While praying the other morning, I became overwhelmed by the needs and tough situations of so many people I know. I threw up my hands in defeat and simply asked for God to keep us all in the center of His perfect will.
Then I wondered what that actually is. My ideas of perfect don’t seem to line up with God’s.
A perfect day for me would be easy, productive, conflict-free, nice weather, good mood, good health, good feelings…
These might be God’s perfect will in Heaven, but God’s perfect will on earth is something else entirely.
God’s perfect will on earth undoubtedly includes suffering, pain, difficult emotions…
We don’t have to look far in the Bible to see examples of people (not characters, these were real people. Don’t we kind of forget that sometimes?) living out God’s perfect will.
Take Mary, for example: nine months pregnant and riding on a bouncy donkey in the middle of a cold night; giving birth in a stinky barn and laying her precious newborn (The Bread of Life) in an animal feeding trough.
I don’t know about you, but I think I would’ve thought I’d screwed up somehow and gotten way of track. Surely these less-than-pleasant circumstances were not what God intended.
By contrast, I am also guilty of thinking that when things fall together easily, that God must have orchestrated it. Sometimes that’s true, but we must remind ourselves that when we think things are too difficult or too uncomfortable to be God’s will, that in fact, our Sovereign God is not just sometimes sovereign.
And it’s really quite simple what we need to do. Submit to the God of the Universe. Fully submit. It’s not scary, it’s liberating! Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and accept that if things aren’t turning out the way I prayed, then maybe my will wasn’t so perfect after all.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So we should pray in Jesus’ words of total submission, the night before God’s perfect will placed him on the agonizing path to the cross, “not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
And we should remind ourselves that even though God’s perfect will for earth can be so ugly to our human eyes, we do not walk by sight! We walk by faith. (2 Corinthians 5:7) And the fact that we rage against the ways of earth should be a clue that we were made for Heaven.
And we hold on to the idea that if God allows really bad things to happen, he must have *really* good reasons. Easter could not have happened without Good Friday. Jesus could not have been resurrected if he hadn’t died. And prophesy couldn’t have been fulfilled if it all hadn’t happened the way that it did.
So “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
So while God’s perfect will may not look perfect or feel perfect to us, we must choose trust. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Everyone is so distracted these days. By what? The myriad alert sounds that emanate from our “smart” phones and such. You know, we are not so smart if we allow those little things to whip us the way they do. I sometimes feel like I’m at its beck and call. I’m on call for pretend emergencies. Enough!
And clutter distracts me. I hate you, clutter. Those papers I don’t know what to do with…
And good things distract me. There are so many opportunities! So many wonderful things to choose from. We try to do too much sometimes don’t we?
We can be distracted by work, distracted by play.
What am I being distracted from? What is it I am supposed to be doing anyway?
I should be more focused. I will be more organized. Yeah right. I’m running away!
I will close my eyes and run to God as fast as I can. I don’t have to go far. He is with me, even permeating me. Let me steep in that thought for a while… that God, infinitely big and infinitely small inhabits every cell in my body. Weird. Amazing. Overwhelming. A little scary.
But because I have entrusted my eternal whereabouts to Jesus, his Holy Spirit calls me and my earthly shell his home. When it comes to God, there’s no such thing as too good to be true.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit will distract me. But this is not something to resist. It will pop into my head that I need to contact someone or pray for someone. I’ve learned I better do it. It often turns out that they were thinking of me too, or that they really were in need of a friend right then.
This doesn’t mean that I am flaky or flighty or have ADD. It means I’m learning to discern the distraction of the Holy Spirit as different than earthly distraction. When I follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit to call someone or whatever it may be, I feel fulfilled. When I follow the promptings of the alert sounds, and find myself way down some rabbit hole/worm hole on the internet, I feel violated.
The distractions of the Holy Spirit are soft whispers that beckon, beautiful. Easily overlooked. Drowned out by the din. But since they come from within, shouldn’t we be able to hear them better? It seems to take much practice and prayer and faith.
