Last year, a tradition started with the class of 2017 that we call “Circle Time”. There haven’t been a lot of Circle Times (I really do teach, I promise!), but when the need arises, we put English or Drama on hold and have a chat about concerns either the students or I have.
A couple weeks ago, I felt God leading me to call a “Circle Time” with my seniors. I was seeing something that I have often seen in seniors – a tendency to be so focused on the future that they miss what is happening right now.
I thought I’d bring this particular Circle Time discussion here, because I am confident that my students aren’t the only ones dealing with this issue.
We can all get “future tense”. For the seniors, it’s the burning desire to move on to the next phase of life (I refuse to call it the “real world” because teens are living in the real world. You can read my blog rant on this if you’d like). And I get it. They’re ready to have more freedom, to be a “college student” instead of a “high school kid”. They want to move that tassle and get on with what will surely be more exciting than the life they currently lead.
But, teens, as I told my seniors — this temptation to live in the future will always be there. When you finish high school, you’ll be tempted to look forward to finishing college, to getting married, to having kids, to getting a promotion, a new car, a nice vacation…It never ends! You could find yourself at the end of your life realizing you’ve spent far too much time fantasizing about the future instead of living in the present.
So acknowledge this temptation for what it is and battle it.
God has plans for you today. He has lessons to teach you, people He wants you to impact, good work He has prepared for you to complete. Don’t miss out on the joys that are before you today because you are dreaming about the joys that you hope will come in the future. Because, to be honest, the future never turns out the way we expect! Not that it’s worse – it’s often better than we imagined. But it’s always different. Faith means we trust God with everything – even the future – knowing His ways are better than ours.
Ever been asked that question? I know my answer… Judy Garland.
She is my favorite entertainer and has been for as long as I can remember. I have watched all her movies, listened to all her music, and read every biography I can get my hands on. If you don’t know who she is (I am clutching my heart in pain at the thought), maybe this will help…
If you still don’t know, then we just can’t be friends.
Judy Garland was an amazing, one in a BILLION talent, but her personal life was disastrous. There are many reasons for that, the biggest of which seems to be that she was constantly seeking approval. She was happy when people liked her and depressed when they didn’t. When she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — her trademark song sung from the time she was 16 until her death at 47 — I believe she meant every word. She longed for a place where “troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops.” She truly questioned, “if happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can’t I?”
If you listen to recordings of her singing this song in her later years, you can hear the longing in her voice, feel the pain. She wanted what the song promised: a better life than what she had.
I wish, for many reasons, that I had been able to meet Judy Garland. More than anything, I wish I could have told her that what she longed for was possible. There is a place beyond our imaginations that is so much better than what we have here. Heaven. God placed in all of us a desire to be there. And, through Jesus, He made it possible to go. And that longing for approval? It cannot be met by any human, but it can be met by her Creator – a God who cares for her more than she can imagine. A Savior who can carry her burdens, free her from her addictions, forgive her for her sins, and give her the unconditional love she so desperately wanted.
I can’t say that to Judy Garland, but I can say it to YOU. Though her talent was exceptional, her struggles are common. They aren’t just the struggles of superstars. So many people are seeking to find fulfillment for their God-given longings for eternity with what is temporary. Reaching out for approval among the sinners instead of accepting it from the Savior. Medicating their pain instead of surrendering it to the One who can trade it for joy. I wish this amazingly talented woman could have known that. I wish I could have sat down to dinner with her and told her this.
As a teacher, I recognize tests are important:Tests in my class, standardized tests, AP exams…None are perfect, mind you. But they do assist educators in understanding where our students are and where they need to be.
But did you know that God tests us, too? And, unlike tests we humans devise, God’s tests are perfect and accurate and always necessary.
