a daughter-in-law.  When I watched the future groom bring up the offerings to the front, I reflected on all that lay ahead of him.

I WOULD have envied him, had it not been for the FACT that God has given me new life complete with a new perspective, value system and purpose.

Therefore, there is no despair, but a growing sense of anticipation and a sure confidence that any thrill I once tasted here on earth is a slight foretaste of what is to come.

I am über-thankful to God for having called me out of the futile darkness of this world into the light and knowledge of who He is and why He created me.  I live with a just-below-the-surface happy and almost excited anticipation,

  • Knowing that God IS – that He has always existed and will always be around in an unchanging state, that this world is not a product of random chemicals coalescing for no purpose
  • Knowing that God MEANS for us to know Him and share happiness and true ‘face-time’ with Him
  • Knowing that I have a daily purpose – to reveal to others the worth and beauty of God
  • Knowing that I have a sure future inheritance – a new body with categorically different abilities to see and savor God and His kingdom
  • Knowing that every single event that happens now – on earth – in my life is sent by God according to His plan for my well-being and that of others
  • Knowing that God will provide strength and wisdom and any other necessary resource for everything that He has planned for me this day

Resting on those facts and that understanding of life daily frames my life. And since the best is yet to come, I don’t feel compelled to:

  • ‘carpe diem’
  • or create and check off a bucket list

And maybe now, among those my age, I can offer a better way, a more satisfying path to the ‘good life’.  Why try to fill that void God deliberately allows to grow with self-directed projects, i.e. invented purposes and time fillers?

  • remodeling the house or buying a vacation home
  • traveling or cruising to pass the time
  • leaving a legacy so future family generations will remember Grandma & Grandpa

If there be any legacy I want to leave my grandkids it’s that the purpose of life is bigger than satisfying ourselves.  Knowing God and growing into the man or woman He plans will bring true fulfillment of a life well lived.

I read a French reflection each morning.  The verse highlighted today was Psalm 62:5

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.

The French translation felt more meaningful:

  • Toi, mon âme, repose-toi paisiblement sur Dieu; car mon attente est en lui.
  • You, my soul, rest peacefully on God; for my expectation is in him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes you happy is a clue to who you are

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Matthew 16:26 – What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

“I need to get an A on my Psych test this week!”

  • Why?

“It’ll make me happy!”

  • Why?

“If I do well in my major, then I can get into a good grad program.”

  • Why do you want that?

“So I can have a career as a clinical psychologist”

  • Why?

“I think I’ll be happy in that profession and find it rewarding!”

  • Why?

“When I was a child, my family and I were greatly helped through some sessions with a counselor.  I think that I’d be happy assisting people the same way.”

The pastor who shared this scenario did not go any deeper with his questioning of the college student.  But had he probed closer, a possible subsequent question might have been:

  • Why does it make you happy to help people?

I think the truthful answer to that question is key to revealing the source of our hope, joy, value, identity, purpose – in a word, our VERY essence.

Here is why it matters.  If our hope, our happiness-source is anything but Jesus, we have engaged in a DOOMED quest for 2 reasons:

1) we’ll never be satisfied the way we are wired to be

2) we can lose THAT which we might gain

This reality came to a head for me on Friday.  I started my day at 4:20 am with my ritual worship at the alter of MY WEIGHT, aka the bathroom scale.  Talk about God’s sovereignty – He controls my body to such a degree for His good purposes, that just like previous days and weeks, I was stuck 5 pounds higher than I want to be…..a fact painful to me since November when I realized that I had added to Maria’s substance.

I KNEW that this moment was crucial, that I was battling idolatry and who and what was most important in my life.  I wrestled with this truth on my morning walk, recognizing the approaching ‘line in the sand’.

Line in the sand

Was I going to worship MY happiness or submit to God as Lord of my life?

So once again, I decided to abandon this morning ritual. (I don’t need the scales to help me eat in the manner that provides me with the most energy – we’re talking about something SICK in my soul, an obsession with the scales and a numeral!)  This time, I pray, the decision stays final.  (cynics or realists might rightly ask, “Where have I heard THAT resolve before?!”

