Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lights! Action! . . . Stillness.

There have been several times in my life when I knew I was so dependent upon God that I found it easy to fast. I have done frequent, regular short fasts, and I have done more lengthy ones--one lasting even a full week. It has been a long time since I have fasted though. Lately I have cycled up and down with a sense that I am only aimlessly wandering through life. It has been hard to see a long-term purpose to my life, although I have always believed God has one for me. I have been struggling with discouragement, frustration, feelings of being overwhelmed, and hopelessness concerning my future.

Over the years, I have discovered things about myself. One of them is that when the going gets tough, Lisa just puts her fingers in her ears or sticks her head in the sand and tries to pretend for a while that she's a super-crime-fighter or a hotly pursued beauty or a witty entertaining writer. Of course nothing helps you drown out the present reality like . . . well . . . pretending, and there's nothing like escaping to a TV show or game to pretend! Over the last months (or years?) I have begun to escape more and more to my happy places. Sure enough, the pain and uncertainty of life . . . the loneliness . . . was drowned out by a world of living color and sound! Of course, eventually you have to turn the electronic devices off, or you have to try to sleep, and then you find things even worse than you left them. (Amazing how those bills and dishes pile up the more you ignore them!)

While reading the book God, I Need Help some months ago, I began asking myself some very difficult questions. Why couldn't I hear Jesus like author Linda Heaner was able to? Why was my life so unsettled? Was I really following Jesus in spite of my circumstances like I once had, or could I really say that any more? How could I constantly miss or forget all the ways God had provided for our family over the years? Over the weekend, I realized that I couldn't hear God because there was just too much noise in my life. God speaks often through His efforts to comfort us, and while I was drowning out the pain, I was drowning out the comfort too.

With great fear and trepidation, I made a decision. I would fast for a week from all electronic entertainment. No Twitter. No Facebook. No TV, movies, or DVD's. Even my iPod would only be used for music or to check necessary information (like the weather, Bible references, or the news!). I went into it praying heavily for help--I don't have a very good track record for following through on goals I set. I anticipated extreme withdrawals as I dodged any entertainment my kids were enjoying while I suffered the extreme boredom of  . . . nothing.

On Monday I got up fully intending to see it through. I had made myself accountable to my boys, and I knew they would be watching to blow the whistle on me. But by the end of the first day, I was amazed at how relaxed I was. Instead of trying to figure out how to cram a half hour of quiet time into my day, I had spent the day talking to God, meditating on scripture, and thinking. Thinking! It had been a long time since I had done that. I confessed more sins than I cared to realize, and began tackling tasks I had been putting off. Instead of finding boredom, when I had "free time" I was suddenly remembering to pray for something, or to work a little on a project I had put off. School with my boys became a delight instead of a chore, and we even ate at the dinner table together one night! It was glorious! It was delightful!

I reentered the world of media with trepidation, planning to limit myself. But now here I am, months later, consumed again by the noise and lights and distractions of a media-infused life. Over and over I hear that still, small voice, wooing me . . . whispering . . .
So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.   Mat 5:29-30
We think of the "big troubles" as hard to handle . . . those things that we find we have to surrender to God because we are painfully aware that we cannot manage them ourselves. But I'm slowly learning that, for me at least, it is the smallest things that are deceptive. I need God in my entertainment choices, in selecting the food I will eat, in how I respond to an angry child. I'm tempted to think I have those things under my control . . . but I don't. I suspect that it is in the little things that the world around me can see God in my life most easily, not that it's always as obvious that He is the one enabling me to be patient, kind, faithful, gentle . . . but it is in the constant evidence of those things in my life, and in their continuation in the crises, where God's character is really revealed.

Grieving the Absence of Intimacy

Anyone who has experienced grief over the loss of someone they love knows that you never really just "get over" it.  I have realized in the last months that I am in a different place in living as a single mother.  For a long time after my separation and divorce, I grieved the loss of my best friend and the man I loved. I ached with loneliness and with the absence of a husband's counsel in difficulties and help in shouldering the work of raising three young boys. But recently I have discovered a shift in what causes this ache.

