Thursday, May 31, 2012

Safe or Sanctified

(I am going to do a little preaching to myself here, so recognize that I speak as one who is still learning, and doing much of my learning in this public way).

American Christians worship the god of comfort. We base many of our decisions on comfort...decisions on preferences like where to live, where to work, what to wear. Decisions on convictions such as homeschooling or public schooling, birth control or no birth control. And we seem to have a deep belief that we have a God-given right to comfort. But I don't see this in the Bible. Yes, I see that God wants us to be happy, but so often I see that His way of bringing about our ultimate happiness is often not anything of which we would ever conceive.

One thing that impresses me about times past is the depth of those Christians' faith and devotion to God. Compare yourself to a John Bunyan, Susannah Wesley, or William Tyndale and you will probably find yourself falling shamefully short. Certainly being tortured, imprisoned, and martyred for the faith would lead to sanctification, but even those with "normal" lives seemed to have so much spiritual depth. I often wonder if the "normalness" of discomfort in that time played the major role in many of our Christian heroes' sanctification. So many women struggled just with the simple daily chores. Laundry was real work. Eating required far more reliance on things beyond human control, such as weather conditions in order to grow the food, health in order to harvest it, and time in order to prepare it. God had a part in the process, and faith was exercised regularly. Today, we open the freezer, pull out a bag of peas and dump it in a pot on the stove. No peas left? No problem. Having "faith" that the grocery store will be well-stocked, we hop in our cars to make the quick trip up the road, swipe a piece of plastic to "harvest" it, and return to slave for a full 10 minutes to heat them on the stove.

And food was just one aspect of faith-stretching that these Christian giants of the past faced. What about childbirth? Women got pregnant often, and there was no guarantee that the delivery would be safe and easy. In fact, very often it was not. It was a fairly common occurrence for a woman to die in childbirth, leaving her husband and little ones behind. Today, it is almost inconceivable to our weak spirits. Women hear from their doctors that they may face death if they refuse to prevent, or worse abort, a pregnancy. So they opt for "safety". Sure, no one wants to face their mortality, especially with so much earthly treasure to lose. But treasure, whether it be material or familial, is still just temporal. Eternal riches are gained only through sanctification. And women of those days had no choice but to accept God's path to sanctification, whatever it brought along the way. In having to accept it, they faced their mortality with faith in a loving God who was sovereign over all, and hope in an eternity filled with greater riches than earth's.

Schooling, too, was an issue of discomfort at times. Imagine not only having the daily work load to bear, but also having the responsibility of educating and discipling your children, who were often numerous, due to no birth control options. One of the biggest reasons (or excuses, if we are to be completely honest) I hear from a person who chooses not to homeschool is, "I just don't have the patience." Really? You don't have patience for your own child? Don't get me wrong. I have days when my humanity is blatantly evident. To put it another way, I yell at my kids too! But what about sanctification? If you do not have the patience, would you be willing to put yourself in a position of discomfort in order to gain that quality, which is directly related to love (1 Cor. 13)? Back then, homeschooling was the common practice and parents had to have patience or learn to develop it quickly!

As you read this, you may be counting your blessings, feeling grateful for our modern conveniences and societal advances. But are we really better off?

You see, this life is not about comfort. If we constantly take advantage of our many modern "perks" by making our choices based purely on what is "best" according to personal comfort, and then dismissing the issue with two simple words (Christian liberty), then we have missed it. We should not ask ourselves which decisions or convictions are most comfortable, but rather we should ask ourselves which decisions will most pull us out of our comfort zones and cause us to rely on the Lord the most. Which options will grow us in our faith? We should not ask which options are safest, but which have the most potential to cause sanctification. Isn't spiritual growth more important than life itself? Likewise, isn't obedience to God more important than anything, including our own mortality? If in our eternal life we have nothing to show for this life, were all the comfortable decisions really best?

Once identified, we should ask the Lord if that uncomfortable, dangerous, sanctification-producing decision is truly what He wants for us individually. And not just pray, but plead for it for the growth it can bring! I think more often than not, He will direct us down that narrow way. Or, as Robert Frost put it so well, "the road less traveled by". And that, my friends, will make all the difference!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance is my Best Friend

I posted this little statement as my Facebook status update earlier today: Cognitive Dissonance is my best friend, as long as she doesn't stay as a guest too long. It really sums things up for me. But what I hate is when I can't seem to work it all out in my head...when she decides to take up residence in the guest room of my mind and outwears her welcome. I'm feeling that way about a lot of various things these days.

I guess that's where we have to have humility to recognize that there is a certain amount of mystery to this life and to our spirituality. And all our ponderances...all our "musings and puzzlings" if you will...may not be entirely answered this side of eternity. It's okay to suffer through a little...or a lot...of cognitive dissonance. Maybe at some point we just let go of it and give it to God?

So, what is my brain driving me crazy over? I'm not sure I want to go into every nuance and detail here at this point. It isn't overly private, but I think I just want my brain to have a little more time to chew on it all. I think, also, I am a little too tired to do any more mental chewing at this time. A fresh day and some rest would put me more in the mood. Not to mention the fact that I have chewed on it for months and seem to go in circles and it is a subject that I don't think is answered very simply, in fact. Sometimes I think I know what I think and then I find another angle, another hidden facet that I hadn't spied before. And sometimes that hidden facet leads me to still other topics and angles that need conquering.

