Felt It in My Soul

Sunday morning as I listened to an online sermon by Annie Downs at Crosspoint church in Nashville, I felt touched in my soul by a story that she told. A virtual stranger who had stayed in Annie’s home for a mutual friend’s wedding had told Annie that she was “too much.” The stranger felt that it was Annie’s personality that kept her single. Annie pointed out that she could change her physical appearance, but she couldn’t change her “Annie-ness” — who she truly was.

Personally, I was beside myself when I heard this story because I’ve been there. I’ve been the person slain by someone else’s cruel words, and I’ve been so hurt and close to tears that I couldn’t even respond. I’ve bled emotionally at many a word that some unthinking person truly thought was helpful.

However, as Annie pointed out, I’ve been the person who sliced into someone else with a “well-meaning” sharp tongue. I’ve given as good — or bad — as I’ve taken. It would be completely wrong for me to deny it, and Annie didn’t deny it either.

That being said, what I loved the most was her talk point: Our words have power — good or bad. How are we using our power?

I felt deep in my soul the cut that she must have felt as she told her story, but I really started asking myself, ‘How am I using my words?’ Am I being fair to everyone I meet, or do I misapply the power of my words more than I care to admit?

We have all been Annie under attack by a stranger who thinks she knows what’s best, but let’s be honest with ourselves. We’ve all been the stranger who has attacked. We’ve all seen a situation where we immediately snapped to a judgment about a person in a predicament, and we’ve all had an opinion about what she did wrong and how she could fix it. We’ve all spoken in ignorance.

What Annie is trying to encourage us to do is to think twice about the power and influence of our words. We don’t know how long lasting that influence may be so let’s leave people on a positive note so that, when they say they felt something in their soul, it’s something positive — a sunbeam, a butterfly, or a song. Let us never leave a scar on someone else’s soul.

Enjoy Annie’s full talk here.

We’re All Prodigal Somewhere

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15:7, NKJV

One evening I was listening to worship music to wash away the stress of the week, and as I walked, I listened to a couple of songs by Crowder: “Come As You Are” and “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner.” As I walked, I began to think on the themes of those two songs. Roughly put, we’re all off target in some way, and God is the place we can run because He’s already seen it all anyway. In spite of everything, He still loves us.

I began to think about the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, and I had a realization. We’re each the prodigal at one time or another, and sometimes we don’t even realize that we are or have been. A genuine prodigal usually knows that they are such, but I think there are two or three other kinds of prodigal. I think there’s the prodigal that knows they’re either the prodigal or the self-righteous brother, but they aren’t sure which. Then there’s the prodigal who just doesn’t know they’re a prodigal or who won’t (can’t?) admit that they are a prodigal. Maybe there is even a fourth kind of prodigal or what I like to call the partial prodigal where they are prodigal in some individual aspect of belief, but they haven’t given up on faith in God. Truthfully, I think we all fall in that category all the time.

The second kind of prodigal – the undecided prodigal – at least recognizes that they are in a situation. They know they are a prodigal or a self-righteous son, but I think the minute they figure out which one they are that they become a prodigal no matter which they realize they are. (Say what? You may be asking right now.) Well, I think it’s like this. You either realize you’re a prodigal or you become a prodigal the minute you realize you are being the self-righteous son. Either situation is running from the teaching of Christ.

The third prodigal – the prideful prodigal – has gone rogue somewhere, but they just can’t admit it. According to them, they are perfect, fine, great, wonderful, and truthfully, seething with rage on the inside. These are the people who have always done things the way everyone else has wanted them done, but they’ve never actually done what they should do. They’re so far off the map that they don’t even realize it. I can firmly say this because I KNOW that I’ve been this kind of prodigal. I have been sitting in the pew every Sunday, attending Sunday School, paying my tithes, shaking hands (although don’t do that right now!), singing all the hymns, and doing all the “holy things”, but the truth is that I was just going through the motions. In reality, I wasn’t present spiritually. In reality, I was running as fast and as furiously in the opposite direction as possible. I was in rebellion, and I couldn’t even recognize it.

