Archives For identity

Sexual Sin and the Single

October 2, 2014

Somewhere in my mid-twenties virginity became a source of embarrassment for me, and I wasn’t surprised. I was one of few in my community (married or single) who had maintained that single shred of chastity. My married friends were procreating often enough that it was no secret who was having lots of sex. My single friends were confessing across coffee or at my kitchen table that they were sleeping with their significant others. Or rather, there was no sleeping happening, since there is no rest for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22). These girls and guys were eaten up with guilt. I honestly believe it was a combination of God’s grace and fear of guilt that kept my body covered. It’s not dignified, or admirable, but it’s the truth.

Keep reading here.

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Unchangeableness

September 29, 2014

When the sands beneath my feet shift and I fumble for nonexistent footing, when in every direction there is another soul to disappoint, another person to fail, another fear to face, this is when I need the unchangeableness of God.

I am no stranger to failure and no one sets the bar higher for me than I. My name means victor, or crowned with laurel, but I know the wreath will never set on my head. I’ve kicked it out of the way, refused to beat my body and bring it to submission, to run the race with endurance. I am a loser because I lost before I began.

This is my great sin. I give up. Give over. Give in.

I read in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction a few days ago,

The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data. But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us.

And in Somewhere More Holy this,

It’s a subtle poison that seeped into her skin, as it does many children. It’s acidic, etching into your mind: these good things are not yours to have. If anyone tells you what a fine job you’ve done, think instead on your failings. When someone gets angry at you, instinctively assume he is right to do so. If someone offers you love, remember that he doesn’t really know you. Maybe that’s what keeps so many of us running from God–His awful claim to know us, as he peers out from beneath his blood-stained brow, whisper with thirst-swollen tongue that he loves us even now, even as He hangs on his man-fashioned cross. We run away shaking our heads and bitterly chuckling, thinking nobody in his right mind can look into the black hearts we secretly carry in our chests and still love us that way, that we can be lovable only so long as nobody really knows us.

My pastor says it this way:

The enemy is telling you the truth about your sin, but you tell him the truth about your God.

Tonight I read in the book of Hebrews, a truth not about me—because all the things I believe about me fail me time and time again. Tonight I read of his unchangeableness:

In the same way God,
desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise
the unchangeableness of His purpose,
interposed with an oath,
so that by two unchangeable things
in which it is impossible for God to lie,
we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement
to take hold of the hope set before us.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul,
a hope both sure and steadfast
and one which enters within the veil,
where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us.
Hebrews 6:17-20

This is a race I gladly lose, a forerunner I gladly fall behind, and an anchor amidst the shifting sand.

After asking the questions (for research), “Can guys and girls be friends?” and then “Is it ever appropriate for the girl to initiate a date (or relationship)?” on social media, I wasn’t surprised at the barrage of opinions. We had PhDs discussing ancient Near-Eastern culture, husbands saying, “If my wife hadn’t initiated, we wouldn’t be married,” and wives saying, “We were friends for three years before I asked him to clarify—now we’re married.”

I’m going to save my main argument for later (so suspicious, I know), but in the meantime, I wanted to share this page from The Meaning of Marriage, by Tim and Kathy Keller. And also say this, I have utmost respect for the Kellers, not just as individuals, teachers, shepherds, but as a couple who is so obviously best friends with one another. They spar, they laugh, they interrupt, they cheer, they agree, they challenge. It’s a partnership of two great minds—and for a girl who is more often valued for her mind than anything I’d rather be valued for, their marriage is an encouragement to me.

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So if you’re a guy and you’re afraid of being friends with a girl because the following conversation might happen: let it happen. It’s good for the girl, and it’s even better for you, maybe considering her as more than a friend could result in a great marriage. All friendship is intrinsically based on attraction (even same gender friendships), so “I’m not attracted” is just the excuse you give when what you really mean is, “I can’t envision having sex with her.” So maybe get better vision. (That’s simplistic, I know. I promise I have seven gazillion google docs floating around right now with that unpacked a bit more.)

And if you’re a girl and you keep hanging around, hoping and hoping he’ll get the hint (because it’s so obvious to everyone else but him), have this conversation, or something like it. I’ve done it more than once and have no regrets. Sometimes it meant the end of our friendship, sometimes it meant we were able to get past The Question and become better friends, but maybe someday it will mean I’m the girl who is sharing the story about being friends and then being married. I hope so.

