A much needed reminder

August 18, 2009

 

As we start another year of home schooling I find myself both grateful and humbled. I’m grateful that I can stay home with my girls and not have to work outside the home to earn a second income in order to survive. I know that not every mom who would like to stay home has that option. 

I’m also humbled by this choice. When I say humbled I mean my flesh is truly put in its place as I die to my selfish ambition and fleshly tendency to turn this temporal life into an idol.  

Staying home, teaching and raising my girls, is part of my “hidden life” with Jesus. In the eyes of the world, and sometimes in my own eyes, it’s not the most spectacular of vocations.  It’s  a simple vocation without glory in this world. Deep within I know the eternal worth and value of this hidden life but I can easily forget this truth which is why  these words by Henri Nouwen on the hidden life of Jesus are a much needed reminder…

The largest part of Jesus’ life was hidden.  Jesus lived with his parents in Nazareth, “under their authority” (Luke 2:51), and there “increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:52).  When we think about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles, his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far away from all the great people, great cities, and great events.  Jesus’ hidden life is very important for our own spiritual journeys.  If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life.

The world beckons us to pursue fame, glory and “self”-fulfillment but what is God asking you to seek first? Your vocation will look different than mine but is it possible that Jesus is calling you, in your own way, to live a “simple, unspectacular and very ordinary hidden life” for the sake of His Kingdom?

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To Refuse Him Nothing

February 25, 2009

Tomorrow is  Ash Wednesday. Hard to believe it’s the end of February and Lent is already here.

Lately, I’ve found myself re-visiting the writings of Mother Teresa as well as her Patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux. I think I did the same thing last year at the beginning of Lent. It must have something to do with how these two women truly understand what self-abandonment and sacrificial love mean. They were both so in love with Jesus that they held nothing back from Him. Their lives on earth were testaments to what it means to die to one’s self-love and personal desires in order to love him and the people around them. Mother Teresa even made a vow in this regard; a vow to refuse Him nothing.

On the surface it sounds so simple. How often I’ve said I will surrender everything to God. The words are easy to speak but to live them, to abandon myself so completely that I refuse Him nothing nor resist Him in any way, that’s another thing entirely. 

I want to love Him so much that I would do His will no matter the cost to my pride, my plans, my comfort, my deepest desires. But, the truth is I am weak and more often than not I wrestle with God before I finally submit to his will. I have journals full of conversations with God that reveal just how hard my flesh will fight to hold onto what it desires. Over the years I’ve learned to give up and go fewer rounds with God but sadly my selfish resistence often results in sin that comes in the form of  missed opportunities to love others.  These small opportunities to love are the very thing that Mother Teresa was convinced Jesus wanted most from us.

To the good God nothing is little…He stoops down and takes the trouble to make those little things for us–to give us a chance to prove our love for him…Yes my dear children, be faithful in little practices of love, of little sacrifices–of the little interior mortification–of little fidelities which build in you the life of holiness and make you Christ-like…So do not look for big things, just do small things with great love. (Mother Teresa)

As I think about Lent and the ways in which I might sacrifice during this season my spirit wants to refuse Him nothing. I want to stop wrestling with God and submit my will the first time He asks (in the big stuff and the small stuff).  My flesh, however, is another story.  This makes giving up dessert and Blue Moon look like a piece of cake (bad pun fully intended).

Actually, this isn’t something I would want to say lightly to God. It’s only by grace that any of us even desire to surrender and it’s only by grace that we ever choose His will over our own selfish desires. So as I begin my Lenten journey I think I’ll start by asking for grace–the grace to learn what it means to die to self for the next forty days (and the rest of my life).  

 


‘Til Death Do Us Part

February 14, 2009

 

Self-love dies only with our body.

St. Francis de Sales

 

I read this quote from one of my favorite saints before siting down to catch up on folding a week’s worth of laundry (don’t ask how I got behind by a whole week). 

I’m folding away while thinking about how when I die one thing I won’t miss doing is laundry and the sad fact that only when I die will I be rid of this flesh and the self-love that comes with it.  Yes, laundry and self-love have deep spiritual connections.

Actually, dealing with my self-love is a lot like trying to get all my laundry done. As soon as I think everything is clean, folded and neatly put away  I look down and realize the clothes I’m wearing still need to be washed. The pervasiveness of my self-love is just like the over flowing laundry basket in my house.  And both never cease to amaze me.

