A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: difficulty (page 1 of 9)

How Not to Read God’s Mind

How not to read God's mindLet me put it bluntly. Upon returning from Uganda and starting my own business as a freelancer, I was hoping for a little more…easy success. I was leaving such a good fit for the way I was made–my technicolor dream–at what felt like sacrifice. And I’ve been writing for so long. I just hoped there’d be a few more supernatural wins involved, you know? I admit to thinking of it a little formulaically: Obey God = Find “favor”.

Hmm. Favor. I mean, you could back that up with verses like “Anyone who comes to him must believe…he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” But as I type, I’m realizing I had a somewhat concrete vision of what that might look like.

Truth: God has been immensely kind–not only in my new job, but to our family in a remarkably smooth transition.

Truth: When the “favor”/blessings/kindness/grace (call it what you want) didn’t materialize, I started in on the “whys.” God must be telling me something, right?

Truth: As my husband reminded me, new jobs take time. Especially those that build a client base. You might say the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Repeat: “Having God does not make me Teflon.” The laws of the universe still apply to me, even though I’m God’s daughter, and even when I obey. But sometimes I presume that I’ll receive grace in the way I picture it in my head. You might even call it spiritual entitlement.

The Mind Game

Have you ever invented an intricate scenario in your mind about why someone didn’t respond the way you wanted?

Example: A friend sends out an email that feels terse. You start thinking about the why’s. Could it be your relationship? Could her marriage be having problems? Is she still ticked that you forgot her birthday? etc., etc. You invent catty responses in your mind while you wash the dishes. You decide if she forgets your birthday, it’s over.

Then you come to find out–she’s not good at writing in general, and her son pushed “send” while sitting on her lap.

Oops.

Geri Scazzero suggests,

The ninth commandment states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Yet we break this commandment when we jump to conclusions about other people that likely are not true.*

And honestly, I’m guilty of doing this about God.

Reading His Mind

I can be guilty of adding clarity for God when he hasn’t actually told me anything. I’m piecing together “signs” or “open doors” to decrease my own ambiguity. I second-guess decisions when their outcome looks bleak. Grant it, sometimes I need to rethink my direction. But like the Israelites carrying the Ark of the Covenant into battle only to get slaughtered–God is not my good-luck charm.

“The God of my plans”

It’s easy, when accounting the good ways God worked things out from a difficult situation, to justify God’s math for him. All this worked out–so clearly God was doing something there. Now, you know I believe in gratitude as a game-changer in suffering. Do it: Find the goodness, the beauty God creates from ashes.

But we can also be guilty of oversimplifying God’s complex purposes.

So often in our suffering, God doesn’t choose to show his hand. I am still riveted by Keller’s account of an Elisabeth Elliot novel written in the 60’s, No Graven Image. Elliot spins the tale of Margaret, a missionary translating the Bible for unreached South American tribes. One day, she’s walking to the home of Pedro, her translator, the sole translation link between her and the unreached tribe. She’s thanking God for the gift of Pedro; for the elaborate set of circumstances and support and training that have brought her to this point. She’s imagining bringing the Bible to a million people in this region.

But when she arrives at his home, Pedro is suffering from a severe leg infection. Having been trained in medicine, Margaret has penicillin with her, which Pedro requests. Unfortunately, Pedro has an allergic reaction. His family gathers as he seizes; his wife is saying, “You killed him.”

Margaret cries out to God…but Pedro perishes. And her work is over.

Keller reports that Elliot pointed to the last page:

“God, if He was merely my accomplice, had betrayed me. If, on the other hand, He was God, He had freed me.” She went on to explain to us that the graven image, the idol of the title, was a God who always acted the way we thought he should…That is a God of our own creation, a counterfeit god. Such a god is really just a projection of our own wisdom, of our own self.

….Many readers wrote Elliot and protested vehemently that God would never allow sch a thing to happen to a woman who has so prayerfully dedicated her life to his cause.

….However, Elisabeth told us, her own actual life experience had run almost exactly parallel to this novel–and actually had been even worse.

….She warned against trying to “find a silver lining” that would justify what happened.

….She wrote, “…There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude that says, ‘God has no right to do this…unless…”***

This story has resonated deeply with me as it seems God pulled me away, or someone could imply “chose not to provide” for me to stay and personally complete the Gospel work in Uganda in the same capacity. Over and over I remind myself, This is Your work. You, potter. Me, clay. 

But don’t we “have the mind of Christ”?

Yes, the Holy Spirit illuminates God’s teaching and helps us to know His mind (1 Corinthians 2:16). But God still holds his secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29); we still see dimly right now (1 Corinthians 13:12). After all, “who can know the mind of the Lord? And who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34). Job, too, confesses, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3).

God begs us, I think, toward a humility of mind in understanding the immense complexity of how and why He acts.

Yes, ruthlessly locate the grace illuminating even our darkest days. But though we have the privilege of knowing much of his mind…let’s not try to read it.

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*Scazzero, Geri. The Emotionally Healthy Woman: Eight Things You Have to Quit to Change Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2014).

**Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ. Kindle Edition.

***As cited in Keller, Timothy. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.New York: Penguin Books (2013). Kindle edition.

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Quick-tips Holiday Survival Guide to Awkward Family Situations

Holiday gatherings with family can be fraught with frustration, hurt, and old habits–right alongside the pumpkin pie. Here, a few ideas to help you cook up a happier, freer Thanksgiving and beyond.