The page:

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Now is the time to rediscover the meaning of the local, and in terms of church, the parish. All churches are local. All pastoral work takes place geographically. ‘If you would do good,’ wrote William Blake, ‘you must do it in Minute Particulars.’ When Jonah began his proper work, he went a day’s journey into Nineveh. He didn’t stand at the edge and preach at them; he entered into the midst of their living – heard what they were saying, smelled the cooking, picked up the colloquialisms, lived ‘on the economy,’ not aloof from it, not superior to it.

The gospel is emphatically geographical. Place names – Sinai, Hebron, Machpelah, Shiloh, Nazareth, Jezreel, Samaria, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethsaida – these are embedded in the gospel. All theology is rooted in geography.

Pilgrims to biblical lands find that the towns in which David camped and Jesus lived are no better or more beautiful or more exciting than their hometowns.

The reason we get restless with where we are and want, as we say, ‘more of a challenge’ or ‘a larger field of opportunity’ has nothing to do with prophetic zeal or priestly devotion; it is the product of spiritual sin. The sin is generated by the virus of gnosticism.

Gnosticism is the ancient but persistently contemporary perversion of the gospel that is contemptuous of place and matter. It holds forth that salvation consists in having the right ideas, and the fancier the better. It is impatient with restrictions of place and time and embarrassed by the garbage and disorder of everyday living. It constructs a gospel that majors in fine feelings embellished by sayings of Jesus. Gnosticism is also impatient with slow-witted people and plodding companions and so always ends up being highly selective, appealing to an elite group of people who are ‘spiritually deep,’ attuned to each other, and quoting a cabal of experts.

The gospel, on the other hand, is local intelligence, locally applied, and plunges with a great deal of zest into the flesh, into matter, into place – and accepts whoever happens to be on the premises as the people of God. One of the pastor’s continuous tasks is to make sure that these conditions are honored: this place just as it is, these people in their everyday clothes, ‘a particularizing love for local thing, rising out of local knowledge and local allegiance.

From Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 128-130.

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It is not lost on me that the last of the fruits of the spirit mentioned is self-control. What I didn’t expect is that this would be the most difficult fruit for me to eat and also bear.

People are prone to affirmation when it comes to commentary on one’s goodness or their kindness, but rarely do I hear someone say, “Wow, your self-control is really stellar. You’ve got it going on in that department.”

Why?

Because you can’t see my self-control unless I give you opportunity and opportunities like that are few. Before you can see me exercise my will power you have to know that there’s a struggle of my wills.

And I don’t let people see those things.

We share about our lenten fasts and facebook fasts and coffee fasts, but what about the things I do in secret? At home alone? In the car when someone cuts me off? That stuff is not cool to share and I hide it at all costs.

Self-preservation is also a way of self-control, did you know that? We preserve self by controlling self–by being in charge of our actions to the bitter end. I choose to fast coffee. I choose when to exhibit my road rage. I choose to whom and when I let my mouth run aimlessly. So I am still controlling self, but I am not bearing fruit.

These days I am thinking about what compels me. Self-preservation has been the default mode for my entire life: how can I save self in this situation? How can I experience the least amount of pain and how can I control this situation in such a way that I will be seen as bearing fruit?

The more I experience the love of Christ, the more I find myself compelled by a different sort of control. And this is what I think Paul was talking about in Galations. He wasn’t preaching a white-knuckled tumble into heaven, making it there on the merit of our good works and will-power. He was saying get the Spirit and you’ll bear the fruit. Trees don’t white knuckle their way into bearing fruit, the fruit is the natural effect of a healthy tree.

When Jesus said “I’m giving you the Holy Spirit and he’ll guide you into all truth,” he wasn’t providing a warden to keep us in bounds. He was saying, “Hey, listen, all the truth is a lot of truth and I know you can’t do it on your own. I don’t want you to do it on your own. I want you to have a fully compelling, fully inhabitant spiritual force behind your every action. I want to give you something so that you’re reminded that gritting your teeth and bearing it, doesn’t produce lasting fruit.”

There is nothing self-induced about self-control. There is nothing self-controlling about self-control.

There is life in the Spirit and a sweet surprising love that rises up within us and empowers us to do what is most natural to us: bear fruit.

