Monthly Archives: September 2021

Give Up or Go On?


One Sunday morning after worship, I held the door from the sanctuary to the lobby open for a friend.  She hesitated before coming through the door and then explained that she waited to make sure no one was coming around the corner.  Her comment made sense considering she uses a cane and therefore needs to be a bit cautious.  I told her that I understood because we have a swinging door between our kitchen and dining room and that I almost got hit by the door the other day when one of the kids came through it as I was about to go through it on the opposite side at the same time.  This has always been a potential problem in our home.  “You could just take it off the hinges,” she said with a smile.  I was surprised by those words because that had never occurred to me in almost fifteen years living in our house. While I don’t anticipate taking the door down, I was struck by the fact that I’d never even considered her suggested approach.     

I was with my writing group this summer when one of my friends said that she thought I give up too easily.  The minute the words came out of her mouth, I knew she was right.  I take rejection hard.  If an agent doesn’t like my manuscript and makes suggestions, I’ll try to make revisions.  Then I’ll send the manuscript out again a few times, but if the rejections continue, I’ll usually put the piece in a drawer assuming that if a small number of agents don’t like it, then all will hate it.  I don’t send it out over and over like some of the greatest writers in history.  No, I give up and move on to another project.  The door slams in my face, and I walk away.  I don’t continue to knock on the door, and never once have I thought so far out of the proverbial box that I’ve figured out a way to take the door off the hinges to get through the publishing maze.  

Sometimes in life it’s hard to know when to keep trying, to continue banging on the door of opportunity, or when it’s time to quit and move on to another season, project, or phase.  For someone who craves certainty, deciding whether to grind it out or abandon the fight is much more abstract than I’d like.      

Unfortunately, God doesn’t typically provide clear indications of when to start and stop.  Even when we pray in earnest, God’s thoughts on the matter may not be obvious to us.  Frustration and confusion may ensue when we don’t know whether to keep up the pursuit.  Because we know how Biblical stories turn out, I tend to forget that there are numerous instances in the Bible in which God’s people experienced long waits, in which they probably wanted to give up.  The Israelites spent forty years wandering until they got to the land promised them.  David was on the run for his life even after he’d been chosen as the future king of Israel.  Throughout their ordeals, though, God stayed with them.  God never abandoned them.  

And that is what I must remember: in a time of searching and waiting and deciding whether to stay the course or move onto something new, God is with me.  God is with us.  God doesn’t leave us or withdraw from us.  We must continue to pray and pursue God and have faith that we will know when it is time to act or refrain or bust down the door.  But in the meantime, we must rest in the comfort that God will be with us as we seek discernment.  God is present in the process, today and always.      

Believe Them


As our nation commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, I listened to person after person tell their stories on television, social media, and in one-on-one conversations.  Everyone who was alive on that awful day knows exactly where they were when the events unfolded, what they did, and how they felt.  In listening to these stories, I realized that while we all experienced the same events, the depths of our experiences varied significantly.  

I relived my own memories of watching the towers fall on television while working at the federal courthouse in St. Louis.  My husband and I waited in line that afternoon so I could give blood, only to learn later that there wasn’t much need for blood.  We joined our church family that night to pray and be in community to help ease the terror and uncertainty we felt.  While I don’t normally compare one person’s pain to another’s, in these circumstances, I knew that my pain paled in comparison to many others.  Then and twenty years later, I ached for the people who died, for those who escaped from the buildings, those who lost loved ones in the disaster, the children who never knew their fathers.  Their heartbreaking experiences filled me with grief.  

Because we lived through the events together as a collective, we all experienced some level of pain.  And we easily believe others when they tell us their stories of 9/11 and the depth of their pain.  Unfortunately, sometimes we tend to discount others’ pain when we haven’t experienced similar circumstances.  When someone tells us of their experience with racism or sexism or other prejudice, we may not believe the person if we have not endured that type of injury.  We may discount another’s pain when they tell us about a rejection they endured if they’re younger than us or if we don’t think the matter was as important as they did.  

Sociologist Brené Brown said, “In order to empathize with someone’s experience you must be willing to believe them as they see it and not how you imagine their experience to be.”  We need to resist the urge to think “it wasn’t that bad” or “they shouldn’t be that upset” when people trust us enough to share their pain.  Jesus commanded, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).  We never doubt the depth or breadth of our own pain.  And so, if we are to love others as we love ourselves, this love should include the acknowledgement of our neighbor’s pain as they experience it.  

Thankfully, we don’t have to experience the same pain as another to support and empathize with them, we just need to believe them when they tell us about their pain. God believes us when we tell God about our pain.  When we believe others, we not only connect more strongly with them, but we also follow God’s command to love his people.  

Appreciate Our People


I stopped to get a drink at Sonic one morning and offered my server a small tip.  He said, “I appreciate you.”  His response caught me off guard.  He hadn’t said “I appreciate it,” meaning the money or even the act of tipping.  His turn of phrase made me sit up straighter in my car and smile.  Basically, he’d made my day.  His words were still on my mind when a few days later after Sunday lunch, my mother-in-law said, “I’m so grateful for you.”  She gave me this compliment freely and out of the blue, and I felt valuable and worthy as a result.  Obviously, she knows me well, so her comment carried more weight.  But the sentiment of the two was similar because they focused their words of appreciation on me, as an individual. 

