Faith

Waiting: on the Way to the Big Reveal

Hi, everyone! Remember me? *Sigh*  My last post was much too long ago.

My family was in a season of waiting, if you remember. While a little longer than my impatient self wildly embraces, it was graciously brief in retrospect. A few months feels so long. Eyeballing the last of “normal” becomes overwhelming, if we let it.

But our waiting wasn’t devastating. We know the “pressured in every way but not crushed” part of life, really (2 Corinthians 4:8, CSB). Even that is an overstatement, I suppose. I know families waiting for things—no end in sight, no relief from the stress that accompanies uncertainty, no solutions to the problems invading their daily lives, their minds constantly battling for sanity and rest. There’s always a little perspective available, if I’m open to taking a good look. Circumspection begins with families I know and wings out to my state, nation, and (if I’m really lucky) something global.

It’s only when I measure the wait after the fact that something comes to light: perspective in the waiting room matters. Why is that? It always concerns me that big picture point of view seems easy to grasp when everything is said and done. I have so much to learn when it comes to an eternal perspective in the waiting room. Things I want to remember for the next waiting opportunity I’ll face have been bubbling to the surface. It’s the difference between thriving and merely surviving, I think. Some of what I’ll share seems to be the grace I’ve been given to embrace next time. And there will be a next time.

I want to remember….

I’m Being Watched
Okay, so that sounds a little strange, maybe even creepy, but listen to what I’m really conveying. We all have eyes on us all the time, and I’m not referring to “Big Brother.” If the Bible contains pure truth (and my biased opinion is that it does), then I’ll run there for some perspective. That’s when I encounter things I have to contend with in my heart and mind while I’m waiting.

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His. 2 Chronicles 16:9a

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry for help. Psalm 34:15

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, observing the wicked and the good.  Proverbs 15:3

because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.  1 Peter 3:12

Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us,  Hebrews 12:1

Scripture suggests life is not lived unobserved. Maybe social media plays into the cultural perspective. Any one of us could promote the best and worst of moments in a status or tweet. It’s easy to exist in virtual, carefully managed reality, isn’t it? We’ve bought a lie. When I remember my life choices are casually (or scrupulously) watched, I begin to think about the audience.

God is not fooled. He is not judgmental by the culture’s broad brushstroke definition, but He is watching and aware of every detail. When the stress of waiting caused me to reduce to a salty puddle, He was aware. When I allowed the circumstances to become an excuse for my angry, sharp attitude, He was there. My pain was never too much for Him to handle, but I suppose I wish I’d managed a quicker attitude adjustment in my weak moments. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll have more trust to fight the emotional battle next time.

I am a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend—you get the picture. My home, the neighborhood, a store, the doctor’s office, and the church lobby are filled with people. If I believe no one sees me, I’m probably delusional. If I’m a “people watcher” in almost all of those scenarios, who else around me is doing the same thing? The “great cloud of witnesses” is often connected to the Christians before us who have passed into eternity (see “The Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11), so I’m aware of the context of the verse I’ve selected. I ask your permission to break a bit of a Bible study rule. Can we say there are two realities (the here-and-now and the hereafter) that fit the bill? Our lives are observed, or we would not be referred to as “witnesses” so frequently in Scripture.

What Does It Mean?
If our lives are genuinely closely watched, I want to think carefully about my waiting room experiences. The God who loves and sees me is more than the culture’s benevolent, omniscient Santa Claus. Holy God, who cannot coexist with sin, sent Jesus (John 3:16) for me. If that’s true, and I advocate that it is, then how I handle waiting in front of the “eyes of the Lord” is a more precious thing than what I’m waiting for. What do you think?

If people are watching my choices in life, listening through thin walls, or observing a snapshot of my day is that important? I may be tempted to think it’s only critical if observers have made a connection between me and the Christian faith, but is that the truth of it? That’s when behavioral management becomes a danger. I might even be tempted to be on my best behavior when I’m “on” in front of certain friends, family members, or public audiences. (That triggers thoughts about key differences between spiritual formation and transformation, but I’ll save that for another time.)

I’m not certain of what all this means to me right now, but I know I’m walking down the road kicking the can, as it were, thinking about it as I plod along. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, if you have some. I’m aware this is a tricky place to land, and it could end up leaning toward freedom or legalism. Friends who know me are aware this very thing troubles me more often than I can say.

