Do you resent or accept your ‘boundary lines’?

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The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely, I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. Psalm 16:6-7 NIV

Where Mike and I lived in Western North Carolina, we frequently would pop into a gift shop on Main Street called, Pleasant Places.  We bought our squirrel-proof bird feeder from these nature-loving owners and always enjoyed chatting with them.

This morning I was thinking of David, who joined the top ranks of ‘Who’s Who in Israel’s History’, who penned this Holy Spirit-inspired truth about his boundary lines. That led me to reflect on my life.

I started out my young adult life with a desire-fueled goal. At age 18 I already knew I loved learning and speaking other languages as well as adapting to new cultures.  I calculated that the most adventure-packed international career I could choose would be the Foreign Service, also known as the State Department.  I was fully aware of how challenging it would prove to be selected.  So, I chose to apply for an ROTC scholarship to help fund college, knowing that five years of military experience as an officer after graduation could make my candidacy more appealing

I even majored in Russian and Russian Studies to increase my value to the State Department. But my intended trajectory completely changed when I met Mike that summer after graduating and getting commissioned as a new second lieutenant.  He and I had been assigned to the same basic officers’ course for the Military Intelligence branch. Within 6 weeks I found myself saying ‘yes’ to his marriage proposal and we were wed in April 1980.

I chose life with Mike over my original career path, thereby changing the trajectory of the rest of my life. Do I regret that quick decision?  No, not in the least. Do I ever feel sad when I survey remaining longings for overseas living adventures?  Yes!

But I can say with heart-felt conviction that my boundary lines, much narrower than I imagined I could want, have been good for me. The Lord really does know what he is doing.

The most significant example of how God’s plan turned out far better for me comes from early on in our marriage.  We were 24 and were confronted with the gospel message for the first time. We might have heard what Jesus did in the denomination we grew up in, but not in a compelling way.  This presentation clearly and immediately drew us to respond with a hearty ‘YES!’ to God’s offer of salvation, lordship and forever fellowship.

I know that without Mike, I would have stopped going to church.  I never attended an Episcopal church my four years at the University of Virginia. Yet, there must have been a flicker of authentic Holy-Spirit desire in me, for meeting Mike who did attend church faithfully, intrigued me. I joined him each Sunday morning for church and brunch afterwards.  As long as I was with him, I went willingly.

But I know that had we only dated and parted as friends in December 1979, I would not have continued going to church on my own.  Services frankly bored me.

Furthermore, I would have likely continued along my self-centered, sexually-immoral, career-focused path with little thought about church or the things of God.

What would my life be like now, at 64? I do believe I’d be a believer as I am now.  But I am grateful for four decades of following (erratic as it has been for long periods) Jesus.  I don’t doubt that eventually God would have gotten my attention. Probably in a painful way, like an inconvenient, unwanted and shaming pregnancy. Instead, he had drawn me with ‘cords of kindness’ through that quick decision to join my life with Mike’s. 

I keep going back to my ‘pleasant’ boundary lines. I trust God, and especially when he has written in Psalm 84:11 ‘No good thing do I withhold from those whose way is upright’.

When those inevitable wistful dreams resurface, when I envy others for getting to live overseas and speak other languages, I remind myself that:  HAD IT BEEN A GOOD THING FOR ME, then the Lord would have ordained it.

The twin evils of smugness and envy

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I was feeling smug. Admiring my ability to juggle this and that. Compared to others.  Evaluating myself next to another sister. He pulled me up short. As realization of sin spread, so did horror.

Juggling life

“I repent, Lord! Forgive me! I see! Truly! I humble myself. You don’t need to do anything else to get my attention. Seriously!”

 

For what had flashed across my consciousness about God was this:

“You, the all-wise and infinitely good God, have perfectly arranged this fellow Christian’s plate with the appropriate palate of weaknesses, strengths, characteristics, bents, abilities, talents, habits (good and bad), circumstances, and experiences all intended for her to grow in the knowledge and love of your Son. Every piece on that plate of hers is necessary to her sanctification and growth in holiness. You planned each one, the good and the ugly!”

And You have done the same for me. Who am I to boast about this or that as though they were due to my efforts and smarts? All along You are the one who has traced out our paths? And more pointedly, who am I to complain about the potholes in the road if they are according to Your will?

“Father, I see that this constant comparing of me with others produce either envy or pride and both are evil! Deliver me from these sins, please! Pride says: Look at me!  Envy says: You are a bad God not to give me what I want/deserve!

Since that day a week ago, He has continued to show me that He does indeed ordain and govern all circumstances. Because He is in charge of every molecule in the universe I can trust what He commands me to do:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6-8

Not evaluating, not judging the circumstances of others is wise. That’s God’s business. Do you remember Peter’s comment to Jesus as told by John after Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples post resurrection?

“So Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man? Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’” John 21:21-22

Several times a day as my smug-o-meter rises, (that is – when I awake to this sin), I put myself back in my place. I say to myself:

“Maria, you have died! And the life you now live, you live by faith in Jesus. (Gal 2:20) That is to say – you move and live and have your being attached to Him. If there be any good in your life, it is only good because of Him. So give it up, this thinking that there is something good in or about you alone!”

That truth not only humbles me, but it liberates me. Since all that is good in me through faith is a gift, I don’t have to worry about earning it. And since Jesus has given me the most costly gift, Himself, I can trust Him to give me any and all such that He deems good for me for godliness and life (2 Peter 1:3)

PS:  When I caught myself later on in the week doing my ‘I’m-so-good dance’, I realized that God was showing me a specific way to PRAY for this fellow Christian.  Again, I repented.  We are all different, intentionally.  He has arranged each of us in the Body of Christ as He sees fit.  Therefore, we are to encourage and pray for one another. It’s in our best interests, after all.  Another gentle smack-down!

Envy – that invisible sin

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Envying a bigger fish

 

 

 

It snuck up on me awares. First one friend’s good news, then another’s and finally a third – all in the space of 2 days.  Before I knew it, my coveting was in full bloom!  Thankfully , the Holy Spirit was on duty and drew my attention to what this was;  pure and simple – ugly SIN!

Funny how men are quick to confess their struggle against lust and women their indulgence in gossip.  But covetousness? envy?  – who admits that?  But you know that it must be a biggie, to have made it on God’s Top Ten List.

10 Commandments

 

 

 

What we wish we had that we don’t is also an indicator of our idols – the things we worship.  I’ve heard it said that the act of worship bookends the commandments – at the outset, the proper and exclusive worship of God, the Creator and at the end, the prohibition of worshipping the created.

So what did I do, a forgiven sinner who was forced to look her sin straight in the face?  I repented.  And again each time the longings flooded or floated back. Finally, when I had time to examine at length these desires full-on, God led me to a helpful way to put them into perspective.

If we are Christians, then we have been invited and vetted to permanently partake of the eternal heavenly feast, hosted by Jesus in His Father’s Kingdom.  That experience which will go on forever will literally be out-of-this-world in its magnitude and ability to satisfy and provide multi-dimensional joy the likes of which we can hardly begin to imagine.

Heavenly Feast

 

 

 

 

So whatever it is that I long for HERE on this earth is piddly in comparison.  The image that came to mind (thank you, Holy Spirit!) was of someone complaining about their snack in comparison to a friend’s snack, when all along we will both soon be dining at Buckingham Palace or the Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore

 

 

 

Envy is damaging because it destroys our contentment in God.  It keeps our focus OFF of God and on to lesser stuff.  It sets us up for the corrosive thought that we DESERVE something.  When all along as a pastor friend of mine likes to say, “What we deserve is Hell!  The fact that God offers us a pardon is astounding enough.  Everything else we get is a gift.  And that’s a lot of gifts!”

So maybe I’ll have some of my fleshly heart’s desires satisfied here on earth and maybe I won’t.  But the time spent here is a blink of the eye.  I love the way CS Lewis contrasts the length and satisfaction of life on earth to that of eternal life with the Father:

“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
― C.S. LewisThe Last Battle  

Dream has ended CS Lewis

 

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