Also, the more I get to know God, the more I realize how little of Him I know, and how much more of Him there is! Infinite! And that I cannot fully know Him (here), but that I am fully known by Him who created me. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
Dear God, please insulate me against the viral distractions that threaten to infect me. Help me to filter the enveloping noise, aural and visual. Open my eyes, ears, and heart to your beautiful distractions…
To go calmly through my day, I will meditate on the thought that there are no surprises or accidents… in God’s eyes.
It may be an accident to me, or even a disaster, but He foreknew.
I left my phone at home when I rushed out the door to take the kids to school. Oh no! I was supposed to make an important call on my way back!
Then I am reminded, He knew I was going to forget my phone. Perhaps He wants my full attention as I am alone in the car on the way home. Maybe He has something important to express to me. The panic drains. I’ll make that call later, and enjoy the quiet ride home. Contented sigh.
I then find my phone, in my pocket. (Mommy brain strikes again!) I will make that call after all.
But this seemingly simple or silly episode has left an impression on me. If there are no surprises to God, then shouldn’t I find that to be a great comfort the next time I’m caught off guard?
As long as I am focused each day on Him and what He wants to do through me, what have I got to worry about?
I pray often that He will help me to be the person He made me to be, and to do the good works he prepared in advance for me to do. (inspired by Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”)
But when things do go awry, and they certainly will, “Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.” (Nehemiah 2d)
So even the bad things, can be turned into blessings. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise from the outset anyway. I just throw up my hands in surrender and awe as I begin to grasp the absolute sovereignty of God.
By acknowledging God’s sovereignty in *every* situation (despite my unstable, volatile, unreliable, fearful feelings about the situation), I am stepping aside from the “accident” scene, almost like stepping outside of time for a minute, and into that green pasture, where I can discuss the situation with God Himself.
I can boldly approach the one and only God of the entire universe! And I can ask Him, “What’s going on here?! What do I do?” And wisdom will come. (“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16) And He will help me sort through my piles of messy feelings as I talk with Him about them.
When we look for God, we find Him. (“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13) Sometimes, we see Him and don’t realize it. As we get to know Him, we begin to recognize Him more and more, seeing evidence of Him everywhere. And the more we recognize Him, we begin to comprehend His omnipresence. He is everywhere all the time. It is mind-blowing and comforting.
I wasn’t looking for Him this morning – I was looking for my phone. I didn’t choose to have peace when I came to the conclusion I must have left it at home. I credit Him (and his grace and sovereignty) for reminding me that He knew I was going to forget my phone, and He knew it was my pocket all along, and He knew that He was going to teach me that there are no surprises to Him.
But now that He’s taught me this, I think it’s my responsibility to remember it the next time I am surprised and tempted to panic. The way a small child looks to the parent for how to react to an uncertain situation, I will look to my Parent, who is never surprised.
Eden, a mythical land? Unattainable utopia? Perfection? Paradise? A place we long for? A place we try to re-create? Or are we trying to create Heaven on Earth?
Regardless, our efforts to create such a space often leave us frustrated. It is not possible here. “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). This is Earth after all, the place between Eden and Heaven, devoid of perfection.
Most of my days as a Landscape Architect were sprinkled with a dissatisfaction that I couldn’t put my finger on. A disappointment at the end of each project. A letdown. Months or years of effort concluded, and left me wanting.
Without God, we want. And when we want, we often don’t even realize that what we want is actually God Himself. But when “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” or “I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23:1)
I think in those years, I was working for the wrong ones. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). I was working for me, my employer, my clients, not my true Employer.
Now as a Play-at-Home mom (yes, I play doctor, nurse, coach, referee, OSHA, FEMA, teacher, guidance counselor, housekeeper, chef, etc. etc. etc.), I must rely on my true Employer to train me to fulfill all these roles I’m unqualified for. I must acknowledge the Lord as my shepherd, the One who gently guides me through this life, the One who trains me to listen for His voice, the One who protects me and provides for me.
Yet, I find myself wanting when I look around at the clutter that threatens to consume me. I want order. I want peace. I want quiet. If “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phillipians 4:13), why can’t I stay on top of this mess?! Why do I lose my temper at my precious children and dear husband?
