But actually resting, on the other hand…

So after that pretty preachy blog post about rest, I have a confession to make.

It’s hard for me to rest. Am I alone in that one? I thought about deleting the post, honestly, but then I realized that the information is still true.

Oh, I can diagnose the problem pretty easily.

But why? Because by the end of the week, we can feel beaten up, tired, and exhausted. No matter how we’ve spent the week, it’s been a full week of activity and action and doing

 

Rest is HARD. I think we can rest our bodies easier than we can rest our minds. Even when we feel like we’re resting, our brains can be going a mile a minute. We chase down rabbit trails in our heads until we’re exhausted.

Rest is QUIET. If I rest, where will my mind go? It’s easier to fill space with music, noise, activity, Candy Crush, or sports than to let our minds go to the memories, the worries, and the “tapes” that can seem to play on a loop in our minds. But filling the void quiet provides isn’t the same as replacing those thoughts with thoughts that are healthier and truer.

Rest is TRUST. That might be the hardest piece of all. If I don’t spend this hour I have free doing the dishes/laundry/shopping/scheduling/reading/catching up on missed work/trying to prove myself, how will it get done? If I don’t plan for every possible outcome, how can I trust that it will be okay?

Rest says, “I know I’m not enough. But I trust the One who is.”

Rest says, “I know I don’t have the answers, but I know the One who does. I don’t have to have all of this figured out. I don’t have to be ready for every possible outcome.”

Our culture/churches/workforce can tell us that we’re too busy for rest or that admitting we’re taking time for rest is a sign of weakness. But without intentionally resting, we really aren’t all that much further ahead than when we started. We’re tired. Weary. Love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness are replaced by Distrust, grumpiness, worry, hurry, and resentment.

So today I took time to stop. To rest. For me, it was setting aside my “should do” list and making coffee and spending some time journaling without any expectation of what I had to get done or had to accomplish. What does setting aside time for rest look like for you? How do you intentionally create space in your life for rest?

(Here are some books that might be helpful if you’re looking to read more: Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist)

Advertisements

Foundations

“You can’t drink when the well is dry.” –Sandra McCracken

I love big, open houses that have character. My husband and I found a log cabin way outside of town and went to check it out. The house was amazing. Lots of character, tall ceilings, and a wall of windows overlooking the fields and woods outside. As we walked through the house, though, I started to notice that the floor was uneven in spots. Some spots felt soft as I pressed on them with my foot. I didn’t even want to begin to think about everything that was wrong with the floors and the foundation of this house. I tried to forget about it and focus on all that this house offered, but, unfortunately, all of that promise was nothing compared to all of the work it would take to re-do the structural damage.

The more I’ve thought about this house, the more I realize how much this house has in common with the way we tend to do life. So much of our focus is on doing. We build our lives and our choices about how things look, it’s about the activity, it’s about to-do lists and check-marks and making sure that I’m doing as much or looking as good as the next person, and, by God, if I can’t be the best at least I don’t want to be the worst. It’s about perpetual action as a way of dealing with our problems. If I can’t fix it, then I can throw myself into the next activity and be busy enough and exhausted enough that I don’t have to think as much about it anymore.

But then.

But then, slowly, the floor starts to get soft. Our feet stumble as we begin to notice that the house has shifted and the floor slants a little more than it used to. We put on a new coat of paint, we buy new furniture and make new curtains, but this doesn’t solve the problem. We read some more books about how to be a better time manager, a better mother, a better wife.

What do we do when our feet start to slip? What does it mean to build a strong foundation beneath all of our activity?

In a real house, the first step is to stop the activity in the house, to hoist up the house, and to rebuild the foundation. Otherwise, all of the work in the house is wasted. The newly painted walls will begin to crack. The new carpet will be flooded with water from burst pipes.

The first step is to stop.

To reset.

Our worst enemy can be silence. We take the silence and fill it up with social media, with music, with mindless TV and with podcasts and audiobooks. Rest seems to be a dirty word. Multi-tasking is one of the most valued skills in our culture. There have been times I’ve been embarrassed to admit out loud that I rested because this opens me up to hearing about how perpetually busy everyone else is, and how they are too busy to rest, and opens me up to criticism about what I’m doing wrong because I had time to rest. It opens me up to questions about my worth because I allowed time to rest.

But then.

We continue to dedicate to ourselves to all kind of causes–because we should. If we are completely honest with ourselves, our lives are filled with both worthy causes and with time-sucks that add little if any value to our lives. Our lives are filled with work that is worthy and work that is “good enough,” not to mention the work that is actually harmful to us or those in our family or in our close circles. So often we are driven by guilt to causes that are good, that we miss out on the best. Our wells are completely drive.

Many times, our biggest accuser is the one inside our own mind. Oh sure, others can try to manipulate us with guilt or with their images of perfection or perpetual busyness, but in the end, it’s my own voice telling me that I need to keep going that causes me the most problem. Stopping to rest is difficult at first because the very act of stopping exposes all of the noise that we’ve been trying to quiet with all of our busyness. The cracks in the foundation are exposed, if to no one else, to ourselves.

Until I stop. Breathe. Reset.

Rest is something that we need to practice enough that we’re able to do it well. Resting just once doesn’t fix our foundation any more than a house that gets new carpet to cover up the warped floorboards. Choosing quiet and rest hoists up our houses and gives us a chance to reset our focus, our minds, our choices of where to spend our energy, and to choose not to be either scared or bullied by the thoughts in our mind or the voices and expectations of others that play in a loop in our mind.

In a Room Alone

I heard a story recently of a preacher who had a popular situation going for him: big crowds and money pouring in. But soon, people started disagreeing with him. He told them if they disagreed with him they could go somewhere else. So they did. This became a pattern. The crowds of people who were drawn to his charisma began to dwindle. When I heard the most recent chapter of this story, he was sitting in a room yelling at a television camera and “calling out” people who had disagreed with him. Not face to face, mind you, but through a television camera.

He was sitting in a room. Alone. Surrounded only by a small handful of people who he knew would not disagree with him. Anyone who had disagreed with him, he could confront in a way where he didn’t have to hear the response.

In a room. Alone.

Alone. Hearing only the few voices that still agreed with him, while shutting out the rest of the world.

There’s a reason why community is so important in our lives. For any kind of real growth, we need to be around others who disagree with us. Sometimes they’ll be right; sometimes we will. Growth comes through the process of lovingly disagreeing. So often our “community” today consists of putting out our thoughts through social media or blogs (!). Even speaking face to face, too often we talk at each other without stopping to truly listen to what others are about. It’s not really a conversation; it’s just hollering our opinions at each other.  We surround ourselves by people and voices who think like we do, act like we do, look like we do, and like to do what we do. It’s comfortable that way, and life is too hard to be uncomfortable.

But is it? Does being comfortable really help us grow?

Paul uses a disturbing visual in Ephesians. He describes people being “fitted together” into the church. Stones are fitted together when they’re filed down so they’ll fit together like a puzzle. We’re “filed down” when we’re forced to be in relationships that we didn’t choose, in friendships that stretch us, and when we stick with people who disagree with us and force us to either rethink our positions or think through how we got there and question ourselves to make sure we know the facts of what we believe. It’s never not easier to just walk away. Walking away is easy. Dismissing others or accepting a caricature of who they are is easier than sitting across the table with them. Always. (There are times that conflict leads to a time when we need to walk away. There are relationships that are toxic or unsafe and in those cases, leaving is the right choice. And that’s a topic for another day.)

But at what cost?

When we choose to walk away, our world becomes smaller. Maybe not “sitting in a tiny room and screaming at a video camera” smaller, but smaller for sure. Our list of perceived enemies grows and the life we experience shrinks.

And what do we win when we allow ourselves to go through the painful process of being “filed down?” Is it possible that there are areas of our lives that aren’t as healthy as we want to think they are? Tim Keller in his book The Meaning of Marriage, describes marriage as a “Mack truck driving through your life, revealing your flaws and humbling your reactions.” In a room by ourselves we can decide that we’ve got it pretty well together. But add just one other human: be it a parent, sibling, child, roommate, close friend, co-worker, or spouse, and we begin to see some cracks emerge.

Growth comes from allowing ourselves to entertain the miniscule possibility that these cracks might somehow, possibly, inconceivably, have something to do with us rather than just how messed up the other person is.

Sitting at the table with the other person doesn’t mean that we agree on everything. I’m not sure I have a single relationship where I and the other person agree on everything. But I do know that being willing to suffer through the uncomfortable periods of disagreement and hard conversations helps me live my life with less fear and better understanding of where others are coming from.

Even if I *gasp* realize I’m wrong from time to time.

 

A season of waiting

War. Violence. Hatred. Disease. Death. Abuse of power. Suffering. Hidden bruises. Insecurity. Fear. Injustice. Abuse in the place of love. Divorce. Broken relationships. Poverty. Sexual violence.

Everywhere we look, we see a world full of hurt, full of pain; a world with hurt that is so deep-seeded and generations deep that it seems impossible to weed it out and replace it with healing. Sometimes, we can turn a blind eye if we really want to, of course, but the brokenness of our world always has a way to sneak in when we’re not looking. Sometimes we don’t have to look any further than inside ourselves.

Advent: Traditionally a season of waiting and a season of anticipation. Christmas without Advent robs us of the opportunity to be intentional-to prepare ourselves, to slow down, and to be more aware of the world around us. Christmas without Advent tempts us to fill up the month of December with to-do lists and Christmas shopping, with decorating and Christmas lights, with the Chipmunks and Rudolph, and to miss the main event.

A world of brokenness. A world without hope. A world that had been so sure that they had figured out the answers, but the restoration that continued to elude them. And into that world, a baby. A Savior in a baby’s body.

The Creator of the universe, suddenly unable to hold up his wobbly head and flailing his sweet baby arms. The Creator of the universe, furrowing his brow and seeing indistinguishable shapes and colors and trying to make sense of it all. The Creator of the universe completely dependent on a man and a woman who were still trying to figure out their own lives.

A Creator who knew that the only way to begin restoring a broken world was to enter it. We all know that the ones who think they have all the answers but have never experienced the problem are usually full of a lot of nice-sounding hot air. This Creator got down and dirty, and grew into a man: dusty feet, hunger, poverty, rejection, and being misunderstood. This Creator in human skin said that He came to show a new way of doing life. A way that leads to life. A way that leads to living water.

As the great theologian Ricky Bobby said, “I like Christmas Jesus best.”

But before Christmas, there’s a pause for Advent. We long for hope–the kind of longing that sometimes makes you cry or breaks your heart. A hope that a bright light has come and that there’s a new way that Jesus taught. A hope that Paul’s words are true: That the same God who began a good work will complete it. A hope that there’s a different way of doing life: a way, not defined by revenge and about looking out for myself, but a way that’s defined by understanding my own short-comings and needs and keeping a pure heart; a way marked by mourning for the brokenness of the world rather than gloating; a way that prioritizes being gentle and full of mercy; a way that emphasizes making peace instead of causing division, a life that hungers and yearns for righteousness instead of injustice.

God help us. That’s a lot to fulfill on our own.

 

Traditions, covered in icing and sprinkles

I’m placing as many cookies as I can on the cooling rack. As I squeeze them in together, I can’t help but think about the way that this connect me to my story and the family that has come before me.

The pans and mixer that I’m using to mix up the ingredients were wedding gifts from my husband’s family, and every time I use them, I can’t help but think about the people that gave them to us. My sister in law said that she ordered the largest mixer for us because she knows how much my husband loves to make sure he doesn’t run out of food when he cooks. Right now, I’m glad we have such a giant mixing bowl so I can make such a big batch. Memories start to flow through my mind as I turn around to mix up the next batch.

I remember the years full of happiness and anticipation, and I remember the years where things were hard and money was tight. I remember the year that my grandmother was dying and my brother and I came home from school and the one thing we could think of to do while we waited was bake cookies. Lots of cookies.

Oh, the cookies. This year, we won’t be with our families for Thanksgiving, but as I taste test Grandma’s brownie cookies, I remember all of the Thanksgivings and Christmases with all of Grandma’s cookies-especially these. I think of the years she spent making (way too many) dozens of these so we would have enough to graze on throughout the evening. And I feel connected to my family, even though we’re far away. And even though Grandma is gone, she feels close in this moment. With so many changes that have happened over the years, the taste of that cookie anchors me to my story and my history and things feel very much the same.

And…well, that batch is burnt. But I know, as I check the undersides of the cookies, that I am not the first woman in my family to burn a batch of cookies. I imagine my mom and dad, my grandma, and my great grandmothers, realizing they’ve kept the cookies in just a little too long, and it makes me smile.

I look over my list of cookies and check off the ones that are finished. The list itself shows my changing story. I have Grandma’s brownie cookies, of course, and the chocolate buckeyes (for a shout-out to my home state), but there’s also my husband’s aunt’s apricot balls, his favorite banana nugget cookies, and some other cookie recipes that we found on P interest or cookbooks that just seemed like good ideas. For our new family, new cookies and new traditions. My story and his story have become our story.

And that’s probably one reason I love the holidays so much. In an ever-changing world, with our ever-changing lives, these traditions anchor us. We add traditions as our lives change and years later those traditions trick us into thinking they’ve been a part of our lives forever. And tomorrow, as we sit around the table and eat the turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce out of a can (because, come on. What other way is there?), I’m going to be overwhelmed with thankfulness. For these memories, for the memories that we’re making, and the memories and traditions that are still to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Easy DIY and other lies

I recently took a day to do several of the Do It Yourself projects I’ve had on my to-do list. I had read several different blogs and articles with detailed instructions. I’d read about the “fails” and the best ways to prepare to get the best result. The pictures looked so easy. The finished products had looked perfect and so simple. After several hours of prep, following instructions, and waiting for the finished products, I found myself with projects that needed to be scrapped so I could try again from square one. It looked so easy on P interest!

