3.05.2015

Fruit of the Spirit Series // Peace

Click for posts on love and joy.

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peace.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16.33 

I turn 28 in two days. This seems pretty young to me. I use to feel overwhelmed by how "old" I was getting, but somewhere after my 25th birthday I realized that was simply the shock of becoming an adult.

Now that I've stopped feeling overwhelmed (for the most part), I feel really young. Like a weird baby-adult. A babult.

Anyway.

Birthdays were always a big deal to me when I was in middle school & high school. I always thought I'd wake up the morning of my birthday... better. Like all the physically flawed bits of myself would have died in the night with my childish former age. This, of course, never happened.

When I hit college, it wasn't as much my physical flaws that I wished changed, but emotional, spiritual, & mental ones. I wanted to wake up mature, wise, sophisticated... basically I wanted to wake up as the coolest person on the planet. This, of course, also never happened.

So for a long time, birthdays would come and go and I'd always be kind of surprised, and disappointed, at how much the same I felt as the person I was on my birthday the year before. (If you think it says something about my personality that I expected some secret-birthday-magic change every year, even though it didn't happen any year previous, you'd be right.)

The thought never occurred to me to look back more than one birthday - probably because the younger you are you don't have a ton of birthdays to "look back" on, really. Now, though, I can look back AN ENTIRE DECADE, and find there someone who was legally considered an adult. (lolz)

I'm not sure if this introspective-birthday is now a habit of mine or what, but it happened unintentionally while reading Tim Keller's The Reason for God.

There is a section where Keller talks about the ramifications of humans placing their identity in things other than Christ: wealth, intellectual abilities, success, etc, and how (ironically) the more we place our identity in things that *aren't* Christ, the less we become. Eventually, Keller argues, we will only become that thing. We will lose who we are completely. Humans, trying to fill a need we were never intended to fill, wind up achieving the exact opposite of the desired goal. If you place your identity in being successful, you will become nothing but your success, and should you eventually fail, you will be nothing at all.

As I was reading this part of the book, a wave of deep gratitude rolled through me. I pictured myself, ten years ago, and saw a young woman who had placed her identity in many things outside of Jesus.

I had placed my sense of self in the hands of my friends, my intellectual capabilities, my accomplishments, the romantic interest of men, and my all around awesome-ness. As much as I'd like to say so, that last one is not a joke.

That young woman was also incredibly bound up in fear. The thought of any one of these identities being taken from me would kind of send me into a panicky restlessness: rejected by a guy I liked, getting poor grades, one of my friends being mad at me, the thought of never accomplishing anything, the thought of being flawed on any level deeper than, "Sorry I was a bit rude to you, I'm just really hungry," etc.

When one of them would be shown lacking, maybe not quite as stable as I needed them to be, I would fight. The fear of them failing me bound me more and more. Like a trap that holds you tighter the more you struggle.

When I realized that my false identities weren't going to cut it, my life crumbled around me. Who would I be if not (insert whatever)? Who would want me if I wasn't those things?

So instead of facing this hot mess of an emotional situation, I ran. Because I'm a babult and I deal with things, right?

I eventually fell into a heap of exhausted, empty emotions. That trap bound all the tighter from my own efforts to free myself.

Then Jesus came.

He began the process of stripping away each and every one of my false identities, he came alongside me when I was all bound up and placed His hand on my face, bent His head down and touched His forehead to mine, and said, "I am here, and this fear will not destroy you." 

He pointed to those repulsive and beautiful scars on His hands and said, "Right here. Your peace is right here. I walked through hell and conquered it so that you could have access to me when you face your own hell, and I've got all the peace you need." 

And He sat with me, slowly loosening those fear-bindings until they gave way. And then, even (especially?) when it turned out my fears might have been true, I faced them with a strength & peace that was not my own.

Now, I'm a woman who is a whole lot less than who she was ten years ago, but has by the grace of God become a whole lot more. And possibly the best part has been less fear, and more peace.

Peace, to me, is stronger than just an emotion. It does not (thankfully) require perfection, because it is far greater than our circumstances.

(This seems to be a running theme with these Fruit of the Spirit. That they are at their truest form when they blossom counter-intuitively.)

As I've learned how to place my identity in Jesus, in my scarred Savior, my self becomes more stable. I know the Lord is not done and though I have placed my identity in Christ, there are deeper and deeper places for Him to replace whatever junk I've tried to prop myself up on with Him. From what I've experienced so far, it is beyond worth it.

When I wake up in the morning, the woman who stands before me is becoming increasingly peaceful. Content. Steady. That is nothing short of a miracle.

So, even before my birthday came this year, I realized there has been quite a change. Though it has nothing to do with any ridiculous birthday magic.

1.01.2015

Fruit of the Spirit Series // Joy


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joy.

This second fruit of the Spirit has woven itself into the beginning of my year.

Resolved: To be full of joy. To be a steadfast shimmer of light in this dark world.

This was a hard year for all of us, I think. Nations on the brink of war, rumors of militant groups slaughtering children, an outbreak of disease that showed us maybe the real disease we're all facing is fear as much as anything else, our own nation thrown into turmoil as the death of a young man shows us wounds can stay open & fester for a long time - centuries, even.

Sometimes I wonder if joy has a lot more to do with looking at all the hard and not wavering - keeping our light shining steady, than it has to do with being in a good mood all the time.

At the dawn of this new year I would like to be more of a lighthouse, than a firework.