Listening to John Piper’s sermon in the car on the way to school and applying his line of probative questions to what I describe as that which makes me happy, I saw the foolishness and futility of imbuing 5 pounds with THAT much power over me.

For MY bottom line with the weight idol is this: If I weigh X lbs, I’ll be happy.

That’s stupid!  Our lives are just a vapor,

As James says in chapter 4, verse 4- ….You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Why should you or I allocate that many resources of mind, heart and strength to the shell, the temporary? Where is my concern with the main part of me that will last eon upon eon of time?  And if, as the Bible teaches, we are going to be completely changed upon seeing Jesus face to face, why am I angsting over what will drop off and decay?

As our pastor Patrick quipped this morning: When we die, the nut that we were leaves behind the withered shell of our body. (That got me pondering: Am I a peanut, a chestnut, a walnut, a pistachio????)   I’m 57 years old.  This weight issue is OH,SO temporary and 40 years from now I won’t be even thinking about it.  So why waste my earthly energy TODAY worshipping the outer casing that is going to disintegrate?

Back to the title of this reflection:

Who are you?  Who am I?  Are we our own god?  or are we worshippers and lovers of the only true and living God?  Truth is – we have souls. We were created and wired only to be satisfied by the best – God, Himself.  Why waste our happiness on junk when we can experience a partial joy NOW learning about and savoring God, all along knowing that ‘fullness of joy‘ awaits us. (Psalm 16:11)

PS:  One final thought about the student who might have answered that her idea of happiness was helping others.  If we help others to FEEL good about ourselves, that is sin.  If we help others to PLEASE our heavenly Father and do that work in His strength, honoring Him in the process, that is what the Bible calls ‘good’.  Inner motivation DOES matter. The Pharisees sought man’s approval and esteem through outward ‘righteous’ behavior.  (Read again Jesus’ words in Luke 18:9-14)

 

It’s good to be weak

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Like Paul, I have prayed that God would remove certain difficulties.

This week, I took a baby step in imitating Paul when he confessed:

I will say this: because these experiences I had were so tremendous, God was afraid I might be puffed up by them; so I was given a physical condition which has been a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to hurt and bother me and prick my pride. Three different times I begged God to make me well again.

Each time he said, No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.” Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities. 10 Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite happy about “the thorn,” and about insults and hardships, persecutions and difficulties; for when I am weak, then I am strong—the less I have, the more I depend on him.  (2 Cor 12: 7 to 10)

  • As Leia, our 17 1/2 year old cat was declining, I begged God just to take her life during the night – easily and quietly
  • 2 different times in the first 7 weeks of this school year my new principal has come into my classroom and shut the door.  With good intentions, she has reported some negative feedback received from certain parents about this or that related to my teaching (new school, new kids, new expectations)

A week ago I finally acknowledge that I felt depressed. Cornered.  Meditatively and prayerfully writing last week’s blog post, finding scriptures to cling to was life and light giving.

This week, I chewed on Paul’s words.  I nourished and encouraged myself with the following thought:

  • “His grace is sufficient to make me content that I am weak.  As I lean on Him and trust Him to guide me this class period, as I wait on Him for wisdom about our cat, I know that on the other side of each hour, I will be glad that my acknowledged weakness and dependency created the VOID necessary for Holy-Spirit-Power to rush in.  No space……. no divine help.  Lord, keep me dependent on You!”

So now it’s Sunday, a week later.

Leia close up on 7 Oct 2013

Leia is buried beneath our balcony overlooking the gorgeous hills of Western North Carolina.

I taught kids more French, trusting Him to help me to adjust to their needs and the expectations of my boss.

Do I still wish for a life without suffering?  YES!!!  I’m human, i.e. sinful and weak-willed.

But I will trust Him that His way is best for me.  After all, God alone is the happy Holy Father who has already proven that He loves me.  What more could He do than He has already done by adopting me into His Forever Family?

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.

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