Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fill 'er Up!

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

The times during the week when I whine to God most, pretty much every week like clockwork, are Saturday night and Sunday morning before church. That's because I know I'm going to have to go to church and there are, like, people there. And while these people are all people I love, several of them are also people with whom I have very deep, emotionally intimate, and, yes, complicated relationships. Because that's what relationships are - well, real ones, anyway.

I live alone and work from home. As soul-crushingly lonely as my solitude can get sometimes (usually roundabout Friday night is when it really hits me), sometimes it would be easier to just hide away in my apartment with my poodle than put forth the effort of seeing people every Sunday morning. Because relationships take effort.

But God will just never, never, ever let me stay home. Or give up, for that matter.

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, as I was begrudgingly getting into the shower, I was being particularly petulant:

"God, I don't want to go to church today! I don't want to see anyone! I am not feeling special! I am not feeling loved!"

"Well, that's not really the point, is it?" God shot back.


"You want love? You've got it. Right here. I've got all the love to give you that you'll ever be able to stand. You come to Me to get your love, and then you give it to other people. That's the point." He let that sink in for a second. Then He said, "Now get moving."

I mean, He was Very Firm about this. I feared a lightning bolt from the sky if I didn't keep getting ready for church, and Heaven knows you don't want to be hit by lightning when you're in the shower.

And, truth be told, I knew that already.

If God has taught me anything this year, it's that pride is way overrated. Self-sacrifice will get you much further in relationships than being self-righteous. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. If God tells you to, don't even be afraid to look stupid. A second of teetering out on the ledge is nothing compared to the absolute joy that comes with the healing of a broken relationship and the crumbling of emotional walls.

And even if you do fall, so what? The God of the universe is there to catch you.

I can tell you, though, I can't do it by myself. I don't have enough love or patience or energy in me to give what is required to make all of my messy, complicated, deep, rich, wonderful relationships work. Often, if I had a choice, I'd stay curled up in bed with my poodle, whose only requirement for loyalty is that I pet her and don't let her starve. But then I'd miss out on oh, so very much.

The secret is just what God spoke to me that Sunday morning - and what He constantly reminds me when I'm feeling wrung out or worn out or at the end of my emotional tether - that He has all the love I'll ever need. He is love. He has to fill me up first, and only then can I give love to everyone else.

Without Him, I have nothing in me to give. With Him, I have all the love in the world to give - and there's always more where it came from.

And all the effort - the vulnerability, the self-sacrifice, the climbing out on a limb and shakily stretching out your hands - is so totally worth it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Facing Our Giants

David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands."

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. 1 Samuel 17:45-49

We all have giants in our lives. They're mean, sniveling, mocking, huge, seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And the worst thing is, they're usually not great big, muscle-bound bullies threatening to kill us - instead, they're parasites within us, parasites of fear or doubt or insecurity, those parts about ourselves that we hate more than anything else that trap us in our own personal prisons and keep us from experiencing the fullness of life that God has for us.

Most of our giants are our very selves.

I can tell you, mine certainly is. The most insidious, loathsome, ever-present giant in my life is crippling, suffocating insecurity. Worthlessness. The feeling that I am never good enough. I feel as if I'm never going to be good enough - pretty enough, funny enough, graceful enough - for a man to really love me. I'm never going to be a good enough writer to merit anyone giving me a chance to write professionally. I'm never going to be a good enough friend to make people want to stick around when they inevitably find out that I'm not perfect in one way or another. What it all boils down to is that I feel like I am quite simply not worth the effort. And as hard as I try, I'm never going to be.

This giant spreads its venom into every area of my life, causing me to panic, to get defensive and self-protective, and, often, to ruin what could have been a really lovely experience by allowing my insecurity to take control. It's devastating for me every single time it happens, and yet I feel powerless to stop it. Probably because I am.

Oh, I've tried many times to conquer this, to just muster up some kind of self-esteem or confidence, but it never lasts, because it's all my own invention. I think I can solve it myself, can tackle this giant on my own, and set about trying to just fix it because it needs fixing and I'm ruining my own life, for crying out loud, this has to stop!

But it never works when I just try to fix it on my own, and I always end up right back in the same place, crying myself to sleep, crying out of self-inflicted loneliness, crying out to God for help.

All I have are tiny little pebbles and my giant laughs in my face, just like Goliath did to David.

Here's the thing, though: it wasn't really the rock that felled Goliath. It was God honoring David's faith.

David took that little stone in his hand and he believed that God could do it. He knew he couldn't do it by himself. He walked up to Goliath with full confidence not in himself, but in his Lord.

I think we can all learn from David's example, that the best way to face your giant is to take a deep breath, clutch your slingshot, march out there, stare that giant straight in the eye and just lob your pebble at him as hard as you can. The key is not your angle or your precision or the force of your strength or the size of your rock. It's simply that you took the first step.

God will do the rest.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In Spite of Ourselves

I'm in Applebees tonight, enjoying a half-priced appetizer and some much-needed time with my very neglected writing tablet. Sitting across from me, at the next table, is a forty-something woman in a faux-fur, leopard print vest and a short jeans skirt, her hand on the arm of her cowboy-hat-and-boot-wearing companion. They've been deep in conversation since I sat down ten minutes ago.

As I was scribbling something in my tablet, they suddenly burst out into simultaneous laughter, causing me to start and look up from my (obviously) extremely deep thoughts. Shortly thereafter, the man got up and sort of tottered on his boot-heels to the bathroom. Ms. Wild Kingdom stayed at the table, staring out into nowhere, a giddy yet completely contented smile on her face. She glanced down at her hands, then back up absently at the window, her smile deepening as she thought about what had just happened. While he was gone, she played with her drink, ran her fingers through her hair, and straightened her vest, but her smile never faded.

I know exactly how she feels.

It's fascinating to watch two people do this dance. Sharing stories. Trying out witticisms. Leaning in to understand. Nodding appreciatively. Delighting in each other's laughter. I like you, do you like me?

And hoping against hope that the answer is yes.

With these two, at least, it seems obvious.

The funny thing is, these two people probably wouldn't fit this well with anyone else in the world. The woman obviously dressed up for this evening, but I wouldn't be caught dead in a furry, leopard-print vest. Maybe she's a little bit wild, a little bit challenging, and he's just the cowboy she needs to keep up with her and reign her in. Maybe he's stubborn, bucking stereotypes and challenging rules, and she has just the right amount of firecracker in her to match him and give him a run for his money. Maybe this is the first time in their lives that they've felt this way. Maybe neither of them ever imagined they'd find someone who fit with them this perfectly.

Maybe this woman's been waiting her whole life to wear her furry, leopard-print vest and stare into her drink grinning like an idiot while her date is in the bathroom at Applebees.

I know exactly how she feels.

I know this post isn't particularly funny, nor does it offer anything really profound about God, but it was right there in front of me tonight, so I felt like I had to write about it.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

Love is like hope. And we keep on hoping in spite of ourselves. -Steve Dublanica, Waiter Rant