I have more thoughts to ponder on this topic, so it looks like a series may be in the making. These are the other things rambling around in my mind when I think about the path to the “Big Reveal” in the waiting room:

Time Passes

What will be…

He is Good!

Thankfulness!

Let’s see if I get to these….  😉

Thanks for reading along! Be blessed as you live your “very closely observed life” today!

~Jennifer

Questions to Think About:
Have you considered the omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence of God?

What does it mean to you when you hear “God is watching every moment”? Does that have a positive or negative emotion associated with it?

Have you wrestled with the observed life, too? If so, where do you rest when it comes to God and others watching your life?

Knowing that God and others are watching, do you feel a particular pull in any area of your life? It might be a call to change, but it could easily be conversation with God or others.

What might look very different in your life if you considered the observed life more frequently?

How might you walk the line between awareness of others and the warped “chameleon behavior” that results from “fear of man” (Proverbs 29:25; Isaiah 51:12)?


Scripture sourced from http://www.crosswalk.com.
Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
Images sourced from http://www.morguefile.com.

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Defenseless: Relationship Outside the Comfort Zone

The Comfort Zone
Returning to my blog feels good. Fragrant Grace is like sliding my feet into the shoes I’ve worn to holes and slick soles. The mental miles I’ve walked here are sweet. It’s also like my favorite pair of faded, too-casual, but still perfect blue jeans. Always my first choice, I’m a little hesitant to pull them right out of the stack of clean laundry—again. Maybe I’m second-guessing. Maybe I’m more selective.

Writing is my happy place, I suppose. Fragrant Grace is my carved-out space to be who I was created to be. Emily Freeman would call it “the art I make” (A Million Little Ways). I’m coming around to that idea. But, one day I think of writing like a playground. Another day, it feels like a battleground. On fewer occasions, I’m humbled with my face to the ground. Words can be fun or hard-won. Sometimes to they’re just too holy. (Those are God’s, not mine.)

Today I would prefer to play, but I think something important is planned for this space. I can’t peg an emotion for it, and I think there’s good reason: this stirs something in the deeper places in my heart. Maybe you’ll relate. There’s nothing wrong with the comfort zone, but I don’t get to stay there today.

NASA continues to work on technology to increase data rates and speed space communications.

Can We Talk?
Today you’re surfing the largest Blogosphere to date. Statistics back it, but I’m skipping them. Blog hosting sites display a running list of new additions to their ever-increasing options. In any day, thousands of new blogs are registered. Some even have their first posts in a matter of minutes. Tomorrow you’ll be surfing the largest Blogosphere to date.

New writers, bright-eyed and full of ideas, cannonball launch and splash into their river of thoughts, hoping to connect to others. Connections are made, and community begins to take shape. People from other countries and continents breeze by, some revisit, a few connect soul-to-soul. Virtual relationships happen. And I love that, don’t you? I have sweet friendships with beautiful souls I’ve never met. Some I hope to put in the category of “Some day…just not yet.” Our world gets smaller every day.

The Challenge
We share this planet with billions of other humans (7.164 billion, by the United States Census Bureau). That community is a given; we are part of the human race. We are also part of various groups within the larger whole. Groups form around the foundational building blocks in society: families, interests, education, location, cultural norms, spiritual understanding or conviction, sometimes physical traits, often deeply emotional connections. The connections can be strikingly beautiful and effective.

Sadly, the very things that unite us polarize, too. We’ll head to the polling paces in the U.S. soon, and the conversations surrounding the candidates will be anywhere from non-existent to über-intense. This is just one area in which disagreement can be uncomfortable. Our comfort zone can be directly connected to the similarities in thoughts, communication style, or appearances. When those things are challenged, the disconnections can be sad and dysfunctional.

When people or their preferences look unfamiliar, my comfort zone is challenged!

If we select relationships based solely on where they land in some crazy Venn diagram that describes our comfort zone, we’ve got a problem. I can’t be the only one that sees that one coming, can I? Over 7 billion people can’t possibly agree on everything. Ultimately, the deeply held non-negotiables in our lives can get dicey quick! If you want evidence of that, look at the most war-torn or racially-charged places in the world. That’s where specific non-negotiables fuel hatred. Add weapons, and people die.

Disagreement is likely in our world. Unity is a challenge when people don’t look like us or have the same preferences. Kindness has to be an intentional choice at that point.