One of the best quotes I’ve heard about social media is that reading what others post is like seeing a highlight reel of their life. (How many selfies does a person have to take and delete before they’re happy with the one they post?) We so often only see the best of what others are doing. Most people won’t show you their “fails,” and quite honestly, shouldn’t. Sometimes my husband and I watch those shows where people film themselves trying to jump over a fence, or lift a ridiculous amount of weight, or jump onto a counter with their socks on (*eye roll*), and it never turns out well (I always wonder who thought it was a good idea to film it and why in the world they didn’t delete it IMMEDIATELY!). No one needs to see all that. We need to be careful with who we let into our “mess” without broadcasting it to the world. But still, it’s a good idea to remember once in awhile that the small sliver of life we see in social media is only that–a small sliver. 

Have you noticed all of the voices that we have in our lives today, telling us what we SHOULD be? Every commercial is a small sermon on the life you should have, the relationships you should have, the things you should have, the way you should look, or the person you should be. Sometimes I wonder, while walking through the beauty section at W algreens, how in the world I didn’t know how much was wrong with me that I needed corrected? There are thousands of products available for problems I didn’t even know existed. Buy more. Buy new. Do more. Your life could be so much more if only you had… Your relationships could be so much better if… And at a low price of $29.99 you can have it all. Until the next new thing comes around.

Have you listened lately to the people around you? We are a connected society that is lonelier than ever. We talk, hoping that someone will care enough to look us in the eye and hear–really hear–what we have to say. But we are becoming better talkers and worse listeners. And we compare ourselves to others. We put others down so that we can feel better about our own “fails.” We listen, not because we care, but because we’re gathering information to share back with others to earn us some more social capital. We listen so we can feel better about ourselves. And so we as a society continue to walk through our days increasingly lonely with our ears full of all of the SHOULDS of the expectations that surround us. We watch the highlight reels, comparing them to our own behind-the-scenes documentary. And our own “documentaries” are gloriously messy. They have to be. Real life is messy. Relationships are messy and we rarely trust each other enough to let a small group of people into our lives to walk with us as we grow and change. 

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of my fails, just like if I ever decided to jump up on my counter with socks on, I wouldn’t have a video to show you, either. And unfortunately, there isn’t a tidy 10 step solution to being aware of what’s true and what’s a sales pitch, or of having more authentic relationships with the people around us. But it’s a good starting point, I think. Accepting our own “fails” for what they are (opportunities for growth and learning) and celebrating our wins when they come are a good first step.

 

Are your hands weak or strong?

Words have power. Have you noticed that? Our days and our conversations are filled with words–so many of which fly out of our mouths without ever being checked through our filter. I often wonder what would happen if we were forced to budget our words. If we only had, say, 10,000 words a day, how would we use them?

Words have power. I heard this story last week that reminded me of how true this is. Back around 457 B.C., a group of Jewish exiles returned home to rebuild a temple. The people in the area were cut out of the project and so the people discouraged the rebuilders–to the point that they put their project on hold for years.

That word-discouraged? It turns out the Hebrew word used for discouraged is RAPHAH-a word that literally means “to discourage, weaken the hands of.” It means to make weak, make feeble, to sink down, be despondent, be disheartened.

Isn’t that just what discouragement does? A discouraging word from someone can take the air out of our balloon. It can deflate us and take away our excitement, hurt the drive we had toward a goal. Our hands become weak and we feel overwhelmed.

The story doesn’t end there. Years later, the exiled temple builders were able to complete their job. As the story goes, they celebrated because God had changed the heart of the king to encourage them to finish their work. And that word, encouraged? The Hebrew translation is CHAZAQ, which literally means “To be firm, strong, and courageous.” It means to encourage, to strengthen, and to support.

If you’ve been through anything on the spectrum from stressful day to tragic loss, you know the power of an encouraging word. One well timed, thoughtful word can re-inflate that balloon and give you the strength for five more minutes. It can reinvigorate you to finish the work ahead of you, no matter what it is. Encouragement binds us up like a bandage or a cast on a weak limb. 

Here’s the deal. As a society, we’re busy. We often run around without two of our most precious resources: time and money. People become exhausted. People are hurting and lonely and that affects the way they interact with us. But what if one resource that we do have and that we do use–our communication–could be used in a way that strengthened the hands around us instead of weakening them? If we watched our words and used them wisely, how would that affect the people and the culture around us? Oh, gossiping and complaining come so easy, but the easiest choices are rarely the smartest or the best for us. It’s much easier to point out the bad rather than find the good in others.

Just think: what kind of work could we accomplish if we strengthened each others’ hands instead of weakening them?