People often say to me that they don't know how I do it--homeschooling three boys, managing our home, taking care of myself, etc.  After almost ten years of it, I don't even think about it being unusual anymore, and I have adjusted my expectations and routines so that the work itself doesn't seem like it's impossible anymore. Additionally my kids have grown to ages that are demanding in different ways, but they are also better able to contribute to the family needs and to offer the pleasure of more mature relationships.  God has also been extremely gracious to me over the years, giving me so much support, encouragement, and counsel through covenant family in our church, people who didn't just sit on the outside and watch me try to parent alone, but who joined with me and took upon themselves my hurts, frustrations, needs, and weaknesses. It was such a huge comfort to have moms to go out with and talk to, to receive anonymous financial support when I didn't know where money would come from, or to just hear someone say "You're doing a great job." But while my previous pain was caused by grieving through loss, my new one is one that comes from a continuing lack.

I don't expect God to fill my new need in the same ways, because it is a need for deep intimacy.  I ache for connection at the deepest levels--and for the resulting touches, looks, and words that come from that kind of intimacy.  The problem with finding this is that you really can't have this kind of relationship with someone other than a spouse. That's what God designed marriage to fulfill! While I have friends with whom I am completely open and honest with, friends who bear the most uncomfortable aspects of being my friend (and bear it well, I might add!), there are natural limits to their availability. They have husbands, children, commitments of their own that I know I cannot be placed ahead of.  Typically family might fill this empty place--parents or siblings stepping in to love and care for me, sometimes maybe a little too much--but even my family relationships are newly developing or absent as a result of parents who are no longer alive. [I retained a wonderful relationship with one set of in-laws who are now my "mom" and "dad," and are completely committed to me. However we are still developing family "history" and experience that results in deep intimacy.]

As I pose my questions to God about this new need, His answer is clear. Even in a good marriage my deepest needs for intimacy are only met through Him.  I'm really struggling in my relationship with my Beloved lately--surrendering to idols time and energy that should be His, resisting His wooing, ignoring His call for my attention. Again and again, I hear Him gently reminding me that He is the only source of fulfillment. Do I believe it? I want to believe it, but no. My choices haven't changed, so really, I don't believe. The challenge before me is not to change my circumstances, nor is it to wait until God changes them, but to pray for Him to help my unbelief and to fill me with an unquenchable thirst for Him alone.

A Storyteller Without a Story

Often I hear myself complaining that I don't know what it is God wants me to do. Actually, that is just not true. I have some very specific directions God has laid on my heart over the years.

I've been called to minister to women. Many, many years ago, God placed it on my heart to minister to women, and over those years, I've come to understand that this call takes on lots of different appearances. Whether it is comforting a woman facing a crises like mine, encouraging a mom to minister to her family in the way God has called her, or teaching a Junior High Bible study, I have learned that encouraging women to think and live biblically is an important calling, even if no one ever knows my name.

I've been called to raise three boys, often with only God's help. These three souls are important to Him. Maybe I don't always understand why. In the middle of one of the frequent contests to prove who is the greatest, strongest, smartest, wittiest . . . I often wonder. But these three men-in-training are very important to God and are critical elements to His plan in the work He is doing.

I've been called to be a storyteller. In wrestling with my modest photography skills, I discovered that for me photography is merely another tool to tell a story. Like words, which I love, communicating what God shows me all around me is important to me because it is something God has gifted me to do for Him. I realized it was OK that I don't have mad-skills as an artistic, creative photographer. God has enabled me to use photography and writing to tell stories and communicate His character to others.

I woke up this morning thinking about these things. I felt guilty . . . again . . . for the way I squander my time. And it hit me . . . . I've turned myself into a storyteller without a story. In striving to be whatever I see that other people are . . . in trying to shut out the painful suffering of the lessons God is teaching me (so I can share them with others) . . . I've neglected the very things He has given me to do. So I'm repenting again. Deciding to write again. Attempting to view my meanderings and trailblazings in this land of teenage boys as my God-given wilderness where He has placed me to display His goodness and glory.

Repenting and setting out . . . again.