How We Rest

When getting to know people, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “What is your favorite place on earth?” When I try to answer this question myself, I tend to think of moments in time rather than locations – rounding Camps Bay in an open-top bus as the sun sets; waking up on June 23rd to hop a plane to Mexico; driving country roads with my Dad in his convertible and blasting the instrumental version of Eleanor Rigby – I savor these memories with tenderness and joy. But a specific place?
If you were to ask my husband the question, “What is your favorite place?” he’d respond “EDISTO BEACH” loudly, and with conviction. He’s been making memories at a family house on the sound side of this quiet island since he was a kid, and his enthusiasm for everything about it is unmatched. We took last Friday off and headed south for the long weekend, and one of the friends who joined us happens to be a talented photographer – thanks Sarah Pascutti for the images!

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Seeing my husband’s unbridled joy at sitting on the dock for hours in ratty shorts and a straw hat, catching blue crabs and “living off the land”, made me thoughtful about the rest that he needs, and how rest looks different for each of us.

I used to think of rest as the antithesis of work –  doing nothing. So I’d do my best to have a restful “lazy day” by laying on the couch and watching TV. At the end of a day like this, instead of feeling refreshed and whole, I’d be stir crazy and on the brink of an identity crisis.  I realize that some of you may be thinking my dream is to spend a Saturday on the couch, and that is ok. I enjoy inactivity in short spurts, but I’ve had to realize that long periods of inactivity do not rejuvenate me.

Rest, rather than being the antithesis of work, is about freedom. As Tim Keller puts it,

God liberated his people when they were slaves in Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave—to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.

Bryant’s demeanor while we were at Edisto is the best example of rest as a “declaration of freedom” that I can think of. Those who have visited that island with him know that he is free there – enthusiastic, energetic, and, at the end of the day, exhausted. He comes alive and brings the rest of us along with him. As our friend Hannah put it, “I wish we could just bottle (this version of Bryant) up!”

Ironically, the more physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted I am, the harder it is for me to do the things that actually make me feel rested. As mentioned above, long periods of mindless inactivity do not make me feel free, and do not make me come alive. They make me feel like a slave to laziness, to indifference, to next episode playing in 12 seconds… It’s less about turning off my brain, and more about feeding my soul the right things.

For me, as someone who does not “downshift casually”, rest is an act of will – something that I have to prepare for and then intentionally carry out.

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking…The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction (Tim Keller).

Prayer is rest. Reading is rest. Writing is rest. Taking a canoe trip across the lake with Bryant is rest.  Quiet conversation with soul-friends is rest. Taking a walk with my Mom is rest. Meditating (I’m terrible at this) is rest. Even exercise can be rest. This is how God restores my soul, grounds me, and reminds me of his goodness in the Psalm 23 sense:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

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My Anti-Bucket List: The Things I Won’t Do

Our sweet, simple Casa de Rogers.

Bryant and I were having a talk last night about how fast time is flying by – how weeks fly and we do all we can to keep up with work and friends. Our life really is quite simple – we both work full-time, are involved in a spiritual community (church + small group Bible study), we both act as volunteer tutors once a week, and we both love having people over. We don’t try to do anything big and complicated, but it often seems like just working and keeping up with friends and finding time for our marriage leave little room for anything else – hobbies, projects, exploring new places in Charlotte…

There aren’t many “things” I want to cut out of my life. Again, our life outside of work is based on relationships, and that’s how I want it to be. However, I find myself wishing I had more time to do the things I love. Instead of cutting “events” from my life, I started to think a little differently – what time-wasters can I eliminate? What thoughts to I need to “take captive” so that my mind is centered around the things of God?

Some of our Charlotte community last weekend celebrating Bryant’s baptism.

I first heard of the idea for a list like this from author Shauna Niequest, and my friend Ashley reminded me of it last week. The idea is that we “prune” our lives – get rid of good things to make way for the best things or the right things. Instead of a “bucket list”, make a list of things I won’t do.

Before I started writing this post, I had no idea how hard it would be to say “never”.  I’ve realized that these “things I won’t do” are more like “things I will try hard not to do” – so many days I’m living the Romans 7 life – For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

For what it’s worth after that disclaimer, here’s my list:


The Things I Won’t Do

Apologize for liking to write.