Liberty for All

July 23, 2014

My family isn’t from America. We’re Scotch-Irish. Family crests tattooed on flesh, bagpipes at weddings, hot tempers, strong drinks, and my older brother wore a kilt to his wedding: that kind of Scotch-Irish. I expect my ancestors were the sort coppers in the 19th century had their eyes on. We had the sort of Scotch-Irish lore that birthed a quiet pride in us all. We are Ferguson-Bradys, through and through.

I grew up outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, though, where we watched reenactments of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas, toured Valley Forge more times than I can remember, and the Liberty Bell was a familiar sight. We were Americana Americans. But as much as I felt like an American, I also knew I wasn’t this kind of American.

I am not of the colonial Americans; I am of the immigrant kind.

When this realization came upon me, I began to feel a somewhat deeper kinship with places like Ellis Island than I did with the statue of William Penn peeking above the rooftops in downtown Philly. Whether my ancestors came through Ellis Island didn’t matter to me, the reality was that I was of another place. William Penn was not mine in the same way those bedraggled masses filing through ports in New York City were mine.

Whenever I read the words of Emma Lazarus in her poem, The New Colossus, affixed to the Statue of Liberty, a small sob catches in my throat and an overwhelming gratitude fills my heart.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I am more of Lady Liberty than I will ever be of William Penn. I am a sojourner in a country that is not my home. But even more than that, I am a spiritual sojourner in a land not my own, I am tired and poor, yearning to breath free, tempest-tossed, and more. My haven is secure and the same invitation is to everyone.

Right now we have thousands of children crossing into our borders. Escaping poverty, violence, corruption, and danger in their homeland. They are six and seven years old, some are sixteen and seventeen. They seek a haven and we all want to pull out our constitution, talk about borders and control, and how many of us have read the book of Exodus recently? Or Hebrews? Or, goodness gracious, Revelation?

Brothers and sisters, we cannot look too far behind us before we come against a father or mother in our lineage who came to America looking for a better life. Did they get one right away? I don’t know. They might have been Irish immigrants, like mine, angry and drunkards. But those immigrants fathered me and they might have fathered you. Even if you can trace your lineage to colonial America, think of what they escaped and why the Declaration of Independence and Constitution was written?

Think, then, of looking toward your heavenly country, the better kingdom. This world, this new world, America, land of opportunity and middle class and welfare and democracy, it isn’t home, so do not treat it as such. Not for you immigrant, son of Heaven.

liberty

The Loser’s Circle

July 9, 2014

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We’ve known each other since high-school. She the pretty and popular one, I the frumpy and foolish one. She laughs large and lives large and everything she does is punctuated by drama and publicity. We were opposites and friends. Our friendship ebbed and flowed through the years; we have never been close, but we’ve always had a pulse on the other’s life, known a bit of their struggles and joys. We’ve wept and laughed together and occasionally been angry with one another. I love her.

We’ve shared something, too, that united us in more ways than one. There was a pattern that every time I liked a guy, she liked him too. The difference between us was that the guys liked her back. As soon as I knew I would have to compete with her for their attention, I stepped back, gave up. I knew I couldn’t win. And indeed haven’t. She dated the guys I liked, and eventually married one, while I just watched, my heart mourning in silent.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

My name means Laurel Crowned, or Victor, so you would think competition would be normal and natural to me. I am built of candoitiveness and a serious determination to never fail. But whenever countered, I become a palms-up, shrugged-shoulders, give-over sort of loser. The victor who is happy to come in last.

For a long time I thought this was because The First Shall Be Last and other proof-texts we use to make the good guys still feel good, but I’m coming to see it for what it is: pride. The girl who doesn’t mind coming in last doesn’t mind as long as someone crowns her Victor of Coming in Last.

But there is a kind of losing that can put you in the winner’s circle too.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

There’s a new ad circulating called Like a Girl. Whatever you think about the ad or a culture that encourages girls to be like boys, there’s one line in it that gives me chills: “I run like a girl because I am a girl,” and then she knocks it out of the park.

What she is saying is not that she loses to what she is, but that she relinquishes the demand on her to be like something she is not. She is a girl and so she runs like one—and she runs fast and free, unbridled by stereotypes and caricatures. She is herself.

The other night a group of friends and I stayed up too late for a bunch of 30 somethings. We talked about personality types and calling, and one commented that too often we want to be something we are not: the introvert wants to be the extrovert and the thinker wants to be the funny one, and so on. That wasn’t me though. I have never wanted to be the opposite of me. I just want all these knots and knolls in my heart to be better, faster, stronger. For most of my life that meant I competed against myself, but within the gospel’s context, I simply want to be conformed to the likeness of Christ—to proclaim Him just as He made me.