The fourth prodigal – the partial prodigal – represents each of us at any given moment. It’s that thing that we don’t want to relinquish even though God is asking for it. It’s that significant other that is bad for us, and we know it. We just don’t want to let him/her go. It’s that good paying job that gives us money and status, but God wants us to do something else so we pretend we didn’t hear the call. It’s that image we use social media to maintain when in reality we’re a five-alarm disaster on the inside. Any of these can still believe in God and their faith, but they are just struggling to give up that ONE thing in the moment that God is asking them to sacrifice. The sacrifice might help, but they aren’t ready for the change it will bring so they tenaciously hold on hoping God will change His mind.

There is great irony in the second and third kinds of prodigal. I think it means that the first kind of prodigal – the one everyone automatically thinks of – is actually closer to God in many ways than the other two. The absolute prodigal knows and recognizes they are prodigal. The point is that they know exactly where they stand with God. They know and accept that they are on the outside looking in. The undecided prodigal is a step further back because they haven’t quite figured out where they stand. Are they prodigal or self-righteous brother? They are on shaky ground because they don’t know which they are so they can’t seek to right the ship. The prideful prodigal is at least two steps away because they can’t admit they’re a prodigal. They’re so busy maintaining the image that they won’t acknowledge the flaw in their system so they keep on trudging in misery.

The truth is that we are all prodigal if not completely then at least in part. We all have that time, moment, or situation where we are running as far and as fast as we possibly can away from what is good. It’s because of those moments that I remember we are all equal in God’s eyes. No righteous person is anymore God’s child than an absolute prodigal. No absolute, undecided, prideful, or partial  prodigal is any less loved. What matters is what we do in the prodigal moment. Do we return to the safety of God, or do we keep running?

I’d like to say that I don’t run from God anymore after all the years I’ve believed, but that would be an outright lie that I’m not going to utter. I run from God all the time. I’ve been the absolute prodigal sitting on the sidelines and questioning God’s existence. I’ve been the undecided prodigal and the self-righteous brother. I’ve been the prideful prodigal refusing to admit that I’m running from God all while I’m sitting pretty at church like all the other saints. Mostly I understand that I am the partial prodigal. I have areas of my life I just don’t want God to enter because I’ll be embarrassed by what He sees even though deep down I know He’s already seen it. I can’t hide my prodigal self from God, but I’m so thankful He loves me in spite of my rebellion no matter how many times I come crawling back and begging for forgiveness. I’m thankful His arms are always open to receive me.

In Opposition? : Humility and Boldness

1 Peter 5:6-7 (HCSB)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.

Hebrews 4:16

Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

 

Just prior to everything that’s currently happening and telecommuting began, I was sitting at my work desk and caught sight of the two Bible passages above written in faded ink and taped to one of my monitors. They are two of my favorite and most encouraging passages in the Scriptures, and it suddenly struck me that they seem to encourage what appear to be opposite traits – humility and boldness. I sat staring at them and thinking, “Can you be both humble and bold?”

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines humility as “freedom from pride or arrogance; the quality or state of being humble.” Further, it explains that “both [humility] and humble have their origin in the Latin word humilis, meaning “low.”” Suggested synonyms include meekness, lowliness, and down-to-earthness. I particularly like that last one. None of this is popular in today’s culture – the “let me step over your still warm body so I can succeed where you failed” culture.

Then I looked up the definition of boldness, and it was defined as “fearless before danger” and “showing or requiring a fearless daring spirit.” Some of the synonyms are confident, intrepid, adventurous, and gutsy. Intrepid was appealing to me as it is defined as “characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance.” This is a prized character trait in today’s “you only live once” or “do what makes you happy” culture.

How do we make the two fit together and still uphold the teaching to put others before self? How do we practice humility before God and yet approach Him boldly?

The last couple of years, I’ve been trying to remind myself of the true power of God. I’ve been trying to stop boxing God in to my narrow-minded view of the world. I’ve been knocking the walls down to see just what God can do instead of keeping God in a small, tight space. This requires humility on my part – the acknowledgement that God can do things that I can’t even begin to imagine – the acknowledgement that I am just one tiny piece in the workings of this life – and that’s okay. All I can do right now is take care of the space where I am, but it’s something in God’s plan even if it’s not what I had expected.

In the midst of writing this blog, I was listening to an older sermon from Crosspoint Church in Nashville. Pastor Kevin Queen did a sermon in 2019 on “Sacrificial Living,” and I was thankful for the God-wink.

