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Overcoming evil with good. August 31, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Blessings, Evil, Heart Condition, Personal, Struggles.
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I was reading in Romans last night, a bit aimlessly but trying to get back in the habit of making time in the Word a priority. And I stumbled across this little gem of a verse:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:21

It struck me, because I feel like I am constantly overcome. Perhaps evil seems like a strong word for my workplace, or for the general distractions of life that get me down, or even for New Jersey. But at work I feel constantly overwhelmed by the negative atmosphere, toxic people, and the overall distastefulness of the job. I feel powerless at home to do the things I want to do – after things like dinner, laundry, errands, and car maintenance are done I don’t have much energy left to pursue what I really care about. Even just driving around this state I get so frustrated with the traffic and the crowds and the new housing developments where productive farms and forests were.

I am letting myself be overcome. The verse spoke to me because that is how I feel daily. I feel overcome in the face of all the negativity and unhappiness around me, in the distance between what I had dreamed of for my life and where I actually am, and in the hundred ways I daily feel thwarted from living a life of passion, joy, and hope.

But Paul is telling us that it is a choice, not an inevitability. We don’t have to be overcome by evil. We can turn it around – Christ has given us that gift. I love the phrase “overcome evil with good”. It’s such a powerful image of evil being overthrown, overturned, and undone in the face of simple goodness. I just imagine being so filled with God’s goodness that none of the bad things around me, the lies of Satan, the actions of others, can assail me.

I am a long way from that. But I’m starting to realize that by letting all the wrong and injustice and pettiness that’s around me make me angry or frustrated or lose hope, I am letting Satan win a battle that has serious negative consequences for my life and for those around me – particularly though who I should be being a light to and instead am functionally just as lost as they are.

And that’s not what I want. I want to be the force for good that the waves of evil break upon and are shattered and dissolve. But I know that’s not something I can just decide to do on my own. While I do have to make choices to do the right thing and to trust God, I also know that the only way to be filled with that kind of goodness so that it reflects on every one of my actions is to steep myself so thoroughly in the goodness of God that it is all that is capable of coming out of me.

My Wilderness August 22, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faithfulness, Heart Condition, jobs, Personal, Struggles, Suffering, Trust, Wilderness.
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The summer is nearly over. Just a couple more weeks at best to get summer fun in. Even though nothing about my life changes substantially after Labor Day, and the weather generally stays warm through much of September, there’s a qualitative change that occurs over the next weeks and brings an end to the freedom and excitement of summer.

This summer went quickly, as summers tend do more and more often as I get older. Although we did some very fun things, we took no long vacation and had to cancel a lot of planned activities due to weather or finances. In some ways I feel like I didn’t have a summer at all, though my tanned shoulders and blisters on my heels speak otherwise. I just didn’t enjoy it the way I used to. I didn’t feel free.

I looked at my legs today and was still a little shocked to discover they are mostly unblemished at the end of August. Oh there are a few blisters and bruises from hiking and tubing, but in generally they’re in good shape. I should be used to it after three summers in a desk job, but I still expect them to look the way they used to when I had a good honest field job.

I used to come home everyday from work at the farm or in the forest battered, bruised, and filthy. Covered in mud, scratches, bug bites, poison ivy, and, often, blood. My legs (and often arms and face) were a mess but I was exponentially happier and a good deal slimmer – if distinctly poorer and less feminine. I was more spontaneous too, and I remember taking more summer day trips and enjoying life more even when there wasn’t a lot cash to spare.

Currently I have a very dull office job that pays decently, has excellent health insurance, and is nearly impossible to be fired from or laid off of. I live the most suburban of suburban communities, in a spacious two bed-room apartment in a nice complex that is one of hundreds of other nearly identical complexes in the area. Everything I could possibly want is within an hour’s drive, although virtually nothing can be walked to. This is very close to the American dream and I cannot stand it.

I’ve been thinking lately about how God sends us all through a time in the wilderness to come out the other side closer to him. For some people this a time of deep physical or spiritual suffering, for others a literal exile from home, and for still others a crisis of faith or another huge life change. But I think for me, in my cushy job and the place I’ve lived more or less my whole life, that this is my wilderness.

I’ve been trying so hard to get out of this place. To change my life, to get the job that I want in the place that I want. I fantasize about selling all our belongings, quitting our jobs, and moving out west and seeing what happens. And yet every time we make progress it seems like we slide backwards again. School drags on another year. We have to decimate our savings to pay for a car repair.  We get trapped in a lease that make its difficult to save. A freelance job falls through.