Christ didn’t make me my high-school friend and he didn’t make me a fast runner or an extrovert. He knit me together with these gifts and proclivities, these inclinations and drives, this body and these ideas. Those were his gifts to me and it’s not losing to be them, fully and wholly conforming to him as I embody his image.

When I lose to the world’s expectations of me, I win to Christ’s design for me.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9:24-27

The Landlord

July 3, 2014

Someone told me some counsel they’d received was to not make a habit of renting to single women. Why? Because they don’t always call when something goes wrong. Many just let it fester until it’s unfixable. I haven’t stopped thinking about what he said. It wasn’t an accusation, it was a commentary, but it’s a commentary I find telling. It’s a reflection of a heart-problem, not a laziness problem.

I was called the The Responsible One yesterday. But I haven’t felt responsible in a year or more. I’m backtracking and highlighting and caveating and trying to figure out where I misplaced responsibility.

This past week I’ve had to make some phone calls to leaders in my life. They’ve been humbling phone calls, not because I met with criticism or disdain, but because I’ve had to say over and over again: I do not know best for my life and I should have come to you before making decisions instead of after. I had been looking for their approval rather than their counsel—and that is not the mark of The Responsible One. That is a single woman who lets a problem fester because she doesn’t believe people want to hear her pestering about broken faucets and broken feelings.

I woke up this morning thinking about responsibility and sonship. Responsibility is simply knowing what needs to be done and taking the proper steps to getting it done. But what about when you can’t make yourself feel something? Even if it’s true?

For four years God has been bringing the doubters and ye-of-little-faithers into my life. They believe they were created to be a vessel of wrath, that they’re a jar too broken to be useful again, that God has not chosen them before the foundation of the earth, or that He has sprinkled fairy dust on the heads of others but never on them. No matter how long I listen or talk or hear or preach, I can’t make someone feel something they don’t feel. And I know how that feels.

No matter how much leaders in my life take my face in their hands and tell me they love me, they want to lead me, I disbelieve them. It’s the same with God. I’m a hurried and harried kid, sweeping up the messes of other’s lives and my own too, hoping he’ll condescend to give me the scraps from the table. I feel undeserving and the truth is, I am.

But the Father is the landlord. He owns the house and the body, he owns my heart and my home. And it’s his Son’s job to be The Responsible One. And His Son already has been. My only job is to inhabit what he has given me to inhabit: my heart and his home. And to live there like He owns it and He loves to care for it. He loves to fix the leaky faucets and the broken unfeeling hearts. And he loves to employ the services of his people on earth to help care for me while I inhabit this tent. He gave those leaders to me to lead me. As I approach them with confidence, my heart grows in confidence of His care for me. He designed it like that.

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This video is making the rounds on the internets today. N.T. Wright’s thoughts on same-sex marriage are spot on, biblical, and refreshingly God-centered. I’ve said this before, but I think when we go right to the issue of homosexual behavior being a sin, we muddy the waters from the get go. Is it a sin? Yes. But so is gossip and divorce and lust and unbelief and so much more.

The Christian blogosphere expends so much energy on the ins and outs and details of rights and sins and loves and politics. I earnestly believe that we need to constantly back way, way up, back to Genesis 1, before the creation of man and woman, before sin entered the world, and look at God’s cosmic design for creation and his kingdom. Marriage between same genders becomes a non-issue at that point.

N.T. Wright says it better.

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It’s been a season where I have hesitated to write about singleness for obvious reasons. But Tim Challies linked to this post this morning and I wanted to comment on it briefly.

First read the post on how to make your wife more beautiful.

Now, let me say that a woman who is fully loved by her husband is markedly different than a woman who is not, or does not feel loved by him. We all know both women, and there is a definite glow and confidence in a woman who feels the security of her one-woman man.

That said, I worry about the message this sends to unmarried women, particularly those of you who are in your thirties and beyond. Shakespeare said it best “Age, with his stealing steps, Hath clawed me in his clutch.” We cannot stop the inevitable blurring of our birth year behind us and the empty grave in front of us. For a single woman aging feels achingly more hopeless than for a single man as he ages. Every month we watch our fertility fade and the crows-feet crowd in. We feel less beautiful as each day goes on.

