Be still and wait on the Lord

Waiting for God to answer your most fervent prayers is hard. I have learned not to expect an immediate answer because I know that God’s timing is not the same as mine. But when you have been waiting on the Lord for months or even years, you may wonder why he isn’t answering your prayers.

In my last Bible study on The Extraordinary Power of Praise, Becky Harling offered excellent advice on what to do while you wait: worship! Thank God for what he is doing in the background.

Even when I can’t see how God is working in my life and in the lives of others, I know that he is working things out for my good. He is accomplishing extraordinary things that I know nothing about (yet).

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:14

When I praise God, I soften my heart to his will. As I wait, God is shaping my heart and my character. He is refining me, making me humble, ridding me of my imperfections and impurities.

Becky Harling said to direct your thoughts to the character of God instead of worrying about the what-ifs. I know that God is good and I know that his intentions towards me are good! I know that he is merciful. I know that he is faithful and he has been good to me!

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13:5-6

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him to give you the desires of your heart.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

Be still. Listen. Stop questioning. Stop doubting. Have faith! God is in control. God is good. God is loving and merciful. He is my ever-present help in times of trouble.

❤️❤️❤️❤️

Photo credit: Mindful Christanity Facebook page.

Struggles of the Good Son

In part two of The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen focused on the struggles of the older son. We think of the younger son as the one who was lost. He was the one who left home and squandered his inheritance on wild living. The older son was faithful, hardworking and obedient. The truth is both sons were lost.

The younger son’s sins are easy to see. He was greedy and self-indulgent. He spent money recklessly. The older son’s sins are not as obvious. We know he was obedient. We can assume that he was respected and admired as a good man. When his self-indulgent brother was lavished with a huge welcome home celebration, he became angry, resentful, and jealous. He felt unappreciated.

What does more damage? Sins of the flesh or sins of the heart? Lust and greed or anger and resentment?

Nouwen pointed out that you can be lost while still at home. Even righteous people struggle with sins of the heart – anger and resentment, judgment and condemnation, bitterness and jealousy. This way of being lost is “closely wedded to the desire to be good and virtuous.” Sins of the heart are the dark underside of virtue.

The older son worked hard and did not get what he thought he deserved, certainly not compared to his younger brother. As a result, he became self-pitying and envious. He felt no joy at his brother’s return.

I can relate to the older brother’s response to his father. I’ve often complained and grumbled about unfairness, in my heart if not out loud. I can relate to his feelings. I’ve also felt unappreciated, rejected, and overlooked.

Nouwen noted that in this world, people are compared and ranked as more or less successful, more or less attractive, etc. How much of our sadness or happiness comes from comparing ourselves to others? I know that comparing myself to others often makes me feel like I’m not good enough.

We are so conditioned to measuring ourselves against other people, it can be hard for us to accept that someone loves us unconditionally. God loves each of us completely. He gave us our unique gifts and understands our shortcomings.

Nouwen told a story about a young man who was loved and admired by everyone who knew him. One critical remark from a friend sent him into a deep depression. His self-esteem was so fragile, he believed his friend had broken through the facade and had seen the despicable man he really was.

Even people who outwardly seem to have it all can feel insecure inside. Beneath the self-confidence and arrogance there can be an insecure heart that isn’t as sure of itself as the outward behavior leads one to believe.

Nouwen wrote that for those of us who struggle with sins of the heart, trust and gratitude are the keys to returning home to the father. “Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home.” Trust that God loves us completely as we are. We are worth finding.

Gratitude is the opposite of resentment. When we choose to be grateful, we acknowledge that all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God. Gratitude for what we have helps us see that our brothers and sisters belong to God as much as we do.

Nouwen’s reflections on the challenges of the good son remind me to pay attention to my feelings. When I catch myself judging, condemning, or resenting someone else (as I surely will), I should stop and remind myself that God loves each of us unconditionally. He loves me completely even though I am flawed in so many ways. He has forgiven me. His amazing grace is available to all of us! We are not rivals.

Leaving Home

I am reading my first Henri Nouwen book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen was so moved by Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal that he spent hours gazing at it at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and obtained a copy so he could look at it frequently over the years.

I don’t understand Nouwen’s obsession with the painting, but it obviously moved him. I was moved by Nouwen’s reflections on the parable. The parable of the Prodigal Son invites us to see ourselves in the story as the wayward child or as the dutiful but resentful child of God. Nouwen saw himself as both sons and even as the welcoming father.

When I see myself in the story, it is as the prodigal, which seems odd because I am normally such an obedient person. But as a teenager, I yielded to temptation and began to wander away from God. I stopped going to church. I stopped reading the Bible. I continued to stay away from my spiritual home as a young adult, but like the Prodigal Son, I wasn’t satisfied with what the world had to offer. I missed my Father.