Vulnerability is Risky
We make choices in relationships. The root of relationship is something we all have to admit or address in some way: vulnerability. Deep, solid connections only result in the safety of authentic expression of the true self. And that’s a loaded statement. It’s ironic or counter-intuitive or something, at least.

Living authentically in the presence of others revealing our true nature feels anything but safe. The natural instinct is to cover and hide, so no one sees our flaws (physical, cognitive, emotional, or character). It can feel threatening to be who we were created to be sometimes. That’s just too bad! We were wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), in spite of what we perceive to be our defects. (This is not an excuse to avoid clear, direct character flaw acknowledgement and adjustment. In fact, we only address these issues when we step out of denial into the honest truth.) Hiding behind a facade means others fall in love with a lie, doesn’t it?

Being our authentic self in front of others is vulnerable.

Imagine people knowing and loving your genuine self, “warts and all.” Your real self may need love, support, or pretty intense intervention—that can only happen when the needs are authentically revealed in front of others with a degree of wisdom. That’s vulnerability! The things we desperately need can only be granted in authentic relationship.

I have to ask myself: What do I really, really want? Am I willing to risk vulnerability in order to have genuine, deep, life-changing relationships? Am I willing to accept that no one, including myself, is perfect and accept others and myself on those terms?

Defenses are Damaging and Divisive 
The most important part of real relationship is dropping the defenses. Oh boy! If that doesn’t make us a little uncomfortable, I don’t know what will. Walking into relationship “as we are” is challenging, but tearing down the defenses adds a whole other dimension.

We defend our positions both aggressively and passively. Have you ever thought about that? I realized over time that I was deeply entrenched in my own understanding of many things in my world. I have my own construct through which I process the way things work and the way people behave. My observation and interpretation of information passes through my understanding. That’s expected and appropriate. When my construct fills with non-negotiable perspectives, there will be problems. I become too well-defended to be in relationship with others. Period. Relationships have to split apart or never start.

Dropping the defenses is the only way to go! What might that look like?

  • An opposing viewpoint becomes a catalyst for seeking to understand both positions, or many positions.
  • The mind focuses more on listening than planning response, for a time.
  • Patient, sound, reasonable dialogue replaces unkind, mudslinging debate.
  • Passive-aggressive silence gives way to inviting relationship.
  • Arguments look wholly different.

I love that Scripture repeatedly suggests “reasoning together” (Isaiah 1:18), “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), and beliefs rooted outside human preferences, in general.

In passing, I’ll mention I believe a clear place remains for defending or contending for the faith. How that looks may be quite different than I originally thought. I’m growing in this area, growing into something new and more mature, I think. When I manage to keep my walls and defenses down, I have the opportunity to understand, think clearly, reason well, and do life better with others.

Understanding Relieves Tension
The same defending walls that keep people at a distance keep us locked away from others. When distance and defended positions become obvious in relationships, most of us have a natural response. We escalate the emotional temperature with our own defense systems. The better choice is to do the counter-intuitive thing: seek to understand. I have two favorite parts to the seeking to understand process: learning and being heard.

When I take time to actively listen, I’m guaranteed to learn something new about the world and the person I’m listening to. If I genuinely focus on listening to learn, versus listening to respond, I’m more open to slow, careful communication. I can keep the defense mechanisms to a minimum, and my stress levels remain low. Since tension often appears to be emotionally “caught” like a disease, I can potentially influence the feel of the conversation, and ultimately the relationship, to a degree.

I tend to think the speaker in any conversation enjoys being heard because I enjoy it so much. It’s a common experience to be ignored, and that doesn’t feel good. It just doesn’t. Being heard—really being heard—means we are assigned value as a person in relationship to others. Knowing we have incredible value assigned to us by our Creator should be the motivation for assigning value to others, shouldn’t it? And when we don’t receive that same courtesy, we have to practice grace or boundaries, or both. We aren’t in control of others’ choices in relationship, only ours, but we can make decisions that enhance relational connection (or minimize the damage done when necessary). Keeping in mind that our culture may be the most relationally klutzy to inhabit the planet, we should do whatever we can to live in peace (Romans 12:18).

