Stripped to the Essentials

Sometimes life gets hard, lonely, frustrating. We don’t always have answers this side of heaven, but every once in a while, God gives us a glimpse of His Father’s heart and big picture plan. I had one of those moments last week during a leisurely walk with my daughter.

If you are or ever have parented teens, you know how hard it can be to connect on a heart-to-heart with them. They’d much rather spend time on their phones or Facebook than participate in family activities. But as their parents, we know they still need us … whether they think they do or not.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll remember how difficult our move was for our daughter. You’ll also remember the insight God gave me when I cried out to Him for aid. (You can read about it here.)

Last Thursday, as she and I talked about everything from hairstyles to God’s Word lived out in the day-to-day, I realized what a priceless treasure this time was. What a beautiful opportunity for heart-molding God had provided through my daughter’s brief period of loneliness. Heart-molding that will strengthen her to face her new school, college … life.

This summer, God stripped my daughter of much of the business that weighs her down in order to create time for something she really needed–time with her parents.

I began to think of all the times God does this with us. Maybe He’ll place us in a period of unemployment, drawing us to His side and freeing our time to truly connect with Him. Or maybe He’ll remove us from our family and friends for a time so He can be our all-in-all.

Let’s talk about this. When has a difficult time turned into an opportunity for divine intimacy? When has it brought your family closer together? How might our reaction to frustrations, change, or difficulties affect this?

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about God’s loving heart and His longing to draw near to us.

I love James 4:8, and I claim it as a promise. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This verse tells me, the moment I turn to God through Bible study, song, or prayer, He is already turning to me.

I also wanted to announce the winner of June’s gift basket. Most often, the gift basket goes to a Reach Out contributor selected by you, my readers. This time, the winner, Shannon Vannatter, decided to give the basket to a randomly selected reader.

The winner is: Dicky To. Dicky, I’ll be contacting you shortly.

Read this month’s most popular Reach Out story, It’s Not About Us by Shannon Taylor Vannatter.

Don’t Try Harder, Love More

As I’ve mentioned before, our church is reading over Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. It is a phenomenal book. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend you do. It’s inspiring, challenging–life changing. The whole thrust of the book is falling deeper in love with God. On a human level, this can be hard. We are run by our emotions and our emotions are roller coasters. Just look at the current divorce rate. We’re madly in love with someone one minute and ready to kill them the next. But that doesn’t mean our emotions in themselves are bad. God created us to be emotional creatures and it’s a huge part of who we are. Personally, I believe emotions are a gift intended to bond human hearts with one another and with God. The only problem is our emotions are tainted by sin and selfishness. I wonder what our world would look like if we were able to have the emotions without the sin. Ah, but that is what heaven is all about. And I can’t wait. To be able to connect with others and my God without any barriers, no false expectations, no baggage.

Baggage is a big emotion-distorter for me. Looking back at all my temper tantrums over the years, I have found most of my reactions and hurt feelings have very little to do with the actual event. Most often, it is my interpretation of the event that causes me the greatest pain. (Wow, is everything about taking our thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ?) This baggage that I lug with me wherever I go, a torn and ragged suitcase filled with past hurts and failures, taints the way I love; God, my husband, my family, my friends. It’s like watching the world through a sin-filled veil. Only half the time I’m not even aware my vision’s blurred. Until I catch a glimmer of what love is–not the tainted, human, selfish version of love that seeks only emotional pleasure rooted in rules of reciprocation, but real love. Agape love. Initiating, unconditional, transparent, accepting love. The kind of love given to us by the Father through the Son.

To be honest, I don’t really even understand that kind of love. Every once in a while, like when my husband and I are walking hand in hand down the street, or my daughter is nestled in my arms, I’ll catch a tiny glimmer of it. But most of the time my affections are tainted with self-love. And that’s the hardest item in my long-toted suitcase to give up. In fact, if left to my own resources, my love for self only grows. The harder I try to fight it down, the harder it fights back. So what can we do? Surround ourselves with a list of to-do’s: Spend time with daughter. Check. Write husband note. Check. Read your Bible. Check. In the hopes that over time our hearts will follow? I don’t think so. As Francis Chan pointed out in his book, when we try harder the focus is on ourselves, not on the object of our affection.

Just think about it. I say I’m going to love my husband so I create a plan. As I work out my plan, doing those little things throughout the day to shower him with affection, I become rather pleased with myself. Look at what a great wife I am. (See the self-love pop up?) In fact, I’m such a great wife, I deserve a little reciprocation. After all I’ve done, the least he can do is…(ah, and then comes the conditional love based on mutual back-scratching!) Nope, this kind of love doesn’t work.

So then what do we do? Give up entirely and settle for partial intimacy? Or perhaps we opt for total isolation. And yet, there has to be a solution–a way to use our God-given emotions as they were intended to be used, as wonderful gifts designed to bring us pleasure and unite our hearts with one another and with our Creator. And that’s where prayer comes in. One of my favorite verses is: “Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit says the Lord.”  (Zech 4:6) Admittedly I am using this verse out of context here, but I believe the principle remains. Anything that is good in me comes from God. And yet, my human nature propels me away from God. Therefore, I need God to overcome my human nature.

If you’ve read my marriage column, you’ll remember how God helped align my heart to my husband’s. He’s also used prayer to draw me closer to Him. I’ve come to realize, on my own, I’m a sold out lover of self through and through. I’ll grab, hide, strive and pout, resulting in isolation. But when I turn to God, and ask Him to change my heart, to draw my heart, not only to Him but to the others in my life, filling me with love and longing, He does. And eventually, my emotions align. Just as He promised in James 4:8 “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

You want more love in your life? For God and your family? Don’t try harder, just love more. Having trouble loving the way God desires? Ask Him to help you.

Love Letter From God