He said some things that got me to thinking:

“To deny yourself is to die to self every single day…to die to what we want…to die to our selfish agenda…to love God and serve others. […]

If you want to follow Jesus, you have to attend about a thousand funerals a day, and they’re all funerals for what you want. […]

…we find that the blessing and the benefit of the life of following Jesus comes when we make the sacrifices, and it’s counterintuitive to the way of this world. But it’s the way of the kingdom. […]

Romans 12:3 (HCSB)

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.

Romans 12:16 (HCSB)

Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Christlikeness begins and ends in humility.”

How does this leave any room for boldness?

I’ve been muddling this concept over in my head for a few weeks almost afraid to complete the blog, but then I picked up my pen (yes, the old-fashioned pen and paper) and started to write again.

Even as I wrote about humility, I had to ask myself why a humble person can’t be bold, fearless, daring, intrepid, resolute, courageous, confident, or enduring? Why can’t a humble person exercise fortitude? The answer came to me that there’s no reason why a humble person can’t be those things. I went to BibleGateway.com and searched for references on boldness and confidence, and there are no shortage of them in the Bible just as there are no shortage of references to humility and meekness.

Here is what I realized. Humility is about keeping our perspective on God in proper alignment. God comes first, and all our actions should stem from that. Consequently, we can move forward with boldness, confidence, fearlessness, resolution, courage, endurance, and fortitude. It is all about how we frame God in the process. He always needs to be at the center of our humility, or we won’t be truly practicing Christlike behavior. The same applies to our boldness. If we move forward in boldness or confidence without maintaining God as our center, we’re doing it for our own selfish reasons. In other words, we’re just living like everyone else.

So what does humble boldness look like? It looks like Ruth believing in her new faith and God as she went boldly to ask Boaz to protect her and her mother-in-law. It looks like Esther humbly accepting that she may be executed for boldly asking the king to save her people. It looks like Daniel humbly and boldly praying to God and entering (and exiting) the lions’ den. It looks like Rosa Parks, tired from a long humble day at work, boldly deciding she wasn’t going to give way in the face of racism. It looks like the boss of a small business who cares about his/her employees in a pandemic and boldly decides to keep paying them even when he/she doesn’t know from where the money will come.

Humble boldness is keeping your eye on the right ball even when several are being thrown in the air at once. It’s knowing when to say yes and when to say no, when to accept and when to walk away, when to stop and when to keep going. Keeping my faith in God at the center of my being points my compass in the right direction. Sometimes it takes a while for me to get where I’m going, but I always get there in the proper time.

Filter On, Filter Off

Whoever shows contempt for his neighbor lacks sense, but a man with understanding keeps silent. ~ Proverbs 11:12 (HCSB)

I have learned as I get older — I am nearing forty — that my built-in filter is not as strong as it used to be. Previously, I measured every single word by what kind of impression it would make, but I was beginning to feel so oppressed that I let my filter slip. Is it an “age thing”? Do we feel like it’s okay to say our “honest opinion” more as we get older? Is it a “moral thing”? Was I more conscious of other people’s feelings when I was younger? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that it’s not always a good thing when my filter fails. I don’t want to be afraid to express my opinion in a civil and kind manner, but I don’t want to be so blunt that I’m cruel. Verbal cruelty has always been a sensitive spot for me so I don’t want to do the same thing to someone else.

In a continuance of my Back Again post, I’m not going to delete my last blog post because I’m trying to learn from my mistakes. Erasing them doesn’t teach me anything so I’m leaving it right where it is. I’m leaving it because it’s my honest opinion, but I’m also leaving it because I want it to remind me that I was judgmental and spiteful.

Here is what I learned as proof that I’m never too old to learn:

  1. Just because it’s my honest opinion does not mean that I need to express it.
  2. It’s possible to express an honest opinion without being so openly critical.
  3. I should take care when expressing an honest opinion to strike the balance between honesty and kindness.
  4. Erasing my mistakes just puts them out of sight and out of mind, and I learn nothing from that.

I also don’t like that my last blog sounded self-righteous – as if I was the only person capable of keeping the peace where I work. How arrogant on my part! The reality is that every single person in that department is a part of the “working waltz” every day, and I am so grateful to all of them even when they irritate me. I hope they feel the same way about me even when I irritate them!