While I have always thought of leaving my Father’s home as a specific time in my past, Nouwen sees leaving as an ongoing spiritual struggle. Where is my home? To whom do I belong?

When we stray away from God, we deny that we belong to him completely. We live as if we belong to the world. We live as if we must look elsewhere to find a home.

Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says: “You are my Beloved. On you my favor rests.”

Henri Nouwen

Many of us long to hear God’s voice. Nouwen describes God’s voice as the voice of love that speaks from eternity. When I hear that voice, I am home.

When Jesus prayed for his disciples, he said, “they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” In other words, we do not belong to the world. If we follow Jesus, our true home is with God.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

John 17:13-16

Every time we go elsewhere looking for love and acceptance, we stop hearing the voice that says we are Beloved. The voices of the world tell us that we must prove our worth. When I doubt my worthiness and goodness, I am listening to the voices of the world. Those voices can pull me away from my true home.

The world offers love conditionally. You are loved if you do this or that, if you are this or that. I will love you if you are successful. I will love you if you give me what I want.

Nouwen says that when you feel angry, resentful, jealous, or vengeful, it is a sign that you have left home. When you wonder why someone hurt you or rejected you or ignored you, you have left home and are seeking love and validation elsewhere.

I can really relate to what Nouwen had to say about seeking love and acceptance from the world. How often have I been filled with doubts about whether I am good enough based on the world’s conditions? How often have I fretted about being rejected or ignored?

It is so easy to forget how much we are loved by our Father. He loves us unconditionally! His love is enough.

The siren song of social media

Years ago, I signed up for Facebook to get updates on a nephew who was in the Peace Corps. In the beginning, Facebook seemed like a great way to stay in touch with family and to reconnect with classmates and old friends. But over time, Facebook had an unhealthy, almost addictive hold on me and I would get angry or depressed about things I read. How could something that was so appealing in the beginning turn into something dangerous and destructive?

In Greek mythology, sirens were beautiful half-bird, half-woman creatures who lured passing sailors to their deaths with sweet songs and music. A siren’s song is an enticing and seductive appeal that ultimately leads to destruction.

Siren song describes something that is very appealing and alluring on the surface but ultimately deceptive, dangerous, or destructive.

Facebook is a siren song that appealed to my desire to connect with people. It appealed to my desire to be entertained. It appealed to my desire to receive positive feedback from other people. But below the surface, there was a dark side to it.

When I thought about how hard it was for me to resist checking my Facebook account several times a day, I wondered if there is such a thing as social media addiction. While there is no clinical diagnosis, according to Leslie Walker, “a social networking addict could be considered someone with a compulsion to use social media to excess – constantly checking Facebook status updates,” for example. The compulsive behavior may very well fit a common definition of addiction.

Addiction usually refers to compulsive behavior that leads to negative effects. In most addictions, people feel compelled to do certain activities so often that they become a harmful habit, which then interferes with other important activities such as work or school.

Leslie Walker, What is Social Networking Addiction?

My use of Facebook had become compulsive and it was clear to me that social media was having a negative impact on me.

  • Facebook interfered with face-to-face interactions. My husband didn’t like how much time I was spending glued to my phone. And I understood his reaction because I don’t like it when other people do the same thing.
  • I wasted a lot of hours looking at unimportant posts, which took my attention away from more important, productive, or edifying activities.
  • I had the ridiculous fear of missing out (FOMO) on something interesting if I didn’t check my news feed every day.
  • I cared too much about social approval. Facebook encouraged me to be narcissistic – to be overly concerned with how people reacted to my posts. I became too concerned about the image I presented.
  • My moods and my feelings about other people were negatively impacted. Social media exposed me to a lot of negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. People say things online that they would not say to a person face-to-face.

On the website “MakeUseOf,” Joel Lee asks a couple of important questions about social media. Does it really improve our lives? Or have we become slaves to it? He warns that social media interferes with our dopamine systems. He warns about “social media creep” – an addiction takes a hold of you before you realize it. He recommends doing a social media detox.

The comment about dopamine intrigued me. So I read Simon Parker’s post, Has dopamine got us hooked on tech? It was disturbing to read about how the “feel good” chemicals in our brains are being exploited by social media companies to keep us hooked. I don’t like being manipulated.

This is the secret to Facebook’s era-defining success: we compulsively check the site because we never know when the delicious ting of social affirmation may sound.


Simon Parkin

When my pastor recommended giving up social media for Lent, he motivated me to take a much needed break from Facebook. I had become a slave to it. It was bringing me down. When Lent is over, I will replace my social media fast with a severely restricted diet. Resisting the siren song of Facebook is liberating!