I feel in my heart that God has a plan for us that is not here, but it also seems like it’s not time for us to leave just yet. And that is hard to accept. This is my wilderness, and I know he must have us here still for a reason, but it is difficult to know what the reason is, what lesson I am to learn before we can escape. And sometimes it feels hopeless, like we will always be stuck here.

But God has always been faithful to give us what we need, and he will continue to be faithful. However I have to accept what we need and what I want may not be the same thing. And it almost certainly will not be with the timing that I have in mind. I know that if God does provide for us to move out of here in the near future it will be in a way that will leave no doubt in our minds that it is through his provision only and not through our own striving.

My challenge now, instead of resenting the present circumstances that keep me where I do not want to be and despairing of any hope and future for us that looks like what we’ve dreamed of, is to bless God for what we do have and to try to learn what lessons he has for me in this place. Even if it is only the discipline of waiting. I believe it is not wrong to have a goal, to desire something in particular and to pursue it. But it is important to not allow that goal to eclipse the far greater goal of following God.

That means offering up my dreams to him daily and allowing him to change them if that is his will. It means opening my heart to opportunities in places and fields I may not have considered. And it means trusting him to do what is best for me, even when it feels like I am languishing in the place that is the most damaging to my relationship with him. It may be his will that I leave, tomorrow or years from now. But until then I need to ask him to show me what work I have to do while I am here.

God will be faithful whether I am or not. Whether I have good attitude about it or not. Whether I make the most of my time or squander it. But just because that is true it doesn’t absolve me of any obligation to him. In fact, it strengthens my obligation to know that even if I abandon it, he will not abandon me. So I will try, in this wilderness of Norway oaks and super-Walmarts and good dental plans, to listen for his voice until he leads me out of it – or changed my attitude so that I no longer find it a wilderness at all.

Isaiah 55 August 4, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Blessings, Personal, Promises, Scripture, The Bible.
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I have been experiencing an incredible amount of fatigue this week. My schedule has been a little unusual and I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep, but I feel like the depth of exhaustion I’ve been having is more than can be accounted for by those factors. I don’t know if it’s a physical issue (medication change, insomnia, or vitamin deficiency), a spiritual one (enemy attack or struggling with faith), or an emotional one (stress, depression) – or some combination of all three. But even just staying awake at work has been a struggle. If I don’t feel better after the weekend I may go in for a blood test and/or sleep study to see if there’s a medical reason I’m so out of it.

That said, despite both a long nap this afternoon and some light exercise in an attempt to get a little energy, I am just too tired for a proper post today. But yesterday, I did something I hadn’t done in an embarrassingly long time – sit down and read the Bible. Like actually crack open a physical Bible (my online attention span is too short for anything more than looking up individual passages) and just read it because I wanted to. Without a particular goal or agenda or because I wanted to see what a certain verse said. Just read.

It was so refreshing. I read a good deal of the Gospel of John, Galatians, and part of my favorite portion of Isaiah. I’m not much of an Old Testament girl, but Isaiah 55 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. It’s so full of hope and promise. I love how it starts, because I constantly spend time and money and energy on things that don’t satisfy, that don’t fill me or quench my thirst. I’m at a loss to explain why I do this, but it’s so good to know that God is calling me to true nourishment and refreshment. This is a great passage to use to meditate on so many of his promises to us.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.

See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.

Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed.”

I’m off to read some more; if my body refuses to be refreshed at least my soul can be. Hopefully I’ll be back on my game tomorrow.

Lies I Believe, Part 2: “You’re Too Much” August 1, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Belief, Blessings, Flaws, Holy Spirit, Identity, Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Trust, Worry.

Part of two of my series exploring the lies in my life that Satan uses to keep me from being the person God wants me to be, and my attempt to disentangle them from my heart before they do any more damage.

The lie: You’re too much to handle; you always push things too far.

I always feel like I am just always a little bit too something. Too loud. Too aggressive. Too emotional. Too needy. Too intense. I often feel like my friends and others often just tolerate me to be nice but really wish that I would dial it back a little.

After interactions, phone conversations, emails, particularly serious ones, I usually feel uncertain of myself, wondering about what I’ve said and if I went too far.  Did I insult that person by accident? Was that joke too barbed? Was that the wrong thing to say? I know I talked too long, said too much. I could feel them withdrawing from me. I came on too strong, I knew it. I shouldn’t have been so honest, now they aren’t going to want to be around me anymore.

I’m most susceptible to these feelings with people I don’t know very well yet, but am just starting to form a relationship with. But I still experience it even in my closest friendships. And when I start to feel like that, it’s very hard to convince me otherwise, even I know I rationally they probably haven’t given it a second thought. Even if they have given me tangible proof that our relationship is still as good as ever, I still maintain this little doubt in my mind that they see me differently or don’t trust me as much or love me as much.