Is it because I’ve impatiently yanked the rod and staff right out of the Shepherd’s hand? Am I trying to force my home and family to be the green pastures and quiet waters I crave? No more! Right now, I give them back with a repentant heart.
I have misunderstood Phillipians 4:13, if I think that I should do all things, accomplish all things, do everything. Christ strengthens me to do all the things He’s called me to do, not all things I can put on a list. What’s the context of that verse anyway? Let’s look at the verses before.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phillipians 4:11-13)
So He gives me the ability to be content no matter what… truly a Herculean feat. He also “makes me lie down in green pastures (He knows I’m weary), he leads me beside quiet waters (He knows I’m overstimulated), he restores my soul (He knows I’m depleted). He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:2-3)
I have been in that green pasture of contentment briefly, one day when I let Him lead me to my easel. For me, art is one way that God restores my soul. I prioritized it that day, and found myself so filled and refreshed that it was nearly visible how the protective sheathing on my nerves had regenerated. My silly boys in the backseat on the way home from school gave me joy, instead of fatigue. I was able to laugh with them, instead of groan at them. Back home, the clutter on the counter did not bother me!
So those green, edenic pastures and quiet waters of contentment must be on the inside, “because the kingdom of God is within [me].” (Luke 17:21). An internal contentment “in any and every (external) situation”. Yet, I cannot access those pastures on my own, and I cannot create them around me. I must look to Him, and let Him lead me, for He is the only way, the secret to true contentment.
… is a phrase I could not shake last week. I was filled with it, up and over, brimming, beaming – on the anniversary of my daughter’s death. That is completely unreasonable, against all human wisdom, makes no sense.
And yet, it is a beautifully curious phrase. I am drawn to it, to puzzle and ponder. It is the third time in two weeks I had felt it. And each time it was contrary to the expected emotion. The first time, I was helping lead worship for the single mom’s group at our church. I was to speak for a minute or two before a particular song about why it means so much to me, and then I was to solo the first verse.
I had typed out my thoughts, but totally misplaced them! “I guess God wants me to wing it!”, I told the worship leader I was assisting. Consequently, my words were muddled and rambly (I like to make up my own words), and I started the song in the wrong key. Pretty. Normally, I would be embarrassed and replay the whole scene, focusing on my mistakes, feeling bad.
But no, unreasonable joy overtook me. I could see on the faces of the women in the room that despite my faulty efforts, I was resonating with them. And I knew that it was not me. It was God having an affect on them, encouraging them, inspiring them, using my story. And there was a connection there, even though I didn’t actually connect with them individually. It was God connecting with humanity, and this connection trumped everything. The focus was on God, not me, and I was off the hook for my so-called screw-ups.
I felt unreasonable joy a second time when I was scheduled to speak briefly to the women’s bible study groups. I had prepared my three to five minute meditation a week or more early. The night before, however, while putting a sick kid to bed, I thought I was going to have to cancel. I sent out the email letting people know I wouldn’t be there, ate a late dinner, and went to bed without reviewing my notes.
When morning came, the kid’s fever had miraculously vanished! I had prayed for this, so where was my faith? Why was I surprised? Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure whether to send him to school or not, and finally made the call (It’s a go!) about 20 minutes before it was time to leave. Lunches had to be made, snacks had to be gathered, the I’m-going-to-be-there-after-all email had to get sent, etc.
So out the door we went. Unshowered, unmadeup, in a thrown-together outfit, and wreaking of my husband’s super-ultra-mega strong man deodorant, I dropped off the kids, late. I *hate* to be late, and usually get very frazzled about it. But somehow, I have an odd, out-of-place peace. I don’t think too hard on it because I have just enough time to read through my notes once before I’m given my very own microphone.
And I think to myself, that God is up to something here. I guess he wants me to sort of wing it – again. Something about speaking from the heart? Something about sharing the real me, the messy me. And isn’t that who I relate to? The messy ones (the honest ones). Not the perfect, every-hair-in-place ones (are they hiding something?). I want to be the latter, but God isn’t letting me be who I think I should be. He’s showing me that “the light shines through better if the pot is cracked,” as a friend told me.