What does it look like to really listen? Try some of these things:

  • Consider your available time; decide if the topic will have enough attention.
  • Turn off your own mental running commentary.
  • Be fully present with the person in front of you.
  • Put others in a priority position temporarily while you seek to understand.
  • Listen closely; be able to reliably speak what you hear.
  • Check for meaning by asking if you can repeat back what you’ve heard occasionally.
  • Wait on judgment just a little longer than you usually do (minutes, hours, days, or…).
  • Be open to the potential for learning and growth.
  • Be open to the possibility that your understanding is incomplete…or incorrect.
  • Be humble!

 Agreeing, Disagreeing, and Agreeing to Disagree
Seeking to understand others and be in transformational relationships does not mean we are wishy-washy or someone’s well-worn door mat. Seeking to understand can inform us, even transform us. That doesn’t mean we change our beliefs to blend in with an ever-changing audience or reject others’ thoughts altogether. The temptation to pacify or dominate, avoid or create conflict, or enable others’ unhealthy behaviors (or perpetuate our own) doesn’t reflect mature relationship at all. Abusive cycles aren’t okay. We have to maintain our own personal integrity; check the overall message, integrity, and motives; and display love and grace. Somewhere in the middle of that, we might agree or disagree, but we always agree to disagree respectfully.

Respect is reflected in our word choices, volume and tone, facial expressions, and body language. Communication has two parts: what is said and what isn’t. What we say matters. What we convey non-verbally or through silence often speaks louder than the words we choose. Nevertheless, we don’t have an excuse to be rude. Ever. We don’t have a reason to treat others in a degrading fashion. Ever. No matter what someone communicates to us, we aim to choose the better way.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

 These are thoughts I’m pondering these days in an effort to grow in deep, transformational relationships with others.  I have lots of room for growth, and I recognize that. I wonder if anyone else is turning some of these things over, too…

Share some of your thoughts. I’d love to hear them!

~Jennifer


Photo Credits:
NASA Satellite: NASA image. Article at http://inhabitat.com.

Venn Diagram: a Fragrant Grace “creation” at http://www.picmonkey.com
Embarrassed smiley: http://www.shutterstock.com
Defending walls: Image at http://morguefile.com/creative/jeltovski. Edited at http://www.picmonkey.com.

Rooted: profoundly grounded

Sprout®, trademark of Green Giant.

If you’ve read my personal description and noted my deep love for stylish 4-inch heels, you know I’m less like the Jolly Green Giant® (“Ho! Ho! Ho!”®) and more like Sprout®.¹ I’m vertically challenged. The truth is, the majority of people in junior high and older are taller than me, even in my 4-inchers. When my boys hit the milestone they’d been waiting for, I had to remind them being taller than me was less of an accomplishment than they might think. They immediately reset their goal to something more respectable: be taller than Dad. I had a growth spurt totaling an inch and a half in junior high. I say, Go for it, guys!

Just about everyone over the age of 13 ½ enjoys the perspective I only have with infants, toddlers, and very small elementary kids—seeing the top of someone’s head at their full height. As a mom of teens, I might be grateful not to see it in this stage of life. *grin* But, I’m perfectly aware of their point of view when they say, “Hey, Mom, it’s time to get hair color,” or, “Hey, Dad! We can’t forget Mom’s hair color when we go to the store tonight.” I love my sons and my 5G!

Before I can see the roots, my kids can, and I suspect nearly everyone else in the world does, too. Which reminds me….

Roots
About four weeks after every episode of “Battlestar Metallica” (you know it as hair coloring), I know the metallic roots are beginning to reveal their splendor and dignity (Proverbs 20:29). If I’ve got a crazy-busy schedule, by six weeks the roots are gloriously (or glaringly) “shiny” when I look in the mirror. Whatever I’ve done to the individual hairs never changes the follicle reality. As far as I know, the new growth will be sans my lovely chestnut brown from now on. (That was my original color, wasn’t it? Am I the only one that has difficulty remembering this little detail without a photograph?)

Roots matter. A lot. Whether a hair, a plant, or our spiritual identity, everything grows out of the critical unseen foundation. This wasn’t lost on Paul, the Apostle. He reiterated the scriptural truth in his letters to two churches.

To the church in Ephesus he wrote:

16 I pray that from the treasures of his glory he will empower you with inner strength by his Spirit, 17 so that the Messiah may live in your hearts through your trusting. Also I pray that you will be rooted and founded in love, 18 so that you, with all God’s people, will be given strength to grasp the breadth, length, height and depth of the Messiah’s love, 19 yes, to know it, even though it is beyond all knowing, so that you will be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3 CJB (Emphasis mine.)