I love to write. I love to explore a thought or idea, to reflect on something I’m learning, and I love the conversation that sharing my writing brings about. It is one of the most therapeutic things I’ve ever done – it wakes my soul and gets my mind going. It gives me a space to experience silence and solitude that I can’t seem to find doing anything else. So, instead of feeling insecure and worrying that others will think my words are silly and uninformed, I will just write. And I won’t apologize for liking it; for the good things it does for my soul.

Make the bed

B and I are getting pretty grown up, but we have not reached “pillow sham” level adulthood. We have a sheet set and a quilt, so even when we “make the bed”, so our distinguished guests can come over for distinguished dinner parties (sarcasm), it’s nothing to write home about. I’m not even sure it counts as “making the bed” if all you can technically do is pull the quilt up…? We used to have a white comforter with shams, but it got demoted to the guest bedroom for reasons involving red clay that appeared in our washer, etc. So we don’t…or can’t…make the bed. Mom I am so sorry.

Debate the gray instead of engaging real issues

In this culture of outrage, it seems that everyone is always angry about…everything. I am not a naturally critical person, and I remember feeling steamrolled sometimes in my Political Science classes when many of my classmates seemed to be so fiercely opinionated. From where I sit, it seems that the people who make real change are rarely those who have enraged, inflammatory things to say. The people who seem to have the most impact on the world for good – the people I’d consider personal heroes – are humble, compassionate servants. Bold and gentle, because you can be both. They are hesitant to say things that draw attention to themselves, but work tirelessly to defend the cause they care so deeply about. They don’t waste their time debating gray areas on the internet – they put some skin in the game and go to work. My heart is to be more like that.

Ignore complicated realities

I believe in truth. The absolute kind. And while I think there is black and white in this world, the way we engage situations is rarely black and white. To ignore the more complicated reality behind what’s “black and white” is to dehumanize the problem. For example, I tutor kids that, statistically speaking, are likely to live their entire lives below the poverty line. One boy in our group can’t read, write, or speak in English – yet he has advanced to the fifth grade. These are good kids. They have changed the way I view education, immigration, and have reminded me that everyone has a story. Neither they nor their families deserve the blanket statements and stereotypes that are spoken over them. They humanize the problem, and it’s a paradigm shift for me.

Hate the government

Did you know that an estimated 4 billion people live outside the protection of the law? Did you know that someone who sexually assaults a child in Bolivia is is more likely to die slipping in the shower or bathtub than to be sentenced to jail for their crime? Yes, our government and justice systems are flawed. That much is obvious, especially after a week like this one. But I thank God that our country does not experience the kind of systematic violence, corruption, and gross injustice that is a reality for half of humanity. I do realize I’m writing this as a middle class white girl, and do not mean to understate the issues our country has. Check out ijm.org for sources and more info – and maybe a little perspective.

Knit

I have friends who are expert knitters. My friend Nannette could probably knit something nice enough for me to live in –  I mean as a shelter, not as a piece of clothing. I’m saying she might be able to knit a house. I went on a retreat last Christmas with my family and knitted my little heart out trying to create a “cowl” or “chunky scarf” (I think this is the easiest thing you can knit?) as a therapeutic activity. It was an utter failure. I am not sure I am delicate enough to knit, or patient enough, and since I have the attention span of Donnie from the Wild Thornberries it is pretty hard to keep count of the stitches. So I don’t/won’t knit.

This was fun. What’s on your list?

A Longing for Shalom

Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? Have you ever longed for it?

When I was a kid I used to think heaven would be a bunch of castles on a cloud made of glass and gold and jewels. The only “jewels” I was familiar with were the ones in my Pretty Pretty Princess game and my mom’s costume jewelry, so in hindsight it was a tacky, tacky place.

Then, someone told me that heaven was where we “worshipped God forever,” so I took that very literally and assumed it meant that we’d stand and sing songs at God while he sat on a throne in front of us. Forever. Which sounded kind of horrible, if I’m being honest.

As an adult, I haven’t thought much about heaven until recently, until I was in a “rut”. “Rut”, for me, this time, can be translated as “I have woken up for five days in a row and carried on with the mindset that I am a general failure of a person.” Dramatic? Yes. True? Mostly.

For the first few days of my “rut” I tried finding perspective and deciding that I was going to “feel better because I should”. Sometimes when I’m feeling a little low, I forget that it can be a struggle to choose joy and thankfulness over “blah”. Being joyful on easy days is simple, but I often forget that being joyful on a difficult day is not a passive process.