As I look back on this year, I realize it has been a series of tests. And, if I am perfectly honest, I have not done so well. I have chosen to complain when I should have chosen to rejoice. I have cried into my pillow when I should have cried out to God. I have blamed my feelings on others when I should examined myself. I have seen, in short, that I’m not nearly as “great” a Christian as I thought I was. Without the testing this year has brought, I would have continued in a self-righteous kind of mindset, blind to my faults and hyper-aware of everyone else’s.
Thankfully, God doesn’t test us simply to show us where we are failing. James 1 tells us that the “testing of our faith produces perseverance” and when that work of perseverance is finished, we become “mature, complete, not lacking anything”. Maturity, I believe, means that I can overlook insults and criticism. ‘Complete’ means I am so fully satisfied in God that no one and nothing can steal my joy. ‘Not lacking anything’ means just that – not allowing myself to dwell on the “if only’s…” but recognizing that, in Christ, I have all I need and more.
I am so thankful that God is a gracious teacher. One failing grade doesn’t mean I’m out of the class. My friend, Jennifer, is a lot like Jesus in her math classroom. When students fail a test, she calls them back and allows them to retake it, discussing the parts that they misunderstood, clearing up confusion, encouraging them that, yes, they can do math. Students are encouraged, not to simply pass a test, but to mature in their understanding of the subject so they’re better equipped to go onto the next level. I wish I had a teacher like her when I was in school!
I am grateful I have a God who is the Master Teacher, whose tests are always for my good, and who allows retakes. He isn’t testing me – or you – to punish us or make us feel unworthy. He is testing us because He wants us to be “mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Better than any diploma or degree I can imagine!
So, as I look forward to 2017, I am resolved to seek some “re-takes”, to go to extra tutoring, and to sit at the feet of my Teacher and learn from Him. I am resolved to seek maturity and rejoice “whenever [I] face trials of many kinds, because [I] know the testing of [my] faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)
Yesterday, we were almost at Disneyland.
For those familiar with the Disneys, Disney World in Florida is truly a “world” in itself. You have to park, walk/ride a tram to the ticket booths, then take the monorail or ferry into the park itself. Disneyland, however, is smaller. You can, as we did, park at the Downtown Disney lot, walk around, then go right up to the front gate. All for $0 (if you leave the parking lot within two hours). We were right there – we caught glimpses of Main Street, heard strains of “It’s a Small World”, smelled the cotton candy. But we did not go in. Not this time. We’re putting our extra money towards helping our oldest pay for college next year. So we enjoyed the beauty of Downtown Disney, but we remained outside the gates of the park itself.
Downtown Disney is just a “taste” of Disney. Like the appetizer before a seven -course meal. It’s nice. But it isn’t the “meal” itself. It draws people in, lets us see, on keychains and ornaments and scaled-down models, what’s inside. Thankfully, we have amazing kids, and there was no grumbling or complaining about not getting to go into the park. But we all recognized that, though we were “almost” there, we did not get the actual Disneyland experience. However, knowing we live just a couple hours away, we have hope that, someday, we will get a picture inside those gates!
This morning, my bible study took me to the middle of Romans 8. In this, Paul talks about the reality of heaven and how it pales in comparison to life on this earth. I thought of our time at Downtown Disney yesterday. I realized that too often, I expect more of this world than I should. This world is like a “Downtown Heaven”. We have glimpses of the Kingdom here, tastes and smells and scaled-down models of the the real thing. But this world is not heaven! Unlike Downtown Disney, which was quite pleasant, this world is filled with the unpleasant, sinful, and sometimes horrific. We suffer and groan and work. We get frustrated because we expect this to be heaven, we expect perfection and ease and sinlessness.
The good news is that we are longing for a real place – there really will be a time (eternity!) where we will experience pure joy and endless worship, no tears, no pain, no disappointments. Until then, “we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance, we wait eagerly for it.” (Rom. 8:25b)
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am challenged to remember why He came – to redeem a fallen world, to offer hope, and to provide a way for us to join Him in heaven forever. May we choose to rejoice, choose to remember why we are here and what waits for us just beyond the “gate”. May we enjoy this life, but not live it in the expectation that this is all there is. There is far more, my friends! Let us “wait eagerly for it”.
