Not By the Sweat of Your Brow

We’re a “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” type of people. We take great pride in a job well done, an obstacle conquered, and a goal reached. Self-help books frequent the best-seller’s lists with titles like “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” “Act like a Woman, Think Like a Man,” and “The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work,” and yet, society as whole, has not changed. Not to say that there hasn’t been progress. Better health practices, iphones and wireless internet obviously has made life easier. But morally, for the most part, we’re the same. At least from where I’m sitting.  Some say we’re worse. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but I certainly don’t see the euphoria that all these self-help books and documentaries should have created, if they worked.

As a writer, I spend a great deal of time studying others, and once you make it past the outward smile or the teeth-gritting stick-to-itness, you begin to see some very dark and lonely hearts. And although I am limited to the study of those with whom I am in contact with, from where I sit, it seems like those who frequent the self-help section the most are often some of the most miserable. Oh, they’ll make progress for a while. They’ll read the book, post notes to their mirrors, door frames and cupboards, but over time, their best-efforts fizzle, sometimes even leaving them worse than they were before. Where is the progress the five steps promise? Ah, but we’ve found the solution. We’ll just try another book, and then another, and then another. And if we try harder, and commit, next time will be different. We’ll find the perfect relationship, lose those pesky twenty pounds, eradicate our insecurities, and suddenly gain the confidence to feel comfortable in our skin. And so the never-ending cycle continues, our drive for perfection fueled by our momentary successes until our lives are enslaved by goal sheets, to do lists, and frequently chanted affirmations.

But then there are others who seem to float through life on a perpetual peace cloud. While our marriages fail, theirs deepen. While bitterness consumes us, they are filled with joy, peace, and increasing love. Not a love of convenient reciprocation, but a genuine love that bubbles from within, coloring all they see and do. And so, we raise them up onto our “self-help” pedestal and make an analysis of what they do, focusing on their outward behaviors instead of what drives them. So we run for another rag and spruce up the outside of our cup, leaving the inside, our inner selves, untouched. Because stick-to-itness can only take us so far, and its effects will last but a moment. Life changes, real life changes, the kind only the Father can provide, last forever.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus calls us to surrender our burdens so that we can relax in His arms. “Come to Me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yours souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus calls us to stop striving, grasping, reaching…performing. He bids us to come to Him so that we may rest. And as we grow in Him, He takes care of all the rest.

The Back-peddling of a Hypocrite

I think it’s time I go back and read some of my own blog posts. The one about riding on the naturally flowing current would be a great start. And reminding myself of my commitment to Christ and Christ alone would help, as well. It’s funny how quickly I lose my focus and allow myself to get swept away on the “performance” tide.

Last week, in a moment of mindless inspiration, I posted a weekly schedule. Which was nothing more than a personally designed, to-do-list-prison, by the way. One thing I learned some time ago, on my own, my writing sucks. Big, rotten lemons. I know God is trying, very patiently, might I add, to show me that He alone is the source for anything good I do. Whenever I grab on to the reigns and force things, I end up with egg on my face. Conversely, all of my best writing has been the result of intimate fellowship with my Creator. Which means, instead of forcing myself to perform and meet self-imposed obligations, I need to pull back and spend more time tapping into my greatest resource.

This morning, in an effort to maintain my self-imposed schedule, I forced out some cyber-garbage. Don’t worry, you won’t have to suffer through the awkward drivel. I’ve already sent it to the trash. And all this less than a week since I made the very public commitment to follow Christ, and His leading, no matter how winding the road. But how can I follow His leading when I’m forging my own way?

Wow, this surrender thing is hard. And I’m certain I’ll have many more “jumping back into the driver’s seat” episodes, but luckily God’s grace is only a delete button (or as some like to call it–repentance) away.

As a writer, surrender is hardest when the words won’t come. Most of the time, stories and articles fly off my keyboard so fast, smoke seeps from the monitor. And when they don’t come so easily, it  can be rather tempting to focus on the final product. We can all force out a few hundred words if we try hard enough. But does our forced, human efforts glorify God? What if, when those moments hit, instead of striving harder, we worked less–and drew closer to God? I think the results would surprise us. He is, after all, way more creative than you or I. He formed a multi-galaxy universe out of nothing, remember? And one quick glance at any parable recorded in Scripture demonstrates God’s mastery of symbolism. Imagine what our libraries would be like if we would but take the time to experience, on a heart-to-heart level, the mind of Christ.

Pummeled By the Waves

This morning I received an email from a dear friend who’s struggling to keep her head above water. Wave after wave has crashed over her, making it hard for her to see the shore. She’s so exhausted, she’s started to wonder if perhaps she’ll remain lost at sea forever.

As I read the obstacles, struggles, fears and concerns she shared, I was reminded of my first open water swim. The water was cold and somehow the 500 meters across the lake seemed double to the twenty-lap equivalent in the pool. There weren’t any clearly marked lines painted along the bottom. Only a blur of feet pelting me in the head and face and the occasional buoy shrouded in fog. As wave after wave swept over me, filling my nose and mouth with murky lake water, it felt like I was fighting a loosing battle. For every exhausting stroke forward, the current seemed to take me two strokes back. And the harder the current pulled, the harder I kicked. Before long, my tense muscles killed my buoyancy. My legs sank, throwing my entire body off alignment. For about two minutes. Then, muscle memory kicked in and my body relaxed, allowing me to follow the gentle ebb and flow of the current.

The result? The minute I quit fighting and striving and pounding the water, my body started to relax. And a relaxed body floats much better than a tense one. Before long, I fell into a nice, smooth rhythm that carried me to shore with little effort on my part.

I think the same holds true for our spiritual life as well. We’ll hear God’s call. Maybe it’s too start a new Sunday school class or join a critique group, or maybe it’s to go back to school after ten, twenty or thirty years out. And all we can see are all the waves crashing against our face, pulling us back to shore. We begin to sink under a torrent of to-do lists and expectations, forgetting that the God who told us to jump in is ready and able to carry us to the shore. And he’s already got our course mapped out. He knows which way the wind is blowing, which way the waves will crash and which currents will carry us the farthest. It is our choice, then, to close our eyes and relax, allowing our bodies to float in whatever direction He carries us, knowing that He will not let us drown, or we can pummel against the waves, beating ourselves into a frenzy of exhaustion as we fight against the current.

The funny thing is, ten (or twenty or thirty, God only knows) years from now we’ll end up in the same place–standing on the shore looking back over God’s faithfulness, grateful for the lessons learned along the way. The question is, what will our condition be once we arrive? Exhausted from a life of striving or peacefully content after having taken the ride of our lives?

I am amused to find this post a perfect example. Last night and this morning I struggled  to come up with some amazing article to add to my blog today. What’d I come up with? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Finally, I decided to let it go. After all, wracking an empty brain is a waste of time. And then this morning, in God’s timing, I received my email that triggered a head full of words. In an instant, without any brainstorming or striving, I knew exactly what I was to write. And I let the gently flowing current do the rest.