I have been trying to come up with a creative introduction to this but have not had any luck, so we’re diving right into the deep end.
I’ve been thinking and learning a lot about the power of our words. I have been learning that they all are either contributing goodness to the world, or they are like little knives or poofs of poison being released into the atmosphere. What if we could see, tangibly, the character of our words as they left our lips? They are either adding life or bringing death. What if we viewed them as having an impact — like second hand smoke, or the smell of clean laundry? What if we understood the weight of them, the urgency of their potential?
When we wield our words with little thought or concern for their potential impact, we are like a blind man swinging a sword in a crowd. We have no idea what potential hurt we may inflict. And, I am realizing, it all comes back to our view of ourselves.
Here is a theory: If I do not believe that I matter, I most definitely will not believe my words matter. And when I do not believe my words matter, I can cause all kinds of harm.
So last week we were doing simple adding and subtracting, this week we are moving on to geometry. Just kidding, let’s leave the math to the math people. Really what we are doing here today is talking about my word for the year. I know, it is already essentially February and you have already chosen yours and you have already heard everyone else’s but give a girl some grace, ok?
The truth is that this word came to me months ago, in the middle of the semester and in the middle of my mess. I felt like the Lord was opening my eyes to the amount of dishonesty flying around my life, whether it was my own or the dishonesty of others around me. I became aware of how often we all are telling lies, either through blatant untruths or by leaving out any kind of detail of our choosing. Often we think we are protecting the people around us by withholding information. I have started praying for the Lord to give me, essentially, a better BS radar – that I would be able to hear people and know whether or not they were telling me the truth.
Here is the thing. We live so much of our lives thinking that lying will make things easier. We lie to our parents when we are in high school. We lie to our professors when we are in college. We lie to our friends about all kinds of things – we think by lying that we can make people like us more, or protect our image, or get invited to more things. We live a lot of our lives in the darkness where the devil whispers, just tell half the truth. Or, just leave out that one minor detail, it’ll never matter.
So yes, last week I told you that while New Years resolutions are so good and so helpful, we don’t need a new year in order to make them. What if we sat down in the middle of September and asked ourselves, what needs some tweaking? But here we are, at the “beginning” of our year and so we do, out of habit mostly, ask ourselves what we could change or quit or improve.
I had a conversation with a friend before the holidays that sparked some inspiration for me in this area. We talked about framing our lives and needs and goals in the context of “more or less.” My students had a speaker this fall talk to them similarly about the idea of “adding and subtracting.” I’m practicing asking myself each morning, What do I need more/less of today?
This is good for several reasons. One, when we start goal setting we typically are just saying “more!!” We want to do more, see more, talk more, invest more, on and on and on. The only way we usually say “less” is if we want to quit something entirely, which, let’s be real, is rarely successful. Less cigarettes! Less alcohol! Less Netflix! And then we inevitably binge on any of these things.
Just as there is a no for every yes, there is a less for every more. You don’t want one without the other. It is similar to how we as Christians often approach Lent. We remove something, but we are supposed to fill that “gap” with a more dedicated seeking of relationship with Christ. If all we are concerned with is “less chocolate,” we are wasting our time.
Remember the PBS kids show Arthur? I have this distinct memory of one episode where he has a really bad day, and so he literally goes back to bed to start again. When I was on a mission trip to the Czech Republic the summer after high school, I did that one day when it felt like everything was going wrong. After lunch I went back up to my bed, got cozy under the covers, and pretended I was starting fresh.
Sometimes we just really need a restart. I have been praying for a new way, in a lot of areas of my life. It was a rough past few months and I know that it cannot continue the same way. There was, and is, always so much beauty in the mess, but there are some things that really need to be made new. I was ready for a new beginning this January.
I love that the Lord gives us new years and new days so that we can give ourselves permission to start again. It is such a picture of our humanness, our small ways of thinking. I mean, think about it, starting a new year is really just turning the calendar from one day to the next, the same way we always do. But He knows us full well; He knows that we need new beginnings. He didn’t have to do that. Even though New Years is a façade of newness; He gives us permission to start again. He invites us into resurrection. What a kind God He is.
Thursday I woke up feeling tired and low energy, and it only got worse as the day went on. Late afternoon came and I found myself shivering under a heated blanket and knew that I was in for the worst. The stomach flu is unlike any other sickness; it is life consuming and utterly terrible. I honestly can only think of like one or two people in the world that I would wish it on. Thursday I woke up feeling tired and low energy, and it only got worse as the day went on. Late afternoon came and I found myself shivering under a heated blanket and knew that I was in for the worst. The stomach flu is unlike any other sickness; it is life consuming and utterly terrible. I honestly can only think of, like, one or two people in the world that I would wish it on.