The result: I withdraw and hide.

I pull back on nascent friendships before they even get started because of imagined coolness on the other person’s part. I bite my tongue and avoid emotional honesty with all but my closest friends. I am circumspect about my true thoughts and beliefs, and end up agreeing with people just so they will like me. With my closest friends I often don’t challenge them like I should when I feel something is wrong, because I’d rather be supportive than risk their anger.

And when I am honest and really open up about what I think or feel, I then waste time and energy worrying over their reactions. I question everything I said and did, I doubt myself. Even when I get positive feedback from the person, I still feel shyer than before about taking that emotional risk and putting my true feelings out there. And when I get no feedback, I am sure that I have offended them.

So I make fewer friends than I want to, and I put up walls with the ones I have. I am not as bold with my thoughts and ideas as I should be, and when I am I usually regret it. I fear that even my truest friends merely put up with me. I avoid leadership because there’s just too many ways to mess that one up. And I waste time and energy on worry and fear, instead of putting my efforts towards more fruitful things, such as strengthening my friendships and loving others. I become self-obsessed and self-involved, and do not live out the freedom Christ has given me. I become a people pleaser and try to just be nice, instead of being a Christ-pleaser and striving for authenticity.

The truth: I am not too much for God, and he made me how I am for a reason.

The trouble with this lie, the reason it works so well, is that like most effective lies it’s partly true. I can be loud and aggressive. I’ve hurt or lost friendships from taking things too far or being really honest. Sometimes I am thoughtless with my words, or get overly passionate about something and push too hard. I sometimes have bad timing with what I say, or say things the wrong way. Sometimes I just plain open my mouth when I shouldn’t

Another reason it works so well is that my mother is very pushy and needy and loud and intrusive and just too much sometimes. I know I am like her in a lot of ways. And while I love my mother very much, there are a lot times when she is acting a certain ways that my feelings towards her are less affectionate than barely tolerant. I don’t want people to think of me that way.

But the real truth is that it doesn’t matter what other people think of me. It only matters what God thinks of me. He made me and the truth is, no matter what I do, I can never be too much for him to handle.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

Nothing in this earth or heaven or hell can separate me from his love. Certainly nothing I can say or do, however stupid or thoughtless. And he gave me these traits that I so often dislike. He made me exactly the way I am, and has a reason for doing so.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

That doesn’t mean I only do good things and never cross the line, or that I shouldn’t try to be a better listener, or less reactive, or to think before I speak. But it means that there is way that my natural outspokenness and enthusiasm and honesty and passion and humor is meant to be used for his kingdom. And when I try to totally suppress them because I think they just end up causing trouble, I am only cutting myself off from the ways he may want me to use them.

Not everyone will like me. I need to be okay with that. And I will sometimes say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I may even ruin friendships by it. But despite that, I still have true, wonderful friends who love me, who God has placed in my life for a purpose and who are incredibly understanding and forgiving. And I don’t need to be afraid of being myself around them.

Most importantly God loves me no matter what. He has saved me and redeemed me and wants me to live that out for everyone to see. He doesn’t want me to live in fear, or to cut myself off from good relationships or ministry because I am afraid of screwing up. He wants me to bold in my life and in my speech, but bold for him and for the pursuit of the hearts of others and not bold out of my own desires or need for recognition.

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.
2 Corinthians 3:12-13

I do not need to be afraid of what God has given me. I will still screw up, because people screw up. But even if I screw up every single of my relationships to the point where literally no one else wants to be around me, I will still have God and he will still love me. That is the most important relationship, and his plan for me is more important than my self-centered fears and insecurities. And I can always go to him, no matter how badly I mess things up.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

How to fight it: Know my identity in Christ; trust God and trust the people he’s put in my life.

Reading God’s Word and keeping a close relationship with him is the only way to fight this one. It accomplishes two things. When I am living in his love there is no room for fear or doubt; he tells me who I am, not Satan, or my mother, or anyone else.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

And when I am filled with the Spirit I will have more wisdom and discernment about what I say, I will be less needy and attention-seeking and not always looking for validation, and I will bear the fruits of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

That doesn’t mean if I live in the Spirit and walk with God that I will never make a mistake in my relationships, but when I stop focusing on myself and my own insecurities and focus on God and on truly loving others for their sakes, not my own, I become less and less likely to act out of selfishness. Traits that seems like curses when applied by my own judgement become gifts when I use them the way God wants me to.

I have to trust him to put me on the right path in my relationships. If I stick close to him and am really living how he wants me to, I won’t be afraid to speak when I feel led because I will know that it’s really him speaking and not just myself. If there is fallout from it, I have to trust that he is in that, too.

