True North

“If the heart is like a compass, an erotic homing device, then we need to regularly calibrate our hearts, tuning them to be directed to our creator, our magnetic north.” -James K. A. Smith, You are What you Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit 

Lately the Lord has been teaching me about how my heart works, using the metaphor of a compass. I’m realizing that when I feel restless or anxious, my heart tends to wander away from my Father’s love to other things that I think will satisfy me.

For example, sometimes I wander East, where I make people my idol. The ruler of this land is the fear of man which I allow to consume me. I give into perfectionism as I try to avoid criticism and judgement from others. It’s here that I feel anxiety and a need to prove myself.

Other times I wander West, to trivial distractions that I hope will satisfy me. This is the land of Netflix bingeing, over-eating, and excessive social media use. So often I use these things to numb my heart and to avoid dealing with pain and disappointment. However, instead of feeling satisfied, I usually feel even more restless than I did before. Moreover, I find myself greedily consuming God’s gifts rather than gratefully receiving them. And that never feels good.

In my worst moments, I wander South where I let the lies of the enemy define me. I question my worthiness and my identity, forgetting how God sees me. Instead I let the world and Satan’s lies tell me who I am. This is not a hopeful place to be.

However, everything changes when I turn back to true North. It’s here that I feel truly calm and at peace. I am safe and at home. I know that I belong and am accepted. And there is nothing to prove. I’m enough. I remember just how deeply loved I am by God and that changes everything.

Honestly, this past year I’ve wandered in some different directions. I wish that hadn’t happened. However, I’ve come out of this season with a deeper desire for intimacy with God because I now know what it feels like to live life without it.

I’m learning that regular time with the Lord is vital in re-orienting the desires of my heart. It’s such a simple truth that I’ve known for years. However, it’s so easy to forget. I  sometimes come to points in my life where I need be reminded of the simple truths that I’ve always known.

God is my true North.

And it is so good to be with my Heavenly Father.

 

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Receiving

Am I receiving my life from God or consuming it? This is the question that I’ve been pondering lately.

Our technology-driven culture makes a consumerist mindset so easy. I think that more than any other time in history, our lives are designed to revolve around consumerism. We can watch countless seasons of TV shows on Netflix. We receive immediate updates about every action of our friends and even distant acquaintances via social media. We have access to endless, unlimited music on YouTube and Spotify.  We are bombarded by advertising that is designed to make us dissatisfied with what we already have. And I so easily give into this consumerist mindset. Especially during times of stress I readily get sucked into the black hole of constant consuming via the internet.  And every single time the result is the same. I end up feeling restless, discontent, and thirsty for the next thing that will satisfy me.

However, I’m discovering that joy comes through viewing life as a gift to be received. God’s world is overflowing with beauty and gifts for us to discover. When I switch my mindset from one of consuming to one of grateful receiving, everything changes.  I feel content, thankful, and at peace.

I’m learning that certain activities almost always put me in a posture of receiving. For example, hiking in beautiful places, reading good books, playing and listening to music, running, and spending time with dear friends are all activities that I can gratefully receive from God. However, I’m also learning that some activities can be consumed or received depending on my mindset. For example, one episode of a great show on Netflix can be received as a blessing from God. However, bingeing the entire season quickly moves me into consumerism. Eating a bar of dark chocolate can be an almost holy experience. However, eating 5 more quickly moves me from grateful receiving down the path of consumerism.  There is a fine line between receiving and consuming and that line is so easy to cross!

But I’m becoming more aware of when this happens and asking the Lord to change my mindset.

I don’t want to consume my life. I want to receive it.

Identity

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of identity lately. Recently I read The Gifts of Imperfection yet again. This book has had such a positive influence on my life and is one that I re-read frequently. In this book, the author Brene’ Brown combats many ideas about identity that are prevalent in our society. She explains that compared to many other cultures, American culture encourages us to find our identity primarily in work and busyness. This is reflected even in the types of questions we ask each other. She points out that when meeting someone for the first time, our first question is usually, “What do you do?” I’ve realized that I am guilty of this myself and I wonder if a better question to ask people might be, “What do you love?” or “How do you like to spend your time?” I think that people can be so much more complex and interesting when you get to know them beyond simply what they do for work.

I’ve also realized that when introducing myself to others I always tend to talk about my job first. Although I love being a teacher and derive a lot of meaning from my work, that isn’t the only thing that defines me. I am also a sister, a daughter, a friend, a hiker, a runner, a learner, a writer, a music lover, and so many other things. I’ve found it so freeing to view myself in this way.

I’ve also gained a lot from Brene’ Brown’s perspective on rest. She suggests that our culture is defined by “exhaustion as a status symbol” and “productivity as self worth”. This so resonates with me. Although I love that teaching allows me to have my summers off, I can sometimes feel guilty that I’m not doing enough in these slower months. It’s at times like this that I realize how much I’ve built my identity around my work.

As a result this quote stood out to me when I came across it the other day:

“As long as we are working hard, using our gifts to serve others, experiencing joy in our work along with the toil, we are always in danger of believing that our actions trigger God’s love for us. Only in stopping, really stopping, do we teach our hearts and souls that we are loved apart from what we do.” -Lynne Babb, Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest

It’s such a simple thought, but one that is so difficult to truly believe. I think that one of the reasons it’s so hard for me to rest is that I’m subconsciously convinced that God loves me more when I am doing meaningful things. I know that this isn’t true, but it’s easy to believe it living in a culture that is driven by busyness and doing.

I think that I need to meditate on this until it becomes something that I truly believe.

God loves me simply because He loves me and that is the true source of my identity.