Go to any bookstore – online or in person – and you will find rows and rows…and rows and rows… of shelves housing books devoted to “self-esteem.” Most seem to focus on loving yourself, forgiving yourself, being good to yourself. Because we just don’t think enough of ourselves.
Here’s what I think: our problems with self-esteem aren’t that we don’t think enough of ourselves. Our problem is that we think of ourselves WAY too much.
At least I do, anyway. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t think about myself, my needs, my wants. When I don’t feel frustrated that I am not being treated well enough. I look at people and wonder what they are thinking about me – do they like me? Are they talking about me to their friends? Are those conversations positive or negative? They better not be saying bad things because, believe me, I know some stuff about them…Yeah, um, you get the idea.
But plenty of days go by when I don’t think about others: the needs of others, the wants of others, whether or not I am treating others well enough. I am an expert on being self-centered. In fact, I could write a book about that! But being others-centered? I need some help there.
I have help there: it’s called the Bible, and it is SO much better than any self-help book on any real or virtual bookstore on the planet. The Bible has a whole lot to say about how we should think about ourselves. The verse I need to be reminded of most often is this one:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” ~Phil. 2:3-4
The English teacher in me has to point out that those verses are imperatives – the “bossy” sentence. That’s Paul (lovingly) sticking his finger in our faces and saying, YOU – that’s right YOU – stop being so selfish! Worry more about others than you worry about yourself. The rest of the chapter (which I highly recommend reading) goes on to demonstrate how Jesus lived out this principle. He set the example for a selfless life, and we will experience great joy if we follow that example.
So if I really want to make ME happy, I should think about ME less.
Because my self has enough help
No one likes to be disliked. But some people can just naturally tolerate it better than others. My husband, for instance, is slightly bothered when he finds out someone dislikes him, but he can move on. I, however, am incredibly bothered and try to figure out why that person dislikes me, what I did to offend him/her, what I might be able to do to make him/her like me. OR I get angry and think of all the reasons why I don’t like that person, having
dozens of imaginary conversations with them in which I reduce them to a quivering pile of tears, giving them a real reason to hate me. And, if I am being honest, in my worst moments, those imaginary conversations become all too real. And they don’t feel nearly as good as I thought they would.
The fact is, there will always be people who don’t like you. Sorry if this is news to you. But Jesus Himself was hated, so…
The hardest part, I think, is when the person who doesn’t like us is someone we like – a person we thought was our friend or someone we look up to. I could care less if some jerk hates me. But what if it’s a colleague, the parent of a student, or an authority figure?? If you’re a student, maybe it’s someone you thought was a friend in your class, or maybe a teacher or a youth leader. That hurts!
I’d like to say there’s a formula to make everyone like you. But there’s not. Sorry. There are, however, principles that can help us deal with being disliked.
Before we get all “woe is me”, we must remember that we are sinners. Jesus didn’t come for everyone but us. He came for all of us – because we are all in desperate need of a Savior. So examine yourself. That person who dislikes you may have good reason. Ask God to reveal any sin in your own life. Ask that person if you have offended him/her. Come to him/her humbly, seeking restoration. That person may or not be willing to forgive you (we’re getting to that). But there is great peace in taking the humble position and seeking to restore what is broken.
Pray for the “Hater”
This does not come naturally to most of us. I know when I feel hated, I want to hate right back. But the Bible is filled with verses telling us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This can only be accomplished through the Holy Spirit working in us. In fact, I have found that God often allows “haters” in my life to draw me closer to Him. Because I hate it so much, being disliked gets my attention. Too much attention! I can become obsessive about it, thinking all the time about that situation. Every time, though, God gently reminds me it is HIS good opinion I need to focus on. It is HIS commands I need to follow. And those commands are not burdensome. Instead of obsessing over why that person dislikes me, I simply need to pray for them. God will let me know what to do next.