And I have to trust the godly people he’s put in my life to love me ; trust that they will not turn away from me because of a misstep or stupid comment, but that they will love me and forgive me because they are living out of God’s love too.

But in the end, I have to accept the fact that only one thing matters: following Christ. Not my fears. Not what others think of me. Not where it might lead me. Because following Christ will at times bring pain, and loss, and even humiliation for his sake. I may speak the truth out of the most righteous of motives and have stones thrown at me. I could be exactly the person God made me to be and still lose friends or status or anything else; in fact he pretty much promises that will happen. If I truly want live like Christ, that is something that I have to embrace.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:3-8

Because in the end, its not about me. The more I worry about myself, the more I make it about me and the less I make it about Christ. But when I give up my own fears and desires, he can do great things with my life and in my relationships.

Lies I Believe, Part 1: No Time July 29, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Prayer, Time.
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Since writing about Inception, I’ve been thinking more and more about how insidious the lies that we’ve started to believe can become. They can end up controlling your whole life, your whole world, without you even realizing them. I’m working on breaking down the lies and false realities in my own life, and so I’ve decided to write about them one at a time as I come to recognize them. Refuting them in writing will make it easier to remind myself of the truth when I start to fall back into the old habits I’ve based around them. This first one is so simple and seems almost silly at first, and yet it effects every area of my life.

The lie: There’s not enough to time do anything.

I always feel like I’m short on time. This is one of the reasons I’m always early to things – I feel rushed, like I don’t have enough time to get there so I end up being super early and just wasting all that time. If I have to go somewhere and leave in an hour, I feel like I have no time to get anything done before I go since “it’s only an hour”. Of course there are tons of things that can be done in less than an hour. If a friend comes over and stays until 8 pm, I’ll feel like I don’t have time to do anything else before bed even though there are three more hours before I should be asleep. If I have commitments, even very short ones, more than a few weeknights and one weekend night in a week I feel overwhelmed because I think I won’t have time to do anything else that week. Even if it’s just meeting someone for coffee for an hour, I think of that night as completely shot for doing other things except the very basic household maintenance that absolutely has to happen.

I’ve bought into a couple false beliefs here, actually. The first one is there’s not enough time, but the second goes with it – it’s not worth starting if you don’t have time to finish it (or at least make significant progress). Knitting a sweater takes days. Maybe in the ten minutes I have before I have to leave for work, I can do two rows of it. But I won’t because I feel like it’s not worth it, and I can just do it later when I have a bigger chunk of time to work with.

The result: My effectiveness is demolished.

I spend a lot of time on the couch watching TV or messing around on the internet, because I feel like I don’t have time to do anything else – even read (because I don’t want to get it into and have to stop). As a result, so many projects remain unfinished or unstarted. I always feel behind on everything because I put it off from “lack of time”, and thus even more rushed and more reluctant to take on more commitments. I cancel things because I feel I don’t have time to do them. I don’t get involved in activities that have too much of a regular time commitment. I hoard my time and save it…for what?

That’s the thing. I don’t do much with it because I still feel like there’s not enough of it. I feel like there’s not enough time to get involved in ministry or call a friend I haven’t talked to in awhile or even read the Bible. Even though I’ve just spent an hour watching Law and Order, and then will spend 30 mins on the internet reading funny blogs, 20 minutes trying to decide what to do next, and then another hour watching a movie with Indy before we give up and go to bed. This is how I become completely ineffective. I let myself be fooled into thinking that there’s no time for devotions, no time for exercise, no time to make a healthy meal instead of a junky one, no time to maintain my relationships. It keeps me fat and lazy and useless, physically and spiritually.

The truth: I have plenty of time for the important things I want or need to do, but if I put them off they may never happen.

On a day-to-day basis, I have tons of time. I have a job that requires nothing of me after hours, and although I go in very early in the morning, I get home at three and usually don’t go to bed until eleven. I get every other Friday off. I have no kids and split the household chores pretty evenly with my husband. And yet I let myself be drawn into this fantasy that I have no time today, but tomorrow I will have more and will do that devotion, make that phone call, finish that project, join that Bible study.

‘ Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” ‘
James 4:14-15

While today I might have plenty of time, tomorrow that might be gone. Anything can happen. And of course even when I do have a tomorrow, it is the same. I have no time today, I will have more time tomorrow. And so my life is wasted away by the endless tomorrows.

“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handsbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.”
Psalm 39:4-5

Satan doesn’t want me to make the most of my time. He doesn’t want me to spend time in prayer and study and get closer to God. He doesn’t want me to be physically fit and healthy. He doesn’t want me cultivate strong, uplifting friendships with believers and non-believers alike, or to have an effective ministry I’m invested in, or simply to be happy and productive. He wants to keep me miserable and lazy and stressed so that I can’t do any of those things. But he wants me to think that I will one day, because if I realize that it’s slipping away, I might get angry enough to do something about it.