Against all logic (You have a great family! Jesus! Great friends! A great job!), I’ll find myself back on the couch again, sinking deeper into a routine that does not feed my soul anything but junk. (Side tangent: Are you in a rut? Stop watching TV. Deactivate your Facebook. Seriously. Go outside. Read. Write. Feed your soul good things.)

During this time, I read Shauna Niequist’s blog post titled “You Are Enough“. In it, she makes the case that each of us is valued because we are created in the image of God. I read that, and decided I didn’t care – decided it just wasn’t “meeting my standard” to be valued equally right along with every other human on Earth (cringe). That didn’t sit well with me, no, I needed to be the best human out there! Sorry Mother Teresa, I’m gunning for your spot. (Someone could write a book on how everything I just said makes me a terrible human, but let’s carry on…)

Seeing such ugliness and self-centeredness in my heart led me to admit there was a deeper issue going on that I needed to get introspective about. Not pollen, not hormones. Sin.

We humans have quite a bit of capacity for good, but our real specialty is taking the good things God gives us and making them cheap and empty with our sin. When I pause to take an honest assessment of myself, I see that this world is not as it should be, and I’m part of the reason it’s not. Sometimes the things I like most about myself turn into the most self-destructive parts of my life. Ambition, for example, can be directed at worthy and purposeful things that I can do heartily unto the Lord. Or, I can get competitive and only think about being better than everyone else around me, which is all about me and completely rejects the Body of Christ God asks us to build up in 2 Corinthians. There are a thousand things that were created for good that we drive to ruin. Consider alcoholism. Consider the commercialization of sex.

From where I sit today, I don’t wonder or care too much about what heaven will look like. Is it even three-dimensional? Will the food be any good? Wait – will we eat? I don’t know much about how I’ll spend my time either, or if “time” will even exist in the way we grasp it now. I doubt it. But I think I can imagine how I’ll feel – whole.

God has given us desires – things we all desire. To love and be loved. To be valued. To be cared for. We all have these desires, and we all try to fulfill them in different ways. More times than I’d like to admit, I turn away from Jesus and what I need and toward something I think I want.

An example: We have the desire to love and be loved, but instead of “considering others better than ourselves” and “bear(ing) one another’s burdens” in deep relationship with each other (a way to healthily fill that desire), we are glued to Social Media. Instead of doing the dirty work of relationship, we want to be admired from afar and show only our “best side”. It’s cheap and empty. It accomplishes the exact opposite of what we really need. It creates distance and removes purpose instead of facilitating love and grace in real relationship.

In one of my favorite teachings of all time, Tim Keller talks about the biblical concept of shalom – universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.  (Find it here: http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/justice) The idea of shalom is everything in God’s creation weaving together as it should. But we contribute to the breakdown of society when we put ourselves first, he says. We put ourselves first because we desire to be important and valued – and our pride leads us to believe that we aren’t important or valued unless we reach some threshold we’ve created in our minds. I’ll be ________ enough when I ____________.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” – C.S. Lewis

So now when I imagine heaven like this:

A place where I know fully what I sometimes believe on my best days – that I am already loved and valued by God in a way that I cannot acquire anywhere else no matter what I do. I will finally know and operate out of that in full.

I imagine heaven as a place where all the desires of my heart are fulfilled, but not the ugly, sinful desires that pride draws me to.

I imagine heaven as a place where I can enjoy God and others fully because I will see that I AM, in fact, deeply loved, wanted, and valued by my heavenly father. A place where I can finally enjoy the good gifts that a good God wants to give us, without trying to use them for my own selfish gain.

Can you imagine? A place where these desires we try to fill with all the wrong things are finally being filled with all the right things?

Can you imagine the joy? The contentment? Can you imagine the companionship you’ll feel with others when the thought of comparing yourself to them never crosses your mind? Can you imagine the freedom? The things we want on earth – peace, an end to suffering – all becoming true?

“When we look at the whole scope of this story line, we see clearly that Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it. The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both the body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.”

