Solitary Leaning ~

I have learned to enjoy the solitary work of writing.  I never know the direction the process is going to take me and sometimes . . . this may sound a little weird but . . .  sometimes I feel like I am the little dot on an Etch-A-Sketch screen.  I usually start out with an idea or two, but as I get busy writing I many times hit a dead-end.  I struggle with many “false starts” as I back up, re-think the direction I want to go, and try again.  It can be very frustrating and sometimes even painful when I find myself banging my head against a wall of frustration wondering, “How on earth did I get here?!!”  It is then that I remember and turn back to quickly pray, “Lord . . . help! ”   Invariably, every post turns into a treasure hunt as I re-enter the writing process prayerfully seeking His perspective as I write.

Over time I have learned to recognize the value of prayer in solitude – what I refer to as “solitary leaning”– as the key piece that makes whatever we face truly meaningful and productive.

Life is hard; but God is good and ready to meet us at our point of need.  He calls us to enter intimate solitude with Him throughout Scripture.  I love how Psalm 100:3-5 takes our focus off ourselves as we lean into Him as “the sheep of His pasture”:

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is He who made us, and we are His;
    we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

 Enter His gates with thanksgiving
    and His courts with praise;
    give thanks to Him and praise His name.
 For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
    His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Are you struggling with fear?  Do you doubt His goodness because of things you regret?  Have you suffered a recent loss that has taken your breath away?  God calls us in whatever state we are in to:

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10)

To “be still, and know” is His call to solitary leaning.  It is an invitation to surrender fear and doubt and the pain of loss as we trust in Him.

In my last post, I wrote about the difference between loneliness and solitude.  The core of loneliness is rooted in our God-given yearning for companionship.  In Genesis 2:18 God made Eve for Adam because, “It’s not good for man to be alone.”  The problem with loneliness arises when we become increasingly self-focused in bitterness and despair and, in the end, abandon God.

The beautiful thing about solitude for Christians is that when we lean into Him through our prayers and look to the Scriptures, we discover a waiting Shepherd ready to meet us at our point of need.  That is what I love about the word-picture in Isaiah 30 that encourages us in our failures to solitary leaning on the Shepherd of our souls:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for Him!  (Verse 18)

Such solitary leaning is a necessity in our creativity as well as in facing trials, grieving losses and remembering above all else, His faithfulness.   I find working in my garden or curling up in a corner working on my Journey Notes to be special places to lean.  Sometimes I actually enjoy being alone in a crowd, when I can sit to the side of all of the activity and just take everything in.  How about you?  Do you have a favorite time or place that you find especially conducive to do some solitary leaning?

All to His Glory!

 

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The Problem With “Normal”

No matter how old I get, I never cease to be amazed by how God uses the ordinary things in life to teach extraordinary truths.   Many years ago, God used a conversation with a 15-year old French teenager named Florain to challenge my thinking.  Florian lived with us for a month one summer as part of a student exchange program.   During that time, I remember struggling to keep our family afloat by avoiding confrontation with our two very “normal” teenaged daughters and preteen son.  Why I said “yes” to having one more teenager live in our home remains a mystery to me, but I’m so glad I did!

When Florian joined our family,  he was appreciative of our hospitality and set about fitting in right away.  There were a lot of activities with our church youth group Florian enthusiastically attended with our daughters.   I suppose that is why, after living with us for about two weeks, a conversation I had with him so powerfully captured my attention.  He began our conversation with a question:

“Why are American teens so rude to their parents?”

(Bear in mind, the only American teens Florian got to know that summer were our teens and their youth group friends!)   I don’t remember how I responded except that I probably made the excuse that they were just “normal” teenagers.  It was Florian’s response that rattled and challenged me to check the basis of my beliefs with the wisdom and perspective of Scripture.  This is a paraphrase of what he said as he carefully chose English words to express what was on his troubled French heart:

 “Me and my friends, we don’t treat our parents that way.  We are taught to be respectful of our parents and elders.  We would never display such rudeness to our parents the way American teens do.  I do not understand why they are allowed to do that!”