“We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”
Hebrews 6:11-12

How to fight it: Give God the first of my time, then do a reality check.

If no matter what else is going on, how many other things I have to do that day, I can make spending a set amount of time with God the priority, it won’t matter if afterward I feel like I don’t have time to do anything else – because I’ve already done the most important thing. But here’s the catch: I don’t think I will feel like I’m out of time after I spend some with God. I think I’ll feel even more able to do things that are important, and even more able to see what useless things are stealing my time that I can get rid of to focus on the right priorities. And I can ask God to show me how he wants me to use my time, instead of just aimlessly wasting it until the day is over.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16

The next step is to check my thinking when I catch myself feeling like don’t have enough time to do something I want to do or should do, or that I will do something important later but right now I just want to hang out. Memorize the verse above and others like it, and use them to ask myself if I’m making the most of every opportunity. Am I prioritizing the right things, not just in words but in the actual way I spend my time?

And finally, a very practical trick to try is when I say want to do something but find myself saying “but I have to leave in an hour” or “BFF is coming over in 30 minutes” to actually do the math to see whether I really do have time for something. “I want to go running but I have to be ready to go to church in 45 minutes”. Okay – 2 miles takes me about 20 minutes, a shower takes me less than 10 and I can be dressed in 5. That’s 35 minutes on the outside, and even if it takes me 5 minutes to get my exercise clothes on and find my ipod, I still won’t be late to leave. Breaking it down like that helps me see how silly it is that I would just do nothing until it’s time to leave because I feel rushed.

Summary: Satan wants me to feel short of time in the present so I continually put things off for the future and never actually get around to anything that would glorify God,  or bring freedom, joy, or restoration into my life or the lives of others. To keep from falling into this trap I need to give God the first of my time, and trust that he will make room for anything else that is important. Then I need to respond to feelings of being stressed for time, rushed, or overwhelmed by praying for wisdom as to what to do, evaluating whether I’m making the most of each situation, and analyzing whether those feelings are a reflection of reality or just a trick to prevent me from being whole and effective.

A Word About Movies July 27, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Art, Grace, Movies, Parable, Personal, Stories, Truth.
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I love movies. And I love most kinds of movies: action, drama, comedy, documentary, musicals, even the (very) occasional chick-flick. And I have never been one of those Christians who says, “I don’t watch R-rated movies, period” or “I don’t watch anything with nudity”. Sorry, I just don’t care that much. My standard for movies is much more flexible, but often more elusive.

Because my standard for a movie is what I got out of it. If I cannot find any redeeming spiritual theme in a movie whatsoever, I probably will never watch it again. No matter how clean or otherwise innocuous it is, because it does nothing for my heart. If the level of crap I have to deal with to get to the redeeming message is too high, if it causes me spiritual damage or to sin in my heart or actions then it is likewise not going to get repeat viewing.

The problem with this standard is that I cannot apply it to anyone else. I cannot tell you whether a movie is good for you to watch because I am not you. I don’t have the same sensitivities or experiences or struggles you have. I find the Dark Knight to be a powerful story of good overcoming evil. My mom finds it deeply disturbing and it hurts her heart. I can only say whether or not my experience of the movie helped me grow personally, or brought me closer to God, or reminded me of a great truth. I can also tell you how many curse words or heads exploding or instances of drug use there were, but I won’t. There are other websites for that, and that doesn’t really interest me.

What interests me are stories. Jesus taught in parables because humans relate to stories more deeply than to any other way of presenting information. And what are movies but really expensive parables? They speak to us about how we relate to the world, to each other, and to God. If they aren’t telling me anything that is helpful for to me, or if they are actively causing me emotional or spiritual harm, then they are worse than worthless to me. But when I can watch a movie and see something I’ve read in the Bible or something I know about the nature of God or of life illustrated on screen, it helps me to hold on to it to remember it and apply it in my life. Because stories are so infinitely captivating and memorable, they touch our hearts and stick in our minds in ways few other things do.

I want to be clear about two things, however. Firstly, when I say I saw God in a movie or that it had a spiritual theme, I am not saying that it is a Christian movie or that the writers or directors were Christians. I am not saying everything in that movie is good, or even that everything about it fits with the Gospel. The ultimate resolution of the movie may not even be relevant or positive. I am saying that I saw a glimpse of truth, a glimpse of Jesus’ story and our story, in that movie. Maybe I saw Christ in a character’s role or a shadow of the Fall in an interaction. But don’t bend over backwards to make the entire plot fit in to this, because it probably won’t – it’s just a moment, a reminder of the ultimate truths in our lives. Some movies have lots of these moments, or are practically sermons in themselves. Some just have one or two moment, maybe just a line or a conversation that makes me say, “Wow, I see God in that.” But I’m not trying to make it basis for an entire theology or claim that the whole thing is perfect and godly.