So, about this time, maybe you are wondering why I am even sharing this. I think I may be wondering that a bit, as well. But I suppose I just want to encourage you to be okay with your own cognitive dissonance. Be okay with not having all the answers worked out. Too many people in this world already know everything. And I think we miss out on exciting discoveries when we are not human enough to admit that maybe we don't have the answers we thought we did.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I once heard of a psychologist who had "discovered" the cathartic experience of telling the truth, even when it was most difficult. He started a whole practice based on the idea that it is always best to always tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or painful. It intrigued me because...well, because of the truth of it! We read in John that the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

Yet, most of us don't really believe it. At least, in practice we don't. I consider myself one of the few fortunate women to be married to a man who always tells me the truth. I may not want to hear that my rear end is getting larger or that I really need a shower to get the stink off me, but you know what? It is unbelievably freeing to never have to doubt the words of the one who is dearest in the world to you. It takes away the insecurity and suspicion. Is he just saying my butt looks good because he knows that's what I want to hear or does it really look the same size as before I had three children? Does he really like that meal that I made? Am I really a good writer, mother, wife? Hearing honest answers to these questions allows me the opportunity to truly grow and become a better person. And in seeing the benefits to our truth-based relationship, I have become more comfortable with simply answering questions truthfully myself, rather than participating in social lies.

But there's a catch. Part of the downside is that I sometimes truly forget the "social norms" of our culture. I forget that not everyone wants to hear the truth when they ask a question. This is a warning to you. Do not ask me questions that you really don't want answers to. Ladies, seriously...When you are nine months pregnant, you are huge. Just accept it and move on. I mean, you have another whole person inside of you! I am not saying you are huge and ugly. Do not assume that "huge" means "fat". In fact, I think pregnancy is beautiful, large bellies and all. And even if you do look puffy and strange, I promise not to tell you that you look puffy and strange...unless you ask me. So, please, don't ask me. But if you ignore this warning, I'll probably try my best to nicely deflect the question or dress up my answer because I also believe in doing to others as I would have them do to me. (Nothing is so frustrating as wanting reassurance from my husband only to get the harsh ribbons, bows, or glitter included. But of course, those are the exceptions, not the rule. He understands I still need a little glitter on the ugly truth from time to time)!

So, if the truth will set us free, then I believe it will set us free in all areas. If I don't fit in because of it, then I guess that's okay, too. Maybe more can join me in the quest for being completely truthful so we can all be odd specimens of society together!

Unity in Disunity

So often lately, as I've become more and more controversial and outspoken with my convictions, I've felt the tension both internally and externally, to keep my differences silent and just abide by a "live and let live" attitude. After all, aren't Christians called to unity? Aren't we supposed to focus on our similarities, not our differences? Paul even says in Ephesians 4:1-3 that we are to seek unity among our brothers and sisters.

But wait a minute. Aren't we also challenged to sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17)? And how can we sharpen one another if we are too afraid to get a little "controversial"? How can we sharpen one another if we are afraid to offend? I don't believe any of my Christian friends would need me to sharpen them on core doctrines...those things upon which we can all agree. It is the "gray" areas that become difficult to navigate at times. But the Bible gives us direction for all areas of life (2 Peter 1:3). And in our modern culture, it seems there are so many "new" things that the Bible does not specifically address. Yet, the Bible does in fact speak to all these things, as we are told in the passage in Peter.

So, it seems we are called, to some extent, to challenge one another in the uncomfortable things...The things that make us defensive, nervous, and perhaps even angry. And we don't do it because we want to stir up trouble. We do it because we love the brethren (1 Peter 1:22) and are called to be challenging one another, no matter what our culture preaches about unity and getting along.

No, the call to Christian unity does not mean that I keep my personal convictions silent. It means that I share them with love, not harshness, for the sake of edification. And it means that Christians don't get so offended when a brother or sister in Christ does this. We seek unity, even in our exhortation. We seek to find common ground, yet be open to exploring our differences with an open heart to what God may show us in order to grow us. We can all learn from each other, whether or not we ultimately agree or disagree. And, hear this, disagreement does not equal disunity. I disagree with a lot of my friends on things I find very, very important. Yet, I still love them and consider us unified as Christians because we are unified in Christ.

You see, sometimes I think the problem is not as much with those sharing their convictions as it is with those who are listening. If we all truly want unity, we will be willing to listen, rather than expect others to simply be quiet. We will be willing to then offer our own convictions in return. It is an "iron sharpening iron" process, not a knife throwing contest (with the target being each other). And this Biblical process is beautiful when done in love! What are we so afraid of?

So, please forgive me when I offend. It is not my heart to offend. And please sharpen me, as well! But seek unity, as I do, in the sometimes painful sharpening process. It is a process of friction and removing tiny pieces of the knife in order to sharpen. It requires an open spirit on both sides, one that is willing to deal with the friction and the possibility of losing something, for the ultimate goal of sanctification. Because the key to sanctification is a love for truth more than a love for being "right". And one of the most beautiful testaments to the power of the love of Christ is our Christian unity despite our differences of conviction. The world will not see that if we are too afraid to challenge one another in love.