– Tim Keller

I dream of a place where my soul feels at home. I see glimpses of heaven – in the commitment my husband and I share, in the love between my parents and I, in friends who embrace their broken parts and mine too. I used to get freaked out by the idea that I won’t be married in heaven (Matthew 22:30), but this paradigm shift opens up a whole new way of thinking – I now imagine being so satisfied in my desire for love and companionship that nothing will be lost. (I still hope I get to hang out with you in heaven, babe!)

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

So, do I long for heaven? Now I do. Definitely not the formal, stoic “let’s sing at God forever” heaven I used to imagine, but shalom. Every time I see my selfishness, I long for a day when I can fully consider others above myself. Every time I watch the news and my heart breaks for this world, I long for it. Every time a baby is born with no one to care for it, I want Jesus to come back. Every time a child is abused and my stomach turns and my chest tightens, I long for something that I don’t see here, but I believe will come.

I don’t long for heaven in a morbid way, not in eagerness for death. But in eagerness for life. For shalom.

“Has this world been so kind that you should leave with regret? There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis

The Secret of Contentment

The Secret of Contentment – a state of mind, not a matter of circumstance.

The secret to contentment is owning a Bentley. Just kidding. Ashley took this picture of us at a wedding and I just wanted to post it.
The secret to contentment is owning a Bentley. Just kidding. Ashley took this picture of us at a wedding and I just wanted to post it.

I am three months into my marriage, three months into a new job, and have lived three months in a new city. I am already restless. This is a large part of who I am, a part of my struggle. My entire life has been a series of phases – when I was a kid, I played every sport available to me, took tumbling classes, tae kwon doe, piano, guitar, rode horses, had a paintball phase, loved camping, had a stint where I was obsessed with Star Wars, the Chicago Bulls, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and NBA Street Ball 2k4. I was involved in at least five different extracurricular groups in High School and was all over the place.

College was no different – I was involved in a lot, traveled a lot, did a lot. Many of the absolute best memories of my life so far occurred in the midst of the freedom and adrenaline that comes with the adventure of “new”.

I was an overachiever and a bit of a flake – changing my mind and my interests at the drop of a hat and burning through the “next best thing” like it was my entitled right to do so. It was really fun, actually – I did so many awesome things, traveled to a lot of amazing places, went to great concerts, and made friends all around the world. I don’t think I would change many things about my past. But I had – still have –  some lessons to learn from it.

The danger of a life like that is this: discontentment. Because at some point, you have to reel in your wanderlust and think about your roots, your legacy, your loved ones, the life you want to lead. You have to realize that the things you’re chasing satisfy you temporarily, then bore you, and the addiction continues – you need another fix.

My husband taught me that when he asked me to marry him. I ran from him for years, terrified of commitment and that love would tie me down from experiencing whatever “next best thing” I craved next. Then God began to teach me the value of commitment, the divinity of promise, and the need for His children to invest themselves in things for the good of humanity and the glory of God. Not just use up experiences for our own fulfillment, and move on to the next best thing, the next “temporary high”. How does this bring value to our lives, and more importantly, how does this benefit the good of all?

If you’re like me, you’re afraid of living an un-extraordinary life. You are afraid of getting to the end of your days and realizing you didn’t live a wide and full life like you always dreamed you would. I used to think the way to prevent a disappointment like this was to live harder. Do more. Be better.

Now I think it’s about letting go.

There is a big difference in seeking fulfillment and finding contentment. When we seek fulfillment, we put the burden on ourselves to give our life meaning and purpose. We try to do admirable things so that the story we write with our lives is one worth reading. We want to do something worth remembering, something to make an impact. So we strive to do that, we push aside everything else – commitments, relationships, roots –  to try and make that happen.

Finding contentment is about being passionate about one thing – loving God and loving people – and trusting God with the rest. It is about ceasing to find your identity in your work output, your social media clout, and your influence. It is about being faithful and finding joy in what God has put before you, instead of wishing for something else. It is about loving what you have, instead of obsessing over what you want.

When I was freaking out about marriage, my friend Andrew gave me the most useful and practical analogy. It went something like this:

“It’s like your at a fancy buffet, Madisson. You are looking at all the delicious things you could choose to eat, and God walks up to you with a plate full of food saying, ‘Take this! You’ll like it – it’s good for you. It has everything you need. I know it!’ But you’re looking over his shoulder at all the things you didn’t get to try, only thinking about the things you’re missing out on.”