The second thing is that just because I loved a movie or was able to tease out a spiritual lesson from it, I am not telling you to go see that movie*. I am using it to illustrate something I learned, because that is one of the ways God tends to speak to me. I may tell you that I find Fight Club to be an incredibly redemptive story that reminds me of the wildness of God and the consequences of focusing on the wrong things, of clinging to safety, and of letting your heart go dead. This does not mean that I think you should show it to your 3rd grade Sunday School class. It does not mean I think that looking at Helena Bonham Carter’s breasts is a pastime we should all take up. It just means that the story taught me something and I want to share it with you. You have to decide for yourself whether that movie is something that is good for you or bad for your spiritual walk. That is why God gives us discernment.

I’m going to start writing about movies that I love, that speak to me in this way. Not every movie I see, but the ones that really get me thinking about God and faith and relationships. I will probably start with Inception, since that is what I saw most recently and it really spoke to me on several levels. Just remember, I am not claiming that I am perfect, or that my interpretation of the story is perfect, or that the movie is perfect. Only that I got something out of it that I want to remember and to share. I leave off with the words of one of the great parable-tellers of the 20th Century:

“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”
Madeleine L’Engle

*Caveat: On a rare occasion I will actually tell you to go see a movie. It will usually be a childrens’ movie, probably by Pixar. If I ever meet anyone for whom Toy Story or Finding Nemo has caused them to sin, I will stop doing this.

Ideal or Idol? July 21, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Identity, Lifescripts, Personal, Prayer, Struggles.
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As I’ve mentioned before I have a difficult time being still in my heart and praying honestly to God. One of the few times I am really able to do this well is while swimming (if only because I don’t own one of these and am forced to be alone in my own head for half an hour). The rhythm of the strokes, going under the water and coming back up again and again is like a form of meditation and my mind gets a little cleared of all the clutter that’s in it and I can focus on God.

I was asking him to show me how to be the person he made me to be, and I started mentally listing all the attributes I thought this person had that I currently didn’t have. And then it hit me. Who God wants me to be may not be the same as who I want to be.

Here’s the thing. I have a very clear idea of who I think I should be. This mythical person is organized, efficient, and always has a clean house. She never wastes time or sulks, and never worries about the future because she trusts God completely. She’s in good shape and sticks to a firm schedule of exercise and a tight frugal budget. She doesn’t stress eat or self-medicate through shopping or TV watching. She reads the Bible and prays every morning, and always finishes the projects she starts. She’s outgoing, not afraid of social situations, and a natural leader. She doesn’t talk too much or too loudly and is a great listener. She manages her time well and juggles work, family, home, church, and friends effortlessly. She’s always gracious and diplomatic, and never temperamental or impatient. She also makes all her own cleaning products and cosmetics and never eats anything that isn’t both organic and locally grown. Oh, and she speaks several languages and can play a musical instrument.

I am not that person. Not remotely. And she may not be at all the person God wants me to be. I am beginning to think that by striving so hard to be like that, I might be preventing myself from learning who God wants me to be. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those qualities (although taken as a whole she sounds a little insufferable, actually), or that I shouldn’t want to be more organized or disciplined or to get in shape or to learn French. But when I focus on trying to transform into that person, without consulting God on the matter, I am turning this ideal into an idol. Not to mention that this sort goal-oriented self improvement never works for me.

I have this idea in my head that if I can be all the good qualities in the world at once, I will be happy and perfect and who I’m supposed to be. But other than that being impossible, if that was what God really wanted he would have made us all the same. And he didn’t. Even the heroes of the Bible that are spoken of in the most glowing terms not only had weaknesses, but they also often had wildly different personalities; some bold, some timid, some patient, some impetuous. God made us different ways so he can use us in different ways, both in our unique strengths and our individual weaknesses. God shows himself at least as much, if not more, through our weaknesses.