Because it was also a good year, but the good in our world is becoming a lot more hidden. The things that are good, really good, are covered in layers of cheap distraction & bad news.

We (and by we I do, in fact, mean me) bounce back and forth between Buzzfeed lists that quote our favorite TV shows and viral fear-mongering articles.

And we miss the good.

My daughter was born this year.
My son began speaking, and just a few weeks ago wrapped his chubby arms around my neck, pressed his sticky face to my check and said, "I love you, Momma."
Kyle & I celebrated five years of forging a life together.
A friendship in our lives was healed from deep conflict.
Stories like this are happening. "When I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service.":


Joy is a precious commodity, which means as a follower of Christ it is all the more important for me to pursue it. To be filled by it, and share it with others. The purpose of these fruits, after all. is to be a sign. A flag we bear that makes us different. 

We're supposed to be different. 

As this year begins we have choices ahead of us.

We could be fireworks. Bright flashes consumed by moments of instant gratification, of easy happiness. 

Or, we could be lighthouses. The huge stone building that is battered by wind and wave but comes up out of the rock, strong and steady. That shines out a light, warning against danger, helping others find their way out of the darkness and into safe harbor. That offers deep gladness & delight even, in it's warmth & steadfastness. 

Lighthouses that offer hope, and therefore joy, in a world that's dark. 

11.19.2014

Fruit of the Spirit Series // Love

I mentioned in a previous post how the Lord has called me to understand more of what it means to live by the Spirit; thus, I thought a good exercise would be to write a post on the individual fruit of the Spirit. Here's the first:


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love.


So here's the way I see it, these fruit are two fold.

Equal parts discipline & promise.

Paul mentions that those who sow in the Spirit will reap life. I believe, during the seasons in which I've been particularly disciplined to sow in love, I reap it.

Not to say, exactly, that if I am more loving to others than others will be more loving to me. There might be a little bit of truth in that, but really it seems that the more I choose to place others above myself, the more I am able to do it.

If I consistently guard my thoughts against entitlement & frustration when I have to keep sacrificing on behalf of my little ones, it becomes easier to do so.

There have been a few times, even, that I have been filled with joy at three in the morning. Completely content as I wake up again, and again, and again to meet the needs of my kids.

I know. Miraculous.

If my husband is going through a season at work that is busier than usual, where he is gone every other night of the week on top of having long days; and, though I know he loves me, in all practicality he doesn't get that much time to show it. During these seasons, if I discipline my mind to not begrudge him my own love because he has not been able to give me much of his, I find it becomes more natural to love him freely. I cease to care if we've been loving each other in equal measure.

I have been pretty terrible at that one, actually. But I shoot for the stars, nonetheless.

I believe love is one of the most scandalous fruit because it is extremely unfair. Love, at least the sort Paul is talking about, doesn't often worry itself with if it's needs are being returned or what tomorrow will look like if it extends itself too much.

It calls us to sacrifice things that might be valid needs for the benefit of another. It pushes us to the limit and tells us to not expect a standing ovation for it, but rather be thankful for the opportunity to be pushed.

Perhaps it is in human nature to walk the opposite direction of sacrificial, holy love? It is mine. I will, if left to my own devices, hardly ever choose someone over myself.

I will, even, be unloving against my own mind, body, and soul. I will choose my immediate desires and wishes over what would be best for me.

I will choose what is easy over what is good.

By grace, though, I have been made new. By grace, I am able to live a life by the Spirit, and it is by this Spirit that I am able to choose, willingly, to sacrifice.

This passage has been particularly convicting as I think about how evident this fruit may (or may not) be in my life:

"Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we may have eternal life through Him. This is real love - not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us." - 1 John 4.7-12, NLT

This is real love. The Gospel.

This fruit is tied to the message Christians are supposed to proclaiming as often as we can. Perhaps that is why Paul says that out of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love.

Or why the two greatest commandments both have to do with love. First, to love God and second, to love others.

Here are some conclusions I have drawn about love:

It is a non-negotiable. We must love. To love and to follow Christ cannot exist outside of each other.

It is complicated. It is a weak, flat sort of love (if, indeed, it could even be called love at all) that only exists when it is agreeing with everyone, and it is a rash sort of love that burns the candle at both ends and feeds its passion on feelings. I do not advocate a love that divorces itself from truth, or running oneself into a brick wall of burn-out. To love well is complicated and hard. I think that's why the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. He is the source of healthy, life-giving love.

It starts small. It's common to see stories/blog posts/videos about these people who do insanely selfless things. There was an adoption video that went viral awhile back about a family who has adopted several children with special needs. And everyone (including myself) thinks, "How do they do that?"

Maybe their journey began by letting their spouse choose what TV show they would watch that night, or giving their kids the last scoop of their favorite ice cream. Something mundane.

Look where it ended.

I am convinced that, done by the Holy Spirit, an act of sacrificial love does not return void.

This encourages me. It encourages me because my heart, like Dr. Seuss so aptly said of the Grinch, feels "two sizes too small" in a lot of areas.

To know that I do not love as I should, but that it is well within the Spirit's power within me to forge the same radical, scandalous love that held Christ's hands to the cross rolls a burden off my back.

Because I desire to love like that. I recognize I am too small a person to do so currently, but there was a time when the way I love now seemed impossible. (Like the waking up at 3am thing....)

I am asking the Lord to grow a dangerous love in me. I am scared to ask for this, but the Spirit within me presses me on to ask for it anyway.