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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Unnecessary Comparisons

It upsets me to hear sly judgments in conversations.

“He would drive me crazy!  I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with her husband.”

“I’d never be able to handle all those kids – that’s why we stopped after one.”

“I don’t know how you can spend so much time cleaning – I’m glad I have a housekeeper.”

“Your crazy family makes me feel relieved that mine lives in another state.”

We don’t even know we do it.

I try not to do this, but I know I’m guilty.  When I hear someone talk about an aspect of her life that is different than mine, I imagine myself in her spot, and it seems so foreign, so against how I currently do things, that sometimes I can’t help but share how happy I am that I don’t have that experience.

I’m so glad I’m not you, because your life sounds awful/confusing/hard/weird, and I just couldn’t deal.

It’s what we’re thinking, if not what we’re saying.  An alternative “I’m glad my life is different” isn’t much nicer.

Humans can’t help but compare.  Most of us regard others with interest, and sometimes we just enjoy the company, but other times we judge.  She’s a mess.  My life is better.  I’m better.

In God’s eyes, we are all the same.  All created lovingly, all loved equally.  We are made uniquely and given different lives.  We all have our own hardships.  What one experiences, another passes on that experience.  None of us is oblivious to hardship or difficulty, and each of us has our own perspective on what makes life hard or easy.

For some, hardship may look like having five children.  Or a large house to clean.  Or an insensitive husband.  Or difficult family members.  For others, these things are simply what rounds out their life experience.  Not something that needs to be judged by others, or looked upon harshly.  It’s just what life looks like.  God is working in each of our lives through our experiences to make us who he intends us to be.

We also all have the potential for joy and fulfillment.  We are all sinners, and face demons that threaten us each day.  We are all offered the chance for salvation.  For some, that chance may be hard-won.  For others, we may be born into it.  And others may have had it and threw it away.

Compared to God, we all fall short.  We are not superior to each other.  We are each unique, but uniquely human and fallible.  All the same, all in need of the Holy Spirit to guide us and the blood of Jesus to save us.

We might be glad not to suffer the hardships of another.  Turning that gladness into concern, prayer, humility – the things God wants us to cultivate in our character – is a better option.  A nicer option.  A godly option.

In the end, we are nothing without God.  Focusing on him and his strength to help us navigate this life is always better than judging others.

Dear Lord, Stop me when I judge.  Help me to see others through your eyes.  Thank you, Amen.

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The Story of the Tax Man and the Pharisee
Luke 18:9-14

He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’

“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”

Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”


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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Do Something Else


Photo credit: Vincent Albanese / Loveseat Deals / CC BY

The more helpful among us want to save the world; we want to lend a hand to those who we perceive as suffering.  Sending gift boxes filled with toiletries and pencils to far-off countries; serving meals in a soup kitchen; volunteering to walk dogs and clean out quarters at the animal shelter.   We want to share our gifts, aid someone who needs help. We want to do something.

Helping makes everybody feel good, especially when it’s recognized and gratefully accepted.

Certain people are easy to help: their needs are simple and simply met.  Comfort, peace, worldly things that allow them to live in ease, even if just for a short time – we know what they need.  Sometimes they tell us, and often, a helper and one who is helped are matched up, making the process smoother for everyone.

But what if a need is not so easily named?  What about people who hide their needs, or don’t present themselves to receive?  What if they don’t cry out for help?

We don’t have to be mind-readers to know when people are suffering.  If we know them well, we know their stories.  We read the pain on their faces.  We ask them what we can do and they say ‘nothing’ – they think they are too far gone.  Worse, they get angry with us when we suggest what we can do for them.  Leave me alone, they say.  You can’t do anything.  Just forget about it.  I need to handle it by myself.

The brush-off hurts.  It’s alarming.  We can’t forget about it.  What else can we do?  How can we help?

In a busy culture, it’s hard to be idle when we can clearly see what needs to be done.  The trouble is, what we think and what is required are not always the same. 

Sometimes the hardest work is to step away from suffering and admit that tangible efforts to help aren’t helpful.

We can force ourselves into situations where our presence gets in the way of a person’s healing, or we can finally understand that we are not helping at all.  What we need to realize is that God uses us for his work.  When we feel we have used up our store of helpfulness, God is there to provide.

Sometimes, all we can do is pray.  We lift up the needy to him, and ask him for help on their behalf.  We present ourselves to God as helper, and he shows us what else we can do.  It might be as subtle as love and awareness.   We might not be able to help using our own strength, but when we draw close to God, he may reveal what others need.   Our helpfulness becomes God-led.  Imagine how much more we can do with his power working through us every single time.  Even if it’s just praying.

Our role in others’ lives is to be available to God so that he can tell us what to do.  In this way, our help is from him.  Then we can be sure our efforts are helping.

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In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.  Matthew 5:16

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dealing With It

I can’t help but look back.

Back to childhood and warm memories of holidays past, loved ones now gone, new love between my husband and me, our children as babies.  The earliest days seem so long ago, yet I remember them easily.  Maybe that’s  why our grandparents repeated their oldest stories – they are the ones best preserved because they are remembered for the longest amount of time.  Their grooves are the deepest in our brains, and the positives are highlighted.  We dwell on those times; past moments stretch into luxuriously long periods that we can roll around in our minds as long as we let them.

As young people, we’re challenged to look ahead.  “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” high school counselors demanded.  “Five years?” asked college advisors.  I was never great at forecasting – those questions left me cold, filled me with dread.  I only saw clouds on the horizon.

The pressure of those questions conjured up visions of a slog through uncertainty.  I imagined that if you couldn’t clearly see your future, it probably won’t be a very good one.  It’s easier to look back, to see where we’ve come instead of where we’re going.  Hindsight is dependable.  The future is murky.

Little did I know then that the future would hum along; time moves on at warp speed.  It goes too fast, and there are bumps in the road.  They derail me.  I’d like to say I take them in stride, navigate them with grace and dignity.  But I don’t.  Not always.  Not even very often.

Stop the world, I want to get off.  This quote sticks.  It has become my mantra.  It’s no more than a complaint, a whine that accompanies the roiling chaos.  I want to retreat and come back when things slow down.  I don’t want to deal.  I’m tired of dealing. 

The childishness and impossibility and sheer laziness of this reaction is humbling.  My character is exposed, and it’s embarrassing.  I am reminded of the younger version of me who felt the same way when asked about the future.  Have I really not changed since then?  Am I still grumbling about my own discomfort and uncertainty?

Have I learned nothing of God and what the future holds?



My desire for ease has obscured the truth.  God has something to teach me about his ways.  My way is comfort and ease – smooth sailing, wistfully remembering the best parts of the past and ignoring the future.  But focusing on those times doesn’t teach anything.  God gifted me those times and I cling to them instead of him.  The resulting teaching, honing, pruning – it hurts.

Cling to me, he whispers.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Follow me; I know the way.

I have to focus.  I have to look up and out.  I have to follow God’s direction, found in his word and in my heart and in the patterns of his work in my life.  It’s the only way to find the peace.  I have to deal with it.

When I dwell on who’s in charge here, the future becomes clear, and so much better than the best moments of the past.

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Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.  John 16:22-24


Do good to your servant according to your word, Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.  Psalm 119:65-68