*****

By Edward Armitage – http://images.bridgeman.co.uk/cgi-bin/bridgemanImage.cgi/600.LMG.0816210.7055475/123001.JPG

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6574249

Anger: name it and tame it?

My pastor read a ghost story to us, an excerpt from The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. There was a red lizard on the ghost’s shoulder that kept whispering things in his ear. He was embarrassed by it. An angel offered to make the lizard be quiet by killing it. The ghost was reluctant to let the angel kill the lizard even though it tormented him; he was afraid that he would be killed too. When the ghost finally accepted the angel’s help, he and the lizard were transformed.

My pastor shared the lizard story because we are studying the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 4, Paul told the believers that they must no longer live as the Gentiles. “Put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Get rid of that thing that is controlling you. Ask God to help you resist whatever temptations you are facing.

Years ago, I read a book called Signature Sins: Taming our Wayward Hearts, by Michael Mangis. Anger is one of my signature sins – the red lizard on my shoulder. Fortunately, it doesn’t whisper in my ear everyday but I struggle to tame it when it raises its ugly head.

In Got Anger? Try Naming It To Tame It, Michaeleen Doucleff explains that if you are able to distinguish specific kinds of anger, it will help you regulate your emotions. This is known as “emotional granularity” or emotion differentiation. If you differentiate between the many variations of anger, you will better understand what is causing the emotion and how to handle it in a more constructive way.

Doucleff named three variations of anger that she struggles with: hurry-up anger (directed a people who are too slow), illogical anger (directed at people who are illogical), and disonophous anger (a made-up word for anger caused by noise). I can relate to Doucleff’s hurry-up anger but I sometimes think of it as “get out of my way” anger.

I have a few names for the kinds of anger I struggle with:

Overwhelmed Anger. This is one of my most challenging kinds of anger because it is stress-induced. If I am being pulled in too many directions, I feel overwhelmed. If there are too many things on my plate, I can’t even think straight. My anger stems from feeling stressed and out of control. And if I am feeling overwhelmed, I am less patient with other people. To get rid of this kind of anger, I know that I need to ask for help or to say no more often.

Interference Anger: This anger is directed at people who interfere with my ability to get something done or to accomplish my goals. For example, I get angry with my manager when he waits until the last minute to review my reports. He keeps me from completing my work early so I end up being stressed out as deadlines approach. I realize that my priorities are not my manager’s priorities. I have learned that he doesn’t have great time management skills so I have to manage upward.

Interruption Anger: This is another form of work-related anger. When I am really concentrating and focusing on the task at hand and someone interrupts me, I can get annoyed because the interruption messes up my train of thought. I have to anticipate that there will be interruptions and that unexpected things will happen.

Righteous Indignation: This anger is directed at people who are dishonest, immoral, greedy, selfish, unjust, unmerciful, etc. While I don’t want to be and should not be indifferent to immorality and injustice, my anger at evil does not always produce the kind of righteousness God wants. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote, “most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image…”

Michael Mangis says that “we are justified at being angry only at the evil that also angers God.” It’s very easy for righteous indignation to turn into self-righteous indignation. Our reasons for being angry are rarely pure and unselfish. Getting rid of righteous indignation requires humility. I have to admit my own sinfulness and accept the fact that I can’t fix people and I can’t eradicate evil.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19 (NIV)

In writing about anger, Mangis said that it cannot be safely tamed. He quoted St. John Cassian who described anger as a deadly poison that must be completely rooted out of your inmost being. Anger can be extremely destructive. As long as anger remains in our hearts, it prevents us from seeing clearly. It impairs our judgment.

I don’t know that you can really tame your anger by naming it but I think it is beneficial to understand the causes and the underlying emotions. In a blog post on Psychology Today, Leon Seltzer, Ph.D., says that “anger is, unquestionably, the most moralistic of emotions.” We think our anger is justified if someone wronged us. A variety of other emotions underlie anger such as feeling disrespected, powerless, humiliated, etc.

Anger is most accurately understood as a potent psychological defense against a variety of more distressing emotions that underlie it.

Leon Seltzer, Ph.D.

There are all sorts of corrective actions you can take when you feel yourself getting angry. If you know your emotional triggers, you can anticipate the behaviors that provoke you to anger and become less reactive. You can try to see things from the other person’s point of view. You can become more assertive. You can try to see the humor in the situation.

The truth is, I have struggled with anger for years even though I know what triggers it, even though I can take my anger temperature, even though I’ve got emotional granularity. I would love to get rid of it once and for all. So maybe the next time the little red lizard of anger whispers in my ear, instead of trying to fix myself, I will just say, God, please kill it.

*****

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash