We added 456 miles to our minivan earlier this week. We traversed the Cascades and settled in Central Oregon, with dear college friends, for two nights.
Even before we left, I had a gut feeling that this would be a monumental trip, in an understated sort of way.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the life God has given me and wouldn’t trade it for anything. But, getting away for a couple days was just what my soul needed. Leaving home, work, neighborhood, and responsibilities proved to be more than just a break.
Our getaway to the center of our state helped center my soul.
The more self aware I become, the more I realize how travel – whether across town or across the world – can bring health to my soul.
When I don’t spend time away, I start becoming dangerously myopic. All I can see is me and the people and possessions that I think orbit around me. I become the center. I become the hope for my soul. I deceitfully begin to think and feel as if I am the one holding my world together.
I go. I get away. I step out of my life. And everything changes.
This recent trip was no exception.
Reconnecting with old friends reminds me of that intangible bond we have with each other in the Body of Christ. Seeing differing topography and the myriad beauty of God’s handiwork reminds me of His vastness and my comparative smallness. Brief intersections with unknown (to me) humans – the fellow hiker or grocery store checker or gas station attendant – remind me there are billions of stories being written in this moment and billions more that have gone before and are yet to unfold. My story, but a single star in the night sky. So small, yet significant and loved by the Creator.
Each of these small reminders, the friends, the hills, even the strangers, are like stepping stones back to Reality. They usher me into a perspective more in line with Truth. Getting away brings my soul back to my true home, back to an earthly life lived in light of eternity.
I inwardly cringed at the question. She asked me: What are you passionate about in life? As a logic driven individual, I try NOT to be ruled by ‘passion’, because ‘passion’ can be dangerous – unpredictable, illogical, potentially damaging. Following ‘passion’ feels like losing control. I know it’s not always the case, but there you have it, a glimpse of my fear of emotions.
I understand my fears, desires and motivations more now than ever. But, as I pursue greater self-awareness, a few questions haunt me:
Is self-discovery simply self-centered?
Is self-awareness the cosmetic cover-up for self-absorption?
Shouldn’t I be more focused on others rather than myself?
I recall how the Lord has dealt so gently and lovingly with my soul. He has brought me through valleys and put praise in my heart in the midst of darkest nights. He has tenderly formed my heart, shaped my soul. A significant part of His process has included my growing self-awareness; bringing what was hidden in the darkness into the exposing Light of truth.
Yet I am still haunted by these questions. I feel a sense of guilt as I pursue personal growth. Is there really any benefit to understanding myself better?
I’ve taken all sorts of personality profiling assessments that claim to tell me who I am: a melancholy-phlegmatic, INTJ, Thinker-Doer, Blue-Green-Red, Rosebush-PineTree, 5 wing 4, etc…
You’ve probably got a long list of personality labels too.
Personality profiles attempt to give us a language for what can never be fully expressed. The writer of Proverbs describes our inner-workings this way:
A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water,
But a man of understanding draws it out.Proverbs 20:5 (NASB)
Deep water is dark, difficult to plumb, potentially dangerous. Our motivations and plans are often hidden so deeply that grueling work is necessary for anyone, even ourselves, to draw them out. Ultimately, such a task requires supernatural wisdom and understanding. To plumb the depths of the human heart and soul, we must turn to the Maker of all, “for He knows the secrets of the heart.” (Psalm 44:21b)
The wisdom of the sensible is to understand his way,
But the foolishness of fools is deceit.Proverbs 14:8
No, self-awareness isn’t selfish. Quite the contrary. Self-awareness helps us walk in truth! Unless we seek God’s wisdom to understand ourselves, we live in deception. Yikes! That is not the path I want to take. Give me truth. Give me self-awareness, no matter how revealing and painful it may be. Do you feel the same?
Is self-discovery simply self-centered? No. It is a necessary component of growth in all areas of life.
Is self-awareness the cosmetic cover-up for self-absorption? No. Rather it can lead to the beautifying work of God within us.
Shouldn’t I be more focused on others rather than myself? No … and Yes. Our ability to love and serve others well correlates directly to our own level of health. (More on this to come!)
Self – Awareness is a crucial initial step toward partnering with our Creator in caring for the one, eternal soul with which God has gifted us. I’m chasing it; I hope you are too.