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ADHD and What Works for Us: Tips, tactics–and hope

Author’s note: This post veers a bit to a niche audience. But my posts on what I’m learning from my son’s learning disorders—ADHD and dysgraphia—and this one on helping our kids turn suffering into praise have been perennially visited by whom I can only assume are parents hoping to adjust to similarly harrowing and frustrating diagnoses. I’m not a doctor or an expert—just a parent who has found some gratitude in all this.

Six years ago, my heart wasn’t just gripped by preparations to heave our family of six over to Africa. It took only till September of my son’s kindergarten year to piece together that something wasn’t right. Perhaps I should have seen it in the way he couldn’t pay attention to the end of a flashcard. Or that he had no friends to invite to his birthday aside from his brother’s buddies. Or that his mind was so regularly drifting from any reality at hand.

The statistics, let alone my realization that in Africa, I would be one of his only advocates—wrapped around me like seaweed in an undertow. Depression. Addiction. Worse words I won’t use here. But I’ll say this: This is why accurate diagnoses matter. Because diagnoses mean we can get help for our kids. We’re not planting our heads in the sand, hoping a label won’t stick to that son or daughter we love. We’re finally able to utilize tools that help them have a promising future.

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Guest Post: Helping Our Kids Become a Safe Place

becoming a safe place person of refuge

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The Safe Place Series, #3: Practical Tips to Becoming a Person of Refuge

The other night, one of my kids was at his finest. It was as if a switch had been flipped. He went from easy-going to stonewalling us, arms crossed, resolutely stubborn. And man, was I getting the stinkeye.

Though his attitude was not without consequences, God was kind to me. I think He reminded me that disproportionate reactions are a lot of times symptoms that something deeper’s being triggered. Thankfully, this tipped my husband and I off to dig and uncover the problem more than just slam down the symptom.

Because when you’re going through a hard time, life can feel a little…naked. So our emotional safety is directly tied to the degree of acceptance we sense from someone.

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7 Prayers for Those Battered by Natural Disasters

7 prayers for those battered by natural disasters

Like you, my heart is twisting as all eyes turn toward Hurricane Irma, which has already devastated the lives of so many in the Caribbean–and soon followed by Jose and Katia. With this morning’s earthquake in Mexico, the pummeling by Hurricane Harvey, and wildfires torching the West–pray with me for those torn from their homes and relying on the kindness of others for their next meal.

Victims of these natural disasters: We remember you, and we’re on our knees.

Readers: Will you pray with us?

  1. Peace. Let them give all their anxiety and fear to you. As they trust you, guard their hearts in Your peace that’s beyond what makes sense (Philippians 4:8).
  2. Provision. Please, care for their physical needs; their daily “bread”. Let them not worry about what they’ll eat or drink or wear, but trust that you see them and care deeply (Matthew 6:26). Let them seek you, and lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10). In times of deep need or even when they have plenty, give them the strength to endure anything (Philippians 4:13).
  3. Wisdom. There are so many decisions to be made when life has been shattered. Help them to move forward not in impulsive fear, seeking peace–but operating from peace and in careful wisdom. Help them know each next step as they seek you (James 1:5-6).
  4. Trust. It can be hardest to trust you when we walk through overwhelming grief and loss. Show each person the tender, specific care You take of them, the small graces, and your personal remembering of them. Let them trust You even when you take away (Job 1:21).
  5. Care and hospitality. Father, let them see you in every open door, every glass of water, every kind smile and gentle grasp. Provide love for them through friends, family, and strangers. Go before these victims of tragedy, paving their way in graciousness. Motivate your people to love generously, as an act of love to you (Matthew 25:34-40).
  6. Restoration. Yours is a story of resurrection; of ultimately giving so much more than You ask of us. Restore the happiness and necessities taken by these disasters (Joel 2:24-26).
  7. Refuge. Lord, be their hiding place and refuge, a constant presence and help in trouble. Intimately and personally let them know You are there with them (Psalm 46:1).
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From My Pinterest-imperfect Day to Yours: Simple Thoughts about What Goes Wrong

I padded downstairs to shake my daughter’s shoulder, waking her for school. But instead, she woke to my “Oh, no.”

‘Cause that’s generally what you say when you see liquid pooling in the hall in the half-light, oozing from the laundry-room-slash-pantry.

That was the price-club-sized empty detergent bottle on its side, the cap to the air vent lying surrendered beside it, and the laundry room now flooded with a pleasantly lemony, biodegradable, outstandingly viscous liquid soap.

pinterest imperfect day

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Guest post: Where’s the Holy Spirit When My Marriage is Hard?

It was late, and she was crying now. Her marriage had been hard–hard for a long time.

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When God Isn’t Who You Thought He Was: On Spiritual Bewilderment and Anger

Perhaps one of the most unsettling aspects of this year of upheaval for my family has been my own understanding of who God is. It actually took me awhile to churn out this post for you, because, well, “I’m angry with God” should ideally have some kind of resolution at the end, right? I’ve learned people get unsettled when you tell them you’re feeling spiritually jaded or rattled.

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Here in the Waiting

Last week I was remarkably privileged to spend three days with global women from around the world. I love the work of Thrive, a ministry which works diligently to provide a respite from the very real demands of cross-cultural work. Personally, you know a bit of the discombobulated state in which I left for the retreat.

It was in the meal line when I was laughing with a young 20-something who’d just left her home in Sweden after years serving there. As I reached for the fresh berries (berries! I missed those in Uganda. I may have taken an inappropriate amount, maybe four times), I was getting her name, her country of service, her tenure. “And you’re back now?” I asked.

Her: “Yup. Um, transition stinks.”

Me: “Yes. Yes, it does.”

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