Friday, July 25, 2014

A Clean Heart

It wasn't Eagle Fern, but it felt a bit like it.
Being restless is something I've struggled with for many years. It seems to fly in the face of my parallel laziness, and in spite of possessing an inability to pull myself off the couch or out of the office, it can be overpowering, this feeling of wanderlust an a desire to simply... go.

I feel it when I look at the sunset's path across the ocean waves, and it creeps up on me when I step into the woods. And so, though I recognize the very real risk I might leave and never come back, I wander into the wilderness from time to time, simply to give my mind a place to explore.

That's the position I found myself in earlier this evening: sitting behind a desk and hiding from the outdoors, hoping to bury my thoughts behind Netflix, Tumblr and high-fructose corn syrup. Eventually I'd had enough, and headed to the hills, looking for solace.

I aimed for a little park about 15 miles outside of my town, one of the few where I hoped I could find a trail to tread and some place new to lose myself in. About halfway there, I settled on a wide spot in the side of the road that had a narrow pathway down to the riverbank.

It was quiet down there, other than the whine of mosquitoes, the babble of water over mossy river stones and the occasional hum of a car speeding past overhead. I took off my shoes and stepped, stone by stone, across the creek in search of a seat on which I could spend some time in thought.

It's strange, how I run out of town simply for a chance to think of the problems I've left behind. This time was no different - I settled on the topic of my last blog post. Why do I so strongly seek the approval of others while putting God on the back burner? Is that something I can change? On my own?

I wrestled with that. It's been a theme of the last few years: "Lord, give me a stronger desire to follow you. Lord, take away the desire for sinful things. Lord, take my priorities and align them with yours."

Underlying all these thoughts is another commonality: I'm not always sure if my heart is behind the things I ask for, and I'll add the request to take the thoughts and plant seeds in my heart. I think I know what is best, and I know that being closer to the Lord is the best thing for me regardless of the sin-haze I see life through.

I just don't know how to get from wanting to want it, to wanting it, to having it.

As I thought while sitting on that boulder in the middle of the stream earlier this evening, I think I finally understand where David was when he wrote asking God to create a clean heart, and renew a right spirit in him.

Maybe I can't change my heart. I know I can't cleanse it, certainly. For the next few days and weeks, though, I'll include David's prayer in my thoughts.

I like the New Living Translation the best here for Psalm 51:10 -

"Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit in me."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Seeking Affirmation

If you don't get the connection, youtube "validation" and you'll understand.
I got the chance to visit Bridgetown church last weekend, something I'd been planning to do for quite some time, and it gave me something juicy to meditate on this week.

The teacher -- and I can't for the life of me remember his name, it just wasn't John Mark -- talked about Peter's showdown in the garden when Jesus was arrested. He cut off a servant's ear in a display of emotion, aggression and fear, leading Jesus to heal the ear and berate Peter for acting with violence.

The talk turned to a dissection of Peter's motivations: earlier in the evening, he had been told he would deny Christ three times and he had been told that Judas would betray Jesus to the religious leaders. He was a mixture of feelings at the time. Angry at Judas for his betrayal, afraid that Jesus was being arrested and would be leaving them for a time, hurt that Jesus had predicted his denial and embarrassed that Jesus knew his true heart.

All of those things boil over when he draws his sword, and I think - and these are also the words of Sunday's teacher - he was motivated out of a want to prove his loyalty. It was slightly futile, as his actions went against Jesus' peaceful message, but it does serve as a thought provoking story.

How am I motivated? Many of my habits and motivations are pretty basic. I just want to be happy, and I'm afraid of not being happy and so I do things and act a certain way to be sure that happens.

For the moment, I'll focus on one: the want to be accepted. Broken down, it falls into the happiness category. It goes along with being respected and admired and looked up to - I just want to be liked, doesn't everybody?

Yes. I'd contend yes (except Steve), but the way we go about it varies, with varied results. I've noticed over the past few months that I tend to chase affirmation. Regardless of the sarcastic response they usually get from me, I like awards. I like complements, I like people reaching out to me and wanting to be friends. All those things are validating, they make you relevant and help you to know you're doing something right.