This unreasonable joy is the light of God spewing from my broken places. So I guess I have to accept myself as the crackpot I apparently am… which may be easier than I think, if my imperfections are redeemed when I allow them to become the very conduit of the blinding light of God’s unreasonable joy.
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
February 13th, 2006 forever changed everything. Death. Unexpected. Unexplained. Too soon. Not even three hours of life outside me. And most of that time away from me, in the NICU. Only a brief moment in my arms, eyes closed, breath shallow. I knew she needed help I couldn’t give. But I didn’t know the next time I’d hold her that she would be gone. Her precious shell. I tried to burn the image of her perfect little face into my memory forever. Her tiny hands with long nails. Small copies of Daddy’s toes on her feet. My little flower was wilting fast. Dear friend captured her, lovely, in photos. Pain erupted, lava tears flowed long… until the spew slowed to an imperceptible speed, revealing the new, remotely recognizable terrain of me.
August 2, 2007 forever changed everything. Birth. Two. Boys. Big! (6lb-7oz and 7lb-2oz) Expected. Anticipated. Relieved. Exhausted. Bell’s Palsy distorted my face, eyesight, and hearing. Only a few weeks early, the boys had trouble latching. Daddy can’t sleep if they are in our room. Mommy can’t sleep if they are not. Swaddled cozy, Baby B stares at the ceiling, content, intense. I just know he’s thinking up his first book. Another funny moment, ravenous Baby A leaches onto brother’s forehead. Too soon, it’s time to go home. Terrified. Not ready.
August 2010: Twins turn 3. Leave California. See this “sign” just days before departure. Arrive Colorado.
June 2011: Husband loses job.
March 2012: Husband loses mind (?) and suggests we store our belongings, buy an RV, and hit the road. Because this sounds so crazy and irresponsible, and yet we feel so compelled to do it, we pray hard for God to make it clear to us what we should do.
April 2012: Rental management company calls. Owner wants to sell. We have to leave.
June 2012: Belongings stored, we set out in an RV for an unknown amount of time. (Stressed out unemployed Daddy + two 4-year-old man-cubs + exhausted Mommy, all cooped up in a tiny space = a few volatile moments. AND/OR/BUT… A fun-loving Daddy with time on his hands + two 4-year-old man-cubs + caffeinated fun-loving Mommy = more than a few priceless memories.)
September 2012: After 79 days and 7000+ miles, we arrive back in Colorado. Within a week, we move into a big, beautiful rental in a great neighborhood.
April 2013: Husband gets new job! I can buy a coffee now and then again!
Today, February 2014: The 6-year-olds are at school. The husband is at work. I have the giant rental to myself. What sense of all this am I to make? I know about pain. I know about fear. I know about uncertainty. I know life is hard. I also know life is hard-er without God. Because of God’s grace, in the midst of this hard life, I know about joy; I know about peace; I know about security. I know about adventure! God is fun. God is funny. God is sweet. God just IS, therefore I am. And maybe that’s all the sense I need.
I’m wondering about stillness in motion. An apparent contradiction, can I have stillness of mind while body is in motion? I imagine serious athletes achieve this. Unwavering focus. The Zone? Tuning out the crowds, cheering, jeering. “Running with endurance the race set before me” comes to mind. (Some days I’d like to run away with endurance.)
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
My “race” is not a foot race where I can just do my own thing. Put in my ear buds and establish a steady pace.
No, I am scrambling, addressing multiple people at the same time in person and on the phone, while cooking dinner, and doing laundry. I am Steven Segal, my lightening limbs striking everything in my path. Dinner, dishes, laundry flying. Husband and screaming children run for cover. It’s a bloody mess, and I can’t just leave the scene. I am not Steven Segal; I have to clean up the carnage.
During the most chaotic part of my day, 5-8pm (Un-Happy Hour, according to my cousin Jenny), how can I achieve stillness in motion?
1-”Lay aside every weight.” What can I eliminate from my evening race? My daily phone check-in with my Great Aunt simply must happen at some other time, despite the time difference. Figure it out already. To clarify, she is not a weight, but trying to talk on the phone while making dinner (and the kids are in full frenzy because Daddy just got home) is an unnecessary burden.