On top of that, there is rarely someone tending to the garden of our souls. There isn’t someone delighting in us, in every curve and nuance, every idiosyncrasy, speaking to fears and sheltering us in times of question. The lack of these things begin to eat at the blossom that bloomed in our twenties, and soon the withering comes.

If you know a single woman (and you all do), take a few moments today and encourage her inner beauty. Comment on her character and your hopes for it. Speak to her fears and lead her to the cross. Affirm her good desire to be married,  speak highly of your own marriage, and assure her of her eternal position within the Bride of Christ. And practically: serve her. Nothing makes me feel more cherished as a woman than a brother who notices and serves my sisters and me.

We should desire for the whole bride of Christ, not just the women, or just the married women, to be beautiful. Proclaim the manifold wonder of what the gospel has done in our lives and how it has transformed us.

That is true beauty.

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Church, wo[men] are staying single longer and longer, remember to include singles in your ‘biblical [wo]manhood’ narrative. It’s not a mark of deficiency or a blemish to be single—but it can feel like it in the somewhat glaring omissions. Paul said singleness was good. I think singleness is good. Many singles LOVE their singleness. Give us land to till.
—Thoughts tweeted by me this morning.

Church, here’s how you can give singles land to till:

1. Stop expecting them to have more time/money than marrieds. I understand we often do, but if we’re taking seriously the radical gift of singleness today, we’re going to have less, not more. We’re going to be crafting a lifestyle that isn’t making the stuff of earth our great treasure. Stop giving big discounts to married couples for conferences and leaving the singles to pay more. It legitimizes the feeling that we’re less, not more and yet have more, not less. An unmarried person who truly is caring for the things of the Lord will have pockets inside out spending their time and finances on Kingdom things.

2. Don’t assume that because we haven’t experienced marriage we don’t have good things to teach married persons. The true aim of a disciple is to live a life submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Though submission for a married person looks different than an unmarried person, trust me here, unmarried persons should be (and are) practicing submission in a more universal way. That’s a pulpit worth sharing. While we in the modern Church spend most of our listening time hearing from marrieds, it’s worth noting that Christ was single, and Paul seemed to have been. Be careful to not equate marriage with maturity.

3. Do you know unmarried people who want to be married? Who feel their ministry would be strengthened and better within the context of marriage? Help them. Help them, Church. In the absence of singles ministries or a place for singles to meet and mingle, they’re going to go outside the Church to find partners. God help us, and they do. Nearly every one of my single friends is on some online dating service. I’m not knocking the tool, but it seems to me that we are doing singles a great disservice to not provide a context for singles to meet one another. Small groups don’t work because by their very nature, they’re small and the pool is usually limited to less than five other singles. Don’t be afraid of matchmaking or thinking strategically about potential couples. Help them.

4. Reframe your idea of biblical womanhood and manhood again and again and again until what you actually have is a biblical believer in Christ Jesus. Until we have human flourishing at the base of our teachings on roles, we will bang our heads against this wall. The aim is never to be a biblical woman or man, it is to preach Christ crucified by living a life fully crucified to our flesh, submitting all rights, nailing autonomy to the Cross: that is the true role of biblical men and women, married or unmarried.

A few nights ago I sat on the corner of our couch, faced my friend, and wept. Hot, sad, gross tears. The sort that feel shameful even as they fall from your face because you know they’re selfish—but you can’t change the hurt, the wounding you feel. The injustice of pain.

Whenever I hear even whispers of any sort of prosperity gospel—that if we do righteous acts, God will respond with righteous acts—my skin crawls with the falsity of it. But I cannot help the sneaking presence of it in my heart, even on my best day, especially on my best day.

I did this and this is how you repay me, Lord? I was faithful. I was righteous. I was long-suffering. I was. I am. And you are what? Where? Where are you?

Tonight I’m thinking of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and of entering into Christ’s sufferings. I’m thinking of the agony of the garden, those last moments when Jesus asked His brothers: can’t you even for one minute stay with me? Stay with me. Be with me here. In my last moments? In my sufferings? There’s a part of me that just longs to be there, in that place, with Christ. I am like the child in the back of the classroom waiting to be picked, the woman with the issue of blood pressing through the crowds, Peter stepping out of the boat onto the water—begging to be let into what He’s doing—even in His sufferings.