I knew that the following days would be absolutely miserable and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing requires mental toughness like the flu. And there is nothing to make it more obvious that you are single and live alone than being stuck in bed without the things you need because there is no one there to do that for you (thank you, sweet Jesus, for my precious neighbor ladies who brought me the necessities, those darling angel college students).
But these are not the lessons that I want to share. It may seem silly, and hopefully it doesn’t leave you feeling nauseous yourself, but I felt like I found some valuable takeaways from my time in darkness…
I am in a season of transition. Fall, if you will. Leaves are detaching from the branches and I am feeling a little bare. So many things have changed in my life, some are really beautiful changes, and some are incredibly hard. We think fall is beautiful because the change is slow and dramatic, but then all of a sudden the first snowfall comes and all the leaves are on the ground and the trees are left exposed. Winter comes far too quickly. There is so much change. I don’t like it. Every year I write about how hard fall is, yet I never learn to be ready for it. In these seasons I am hungry for truth and guidance; I am almost desperate for it.
Through this I am learning that Scripture is exactly what we need and rarely what we want. Really. One morning I woke up with a craving for Scripture. I thought, “I’ll read this and it will tell me what I want to hear. It will confirm what I already know (that I am right and everyone else is wrong).” Guess what? It did not do that. It taught me that it should be my glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11) and that those who love purity of heart and gracious speech will have the King as their friend (Proverbs 22:11). Scripture told me that I don’t get to sulk in my anger, that I don’t get to gossip and try and make myself feel better. Scripture called me to a higher standard.
One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “Who is your teacher right now?” We are always learning, always being taught by someone or something in our lives. Sometimes fear can be a teacher (not a great one), and sometimes we are being taught by courage. Sometimes it is a friend or an experience. In the last few months, mine has been grief.
Grief showed up like an unwelcome houseguest back in August. My Grandpa was taken to the hospital and we learned that his heart was functioning at a very low level. We thought he might have days or weeks left to live. In true Grandpa fashion, he lived for almost two very full months after that.
I treated grief as a guest who I had not invited. After all, she is never invited and showed up far before she was even expected. And she comes with so much baggage! I ignored her presence and hoped she would leave, until someone asked me, “What does grief have to teach you?” Anything can teach us something.
I woke up to what I thought was the sound of the boys who live above me; I started to wonder if maybe they had taken up skateboarding in their bedroom because of this whooshing sound that shook my walls. Turns out it was the wind, whistling and rattling the trees at a surprisingly disruptive volume level. I got out of bed, came and sat on my couch and as I spent some time journaling I also watched the wind pummeling the tree outside my window. I watched as the wind threatened to steal the leaves right off of the branches.
Meanwhile I was processing life as of late and making discoveries with Jesus. I have been reading Love Lives Here by Maria Goff (book recommendation of the week) and she talks about how different she and her husband are. And she says that they have learned to laugh about their differences. I started to think about my own relationships, and how often insecurity and comparison keeps us from just owning our strengths and weaknesses and laughing about our differences. I wrote about how if only we could be confident in who we are and aren’t, then we could deal with our differences and laugh at them and love each other without fear or comparison.
I have been a little overwhelmed with all the scattered, random thoughts in my head. I feel like I have been learning a lot, but can’t really organize it well. I’ve been trying to write something cohesive and it has not been happening. Maybe it is because I’m reading Bird by Bird and Anne Lamott is teaching me about writing SFD’s (“crappy” first drafts – you can infer the actual name). Combined with how my life circumstances have been recently, it just feels like nothing is totally coming together. I am learning how not okay I am with this. I am not okay with messy. I prefer neat and tidy and pretty-packaged everything. I am okay (most of the time) with other people being a mess, but my life? That’s not allowed. Ideally I would never embarrass myself, have it all together, and never be wrong. My home and heart would both be clean, constantly.
But then the Lord whispered to me one night as I tried to fall asleep: What if you started telling people the truth?
Everybody loves a good fixer upper story. The cultural obsession with Chip and Joanna shows us how much we love a successful renovation. We love to see the before and after, the way old can be renewed. Homes, rooms, hearts, all need a renovation every once in a while.
I entered into this new season of a different job expecting a lot of changes, but unaware of the complete renovation my life would face. And we know, a renovation most of the time is not a bad thing – in fact, it is probably necessary. We see in interior design the way we can get stuck with old decorations, wall colors, furniture set-ups. We get comfortable with the way things are. But sometimes we need a shake-up! Which, of course, is very fun to watch when it is some random person’s home on HGTV. When it is our own lives and hearts, it is often more painful and uncomfortable than we would like.
Renovation in our lives isn’t just a benefit or unintended consequence of following Christ, it is an absolute guarantee. It is a necessity. If we are seeking Christlikeness in our lives, we really should not even be surprised by it. Of course we would need a complete overhaul.