Try to Make Peace
Along with being a people-pleaser, I am also incredibly non-confrontational. I would rather walk away from a friendship than take steps to seek restoration. This is yet another area where God is continually working in me. We are called to do our best to be at peace with all men. So if I know someone is upset with me, I need to try and work things out. If someone has hurt me, I need to try and work things out. I don’t need to wait for them. I need to go to them – in humility and grace, with lots of prayer – and do all I can to make peace and restore what was broken.
Let It Go
You can can only do so much. You can’t make people like you. You can’t make people forgive you. You may take all of these steps and still find that person dislikes you. Then what? Let it go! SO much easier said than done, I know. But there it is. If you can say, in clear conscience, that you have done all you could, and that person is still unwilling to forgive or move on or admit their actions – then you are “all clear”. Don’t obsess. Find those who do like you and strengthen those relationships. Be in God’s word daily, in prayer continually, so you are pleasing the One who has given you life. Move on. That is possible – even with deep hurts. It takes time and prayer and supernatural strength, but it is possible. And you will come out of that hurt with more compassion, more humility, and a stronger relationship with the Friend who sticks closer than a brother.
I was on a search committee at church a few years ago. A group of us were tasked with finding a young man who could work with both the worship ministry and with youth – the list of his responsibilities were pretty long. We prayed before every meeting, asking God to direct us to His choice for this position.
Early on in the process, the supervising pastor told us, “We need to make sure the man we choose has been ‘broken’.” It sounded a bit harsh, but we knew what he was saying: Brokenness in ministry is inevitable. Recovering from that brokenness marks the difference between a mature believer and a baby.
I was reminded of that as I studied the book of Job. Job was broken in every way possible – spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally…In a few short verses, he went from being an incredibly wealthy father of ten to a man bereft of everything he held dear – children killed, livestock and home destroyed, body devastated.
Yet, the scripture tells us in all this Job did not sin. He did not curse God (even though his wife encouraged him to do just that!). In fact, in his brokenness, Job worshiped God.
I thought, then, of the many people I have known and encountered and heard about, who experienced difficulties in this life and did not respond the way Job responded. People who did curse God. Some turned from the one true God to other “gods” who promise a more comfortable life, or away from God entirely because they “tried” God and He didn’t “work” for them.
Far too often, we choose to believe in a God we have crafted in our own minds – a God who makes life easy for us, who constantly blesses us, who protects us from everything bad, everything negative. And when that God doesn’t behave in the way we believe He should behave, we walk away.
We need to be reminded of the lesson Job learned. After three dozen chapters of Job’s friends trying to explain God and make sense of Job’s situation, God shows up. He rebukes those well-meaning (?) friends and responds to Job’s longing for an answer to the “why”?
In the final chapters of the book of Job, God explains that He is God. He doesn’t offer Job a “reason” for his difficulties, He doesn’t apologize for Job’s trial, He doesn’t promise to make everything better. He doesn’t have to!
He is GOD. We are not. Period.
That is the lesson Job learns in his brokenness. And he worships the holy, perfect God, repenting for daring to ask that this almighty, sovereign Creator God “defend” Himself to His creation.
Brokenness in the Christian life leads to strength and peace and joy. When we understand God is not a genie, not a “Santa”, not a Divine Butler who gives us what we want when we want it, when we fall to our knees and recognize God is God, worthy of our complete devotion and obedience and worship, we are set free.
C.S. Lewis’ greatest and least-known work is his final novel, Till We Have Faces. We just finished studying this work in my AP Literature class, and, even after years of teaching it, I still finish in awe of this amazing writer and his incredible story.
If you are like most people, you’ve never read this book, maybe even never heard of it. I don’t want to give too much away, but I do want to whet your appetite. This is far too good a book for readers to miss out on!
This novel is a combination of everything Lewis loved, and it is his fiction writing at its most glorious and most mature. Based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche, the novel’s protagonist is Psyche’s oldest sister, Orual. The novel is a first-person account, detailing Orual’s complaint against the gods and her eventual retraction of that complaint.