Those wants and desires seem to be built in to us humans (again, except Steve). Even the youngest kids -- my growing bunch of nieces and nephews for example -- like to show their parents the things they're proud of. Whether it's a simply crafted drawing (LOOK! He drew a basketball with LINES, says mommy) or a pile of sticks, the appetite to have our actions affirmed as impressive or desirable drives us at all stages of life. In kindergarten it's the finger painting on the refrigerator. In middle school it might be wearing a cool new back back to class, and in high school its flirting with the cute girl in math class.

On the surface, those things aren't harmful, but when we let our lives begin to form around the affirmation from our fellow humans, that's when the train comes off the tracks. The reason, I think, we were born with such a desire is that we are supposed to crave the affirmation of our Creator. What validation is stronger? What complement is higher? None.

It all goes back to the camp song we used to sing as kids that was taken from Matthew 25:21:

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'"

Or as we sang it, "My good and faithful oooonneeeeee, weeeelll DONE MAHN."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Repentance and easy distractions

I've tried to set aside some time in the last few days and the next few days going forward for some reflection and alone-time, hoping to sort out some troubling thoughts I've been wrestling with. It's been good, I think, to step away from the hum-drum for a little while and allow myself to look at the way I think and act.

One revelation I had last night is that the ability to make us think we're too far gone to be worth saving is one of the enemy's most powerful tools. Feeling worthless and broken leads to despair, at which point you give up and refuse to seek redemption.

That's something that I struggle to overcome at times. I've made plenty of mistakes in my life, and I often think that either I don't deserve good things or I'm too deep for repentance to actually do any good. The second one, especially, is a lie. It preys on our pride, ironically, and tells us that if we can't turn things around on our own, we might as well throw up our hands and give in.

That discounts -- which is a brash euphemism -- the work that God does in our hearts. Repentance is basically saying that we are willing to turn from our ways, and asking God to help us walk. He might not fix every single facet of our messed up situations, but He will guide us to a place of peace amidst the consequences of our actions. 

On that note, I've also discovered that I seem to lack as strong of an understanding of the concept of consequences as I should. It's been interesting watching my sister Anna teach her children about how they have to account for their actions, and it will be equally as interesting to watch them grow and see how their learning effects them down the road.

My response when something bad happens is typically to bury my head in the sand and pretend that nothing has gone wrong. Not only does that rarely work, it leaves the issues for me to clean up down the road. No wonder, now that I reflect on it, that there tend to be times in my life that everything comes crashing down at once!

The last thing is that the evil one does a fantastic job of distracting us from the path God wants us to be on (as the phone buzzes and I pause before putting it back down.) There is something good and healing planned for me over these next few days, and the enemy has worked hard to get me facing the other direction -- even if that other direction is harmless.

Two quick thoughts I'll think on this afternoon before rodeo coverage: How can I begin to realize consequences BEFORE I get into trouble, and what is something I can repent of today?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Christ glorifying, Christ centered

It's been a long, long while, but I've had thoughts parading through my head over the last few weeks and I wanted to get them down where I could easily refer back in times of need.

A few days ago, I witnessed the wedding of two friends. The most striking thing about the union was that it seemed to truly reflect the idea of a girl being so hidden in Christ that a man would have to seek Christ in order to find her. The most attractive thing about her husband, she wrote in a letter that was read to the wedding guests, was his love for Jesus.

Normally, the skeptic in me would wave off such a statement. Really? Not the eyes or the laugh? Not the arms, or...  (I'm picking general qualities out of a hat here).

But this time, I believed it. And I think that kind of relationship is something to pursue, not just in a romantic sense, but between all friends who call one another brothers and sisters in Christ. The pair who wed a few days back were centered and anchored in the Lord, and their relationship stemmed from their connection on that common ground.

I don't really have thoughts at this point as to how I should chase after that ideal, I simply wanted to vocalize (web-ize?) the wonderful example I'd seen. Our relationships should be Christ-glorifying and Christ-centered, with our walks with God being the most important and highest priority we see in the other person.

One last note - blogging is good for me. I need more of it. Moar. MOAR.