To Colosse he wrote:

6 Therefore, just as you received the Messiah Yeshua as Lord, keep living your life united with him. 7 Remain deeply rooted in him; continue being built up in him and confirmed in your trust, the way you were taught, so that you overflow in thanksgiving.  Colossians 2 (Emphasis mine.)

Paul doesn’t introduce a new concept. The Old Testament mentions people “rooted in Amalek,” for example (Judges 5:14), and those who will be “rooted out” of a place (Deuteronomy 29:28; Proverbs 2:22). We’ve got some obvious clues to usage: there is foundational establishment, and there is removal or razing. Let’s take a closer look at the establishing, since that’s where the grace seems to lie for me in this moment.

Both usages in Paul’s letters are the same Greek word: rhizoō. We get our garden jargon from it (rhizome). The translation might be rendered

to cause to strike root, to strengthen with roots, to render firm, to fix, establish, cause a person or a thing to be thoroughly grounded ²

Grace…
Paul illuminates grace. Can you smell it wafting through these two passages?

In Ephesians 2, Paul prays God “empowers” the believers from his limitless resources through the Holy Spirit, so that Christ would abide in their hearts through their “trusting” (vv. 16-17). The foundational piece here is the relationship between trusting Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God’s strength. If there’s a taproot, this is it.

Then the actual mention of rooting (establishment, strengthening, or grounding) follows. Be “rooted and founded in love” (v. 17). Why love? The direct connection is knowing the rich depth of his love leads to being “filled with the fullness of God” (v. 19). So being enrapt by and rooted in the love of Christ on the cross leads to a beautiful gift: a life with power far more than our own and a greater understanding of the Unfathomable One. Knowing the love of God and living it out transforms us and introduces us to new profound, overwhelmingly loving heart of our Father, Savior, and Spirit.

Colosse receives a word sharing the same foundation. The believers “received Messiah Yeshua as Lord” — they trusted in Jesus for salvation (v. 6). The next part carries nuance that speaks to me. Do you see the verbs? He says, “keep living” and “Remain deeply rooted” (vv. 6-7). This passage seems to encourage the church in a slightly different way. Paul wrote this letter by the prompting of God for this time and this audience. What it says to me in this moment is simple. We might say “Keep on keepin’ on” in this day and age. I notice Paul highlights the outflow of being rooted in this case as thankfulness.

Imperatives like this express participatory but not sole responsibility, in my mind. Our own pitiful energy doesn’t produce much. In fact, we’ve got nothin’ without close, direct relationship with Jesus (John 15:5). The grace is in the love he had for us, even when we were his enemies (Romans 5:8). That’s the fuel for our fire. We love because we know his love (1 John 4:19). And his love is boundless! There is nowhere we can go that separates us from him (Psalm 139; Romans 8:35). Our God is with us, Immanuel—doing all of life with us—empowering us in the things he has in mind. We simply must establish all that we are in his heart, character, and activity. Henry Blackaby would say, “Look for what God is already doing and join him.” ³

Going Deep: Root Examination
I mentioned earlier that we can be rooted in other things, like the people rooted in Amalek. It isn’t a matter of whether we are rooted, but where we are. Interests, energies, and investments reveal so much! The establishment of trust in the unseen or overlooked foundational things will always grow something. Examine where you’ve got roots. Inspect the outgrowth for health and likeness to the heart of your Father, the love of your Savior, and the activity of the Spirit.

Right now I’m sitting with the facts. I’m created for good works (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10), but that’s not a root. The work I do is strongly established by God when I participate with him (Psalm 90:17). Even when I like to think I’m deeply rooted in my church, Scripture says I’m grafted into the people of God (Romans 11:17-24). That’s an above-the-soil-line connection, not a root.

I have explicit instructions to root in Christ and his love. That’s where I want to establish all that I say, think, and do.

In the words of my favorite character in Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” 4

~Jennifer


¹ Jolly Green Giant, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and Sprout are registered trademarks. www.greengiant.com

² rhizoō sourced from www.blueletterbible.org

³ Henry T. Blackaby. Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God.

4 IMDb. Forrest Gump. 1994.

Sprout® Photo Credit: Unknown. I do not own the rights to this photo. Credit goes to the original creator.

Scripture sourced from http://www.biblestudytools.com.