2-”Let us run with endurance.” Endurance comes with training and preparation. How can I better prepare for my evening race? Find the time, take the time, make the time to plan dinner before 5pm, way before. This makes a huge difference when I have done it. Do it more. Make sure what I need is thawed, and that I have all the ingredients. Make double batches (at least) of family favorites, and freeze them! Duh. I can do this with spaghetti sauce, what else?
3-”Looking unto Jesus.” I need 4pm prayer. Silence, and coffee, tea, or wine depending on the day. Maybe a little bread or crackers. A sort of communion. My private happy hour.
Pray for myself and my family and for the peace of God, that goes beyond human understanding. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 4:6-7) “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (1 Corinthians 14:33) I am the Lord’s people. Help me to act like it.
I feel better already. As I observe happy hour with Jesus, may He adorn me “with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4) – an inner stillness, unaffected by motion, that I can carry with poise to conquer the chaos.
Last week we talked about strolling.
Now, let’s not only slow down, but stop for a minute.
What do you hear?
What do you see?
What do you smell?
What do you feel on the outside?
What do feel on the inside?
What do you taste?
What do you sense?
What do you think?
I think there is more going on than I can know. I live in the middle of a hurricane. The world is swirling violently all around me. The temporary calm I may perceive if I try dwell in the eye is not a true calm. I look up and enjoy the blue sky for what it is, but I know that this world offers no true calm. Earthly calm is fleeting and must be chased.
But I’m tired of chasing. I want true calm. “Be still and know that I am God,” comes to mind. What does that really mean? What is the context?
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. BE STILL, AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
Psalm 46, New International Version
Nations are in uproar, and natural disasters devastate. Personal turmoil, depressing news, the scary uncertain future. The storm rages all around, but when I stop and look up I know that I was “born for the blue skies” (from Dark Horses by Switchfoot), whether I can see them or not.
And I know (barely sometimes) that God is with us, whether I perceive him or not. My senses fail me when it comes to God. Or is it that I’m not following simple instructions (like I tell my kids all the time)? “Be still, and know…” Sounds simple.
Stilling my body is getting easier as I age and energy wanes. Stilling my mouth has also improved with age, even though one of my childhood nicknames was “Diesel Mouth” (my Dad’s creative version of Motor Mouth). Stilling my mind, on the other hand is still nearly impossible… except after 8pm. When I shut the door to the kids room at night, I become instantly and utterly useless.
That’s it! That is when I should practice stillness! Instead of allowing my brain to munch the mental junk food on TV, or read books that I’m too tired to remember, I should sit still, and find out what it means to know that God Is God. Let him tell me himself. Learn to listen, learn to hear God’s “still small voice” (1 Kings 19;11-12). “He leads me beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2b). “Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act” (Psalm 37:7). “Then she said, ‘Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out…” (Ruth 3:18)
Stillness is not useless. It is not inactive. It is purposeful, deliberate. It takes practice. Stillness is the pursuit and capture of true calm.
Welcome to Everyday Eden! And no, I will not be posting every day. Part of my quest for truth and beauty is a quest for peace, a quest for less. This world is so overstimulating. I do not want to bombard you with peace. That just doesn’t make sense. So I hope to post every Wednesday. The perfectionist within, that I fight with often, wanted me to post on January 1st, and every Wednesday thereafter (because that would have been so perfect!), but the Spirit within me has other plans…
So here we are, four weeks late according the perfectionist, but right on time according to the Spirit, who dwells beyond the limits of time anyway… and within me. What a mystery. Well, I guess part of me will dwell past the end of time, too. It is comforting to imagine life without alarms, ticking clocks, reminders, alerts, notifications. No such thing as late. No such thing as hurry. “The hurry makes us hurt,” according to Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts. Oh yes it does.
I hope you will slow the pace once a week and meander with me. The pursuit of truth and beauty is not a hot pursuit. It is bare feet on fuzzy moss. It is sitting and studying all you see. It is lying down and listening.
The 2014 starter gun fired eons ago by today’s standards, and I. do. not. care. I might be the last one out of the blocks, but I may just wander right off the track. We will all arrive at 2014′s finish line at precisely the same time as those around us, whether we sprint or stroll or even sit.