Goodness in the Land of the Living

My sweet sister-in-law reminded me this morning that it’s November. She posted a precious message of thanks on Facebook, marking the first day of “The Great Thank-Off” where you share something you’re thankful for everyday leading up to Thanksgiving.

(When my sister-in-law asked her 2 year old what he was thankful for this morning he said, “Jesus… in my life” – does that not make you tear up or what?!)

The reminder this morning pierced me at a moment of UN-thankfulness. It’s been a long week with frustrations appearing at every corner. I’m tired and burnt out. At this moment, I’m sitting on the bus trying to squeeze in some thoughts on my long commute home. And I’m overwhelmed with the sense that everything I’ve been upset about is relatively trivial.

I think it goes without saying this week that there is probably someone having a harder day than you (likely trudging through the day with no power and no running water). But this is not about making us feel guilty because of our emotions and reactions to the problems we encounter every day. Guilt solves nothing.

What if we tried changing our focus?

I ran across this psalm on my commute into work today:

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13

To be completely honest, I posted it in defiance of how I was feeling. For some reason, I haven’t really been able to see that goodness lately.

But I know it’s there. I just need to shift my focus.

I love the book of Psalms because it’s really a prayer book. I’m pretty sure every emotion I’ve felt can be found in the Psalms. Praise, joy, and thankfulness are just a page way from sorrow, anger, and fear. Doesn’t life feel like that?

Instead of dwelling on everything that’s going wrong (and trust me, I know how tempting it is to want to wallow in the bad), I’d love to challenge you to focus on what’s going right this month.

It’s not that we shouldn’t acknowledge when we feel angry, frustrated or fearful – we are human and these are very real and natural emotions. But isn’t it too easy to fall into a rut of taking things for granted and focusing on what’s wrong in our lives?

This November, I’m committing to sharing something I’m thankful for and choosing a Psalm of celebration, joy or worship for each day. I want to acknowledge that I am seeing the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

Let’s focus on the good and be thankful. Join me?

By the way, I’m thankful this November 1st for all the thankfulness I’ve already seen via social media today. It really lifts the heart to read what has blessed someone else. Thank YOU!

More on Rituals and Faith

My mom emailed me today to remind me that rituals can still be a very important part of our relationship with God, especially in times when our faith feels unstable. I didn’t mean to come across as critical of the traditions of faith in my quick synopsis of yesterday’s sermon at church. I think the point Paul made was more about how we define our relationship with God. Are we taking pride in how many Bible studies/small groups/other church activities we attend? Or do we use our good behavior, especially in comparison to others, as a benchmark for “how Christian” we are?

While my current church is less structured than the Lutheran church I grew up in, I still very much cherish the rituals we practiced each week. The call and response readings, the old hymns, the prayers of the church. These are beautiful rituals that certainly help to ground me in times of shaky faith. A great example is praying the Psalms. There have been many times in my life where I just couldn’t find the words to pray. I would read through the Psalms, praying the words of David as if they were my own. There are Psalms for when you are angry, joyful, fearful… it is comforting to know my every emotion is documented in these books. And let’s not forget the Lord’s Prayer. I know I have clung to those words in some very dark hours.

I really believe that people experience and worship God in diverse ways. I love seeing someone in church leaping with joy during worship. You will likely find me quietly singing, clutching my heart or furiously writing something in my journal. We are all unique – beautifully designed by our Creator – and we find connection with God in different ways.

But sometimes our connection with God becomes obscured by a list of behaviors we feel we must adhere to in order to win favor with God. It doesn’t mean these things are bad but they become obstacles when we take pride in them or allow them to fill the space of pure connection with God.

For example, there have been times in my life where I felt like I could only be classified as a “good Christian” if I read my Bible every morning, attended small group every week and journaled extensive prayers to God. I would feel anxiety if I didn’t fulfill these duties. They are all wonderfully important ways for me to connect with God but they became the idol. I could take pride in how much I read my Bible but what did it matter to God if I was just rushing through the verses to get them done instead of bringing my attention to Him?

Another example is when I was struggling to fit in with the Christian culture in a community. There were very specific behaviors that determined whether someone was really saved or just a wayward child. I witnessed a lot of judgment and exclusivity in a place where I expected to find acceptance and encouragement. But that’s a story for another time.

Tyler just reminded me of a conversation we had with one of our friends at the mosque. We were discussing the differences in our types of worship. He had attended a church service and remarked how there was a band and singing, markedly different from the 5 daily prayer times that Muslims practice.

He said, “Don’t you ever find that you’re not praying to God, but just, singing a song?”

My prayer is that we don’t replace our relationship with God with an empty collection of behaviors, however structured or unstructured they may be. When God is the purpose and the initiator, the small group flourishes, the service work amplifies, and the hymns leap off the page. Through Jesus, we have been given the freedom to connect with God through faith, not held by the old laws that required very strict and specific behaviors about circumcision, food, etc.

This is not about throwing out all sense of morality or tradition. Paul says “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

Go forth and serve!

Sunday Thoughts

Just a few thoughts and an anecdote from this weekend…

1. “I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness” – A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller

I’m reading this book as a “pre-class” assignment for a 9-month program I’m starting in September called Threshold. The program is about discovering God’s calling for your life and a portion of it focuses on the story we tell with our lives. I can’t wait to start exploring the story God wants to write with my life.

What story are you telling?

2. Once a month we deliver food to Iraqi refugees on the North Shore of Boston. It started as a one-time interfaith project between our church and the Islamic Society of Boston but we’ve stuck around to continue our route. We’ve gotten to know some of the families over the months and learned that many of the parents held high-ranking positions in Iraq as doctors, lawyers, professors, etc. They assisted the US during the Iraq war and because of their assistance have had to flee Iraq. These hardworking families are struggling to make ends meet in rundown communities with few resources and connections.

Yesterday marked the end of Ramadan with the celebration of Eid al Fitr. We were fortunate to sample some traditional cookies baked by one of the families. One of the delivery days, we ended up driving the two older children from the mosque back home. They were helping to put the food boxes together and it wasn’t until we arrived at their home that we realized their family is one of the recipient families. These two teens study hard, volunteer at every opportunity and help out at home. Last month they were in New Orleans rebuilding a home with Habitat for Humanity. They greet us warmly each month, often asking us to sit and visit with them and now sharing in their celebration with us.

And as it is usually true with service, we feel like we are the ones who received something at the end of our route.

3. “So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world?” Galatians 4:9  

The sermon in church this morning talked about the religious rules that we cling to when what God really wants for us to have is “risky faith”, as Pastor Dave calls it. In Galatians, Paul is speaking to a group of people who have received the Gospel but are insisting on going back to their “religious ways” as a means to determine their rightness with God.

Do you feel like this is still true today? Sometimes it feels like the Christian culture begs us to engage in a certain set of behaviors and opinions that will prove that we are godly. But we are not godly. We sin and fail and the only way to be right with God is to cling tightly to HIM. When we start taking pride in our behaviors and habits, we give the enemy the perfect opportunity to steal our confidence in God. We begin trusting in our actions and not having courage to believe that God will come through in the things that really matter.

4. We sang this song today and my heart just felt like bursting.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul. 

The story of the songwriter is so inspiring. I pray that we would all experience complete peace in the face of hardship and tragedy.

5. Thank you to our generous donors! The Cancer Community Center sent me an email saying they were grateful for the fundraising efforts so far. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to check out our fundraising page: http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=207888

Cheers to a blessed week!