I often struggle to find the line where our efforts meet God’s will, so I keep trying to balance dreaming and doing with patience and practicality.  For example, I have a dream of living overseas. But what a fool I’d be to rip up the roots we already have here – to leave family and work and community and ministry – just to move to Europe or Africa for a year because I want to and think it would be adventurous and fun. Adversely, what a joy it would be to move abroad for a year if God placed an opportunity in front of us and gave it purpose.

Contentment is something firm to stand on. It’s not letting praise get to your head nor failure to your heart. It’s a laser-focus on what matters, walking a path that winds through deserts and gardens and stormy weather and sickness and health and ultimately knowing where the path leads, even if at times you can barely walk it.

There is a desire for contentment that often eludes us. “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.” ― Spurgeon

We seem surprised when then rich and famous struggle, take their own lives, deal with addiction, citing that they had, “everything they could want.” Likewise, we seem surprised when we see poor families who are rich in joy and happiness, saying something like “they have nothing, but they’re so happy anyway!” But it is a lie to believe that contentment has anything to do with having plenty or being in want. Perhaps that’s why the rich and famous seem to be involved in scandal after scandal – when your dreams are realized and you’re still unhappy, what do you do with that? And to use Andrew’s analogy again, perhaps the blessing of the poor is that they aren’t tempted to look over God’s shoulder at what they don’t have, but instead are thankful for each gift.

It’s easy to talk about theories of contentment, harder to actually put them into practice.

I am making a commitment this week. A list of things I will and will not do – simple things – a list of ways to be present and thankful. Maybe you can make your own list.

1. I will not go ok Kayak.com or look at Groupon Getaways, Travelzoo, or Cheap Caribbean this week. Because I just went to Mexico on my honeymoon and am an entitled idiot for thinking I have to go on another big trip this year.

2. In the time I will save by not looking at every budget travel site known to man, I will read a book this week. I will underline my favorite passages and enjoy the warmth that comes with relating to an author.

3. I will wear a scarf and boots and go on a walk down our long, wooded road with my husband to celebrate Fall weather and Fall things.

4. I will cook a healthy and delicious meal – or at least try to – light some candles, turn off my phone, and sit down at the dining room table with Bryant to eat it.

5. I will go meet all the neighbors on our point that I haven’t met yet and leave them with baked goods – so domestic. (This is actually a bribe so they’ll think fondly of us even when we don’t mow the yard regularly.)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

(1 Timothy 6:6-12)

Growing Up

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Swinging over Edinburgh, Scotland.

9 January 2014

Something is happening to me. I think it might be called growing up.

Right now I’m on a flight from London Heathrow to JFK, rounding out a 12 day holiday in the United Kingdom and Ireland. I’m exactly where I want to be – going home, that is. On Tuesday in a letter to Bryant, I wrote the following:

“We are on the bus from Cork to Galway and I’m a little homesick. Homesick isn’t actually the right word – I’m not afraid, bored, feeling trapped, or any sort of lonely. Rather, I’m thinking about what’s at home and knowing it’s so much better than what I see here.“

Many things in life are a matter of perspective, and mine has been shifting. I love this quote that my friend Jennie posted recently – “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” (Miriam Beard). That has certainly been true in my travel experiences, and the situations I’ve found myself in over the years have given me perspective, new theological questions, a deeper sense of humility, sympathy and understanding for different ways of life, and an appreciation for culture. I also love the thrill of exploring a new place and meeting new people – it’s like a breath of fresh air in my lungs and can be addicting, really. At times the world has seemed bigger – so many people to meet, countries to visit, and things to learn. At other times, the world has seemed smaller – similar physical and emotional needs across cultures, improbable connections with strangers, and how quickly a location and people group can find a place in your heart.

However, in our culture and in my own life, I’ve seen a growing trend of “wanderlust” that is often just thinly veiled discontent. Travel and adventure, seizing the day and being free can often be a popular way to run from hard work, from commitment, and from investment – anything hard, permanent, or taxing. Lately, I am beginning to realize a few things…

It is my duty to be a responsible citizen.

I am almost 23 years old. I am an adult. Although somewhat true of our entire lives, something is certainly true now – my generation is beginning to have real responsibility for the world and all the good and bad that comes with it. We are moving from 22 years of education into a more tangible place of responsibility. In the truest sense, it is up to us to take that responsibility seriously. It is time for me to learn – really learn – how to take care of money; how to be a good steward of what I’ve been given and how to practice generosity. It is time for me to learn to see and meet need. Maybe you are way ahead of me and your paradigm shifted when you were sixteen – I thank God for you. But for me, although I was learning and doing important things in college, most of it felt like a practice run of sorts.