Back to my cringing inducing question. What am I passionate about? More and more the Lord is stirring in me a longing to care for souls and partner in God’s work of healing and growth. Growth in my soul, the souls of my family, my spiritual family, and you! I pray that the words I offer here provide even a smidgen of care for your soul.
I suppose soul care is the emphasis my blogging venture has always orbited, even though it’s just now that I am beginning to put words to it all. I write my heart and soul for you as a way of caring for my own soul, in order that in some way I might help care for yours, too. I write to bring my dark things into the Light, and maybe, just maybe, help shine a light on your dark things too. If my handful of words can somehow help usher you into the Light of Christ, praise God! It’s how I’m Aiming at Heaven.
If the pursuit of soul care resonates with you, wonderful! I’ve got a lot more to share on the topic. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss what’s to come!
I do not write this post for the sake of self expression. I write it because I know so many of you are familiar with aching loneliness. In my darker moments I was certain I was the only one feeling so utterly excluded. But this is a lie. If you think you’re the only one who feels alone, this too is a lie. Let me tell you the truth. You are not alone. You are loved. There is One who has died to be close to you. When you join Him in the Light you will have sweet fellowship with those who are in the Light too!
I woke from surgery very sore and weak, but experiencing longed for relief. No more vomiting. No more excruciating pain. The needle pokes for IVs didn’t even bother me much – not compared to the pain I’d been in a few hours before. The pain of a poisonous appendix.
In my recovery room, I occupied the windowed side of the room while my roommate was closer to the hallway door. I was glad for the view of summer outside my window.
My parents made sure I was doing well and was settled. Then they left. They returned from time to time, but mostly I was alone.
Three days I stayed. Many of those hours were spent alone in my recovery bed. The days felt like an eternity of emptiness; waiting achingly for my family to visit. I was only eight. Lonely. Recovering from emergency surgery. Scared.
True, I wasn’t completely alone. I had a roommate, though we didn’t speak much. Nurses and doctors came to check on me, have me breathe into a strange plastic apparatus, take my blood pressure and pulse and temperature, and bring me food. But, I still felt alone and abandoned.
The most piercing pain of loneliness came one afternoon when my roommate had at least half a dozen visitors. One of her guests turned my way, glanced at the room dividing curtain, and pulled it shut; cutting me off from any connection or tenderness or even a friendly smile. I was shut out from their attention, compassion, consideration. And I was shut in. Shut in, trapped, within myself. The curtain blocked my view of the hallway door. I was utterly alone. But I could still hear the kind and doting words of my roommate’s family and friends on the other side of the curtain. I could see their shadows through the thin fabric, but couldn’t participate in their activity. I could hear their words and laughter, but couldn’t speak or be spoken to. I was, as I had already begun to feel before the surgery, separate from the rest of humanity. Not necessarily despised or loathed, but excluded and non-existent.
So long these feelings have lingered. Through the teen years such feelings were understandably overwhelming. But even now they haunt me at times. My hospital experience as a child epitomizes what I have felt for nearly my entire life. I feel as though the curtain is pulled between me and the rest of the world. Like I’m an outside observer, never an engaged participant in relationships. Like I’m shut in, shut out, bound up, constrained.
Several months ago this childhood scene splashed upon my memory afresh. I sobbed as I recognized those same feelings and wounds in my soul even now. I still feel like my eight year old self sometimes.
In agony of heart, I poured out my feelings and thoughts to the Lord as salty tears streamed down my face. I cried out to Him about the depths of my pain and loneliness. I cried out from behind the pulled curtain. Desperately, I cried.
In that most gracious and healing moment, God the Holy Spirit implanted in my mind a new scene. An ancient original. History, deeper than my own, was rewriting my memory. As I gazed in agony upon that closed curtain, I noticed something different. Starting from the top, the curtain began to tear. And what a brilliant tear it was! The whole curtain tore in brightest light from top to bottom. And through the tear, though I didn’t see Him in my mind’s eye, I knew with a knowing beyond sight that Jesus, my crucified and resurrected Lord, was there in the light.
“Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”Mark 15:38
His presence there, beyond the torn veil, silently spoke to my heart. Because of the eternal sacrifice and resurrected life of Christ, I am no longer shut out or shut in. I have acceptance and access to the most precious of all relationships – a relationship with my Creator. I have the right to fully participate and enjoy involvement in His work because of the purifying blood of Jesus.
Whether others have pulled the curtain or I have pulled the curtain on myself, God showed Himself to me as the One who tore the veil, who removes separation, who invites me into relationship and participation in His Life. He pursued and continues to pursue me. He tore the veil so He could come close to me and I can draw near to Him. Any perceived exclusion is a lie. Any destructive sense of loneliness is a deception from the Deceiver Himself.
Not only is there now unity in my relationship with God, but as a member of the Body of Christ, I am supernaturally knit together with my brothers and sisters in Christ as well! As I am beginning to comprehend the reality of this truth, fellowship fills me up and scatters loneliness. Praise the Lord! He has done marvelous things!
“…but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another…”1 John 1:7a
The veil has been torn. It is up to us to step through it and into the Light!
Sierra Leone in February, Mexico in March. Phew! To any of you who travel regularly for your job or even for fun, I applaud you. It’s valuable, but hard. I enjoy travel, but love home. So I’m thankful to be here, typing away at my own desk in my own bedroom.
After two missions trips in the last two months, I’ve heard a common comment from my fellow travelers. It came from my own mouth, too, after my very first mission trip in High School. By ‘it,’ I refer to this often repeated sentiment: Seeing how little they have makes me so thankful for what I have! Or some variation on the same tune. You’ve probably heard it or said it too.
But, for a few years now, this sentiment has bothered me. In processing my recent missions trips, a couple reasons for my unsettled feeling about this common response are becoming clear.
The first component of this response that bothers me is that it is based on comparison. But, should comparison be our source of gratitude OR dissatisfaction? Comparison is an unhealthy standard by which to perceive and approach the world around us. God doesn’t recommend we look around and itemize our possessions and other’s possessions and then, when we’ve found someone who has less than us, then and only then, give thanks. He tells us to look up to Him, the Giver of every good thing, and give Him thanks and honor and glory and praise!
That’s not to say that recognizing how much we, as Americans, truly have and enjoy is a negative thing. We MUST remember that we are in the extreme minority. We cannot become so accustomed to our ease of infrastructure and access to necessities that we lose sight of the blessing they truly are. We need to pursue a more complete perspective of the world around us so that we don’t take for granted what we experience.
I love that my youngest child, on our drive back from Mexico, kept asking me if it was OK to flush the toilet paper, or brush his teeth using the sink water. As a five year old, his eyes are being opened. Experiencing a different culture is a tangible and memorable way to remind him of the blessings of ease and comfort God has given us, even though we are undeserving.
So I guess what I am saying it this: comparison CAN lead to gratitude, but it cannot be our only complete source of gratitude. It is a shallow foundation upon which to build a life of thanksgiving.
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:18
If comparison is our guide, what do we do with verses like, “in everything give thanks”? When trial or poverty come, is the answer to look around for others whom we determine to ‘have it worse’ than we do? It begins to sound a lot like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 who thanked God that he was so much better off than the tax collector. It is a slippery (and prideful) slope to bolster ourselves upon the debasement of another.
Another frustration I have with this over-simplified sentiment is WHAT is being compared. Riches, possessions, ease, comfort. Perhaps such evaluations reveal an idol in our hearts. Aren’t there vastly more important things to be thankful for? Aren’t all believers, regardless of income and possessions, abundantly rich with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3)?! All things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter1:3)?! My sisters, and fellow pastor’s wives from other countries, Coni from Mexico and Rachel from Sierra Leone, are equally as rich as I am. We are equally as rich because of our shared inheritance in our Savior! Praise and Thanks to God!
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”Ephesians 1:18-19
The command to give thanks in everything is universal. It is given to the family living in the dump in Mexico and to the Wall Street mogul earning $2000 dollars a day. It is given to the mother in Sierra Leone who has been abandoned by her husband because of her faith in Jesus, as well as to the middle-class, stay-at-home mom, typing out these words you read. Our thanks can, yes, arise from physical circumstance. But, this source is not sustainable. Our thanks must arise, in even greater degree, from spiritual reality. Money creates a false dichotomy that Jesus has abolished. Haves and Have-Not’s can all be rich in Christ!