I was stunned!  Here was a young man who came from a culture that was notoriously perceived as rude and arrogant by my culture, expressing shock and amazement at the arrogance of teens in our culture!  Huh?!!  It took me a while to realize how my acceptance of the cultural view of teens as rebellious and rude actually encouraged such behavior!   This revelation took me back to the basics of what I believe to help me figure out how to love my teens better.  It was through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit working in my heart that freed us to:

  1. Talk about sin as being rebellion against God- “sin is lawlessness.”  (1 John 3:4)
  2. We talked about our need for redemption and God’s faithful provision- “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 3:22b-24)
  3. From that point on we called sin what God says it is- Sin!  What we maybe tempted to excuse as “normal” does not diminish the consequences of sin before a Holy God.
  4.  We also took more seriously His commandment to love- “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.”  (I Peter 1:22)

This brings me to the problem Christians must face today:  When we blindly accept what is deemed culturally “normal,” we set aside the blessing and protection given us by God in the Bible.  Sadly, by doing this we are every bit as vulnerable to the problems that plague the rest of culture!   In addition, there is no place for faith in this secular normalcy.  As time passes and “the separation of church and state” dictate the unacceptability of prayer in the public realm, can there really be any question as to the direction secular standardization is taking us?

This morning I was struck by Jesus warning to not be lulled into the seemingly “normal” routine of life.  Jesus knew His arrest was about to occur as He challenged His disciples to watch for His second coming.   What was chilling to me was in how He tied what was “normal” in the days before Noah completed construction of the ark to what would occur at His second coming:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  (Matthew 24:37-39)

When we lose sight of the spiritual truths given us in the Bible (or remain ignorant of them) it becomes very easy to slide into eating, drinking and marrying with no thought of what is to come.   God gave us His Living Word to bless and keep us on His path of righteousness.   If you recognize that you too have been serving the lie of normalcy (whatever that may be) I urge you to go to God in repentance and faith in His Only Son.  Give thanks for His forgiveness as you stay close to Him through His Spirit and the Scriptures and as He blesses you with an extraordinary life!

All to His Glory!

Discouragement ~

Why is it that discouragement and loneliness seem to invariably go together?  There is not a person living on this planet who has not experienced discouragement, but somehow when it hits you personally it feels like you are totally alone.   My purpose in writing this is to offer some words of hope and direction to those of you who are feeling alone in your struggle with discouragement, fear, uncertainty or (you name it).   To begin, here is my little “woe is me” story that has been developing recently:

A few months ago I found out that there is actually a reason why I have had numerous lung infections throughout my lifetime– a weird lung.   (That’s not the medical name of course but I’m trying to keep this short for all our sakes.  Besides, would “pulmonary sequestration” really tell you anything?!!)   I talked to several doctors, read as much as I could to find out about it online and prayed.  Medical protocol recommends removing it because of the pneumonia susceptibility as well as a concern that it could turn into some sort of cancer.   It wasn’t an easy decision, but with the hope of not having to do battle with pneumonia anymore, I finally consented and had the surgery done five and a half weeks ago.

My recovery was slow but God surrounded me with family and friends who were incredibly supportive.  I am grateful to report that the surgical site has healed nicely and I continue to count my blessings each day except for one thing . . . I have pneumonia!  Apparently I have had it since my surgery, but thinking that the symptoms were tied to having half of my lung removed I just kept plugging away at what I could do and rested in between.   To be honest, I was feeling guilty for even feeling discouraged because I know so many people who have far greater problems than I do.  Finally, to cap it all off, this morning when I woke up still coughing and feeling lousy I got pretty snippy with my husband who has been wonderfully kind and caring through this whole process.   Boy did I feel low!

After apologizing to my husband for my bad attitude I felt better.  Then it seemed like out of nowhere, the words from Psalm 46 came to my mind, reminding me to trust God more (and my feelings less) with challenges large and small.  I love Psalm 46 because it acknowledges the very real dangers we face living on this earth, while establishing that God is both Sovereign (Ruler over all) and Good:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
 
There is a river whose streams make glad the City of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us” the God of Jacob is our fortress.
 
Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
He burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God:
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.


What I believe God reminded me of in my discouragement is that storms come and go in life, but no matter what we may face, God calls us to trust Him as our sure shelter.  This call is repeated by Jesus in Matthew 11 as He called on those who are discouraged.

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Verses 28-30)

Facing discouragement and loneliness?  The invitation couldn’t be clearer: “Come” . . . “be still and know”. . . and “find rest for your souls.”

All to His Glory!