I want to be certain that my filter is always working even if I don’t always need to use it. A friend of mine once said that I was just coming into my own when my filter didn’t seem to be working, and I appreciated the observation. However, I don’t ever want to hurt someone by failing to use my filter when I need to use it. I want to have an open dialogue with anyone around me, and I want everyone to feel comfortable talking to me. It’s my responsibility to use that filter properly. Filter on, filter off – just so long as it’s on or off at the right times.

 

By the way, I appreciate the observations from this blog post by Victoria at Snail Pace Transformations. That’s where I found the verse that I used.

What I’m reading right now: Goliath Must Fall by Louie Giglio, The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren and Dr. Daniel Amen, The Power of Kindness (10th Anniversary edition) by Piero Ferrucci

Listening to right now: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Books of the Bible I’m currently reading/studying: II Chronicles and I Samuel

Working Waltz

If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. ~Romans 12:18 (HCSB)

In a week, I will have been at my new job for exactly one year…which technically means it’s not new anymore…but that’s not the point of this post. Ha!

We all have those people at work that we have to “dance” around because of personality and character differences. I have worked in a handful of public libraries and dealt with many personalities of customers and staff, but I now work in an academic library. We are largely separated from the public in our department so I’m usually just around my coworkers. A couple of them are definitely characters all of their own making, but one in particular tries my dancing shoes until they’re nearly worn out at the end of each week.

She thrives on negativity and drama, and she will pull anyone else down to feel better about herself. This can be infuriating, but I also understand that she lives with a chronic medical condition and comes from a very insecure background. I make certain allowances because I know deep down she is often in pain and lacks decent self-esteem. The saying is true that “hurt people” hurt people, but I also know that another saying is true, “Just because you’re in pain, doesn’t mean you have to be a pain.” She definitely tests my practice of Matthew 18:21-22.

One of her other characteristics is that she treats the job only as a paycheck. Now I completely agree that this can be a healthy mental approach to a job. It can often mean that you don’t take emotions home with you that pertain to work situations. However, her approach is that she will do as little as possible to earn her paycheck, and she will NOT do her job any better than she feels like doing it (i.e. She’s lazy.). Consequently, other people can’t do their jobs if she isn’t doing her job right. This particular quality affects me because I was trained to take over her old job. I have learned many things in a trial by fire because her training with me was skewed by how lazy she can be.

Recently, her laziness has begun to cause even more problems for three other employees and our supervisor in the department, and bless her heart, she seems clueless to why everyone stays mad at her. One of my other coworkers has worked with this lady for almost twenty years and has finally hit her limit of accepting mistakes. (I’m amazed it took twenty years!) They have now been completely silent with each other for two weeks, and I have to “do-si-do” back and forth between their offices to keep the peace. I have to be certain not to visit with one too long without visiting the other, or I find myself on the receiving end of the silent treatment. I often find myself in my office working while listening to sermons online so I don’t have to talk to either of them.

It is all part of the “working waltz” – the moves that keep the board balanced on a point so that it doesn’t tip too far one way or the other. Some people aren’t as sensitive to imbalance in the emotions around them, but I am so sensitive that it can ruin my day when things are off balance. Sometimes I just have to be away from the people who are quite out of balance emotionally themselves. As of right now, I just keep dancing because I care about my coworkers regardless of whether I agree with them or am irritated with them. Sadly, it is largely just this one coworker that ever throws things off balance.

I’m personally working on not being so affected by other people’s emotional swings, and I know I can’t control whether someone else is emotionally unpredictable. I also can’t control my coworker’s work quality, but I can control the quality of my work. I’ll keep on doing my job to the best of my ability because I don’t want to have a negative affect on others. I will take care of the things that I can and hope to be a good example for my coworker. It’s just proof that even at my age I’m always in progress, and I’m constantly practicing my figurative dancing skills.

 

What I’m reading right now: Cress by Marissa Meyer, Goliath Must Fall by Louie Giglio, The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren and Dr. Daniel Amen

Listening to right now: At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

Book of the Bible I’m currently studying: I Chronicles (yes, all the begats – but there are some interesting nuggets of info in there as well)