 

 

Fullness of God

“Live from the abundant place that you are loved, and you won’t find yourself begging others for scraps of love.” -Lysa TerKeurst

I recently read the book Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst. She writes about the fear of rejection and the danger of basing our lives on the approval of others. As someone who cares deeply about what people think of me, this book resonated with me.

I’m realizing just how many of my decisions are based on a fear of rejection. I waste so much energy analyzing people to figure out what will please them or make them approve of me. I only share certain parts of myself with others, carefully selecting the parts that I know will be acceptable to them. This is such an exhausting way to live. And it often leaves me feeling unknown and misunderstood.

It is so freeing to rest in the love of a perfect God whom I don’t have to strive to please. He knows everything about me and loves me unconditionally. He accepts me as I am, in full knowledge of my faults and the less attractive parts of my personality.

I want to learn how to live from the abundant place that I am loved by God. I want to enter situations with a fullness of God that isn’t dependent on whether or not people accept me or love me.

God loves and accepts me.

And that’s enough.

 

Running on Empty

On Monday I almost ran out of gas. It had been a long, exhausting day and I was feeling pretty scatterbrained. I was running errands after school when I suddenly looked down and noticed that my gas gauge was on empty. I quickly looked up the nearest gas station and put it into my GPS. I prayed the whole way there. I was exhausted both emotionally and physically and just knew I could not handle getting stranded on the side of the road. Somehow I made it to the gas station and the attendant started filling my car. When he handed me my receipt, I looked at it in shock.

I have a 12 gallon tank and he had filled it with 11.999 gallons of gas. 

If that is not a miracle, then I don’t know what is!

As I shared this story with my mom, she jokingly suggested that this experience might be a metaphor for my life. This has been a very exhausting season for me. As the teacher of a challenging class, I’m dealing with a lot of intense student behaviors along with the normal stress that comes with the end of the school year. In my personal life, the Lord has been stripping away a lot of negative thought patterns that have become ingrained in my mind. Although this work is important, it’s exhausting and has caused me to have to re-evaluate my identity and how I view myself. And as an introvert that desperately needs alone time, I have recently felt pushed to the max with the extroverted demands of my life and job.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I agree with my mom. I feel like my gas tank is on empty and I’m just running on fumes.

But through this experience, the Lord reminded me that He is more than enough for me. I may feel like I have only 0.001 gallons left in my tank. But He promises to get me through.

Times of refreshing are coming.

 

 

Hiding

“Come out of hiding, you’re safe here with me. There’s no need to cover what I already see. You’ve got your reasons, but I hold your peace. You’ve been on lock down, and I hold the key. Cause I loved you before you knew it was love. And I saw it all, still I chose the cross. And you were the one I was thinking of when I rose from the grave. Now rid of your shackles, my victory’s yours. I tore the veil for you to come close. There’s no reason to stand at a distance anymore. You’re not far from home.” -Steffany Gretzinger, “Out of Hiding”

The first time I heard this song it made me cry. Something about these lyrics resonated so deeply with me. I often find myself living in hiding. Sometimes I hide from people, afraid to be vulnerable and open about the things in my life that are less than desirable. Sometimes I hide from myself. I pretend like things are better than they are so that I don’t have to deal with the messy and broken parts of my life. And sometimes I even try to hide from God. I allow myself to get caught up in busyness and distraction, pretending like I don’t need God and that I can manage life on my own.

I think that a natural part of being human is to live in hiding. Our inclination to cover ourselves and self-protect goes back to the garden of Eden. When sin entered the world, Adam and Eve immediately hid from God. They were ashamed of their nakedness and they questioned if God really loved them. In my opinion, shame is what causes us to live in hiding. Only God’s unconditional, gracious love has the power to bring us out of hiding.

Lately, I’ve been deeply struck by the way God lovingly pursues people in hiding. He sought out Adam and Eve in the garden and graciously provided clothes for them to wear. He never gave up on the people of Israel even though their hearts were so fickle and they repeatedly turned to other gods. When he came to earth, he regularly sought out lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors- the people that were despised and shamed by society. He is the Father who runs out to meet the prodigal son when he is still far off in the distance. He is the Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one that is lost.

I’m realizing that God dearly loves me even when I’m living in hiding. He doesn’t want me to stay there. But He loves me unconditionally right where I’m at.

And He will never stop pursuing me.

 

Mistakes

A couple of weeks ago, I had such a sweet moment with my students. I was showing them how to do a paint by number art project. However, I soon I realized that I’d made a mistake. I’d told them to write the numbers on their artwork in the wrong places, a mistake that would take several minutes for them to fix. To my surprise, instead of groaning or complaining, my students were quick to encourage me. Several shouted out, “It’s ok, we all make mistakes.” And another student quickly assured me that “just like students make mistakes, teachers are allowed to make mistakes too”. I was touched by the grace that my students were so quick to extend to me.

Sometimes I think that God has a sense of humor. He put an immense perfectionist like myself into a profession that is so imperfect. In the last couple of years I’ve realized that teaching is a job that is impossible to get just right. There are so many complex pieces and factors that are completely out of my control. Students can exhibit challenging and unpredictable behaviors. What worked with one class may not work with the next class. Curriculum and expectations are constantly changing. And it’s impossible to perfectly plan for everything.

I’ve made so many mistakes as a teacher. However, I’m realizing that most of what I’ve learned about teaching has actually come through making mistakes. Sometimes you have to do something the wrong way in order to discover what actually works.

I’m realizing that growth and mistakes go hand in hand. When I try to keep everything under my control and avoid mistakes, I am actually stunting my own growth. Perfectionism keeps me stuck in the same place. However, a willingness to make mistakes allows me to grow and move forward.

I love how God is using teaching to chip away at my perfectionism. And sometimes he even uses my dear students to remind me that it’s ok to mistakes.