Just when I think I’ve conquered some aspect of this self-love I find it rearing its ugly head in another area of my life. It’s that struggle that St. Paul talks about in Romans 7:21-23…

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

Could he be talking about self-love? After all, what’s at the root of most sin: self-love and pride, right? It’s always right there inviting you to choose self over others, self over self-sacrifice, self instead of the obedience that comes from a deep abiding faith in Jesus.  

It would be easy to get discouraged by the fact that self-love will be with us until the day we die (as well as the fact the laundry will never really be done). But, St. Paul reminds us that there’s something else going on with this battle inside.  I like what he says about his inner most being delighting in God’s law.

My youth pastor taught me that verse when I was a teen (thanks Randy). And I’ve clung to that truth many times in my faith journey. It’s my saving grace –this desire to delight in God that sits deep within my soul–and it’s only there by grace. It’s the thing that keeps drawing me to Him with true repentance and keeps me fighting for true love when self-love wages war against my heart and mind.


What does it look like?

May 29, 2008

My friend Tina recently wrote about expectations and unconditional love in relationships. It’s a thought provoking post. Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject. Another friend of mine and I were talking about the subject of unmet needs and expectations in relationships. That got me to thinking about what it “looks” like to surrender your rights to God and die to self in your relationships. Because every relationship has needs and expectations, what does it look like to unconditionally love someone, to surrender and die to self while communicating about those expectations and needs? If you’ve read my blog before then you know that dying to myself and surrendering my rights are two ideals of mine. I often write about my struggle to do both because I often struggle with doing both.

 

So, what does it look like to surrender your rights and die to yourself? The Dying to Self meditation that I posted on a page on this blog has some specific suggestions that I think have real merit. But it’s by no means a complete picture. I’ve also posted a list of “rights,” if you will, that we can and ought to surrender to God. Here are a few examples:

My right to pleasant circumstances.

My right to be respected.

My right to be loved by people who are “supposed” to love me.

My right to be understood.

 

I received this list through a Godly woman I met while in grad school. She taught me, and I believe, that a true sign of how surrendered I am to the Lord is how I react when my “rights” are threatened or not respected. When I’ve talked about this list in the past I think I’ve failed to point something out.

 

The point of the list is to get you to think about how you react when things don’t go your way, or when your needs or expectations are not met, either by others or by life in general. Do you react in the flesh? If so, then this list is meant to point you to the fact that you first need to surrender your rights to God and let Him lead and guide you as you respond to those unmet needs and expectations in your life.

 

The point of surrendering these rights is not to say that we should not expect that our loved ones would treat us with respect and love. That is a legitimate need and desire. We read in the Bible that husbands should love their wives and wives ought to submit to their husbands. I think these instructions say something about legitimate needs in the marriage relationship. Even Jesus had expectations of his friends. When they fell asleep while he prayed in the Garden of Gesthemene he said something like “Can’t you even stay awake and pray with me?” So, I don’t think that it’s wrong to have expectations of one another in our relationships.

 

What I think is wrong is when we demand that our expectations be met and we  withhold love and approval when they aren’t met. The key to avoiding this fleshly behavior is surrender.  When I surrender that need, expectation or that “right” to the Lord I’m not saying that I have no right to ask for love and respect in my relationships. What I’m saying is that if that “right” or desire is not met I give up my right to react in the flesh, to retaliate or to withhold love and acceptance.  That doesn’t mean I give up the right to ever express my disappointment, need or expectation.  Quite the contrary, I think the act of surrendering frees me to communicate in love a legitimate need or expectation I might have in the relationship.

 

For example, a dear friend recently came to me and lovingly shared how I hadn’t met one of her expectations in our relationship. It was a legitimate expectation and I had failed her.  She had every right to come to me and express her disappointment. The key was this, she didn’t come to me in the flesh, full of resentment and bitterness. No, she came in a spirit of love. It was clear to me that while she was sharing an “expectation” and right she felt she had in this relationship she was fully surrendered to the Lord.  

 

There’s a big difference when we communicate our needs and expectations in a humbled, surrendered spirit of love versus the flesh. I’ve really been examining my heart in this regard lately. There have been a few instances recently where I have failed miserably to express my need in a loving way.  Recently I felt like someone I loved had been inconsiderate of my time. It was a re-occuring pattern in our relationship and had caused some inconveniences not only to me but also to other members of my family. Instead of going to God first and asking Him how to express this need or expectation I jumped in with both feet firmly planted in the flesh. The literalist would read my list of surrendering your rights and suggest the problem is that I was expecting someone to respect my time. But I don’t think that’s the point of this list.  This list is about my heart attitude. Do I demand that things go my way?  Do I become bitter and resentful when they don’t? Do I react by withholding love or expressing your disappointment or anger in a passive-aggressive or flat out aggressive manner?  What I realized after the fact was not that it was wrong to expect and to ask this person to respect my time and my family’s time but that I’d failed to surrender myself to the Lord before sharing my need and expectation.