Of course we should all desire to be more like him, but no one finite person can ever encompass the infinite. And instead of my choosing which qualities I think I should have to best reflect him, perhaps I should let him take care of that. Despite all the things I don’t particularly like about myself or wish were different, he made me like this for a reason. Some of my qualities he may use directly, some he may transform or change so that he can be glorified, and some I may just need to struggle with to learn a greater dependence on him. And I need to remember that he knew who I was supposed before I even existed:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”

-Psalm 139:13-16

Nothing about me is incidental or accidental. The is a purpose to even my deepest flaw and I have something to learn from everything about myself. Whether it is how to use a gift I have been ignoring or how to overcome an obstacle I have been dealing with my whole life, I am not meant just to toss aside my whole personality and attempt to remake myself in some image that I think is what would please God. That is me trying to control things again. There is nothing I can do to be more pleasing to God; he made me in the way that pleases him the most. Attempting to dictate that is the worst kind of arrogance. It is not for me to decide what God is to make of my life and my faith.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” – Ephesians 2:6

Pray for…yourself? July 20, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Heart Condition, Lies, Lifescripts, Personal, Prayer, Truth.
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It would be false to say that I do not pray very much. I pray quite often, in fact, and with great fervor. And yet I somehow manage to actually talk with God very little. My prayers are most often for other people, for my friends and family and others in this world who are troubled or hurt. When someone I care about is in pain, I hurt with them and I cry out to God their behalf. Many people think this is a great quality that I have, that it means I am compassionate and generous. But in reality it is more often a sign of my own weakness and fear.

I am not foolish enough to think prayer has no effect on God. Nor am I ridiculous enough to truly believe that God does not know others’ deepest needs and the ultimate path of their lives far better than I ever could. And yet in my prayers for others I so often outline to him specifically what I think that they need, or the way I want the situation to work out for them. What sounds so selfless and humble is, at the very heart, a selfish and prideful desire.

What I want is less the ultimate good of others and more for things to work out the way I think that they should, in a way that doesn’t threaten my view of how life should be. I want what I think is best for the people I care about and, thus, for myself. Because I am afraid of what will happen if things go differently than the way that I have in mind.  In my deepest heart, I rate my own judgment higher than God’s. I don’t trust the Creator of the Universe to work all things together for the good. I prefer to try and take control, even in my prayers.

It’s incredibly arrogant of me. Instead of simply, lovingly bringing their needs before the throne and asking God to give them whatever is best for them, I try to control the situation. I have the nerve to go up to God and essentially say “Okay, this is how I think you should handle this because my limited perceptions can’t see a better way to resolve it.” Ballsy, huh?

And of course, all this prayer and fretting over others is a fantastic way to avoid talking to God about my own set of problems, fears, and neuroses. Not that I never go to God on my own behalf, though. Actually, I am constantly asking him for things. Usually when I have a problem, or when I fear things aren’t going to happen the way that I want them to in my own life. But that’s just it. I am not really praying for myself. I am praying for things that I want – or don’t want. And there is a word of difference between the two.

I want my life to go on a certain way, with a minimum of pain and fear and discomfort. When something threatens that, I turn to God to fix it. But I don’t turn to him to fix me. I don’t bring my brokenness before him and ask for healing. I don’t admit that I can’t see a way out of my darkness and beg him to show me his path for me. And I certainly don’t ask him what he wants from me. I give him my laundry list and say “I want this or nothing”.

That is not true prayer. In fact, with the except of a few fleeting, glimmering moments of raw and brutal clarity in my lifetime where I have really spoken honestly and listened intently to God, I have almost never experienced true prayer. I’m not even sure I know how to go about finding it. The habit of controlling and pleading and trying to get what I want is so ingrained, and the great unknown of letting go and letting God work is so frightening. I have seen others pray honestly that God would do whatever he wanted with them, no matter the cost. The results are often terrifying.

And yet, in all my imperfect, self-centered prayers, I would also be arrogant to think that they were so flawed that even God could not use them. Part of finding the meaning of truly trusting him and truly opening up my heart in honest prayer is to believe that he can use even the most selfish, the poorest prayers I have to offer. Even when I come to Him out of fear and uncertainty, out of blatant self-interest, out of a desire for control and safety, I have to believe that he can make something of that. And maybe that is the first step along the path.

When Everything Feels Like a Struggle June 8, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Personal, Struggles.
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Last week I took a trip to the American southwest and spent some time in the desert. More on that later. The  trip itself was extremely complicated. It was a bit of a logistical nightmare, and in order for us to do the things we wanted to do in the time allotted many factors had to align properly. Some were within my control, but most weren’t (timing of flights, quality of directions to where we needed to get, driveability of roads to name a few). But everything went perfectly. There was barely a hiccup. Flights got in on time, connections were made, reservations were honored, campsites were even obtained in popular parks on Memorial Day Weekend. I couldn’t believe it.