This novel, Lewis insisted, is a parallel, not an allegory, like Narnia or the Space Trilogy. It doesn’t fit into neat boxes in its connection to Christianity. And yet, this is an even greater apologetic, in my opinion, than Mere Christianity. As Orual rails against the gods – who seem to torment her and mock her throughout the first part – we see humanity. Orual is incredibly intelligent, strong, able, and she loves deeply. But she is blind to the truth. In her hatred for the gods, she cuts herself off from everyone – her disconnect with others symbolized by the veil she wears over her face most of her life. She views life through the “veil”, sure that she is correctly interpreting reality, but actually becoming more and more blind with every passing year.
Her understanding of the world and the gods is limited, and yet she sets herself up as the gods’ accuser, as the victim, as God Himself.
She finally discovers (spoiler alert!) that she has been lying to herself her whole life. That the Truth can only be seen when she is honest with herself, when the veil is removed, when she accepts, like Job in the Old Testament, that God is God and she is not.
This book is so rich – an incredible work of literature and an incredible reminder of who we are before a holy God. If you have not read this – get it! Read it. If you have read it – read it again! I find some new nugget of truth and beauty every time I revisit this story.
“To say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or nothing less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” (Till We Have Faces, 294)
Remember the Laura Story song, “Blessings“? It’s tough to listen to it without crying – because, if you’ve walked with God for any length of time, you understand the truth of those lyrics: “What if your blessings come through raindrops/What if Your healing comes through tears/What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near/What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise”
I just experienced a “blessings” kind of weekend. It was Homecoming at our school – the school we moved to just last year. The school where, fifteen months ago, my kids were strangers. They were also heartbroken – this school is 2500 miles from “home” in Florida, where they had grown up, where they have deep friendships, where they are known and loved.
And, yet, in God’s grace, fifteen months later, my daughters were named as Homecoming royalty at this school! The “home” part gets me. God took what started as “raindrops”, “tears”, and “sleepless nights” and turned them into “mercies”.
The fact that they were royalty isn’t the great part (though, you have to admit, it’s pretty exciting!). What’s great is that God has given them friends and a sense of belonging….in fifteen months! He has given them not one, but two “homes”. And, best of all, both my daughters have shared that this move brought them closer to God and closer to each other.
Maybe you are in a “trials” part of life. If so, keep in mind that God has a purpose, even in this. He wants to bless you – He wants you to know Him better and experience Him in a deeper way. Don’t run from him during hard times. Run to Him. It is quite possible that this trial is a “mercy in disguise”.
I don’t have time to read my Bible everyday. I’m so busy, I have to pray on the run, while I’m doing my make-up or driving to school. Life is just SO busy…
I’d like to say these are things other people say. But those excuses have all come out of my mouth at one time. Or a hundred. And they sound good. And I can back them up with stories, proof, statistics…I have a husband, three kids, a full-time job…
But here’s the thing. I’m not so busy I can’t watch all eight episodes of “Stranger Things” in less than two weeks. I’m not too busy to check social media
twice a day, three times a day, a lot. I’m not too busy to read that new novel I just downloaded on my Kindle…
I make time for what is important. I use the “busy” excuse for what’s not.
It’s easy to use the “Busy” Myth to excuse ourselves from spending time with God. People around us sympathize with the excuse, and they totally buy it – because they’re using it, too!
But here’s the thing I have learned the hard way – I have been created to spend time with my Creator. I need to abide in Him, to learn from Him, to rest in Him. When I don’t, I am a miserable, cranky, ugly person who watches way too much TV and spends far more time on my phone than I should.
So girls (and any guys who might happen upon this), I am calling you out – don’t you dare say you’re too busy to spend time with God. You’re not! Your priorities are just out of whack. So turn off the television, put down the book, click off the social media sites, and open your Bible. You’ll be amazed at what you see.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” `Matthew 11:28