I stood in her guest room, head tilted. Framed snapshots and professional photos surrounded a sizeable, well-framed headshot of her mother when she had still been healthy. Such a lovely, kind smile.
A three-year battle with a rare cancer took her four years ago now. A godly, loving woman, a pillar in her community and family, whose power of her absence belies of the quality of her presence.
My friend has four young children now, some who never got to bask in that smile. In a vulnerable moment, my friend’s voice thick with emotion, she confessed her confusion. Not a faithless one; more like the Psalms—all those that wind through despair but conclude with expressions of trust more profound because of it. She gestured at her home, littered with sippy cups and kid-detritus. She spoke of God’s sovereignty, then shook her head.
“I just don’t understand…how this is better without her.”
Looking back on those cloudy moments, I sometimes watch a few of the vague pieces of the puzzle pressed into place with a soft click. Ah, yes. I see it now. But many of them lay scattered, their intention fragmented.
Romans 8:28 is unquestionably a bedrock of our theology. I hang my life on it. No doubt, I had many willing to readily offer me this Scripture when I stood confused that God would use me in Uganda to take life that night; that He would choose the taxi I had hired. (Christians, myself included, can occasionally feel uncomfortable with ambiguity.)
Yet perhaps the exquisite poetry of the Psalms reiterates that those who mourn—who say, this world isn’t how it’s meant to be—are indeed blessed. Are indeed comforted, as they feel out the edges of their sorrow in its breadth and depth. As they understand just how much is mystery; how much they cannot control.
I’m in the midst of a life decision right now; those forks in the road. One seems preferable to all the rest for me. My reason says, Why, of course that’s the best choice.
To be honest, occasionally I find myself attempting to leverage my reasoning in God’s direction. There’s a bit of biblical precedent for this; Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus all presented God with well-considered arguments centered around His character, His people. God’s the author of rationalism and truth. He listens compassionately.
Still—sometimes my reasoning can lack reverence; can lack faith. It’s offered argumentatively rather than humbly. I hear Job’s words:
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… (Job 42)
When I was eight, I broke my tibia in a nasty fall off the monkey bars at family camp. (I know, I know. Hey, I’ve already warned you that I possess notably limited amounts of coordination. My six-year-old niece utterly surpasses my monkey bar capacity.) Once we arrived at the doctor’s office, I knew they planned to intravenously anesthetize me. And I was terrified. I remember that I kept trying to convince the PA I was falling asleep. I didn’t need that silly injection!
My reasoning was limited to my eight-year-old brain, my eight-year-old understanding of the world.
Paul David Tripp writes,
We must not forget that we will never experience inner peace simply because all our questions have been answered. Biblical faith is not irrational, but it takes us beyond our ability to reason….
It is important to study, to learn, to examine, to evaluate, and to know. But we are not rationalists. We do not trust our reason more than we trust God. We do not reject what God says is true when it doesn’t make sense to us. (emphasis added; New Morning Mercies: A Gospel Devotional)
Keller notes elsewhere that this doesn’t make suffering good. He points to John 11, when Jesus, at the tomb of His close friend—whom He is knowledgeably about to raise (see His prior words to Martha)—still weeps. God overcomes the horror wrought on this world by sin and its consequences, its unbearable curse. But He still confirms that suffering isn’t the way He originally crafted this world to be.
And yet…I find unshakable confidence that those same reasons I can’t wrap my mind around God’s reasoning—the reasons that He is not me-sized—are the exact reasons He’s worthy of my worship.
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Coming soon: A FREE E-BOOK of these discussion questions for subscribers/followers. (Thanks, followers! I appreciate you!) Stay tuned.
131.What rituals does your family hold around births?
132. What rituals does your family hold around weddings?
133. What rituals does your family hold around deaths?
134. What staples would one find in your family’s cupboard or fridge? Maybe it’s chips and salsa, or a can of cream of mushroom soup, or your sister’s favorite cereal, your dad’s favorite brand of beer, or the value-club sized jar of pickles.
135. What advice (or commands) did your parents give about clothing and appearance? With what clothing items were you not allowed out of the house?
136. By what principles would you say your parents lived life?
137. What events in your family changed your family members?
138. What were your parents’ dreams? Your siblings’ dreams?
139. What is something your parents would never say that might be normal in other households?
140. What proverbs or “words of wisdom” were commonly dispensed by your parents or relatives?
141. What pets play a distinct role in your memories? Or if you didn’t have pets, what were the reasons?
142. How do you remember your parents romancing each other (if they did)? What evidences of passion or intimacy did you witness?
For previous sets of questions in this series, click below:
1.That they’ll be… miserable. Well, that is, if they’re caught up in sin. I know, I know…this messes with a bit of a sacred cow; our children’s happiness is culturally paramount. I remember my mom praying this for a wayward sister, who was horrified when she found out! But there’s merit in asking God that if our kids are trapped in a lifestyle that’s killing their souls, their minds and hearts would feel sin for the misery, pain, and poison it is, so they’ll yearn for relief. David himself acknowledged about his time tangled in secret sin that
when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Psalm 32:3-4
God actually let David feel the oppression of his own choices. I pray my kids will experience limited unhappiness so they can revel in true freedom for a whole lot longer. (P.S. My mom’s prayer for my sister worked.) 2. That I won’t be the only one. The more I grapple with my remarkable weaknesses, I pray for other voices in my kids’ lives: people invested in them, abundant in areas I’m sorely lacking, and intimately involved enough to speak into my kids’ lives. Sometimes these other voices may be saying what I’m already saying, but in a different way that resonates with my child, and without relational static deafening our communication. Whether it’s coaches, mentors, teachers, small group leaders, other kids’ parents, neighbors, or relatives, I pray for people to invest in my kids deeply enough to shape them to be more like Jesus.
3.That they’ll be caught. I’m amazed at my limited reach; my limited sight; my limited knowledge of what their little minds are conniving. Grant it, I’m not my kids’ Holy Spirit. But I’m thankful that my kids are never in God’s blindspot. He knows exactly what they’re up to on the internet, at a friend’s house, or in the backseat of that car. So I pray they’ll be found out and brought to a place of deep, heart-level repentance.
4. That they’ll know their major. I love actively exploring and understanding alongside my kids as they sift through their unique, God-given makeup. From the time they’re young, I’d love for them to generally understand their personality profile, to own pored-through stacks of books on subjects they love, to have experimented with “tasters” of careers that fascinate them. Hopefully that will help them clarify what to do with all the ways they’re made. For some kids, I realize that takes longer than others; seriously–my kids can change their major six times (as long as it works with the ol’ pocketbook). But I love the adventure to find just what edges of God’s image they bear–and pray He’ll help us pursue its fullness (click here for more ideasto help kids grow into their giftedness). 5. More than inflated self-esteem, they’ll embrace self-forgetfulness. Of course I want to regularly, genuinely praise my children, identifying the image of God in them and acting as their biggest fan, the most intentional advocate for their gifts. But honestly, I don’t want my kids’ value built on their performance, or on how they look in a pair of jeans, or how well they can strike in soccer. I think this blogger says it well:
As much as it hurts me – feel less than. Esteem not yourself. Feel lonely. Feel unworthy. Feel unaccomplished. Feel small. Feel lost. Feel broken.
For if you believe you are greater than, your father and I have failed miserably. Among the broken you will find Christ… If you are never uncomfortable, weary, left out and un-praised how will you recognize the desolate? And if you are never desolate how will you recognize how much you need a Savior?
I will continue to put pictures of you on Facebook and brag about you. I will still cut the crust off your sandwiches – and bring you sonic slushes for no reason. It is my mommy nature – but I pray I never make you feel you are more than those around you. My prayer for you is that you came to serve, not be served.
Tim Keller uses the analogy of a courtroom: Rather than my kids constantly having to pump up an identity constructed around how well they’re meeting standards (theirs or ours)–daily rising or falling in the courtroom of others’ opinions or our own sense of achievement–we can acknowledge that Jesus has already obtained our verdict.
Me, returning from the grocery store: I bought us two pairs of tweezers, because heaven knows we have a surplus of eyebrows around here.
My husband: I don’t have too many eyebrows. I only have one.
**** Text from my sister last week: I was making granola bars with my kids this weekend and heard myself say, “So, the recipe is calling for dried fruit like raisins or Craisins. Anybody want to substitute those for chocolate chips?”
Me: Now, since Dad was gone all this week, I am leaving yogurt for you guys for breakfast. Would you please let me sleep in until, like, 8?
Is anyone else out there guilty of subtly rigging their own personality assessment?
I know, I know. It sounds kind of dumb when I say it out loud. In fact, if you would have asked me, I would have totally denied it. Would have said, I’m trying to make this thing express me accurately for once. (So much for me maximizing this helpful tool, right?)
It probably sounds immature (because it is) to mute certain aspects of my personality. I didn’t want to succumb to stereotypes. Wanted to be more balanced. Didn’t want to, well, turn out like that person who drove me batty once upon a time, or that person I didn’t respect.
To be more specific, I was embarrassed (still am) by being an extrovert, by lacking attention to detail, and by feeling rather than thinking. I mean, who wants to be known as an irrational, in-your-face, overenthusiastic fountain of thoughtlessness who can’t match her own socks?
Perhaps this was aided by social response to my unvarnished expression of personality in earlier years. I tried too hard. I spoke and immediately discovered my foot within my piehole. My mother developed thoughtful excuses reasons that perhaps today would not be a good day for me to cook, a.k.a. create a whirlwind of creativity in her quite spotless kitchen. I admit–these responses were deserved. (Uh, especially after the Red Jello Incident, Mom. I concede.)
But though my extroversion sent me scurrying into a faux-mild-mannered hole…God, of course, had His reasons. I distinctly remember an epiphany just before we moved to Africa. This was shortly after I’d carefully engineered every little penciled circle in the third or fourth DiSC profile of my lifetime, only to discover that, hey, I’m still incredibly enthusiastic and just organized enough not to exist in squalor or utter chaos. But someone at our training was pointing out that nearly the whole African continent thrived on talking and talking; and that flexibility was key to survival. Some straightforward compassion would also go a long way.
Wait. Did someone say it would be helpful to be friendly, conversational, empathetic, and willing to flex on details? Well! Have we got a show for you!
Turns out that, surprise! God’s knowledgeable design of me might not have been so inconvenient or random after all. Perhaps in my longing to be someone different, I was actually articulating a profound lack of faith.
Well. Have I also mentioned that I am surrounded by thinkers? For quite some time, I have valiantly attempted to display my innate rationalism, my wisdom uncluttered by emotion.
And…I stink at it.
As it turns out, I am a feeler. (There. I said it.) I feel before I even think, and when I try to think first…I am thinking about why I feel a certain way. Argggh. In case you have ever wondered in reading my blog posts if I’m driving with all four wheels on the pavement, well–now you know why.
My Husband the Thinker reminds me that his personality type has to deal with the stereotype of being cold and unfeeling; his introverted side can be overlooked and consistently misinterpreted. In other words, the grass is always a little more verdant on the other side.
This morning, I was recalling Acts 13:22, about a particular poet–and chronic musician, poet, dreamer, and creative planner. In fact, his feeling got him into trouble, like mine does. But still, God calls this man he made king–who “served the purpose of God in his own generation”–a man after his own heart. (I wonder if David ever had trouble matching socks.)
Reality is, I’m made in the image of God–whether I choose to embrace His deliberate, carefully-considered crafting or not. Grant it, He’s not to blame for those times I overwhelm others in my friendliness, or fail to plan well for my family, or emote all over the place lacking in essential self-control. As author Andree Seu so aptly states, “A lot of what I thought was my personality was just sin.”
Even so—my sin isn’t an excuse to mute the way God’s made me, but rather to let His Holy Spirit make me fully…me (don’t miss Ephesians 2:10). It’s much like I hope that, as He transforms Africa, it won’t become more fully Westernized, but more fully African: the highest, unadultered form of this stunning culture that expresses His face and image.God flourishes in the fullness our distinction not so that we can make more of ourselves, but more of Him.
16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?
 Seu, Andree. Normal Kingdom Business: A Collection of Essays by Andree Seu. Asheville, North Carolina: World and Life Books (2006), p. 77.
 Credit for this concept to Tim Keller in a sermon on culture; believe it was this one.
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The other day I was tucked on my porch in the muted sunshine, paging through the Psalms, when that five-letter word, shame, leapt at me. It made me wonder. What am I ashamed of?
I was a little amazed at how fast answers pounced on my mind. Shame carries tremendous power to sear itself on the memory, some incidences occurring twenty-five years ago–already forgiven and dealt with, but not forgotten: that cruel response when I was in fifth grade to that kid hurting from family strife . Those seasons when I felt socially just not enough. Lately, it’s the way I continually overreact with my kids.
And strangely related–I find myself wondering about the place of shame in parenting. Watching other parents use shame in discipline has the power to crumple me like tinfoil inside. I want to say, grace. Grace! Oh, teach them grace!
But in my own parenting–particularly in my moments of anger–I think, Wait. There is appropriate shame to be had here. Have you no shame that you just left your sibling like that? That those words just hurled from your own mouth?
Shame, I think, articulates that gap between who we wish we were (appropriately or not) and who we have powerfully demonstrated ourselves lacking to be. It’s a fear of being found out, naked in all we truly are.
I find the contrast remarkable between legitimate shame–a form of grief, really–and illegitimate shame in these verses:
9 …I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11
I’d propose there are universally two forms of shame in us: the legitimate guilt, its hard edges carved out by the realization of the pain an destruction we have wrought from our own scorched-earth, hellbent march to the sea. To tell the truth, I want my children to sense this shame; that grieving that births humble change.
And there’s of course illegitimate guilt, perhaps by someone else’s shame projected on us. Or sometimes it’s our own inability to forgive what others already have atoned, our own standards being “higher” and untouchable by the kindness of grace: You don’t know me. You don’t know what I deserve. And of course, sometimes shame is cast upon us, simply because we’re within range of someone else’s: the wife whose husband chose the affair. The terrified, abused child.
It may take a long time, but I hope my kids and I can eventually identify this impostor brand of shame that deforms nearly all of us, curling us in its heat, hardening us to a twisted shape only slightly reminiscent of what it once was. I long for us to plunge deeply together into that warm, unexpected pool found where there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I hope we come to settle there, engulfed by favor we did not and could never earn; in forgiveness and utter acceptance that was earned for us, not by us.
So I wonder if perhaps good parenting lies somewhere not in casting and heaping shame from that I would have expected more from you sort of lofty perch–which I, too, often find myself inhabiting–and perhaps more probing, humble questions to acknowledge our mutual need for Jesus, the Shame Eraser.
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Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation about a head-turning, life-altering, undeserved kindness. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith scuffing up against real life and real people.
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.