A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: faith (page 1 of 11)

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.

Like this post? You might like

 

*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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Shadows, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the Inside-out Life

inner life inside out smallerAllow me to briefly refer to a bad movie, if you would. After all, that’s what makes for a great Thursday.

Remember Shallow Hal (2001), with Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow? Tacky as it was, the idea of the movie is actually sheer genius. Hal, a total womanizer (this is not the genius part), disregards any woman outside of the “knockout” category. That is, until a spell is cast upon him. Within the spell, women’s inner beauty–or lack thereof–manifests as outer beauty. Hal falls hard for a woman who, to him, looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. To the rest of the world, she’s woefully obese. Hal can’t figure out why she’s treated with such disdain; why no one can see how he’s won the jackpot. She’s unspeakably kind and physically dazzling.

What I like about an otherwise dumb movie: What if the portion others see of us misleads and distracts from our actual selves?

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 14 Creative Ways to Help Your Kids Praise God

Want to catch up on this series? Start here.spiritual disciplines for real families

Would your kids believe me if I told them eating mac and cheese could praise God?

True story.

If Romans 12 is true–then it’s all His. (Um. Even that questionable, nuclear-orange variety of tube-y pasta.)

 

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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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The Safe Place Series, #2: On Giving Pat Answers the Boot

Missed the first post? Grab it here. 

I must have been seventeen. I still remember the room and where I was sitting in it. Sadly, I don’t remember the exact nature of the trauma that had come upon one of the youth group members, which was explained as we listened in relative silence that Sunday morning. I do know someone had died. But I remember the youth leader giving us advice about how to help those around them, and I specifically remember this: Here’s what not to say. Don’t tell them this was God’s will.

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Shame–and Your Marriage: On the Fear that Keeps Us Hiding (and Clawing Your Way Out)

shame in your marriage The power of shame continues to make my mind fizz. (Yours might, too: This post on shame in parenting has drawn more readers than any other post on this site, bar none.)

But now all those thoughts are bubbling over what shame might look like in a marriage; in our most intimate concentric circle of community. See, I know shame—this idea that I’m not worthy of connecting with someone—immediately leads me to cover up.

Take the typical fight with a spouse. First reaction is not typically, You’re so right. I’m snippy, and I have a profound case of PMS. It’s more along the lines of blame-shifting (Well, if you’d stop overreacting like some kind of hypersensitive Pomeranian). Denying (I didn’t say you were arrogant! I said you were cocky). Hiding (If I don’t say anything, it will look a lot like peace and taking the higher road).

The Masquerade

Joking aside—this predilection to hiding means the manifestations of shame are endless. For me, it led to a profound insecurity (you can read how that affected our relationship); to people-pleasing ad nauseam, to the extent of a near eating disorder.

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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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Ideas for When You’re Spiritually Distracted

1. Acknowledge and explore it.

Why am I distracted? Am I having basic needs met, like sleep, food, exercise, and white space in my day to think? (Consider grabbing a snack or some yummy lotion to spread on your feet to make this time feel more like “you time” rather than checking a “should-do” box. Moms with young kids welded to thy knees–more ideas on that here. If you’re in need of a few minutes to settle your mind, set a timer on your phone and let your thoughts wander aimlessly. It’s…actually healthy.) What’s appealing about the rabbit of my brain’s bunny trails? Is it a fantasy? Is it feeding a need that I wish I had met right now-like comfort, security, approval, or power? Is there anything in my circumstances making me hunger for this…or is it just my natural security blanket? Commit the “holes” you’re feeling to God, and meditate on verses that direct you toward His complete comfort, security, acceptance, and power.

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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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