If this isn’t a firm foundation upon which to build our gratitude, I don’t know what is. We must lift our eyes to greater reality, to God’s reality! We must Aim at Heaven.
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”James 1:17
If you’ve never had the privilege of going on a short term mission trip, I strongly encourage you to bump it up to a higher spot on your list of priorities. You will be challenged. You will grow. You will be changed. It is awesome, in the literal sense of the word, to be a witness of God’s diversity and creativity among people as well as His undeniable involvement in the hearts of people all over the world. When you go, I pray that gratitude will be one of the outcomes of your experience. Gratitude for your tangible blessings, yes. But more importantly, a deeper gratitude for all God has done, is doing, and will do in you and the whole world.
Do you ever end up in the same place you’ve been a hundred times? You kick yourself because you feel like you should have learned? You condemn yourself because you shouldn’t be here yet again?
For me, that place is a place of uncertainty, indecision, anxiety and fear. I want to figure life out, for God to give me a detailed blueprint of His specific plans for me. I want a formula. But all He wants from me is faith. Why is faith so hard?
Walking with the Lord isn’t about believing once and calling it good. It’s initial belief and continued day by day, moment by moment belief. And, well, I hate how terrible I still am at this faith walk.
About two years ago I was in that same familiar place of anxiety and uncertainty, draped over the side of my bed, calling out to the Lord for even a speck of direction, an ounce of certainty. I felt lost. I felt abandoned.
It was in that moment that God answered me in an unexpected way. The Holy Spirit stirred in my soul and implanted these words in my mind: Fast from all input but Me.
This may sound odd to you, but I knew exactly what He meant. You see, I am an information hoarder. Some people collect coins, or figurines, or antiques. My collection is less tangible. I love to collect ideas. I get a thrill from learning something new and enlightening. With that also comes the propensity to stray from what is True to what is mentally tantalizing. I get curious about what experts have to say about topics I’m interested in. I begin to look for advice and wisdom from people rather than God.
So when the Lord gave me the gift of these words – fast from all input except Me – I knew He wasn’t answering my questions, He was instead questioning my answers. It was as if He was saying, “You want direction? Then you need to start looking my direction. Stop looking around; look up.”
From this challenge and conviction came a personal practice that continues to transform my mind and heart. It is the peace amidst my anxiety, the rest against my striving, the clarity in the cloud of uncertainty.
I call this practice my Input Fast. Once a week, I commit to saying NO to all input (think TV, social media, books, etc…) and say YES only to input from the Lord (Scripture, prayer, time with His people). It has been more of a challenge than I’d like to admit to say NO to the input of the world. BUT, through this practice I have tasted a joy and peace that I wouldn’t trade for a million likes on Instagram. I’ve experienced a fullness that comes only from the Bread of Life. I almost crave my Input Fast days now.
Practicing my Input Fast has been such a life-giving endeavor for me that I want to share it with you. I know many of you feel that anxiety or uncertainty that I struggle with. I wish I could wave a wand and take it all away for us all. But that wouldn’t allow for growth. It wouldn’t allow for an ever deepening faith. So, I want to offer you something else instead.
I have created an Input Fast Guide that I am excited to share with you! I want to offer you a taste of what has been changing my life. In this guide you will find:
~ A brief overview of what Scripture has to say about fasting
~ A preparatory worksheet
~ A four week reflection and contemplation guide
For those of you who might still be vacillating about if and what to give up for the Lent season this year, give the Input Fast a try! If Lent isn’t part of your tradition, give the Input Fast a try! This is for anyone longing to connect more intimately with the Lord and experience His peace more fully. Who knows? After four weeks, you may decide to make it a year round practice like I have. Whatever you decide, I pray the Lord will bless your commitment to draw nearer to Him.
To receive your free printable Input Fast Guide, click HERE.
I wait expectantly to hear how God uses this practice in your life to grow your faith, bring you peace, and provide clarity of mind.
“Like stillness, fasting reveals to us how much time and thought is taken up by transitory matters. Fasting can involve much more that food. We can fast from television, radio, movies, or certain types of food, desserts, meats, and the like … To make sure these things aren’t controlling us, we may need to give them up for a short period of time.”