Many times, when we thank a person, it is completely right and appropriate to concentrate on their actions.  The Sonic server could’ve thanked me for giving the tip, and I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.  Of course, we should thank people when they do something for us.  But when we constantly thank people for their actions, our gratitude may appear transactional, not relational.  Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to separate who a person is from their actions because their actions are an outgrowth of who they are.  However, if our coworkers, family members, or friends think we care for them only because of what they can do for us, we may diminish our relationships with them, especially with those closest to us.  Love and gratitude cannot be rooted only in the things one does for another.  

In letters to several churches, Apostle Paul told the congregants that he thanked God for them.  In Philippians, Paul wrote, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3).  What a beautiful sentiment that a person would thank God every time another person crossed their mind.  But even Paul occasionally fell into the trap of linking his gratitude to actions.  In some of his letters, Paul said that he thanked God for the people because of their faith.  In his letter to Rome, Paul wrote, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world” (Romans 1:8).  When we tie our gratitude to actions, even acts of faith, our love may seem a bit conditional.

God’s love for us is unconditional. God loves us for who we are, not what we do.  While God may be more or less pleased with us depending on how we act or what we say, he doesn’t stop loving us based on our actions or how small our measure of faith may be on any given day.  Even though God appreciates our acts of service, his love is not based on what we do for him.  God is pleased that we are who we are, who he created us to be.

Let’s certainly thank others for what they do.  Let’s applaud them when they do well.  But let’s remind our people that we love them and are grateful for them simply because they exist in our world.  We build others up when we express our gratitude and love for who they are, not merely what they do, and we demonstrate a small bit of God’s infinite love for them at the same time.  

Shift Our Perspective


Earlier this summer, we were lounging beside the pool when my seventeen-year-old daughter Riley suggested we get in the water.  She wanted to sit on the steps in the shallow end.  But when I looked at that portion of the pool, I saw young mothers crowding the steps to watch their babies and toddlers splash around.  I told Riley that I would get in the pool but declined to occupy the steps.  I’d done my time in the shallow end.  I’d sat on those steps for years.  Not that I didn’t enjoy the time when my children were small, but I felt relieved that we were beyond that period as a family, especially with respect to the summer season.  

When my kids were little, I experienced a great deal of anxiety during the summer months.  Elementary school was out for the oldest ones, routine disappeared, and with four kids, I usually had a baby or toddler under foot as well. I worried about keeping the kids entertained and engaged, so I arranged swim lessons and numerous day camps that kept us on the move.  I didn’t understand the mothers who simply adored the summer and wrote about that love on social media.  They lamented summer’s end while I rejoiced to see the school supplies arrive in stores.    

But then, a few years ago, my perspective shifted.  I’m not exactly sure what happened.  Maybe it was because all my children were getting older, and no longer needed constant monitoring.  They could entertain themselves.  Maybe it was because all my kids learned to swim, so I didn’t have to hover as much at the pool.  Maybe it was partly because Covid shut everything down, including all day camps, and so we had to be more flexible and go with the flow.  But at some point, I started to relax.  I didn’t feel the need to fill every minute with activities.  I began to understand the other mothers who craved summertime and wished for it to continue indefinitely.  I felt calmer and began to thoroughly enjoy summer with my kids.

We can’t always pinpoint a moment when our perspectives shift because it usually involves a process.  At times, God asks us to engage in the process of change too.  God may want us to reevaluate our views or open our minds to new ways of looking at situations.  When I was younger, I held different beliefs about numerous things, including matters of spirituality and religion.  But as I grew up, matured, moved to new places, and met a variety of people, I also experienced new understandings about God.  I learned that my comprehension of God and the Bible was not the only way to interpret matters of faith.  Everything was not as black and white as I thought.  Different churches, educated clergy, and social justice advocates within religious denominations don’t always agree.    

As someone who likes rules and knowing what to do in all circumstances, I had to shift my perspective about faith.  I came to accept that we will not understand everything about God and that is okay.  Faith is not a math equation.  The writer of Ephesians said, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19).  Developing a relationship with God, learning more about the character of God, and understanding better God’s desire for us is a process.  A process in which God reveals himself continually so that we may know him better.  We must pray that we keep the eyes of our heart open to who God is, how much God loves all of us, and how he hopes we act, especially as to the outcast or oppressed.      

As my perspective shifted over time, I became more at ease with uncertainty and doubt. I became more at peace with developing a relationship with God that allows me to search and change as I understand God better.  No one person or church or denomination has all the answers.  If we stay open to learning, growing, and deepening our relationship with God, then we will more closely follow God’s hopes for us as his people.  And that may require a shift in a previous perspective.  

With God’s help and guidance, we will better follow God’s overarching command to love and care for his people. Then, we can dive deeper into our relationship with God instead of remaining in the shallow end of faith.