I felt like the hand of God was on our trip. Like He was personally shepherding us on our way. And indeed it was a break that was sorely needed. While Christians tend to use “the desert” as a metaphor for a place of spiritual trial or torment, I found the actual desert to be refreshing physically, mentally, and spiritually. I hiked, I unwound from my stressful day job, and I spent a lot of time praying and talking to God and I felt like He taught me some important things on the trip. The vacation also renewed my bond with my husband and strengthened my marriage. Although it was difficult to come back to my life here I felt relaxed and at peace and grateful when I returned.

This week has been different. Even though its only Tuesday, it feels like the week should be over already. Everything feels like a struggle. Everything is difficult. When I speak, nothing comes out right. My actions are misinterpreted. The simplest task, whether at work or at home or in my relationships, becomes a monumental assignment with more problems and complications than I could ever have imagined. I send a simple work email and get an angry rant back. I open the fridge to get a drink and six things fall out. I sit down to read my Bible and suddenly there are 10 things the need my attention . A simple conversation begun in love turns into mutual hurt, guilt, and shame with no quick resolution.

On our trip everything made sense, everything was easy. I could put my life in perspective and feel like God was leading me somewhere I was supposed to be. This week I feel like I can’t find meaning, or joy,  in anything. I try to lift myself out of the 2-D world that I inhabit, where everything looks like lines and dots, into the third dimension so I can see the shapes and colors of the bigger picture but I just can’t manage it. It is frustrating, and in my frustration I make things even harder than they need to be.

My question then becomes: Is God with me any less this week than last week? Does the struggle of this spiritual desert negate the joy and closeness I felt when I was in the physical desert? Does the despair I feel today invalidate the hopefulness of last Tuesday? It sure feels like it sometimes. But in my heart I know that it is not true. There are many reasons to have a week like this – sheer coincidence, regular old emotional instability, attack from the enemy, lessons God wants me to learn. Or a combination thereof. But God promised not to leave me or forsake me, which means that no matter the cause or the reasons, He is at the center of it all. Instead of getting frustrated or allowing myself to feel ill-used, I need to find the place in all this where He is, and try to understand what I can learn from it, why I am reacting the way that I am, how I can move forward.

To live in the questions May 19, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Faith Journey, Nature of God, Personal, Questions.
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In church this past Sunday I took some time to pray during the final worship song, to try and shake off some strong reactions I felt at words the pastor had spoken which I had misinterpreted. As I bowed my head and tried to let go of my anger, I felt God speak to me: “Live in the questions”.

There are so many questions and the more I pursue God the more questions I find and the more heart-rending they become. I question the prevailing Christian culture, I question our interpretation of the Bible, I question evangelical doctrine. Some questions run too deep for me to even express them, taking only the form of a nagging, unsettled feeling. Others are all too well framed in my mind:

Why did God heal this person and not that person?

What is the place of evolution in God’s creation plan?

Does hell exist?

How much of the Bible is literal and how much is myth, allegory, or parable?

How should the church treat homosexuality?

Am I in the right job? The right state? What am I doing with my life?

And on and on in a never-ending torrent. Some of these questions I have very strong opinions about, but I would not dare to claim that I possess knowledge of God’s will on the matter. Some of them shake me to the core even to consider and lead to more questions, such as “Would I still be a Christian if I didn’t believe in hell?”.

So what does it mean to live in the questions? I’m not sure I know. I think it means that when I come to a place where there isn’t a clear answer that instead of striving so desperately against the uncertainty of it all, instead of allowing it to become a stumbling block which may batter and eventually break my faith, to simple remain in that uncertainty for awhile. Allow it to increase my faith and reliance on God. To remind me that God has the answers and that’s enough.

Because of all the questions I have and all the things I doubt, there are a few things I am sure of. That God is love. That His grace is enough to cover anything and everything. That He is strong enough to handle my questions and my doubts and my fears. And that He knows my questions before I ask and knows my heart even better than I do. And with those things in mind, the only conclusion I can come to is that my questions are as precious to Him as my faith.

For some questions I may just not be ready to hear the answer. For others, it may not be my answer to hear. The answer to some may be different for each person. And sometimes the answer may not be one thing or the other, but both together at the same time, because He is big enough for that. And some questions I may just have to live with my entire life.  But I cannot hurt God with my questions. Abiding in them, exploring them, wrestling with them, and offering them up can only draw me closer to God.

Because there is no need for faith when all is certain. If I think I know His will already then I have no reason to seek His face. And there is no room for courage to grow if there are no challenges or unknowns.  So I will try to learn to live in the questions, to treasure the ambiguity I have often feared and trust that if I truly need to know the answer to something I will have it at the right time.

This blog is about all those questions, especially the dangerous ones. It’s about my journey to find out who this God is for myself, not who other people or the church or the culture tell me He is.  And its about learning to treat the least among us, the abused and persecuted and neglected and oppressed, the way He would have us treat them.