 

A surrendered person is not a person without expectations and needs within a relationship.  A surrendered person is someone who has expectations but doesn’t demand in an unloving, fleshly way that their needs and rights be respected. Instead, because they’ve first surrendered these needs and expectations to God they can express their hurt and disappointment in a loving way. Surrendering allows us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, the voice of love, more clearly. If we listen He will guide us and tell us how to express our needs and expectations in our love relationships.

 

Lately I find myself asking the Lord to show me what expectations, needs, and desires I should express in any given situation and which ones I need to hold off on sharing. I find myself saying things like: Lord, I give you my desire and right to _______________________. Please show me how you want me to handle this. I’m counting on the Holy Spirit to guide me.

Jesus had every right to demand to be loved, respected, understood (you name it) by others.  We are created in the image of God. We owe one another respect and love. But it’s not something we can demand from one another. Jesus never demanded. He set the example by surrendering his heart to the will of the Father and always responding in love. I want to be fully surrendered so that I can fully love.


Having it all…

May 8, 2008

***

 It’s been a busy week, not much time to write.

 

My mom had hip replacement surgery this week, a friend really needed some time for herself away from “mommyhood,” Scott has had a busy week at the office and is traveling today and I’m trying hard to catch up on a month’s worth of homeschooling. I’m grateful at times like these that I’m able to be home and available to my family and friends. Of course, the flipside of that coin are the moments when I look at Scott and say, “Hey, I’ll go into the office today and YOU can stay home.” Of course I know nothing about the mortgage industry so that would be a disaster in and of itself. That fact aside, there’s never really a perfect scenario. It’s the grass is always greener syndrome. I know that it wouldn’t take long before I’d call him from the office and ask him to switch places once again.

 

I know some stay-at-home moms and even some dads who don’t miss their careers at all. I know others who long to get back to work. I know mom’s who work who would give anything to be at home with their kids. And then there are those like me: I loved what I did and I love what I do now, which means some kind of sacrifice has to be made as well. I think that’s the case for a lot of us.  For those who believe we can have it all (men and women alike, working or at home) I say prove it. I’ve yet to see a life without sacrifice. And, what one chooses to sacrifice is a very personal decision. In many cases there’s no decision to be made; some must sacrifice simply to survive and provide. 

 

One of my dearest friends, Tina, once said to me, “It’s the fact that you’re sacrificing something else that you want that makes what you’re doing right now meaningful.”  There’s real wisdom in those words. As well as pain and loss.

 

Sacrifice is at the heart of Christ’s life and our journey with Him isn’t it? It was His sacrifice that gave His incarnation and his death meaning. He sacrificed the glory of heaven to come to earth and He sacrificed His very life so that we could one day experience the glory of heaven. If it hadn’t required sacrifice it wouldn’t have meant anything. Likewise, our lives take on meaning when we learn what it is to sacrifice; when we learn what it means to die to self and really love of others.  That’s when we really can have it all.  All, that is, of what really matters in this life and the life to come.

 

 

 ***

 

Note: A friend of mine recently posted on sacrifice and purpose. It’s a good read, especially if you like sports analogies 🙂

 


Sick Kids

April 7, 2008

***

My kids have been sick for the last five days. Ella started with an earache last Tuesday, then came the a non-stop runny nose, cough, sore throat etc. Time to break out the tissues, popsicles and Tylenol. Claire’s symptoms started Saturday night. Ah the joys of sharing in family life. If only they’d share their toys as well.

 

So far Scott and I have managed to avoid getting sick. We’re just exhausted from having the girls slip into our room at night and keep us up with their sneezing, wheezing and snoring. [Ella is even out-snoring her dad. No small feat!]

So everybody is tired in the Simmon’s household this week (and the week has just begun!). Of course, it’s all just part of parenthood and I know I’m not alone.

 

One of my good friends spent most of her nights last week awake with her newborn, first at home and then later in the hospital. In her exhaustion she found herself frustrated by her son’s constant crying. Then God reminded her that the little guy is miserable and this is his only way to express it.

I have to admit, Ella’s whining has challenged my patience over the last few days. In those moments I’ve thought about my friends’s reminder from the Lord: “the little guy is miserable and this is his only way of expressing it.” It’s made those whiny moments a little easier and the ones where she climbs into my lap for comfort even sweeter.