But when I taste those sufferings, oh, how I blanche. How I balk. How I complain. How I fear. How I demand.

Many people can’t handle a God who would slay, but tonight I know that even in the midst of the slaying, He is a staying God. Even when I leave, He follows through. When I fear, He stands on. When I barter and cajole and beg and plead, He offers without cost, without money. He slays so He can heal.

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A month ago today was to be my wedding day.

I was never the girl pouring over scrapbooks of wedding ideals or scrawling my crush’s names in margins on notebooks, I am far too pragmatic for such things. I wore a ring and I planned a wedding.

But today I am not wearing a ring and passed through March 16 with one long sigh and then sleep.

I suppose sometime the shame will lift, the feeling of failure will abate, the questions I ask of God and myself will be quelled. But for today they hang heavy, shrouding all of me. I am strangely okay with the hiddenness of today—though I long for the joy that comes in the morning.

He must increase, I must decrease.

. . .

Sayable has always been a place of vulnerability and transparency. If you know me in flesh, you know I am no over-sharer—quite the opposite, I must be mined for information. But here, on Sayable, I have no shame, or haven’t. The whole point of Sayable is to say; yet the past months have been a time of shame, fear, questions, and quiet, and this has bled into all my writing, especially here.

Some say, “No need to go public,” and some argue, “No one needs to know anyway!” But this past week I read yet another account of a man fallen from ministry and think to myself, “If we cared less about what people thought, and more about ministering through our weaknesses, I wonder if we’d ever get so high we had a place to fall from?”

The thing about ministering through weakness is you have to go straight through it, diving, like the poet Adrienne Rich said, into the wreck. But diving through and into is painful and revealing and I’m afraid I may still fall in the meantime.

There is no great theology to be found in the todaying of my life. It is the punctualness of my inner clock, waking to the same shame and sadness, the fear that because God is enough, all I ever get will be God—and will He be enough? Really enough? I know He will be, but if I don’t ask the question, I won’t remember the answer four-hundred times a day, and I need to remember the answer.

What is diving if not one long fall? Knowing I am caught and held, amidst the wreckage, among the damage, to find the treasure.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
Adrienne Rich

Grumbling & Complaining

April 5, 2014

My heart has been a grumbling one recently. I could give you a few reasons I think why my grumbling is necessary or warranted, but the truth is that even talking about those situations would invite more grumbling.

People talk about it being necessary to say how we feel, but I usually think there is more merit to say less about how we feel, and more about who God is in spite of our feelings. Disagree or not, I don’t think the Bible makes a case for us to all sit around and talk about our feelings to one another.

Paul, however, does have something to say about grumbling. In his letter to the Philippians, he says:

Do all things without grumbling or complaining, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Philippians 2:14

Do: It’s an action word. Often we want to passively let the disciplines of the Christian life just happen to us. But Paul is saying, no friends, you gotta do this. It’s not going to happen without some elbow grease.

All: It’s an encompassing word. It’s inclusive, including all things. Not just hard things or bad things, but good things and seasonal things. It means in every situation—hard or not—this verse applies.

Things: It’s a noun. A person, place, or thing—which, I’ll betcha is where most of your grumbling is directed. Who’s bothering you? Where is it hard to be? What is rubbing against you in a difficult way? That’s exactly the thing Paul’s talking about.

Without: It means an absence of. It means no sign of, zero, zilch, none. There shouldn’t even be a hint of this in your life.

Grumbling: Murmuring, even under our breath, to ourselves. This is what grumbling is. It’s preaching a gospel, a false gospel, to ourselves about ourselves. It’s heresy—the opposite of good news.

Or: I like this “or” right here because I’m usually guilty of one of these, but not the other. I don’t know about you. I usually think it’s okay to grumble to myself, even if I don’t complain to others. But Paul is saying, nope, neither is okay.

Complaining: Sounding off, letting off steam, gossip, sometimes even “asking for prayer about this particular situation”—these can all lend to complaining. Is there some situation of discomfort in your life? Seek encouragement from others, but don’t let it terminate on idle negative talk.

I’m challenged by all those words today. Challenged to shut my mouth, even if it means awkward silence around others. Challenged to guide my heart, even if it means I don’t get to entertain or indulge my thoughts toward another person or situation.

Let’s hold fast to the word of life—Christ’s words and what they offer—for they far outweigh our momentary grumbling or complaining.