 

My friend’s reminder and my sick kids have made me think more about showing compassion. And I had these thoughts…(actually it’s more like the Holy Spirit planted these thoughts)…

What if I treated everyone who tests my patience with whining, complaining, and neediness with the same compassion that my sick kids need from me? 

What if I saw their whining and complaining as a symptom of an illness, pain or woundedness in their soul? How might I respond differently? Would I see with eyes of the heart and offer love and kindness as a soothing balm instead of judging them or avoiding their presence?

 

Really, aren’t we all like sick kids? Aren’t we all in need of being healed of the wounds and sickness of the flesh?  It’s like we have a fleshly flu that lasts year-round. Granted some have been taking their medicine longer. They’ve spent more time in the healing presence of God and they’re more mature in the way they express their discomfort. But, many people are like my friend’s newborn; they’re miserable inside and have no other way of expressing it. Sometimes that expression can be exhausting to put up with and rubs us the wrong way.

 

If only we could see one another’s irritable behaviors for what they often are: Signs that we are each in need of someone to come along side us and offer compassion, merciful correction and the gentle yet powerful healing love of Jesus.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.”

Who needs your compassion today?

 

 


The Evidence of Brokenness

March 17, 2008

It’s Holy Week. For those who celebrate Holy Week it’s a time to meditate on Christ’s suffering and death as we prepare to celebrate His glorious resurrection and victory over death.

I’ve been asking the Lord to shine His light into the dark places in my life–those places where I hide my pride and sweep my sin under the rug. He keeps bringing me back to the word “brokenness.” At first I wasn’t sure where He was headed with this. What does brokenness have to do with this examination of my conscience? But then He started to remind me of something…

When something is broken we tend to think it’s useless. We either fix it or trash it. But that’s not the case in God’s economy. With God, that which is broken is actually that which is most useful. In God’s economy that which is broken can now be holy, or whole, if you will.

*** 

Christ’s body had to be broken so that we might know holiness or wholeness. But Christ’s body hanging on the cross is not the only image of his brokenness. Christ’s suffering on way to the cross gives us the perfect example of a man whose will was broken and completely surrendered to the Father.

“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a slave…humbled himself becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6-7)

Notice that he was like a slave. It took humility and obedience to be like a slave. It took brokenness in order to allow his body to be broken on the cross. In other words, Christ was already broken before He got up on that cross. But His brokenness wasn’t a useless, or pathetic kind of brokenness. His brokenness was the perfect picture of holiness and wholeness. His brokenness was holy (whole) and beautiful because His will was to do the will of the Father, no matter the cost.

It’s another one of God’s paradoxes. If you want to be holy (to be whole), you must be broken.

But, being broken so as to submit to the Father’s will often hurts. Think of Jesus in the garden sweating blood and agonizing over the cup that Father was handing Him.

We say we want to be holy like Jesus but do we really? 

Holiness requires brokenness. Brokenness requires complete surrender of our will. Surrendering our will requires we surrender our rights like Jesus did.  

*** 

I ran across this list someone gave me years ago. I think I referenced it once before in another post. It’s called The Evidence of Brokenness…It could just as easily be called Evidence of Holiness or Wholeness. I can’t tell you how many times God has brought me back to this list.

Brokenness is evident when you no longer react out of your flesh when the following rights are challenged:

Your right to possessions

Your right to  to a good reputation and to be respected

Your right to be treated fairly by others

Your right to good health, beauty or strength

Your right to take offense

Your right to have friends

Your right to see the results you want

Your right to be right

Your right to avoid suffering

Your right to be heard and have your position understood by others

Your right to be loved by others who are “supposed” to love you

Your right to justice

Your right to be successful in whatever you do

Your right to be accepted and well liked

Your right to be forgiven by others

Your right to life itself 

*** 

How about it, have you surrendered your rights like Jesus? Do you no longer react out of the flesh when these rights are challenged by others or your cirumstances? Is there evidenece of brokenness in your life? Is there evidence of holiness?

Each time I meditate on this list I see some progress in some areas of my life. But I can see other areas of my life where I need to experience the brokenness of Jesus. Areas I need to surrender so that I can be like Jesus was on the way to the cross — broken, humble, emptied and holy.  

I want to whole in Christ. The question is am I willing to broken in order to be whole? Am I willing to be broken in order to be holy?

As Father shines His light into my heart that’s what He is asking me today.