Life is changing.

I think I grew up subconsciously thinking that even though I was getting older, my parents and grandparents were always the same. As I looked forward to turning sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, I only thought about myself and the excitement that becoming a young adult would bring. Then one day I looked over at my little brother and he was six feet tall. My Mammaw was taken last October by cancer. And the friends that I grew up with and love dearly are getting married, moving away, having children. Life doesn’t slow down for anyone. And we don’t have much time together. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:14. We hear it all the time, don’t we – “Life is short.” But isn’t it? I wonder sometimes what my life would’ve been like if I’d taken a different road. It might sound silly, but I wonder occasionally what my life would look like today if, instead of selling my horse and focusing on sports in high school, I would’ve continued to make horseback riding my first priority. I’ll never know. What a strange thing it is, to live. We spend so much time trying to manage the opinions of others; so much energy trying to build our own wealth, popularity, and status and it’s so insignificant. We try to be perfect and drive ourselves crazy doing so, but don’t realize we’ll never get there because everyone’s standard of perfection looks a little different – you just can’t please everyone.

I’m here – I’m a college graduate looking into the great unknown, even though my “unknown” may have a few more pieces in place than many others in my position. I am getting married in June and moving to Charlotte. I am living in a little green house with a red door. But I’m here and I feel the pressure – the pressure to make a lot of money, the pressure to be independent and successful, the pressure to be beautiful and intelligent and well-traveled. And I feel myself pushing back against it all, asking, “Why?” “What is the point?”

As I begin this new chapter of life, there are lots of things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be so all over the place that I can’t truly “do life” with the people I need and people who need me. I’ll always be adventurous, but I don’t want to idolize the pursuit of the next-best-thing. The past four years of my life I’ve traveled so much and been involved in so much that i’s been hard for me to truly, deeply invest anywhere. I don’t want to settle into a 9-5 job and making crock pot dinners for my hot and holy husband every night, totally insulated from the world around me. I want to dig in. I want to be ready to see and meet the need around me. I want my home to be a place that is known for having an open door and my table to be a place where full, life-giving conversations happen. I do not want to be tempted to find security for my future in false places – everything that is not from God can be taken away in an instant. Instead, I want to experience God more deeply by living life in a way that makes faith – the sense of trust in God’s provision – necessary. I want to be aware of my dependence on God. I don’t want my faith to be myopic and overly introspective – instead I want to life in the belief that I cannot “grow in faith by sitting alone and trying to flex my faith muscles…but by putting myself in situations that require faith.” (to paraphrase Jim Martin in The Just Church).

This whole post has been a stream of consciousness. I’m not sure that there is a thesis that can wrap up what I’m trying to say, and these thoughts are a product of studying scripture (Ecclesiastes, Isaiah 58, Luke 12), reading several books, and musings from the journey that God has me on. I think part of this is an urging to look at yourself and the motivations that lie behind your actions. Do you serve others? If so, why? Is it to look good to the folks you want to impress? Is it to feel good about yourself? Or is it truly from a benevolent and selfless place that is focused on the need of others? I admit that throughout my life, many of my motivations have been from a selfish place.

Are you filling your time by pursuing things that have no eternal significance? Do you romanticize travel and adventure to the point that they are idols in your life – things you do not to better understand the picture that God has painted with humanity, but rather to look and feel cool and adventurous and free?  Do you go on mission trips and have intense emotional experiences about the depravity and suffering present in our world, but make yourself a hypocrite by insulating yourself from the suffering and pain that is close by you in your hometown? I did for a long time; sometimes I still do.

Sometimes in the Christian life it is hard to find the balance between giving, giving, giving, and finding the freedom to experience joy and have fun. I find this commentary from JI Packer on the book of Ecclesiastes helpful:

“Fear God and keep his commandments; trust and obey him, reverence him, worship him, be humble before him, never say more than you mean and will stand to when you pray to him; do good, remember that God will someday take account of you, so eschew, even in secret, things of which you will be ashamed when they come to light at God’s assizes. Live in the present and enjoy it thoroughly; present pleasures are God’s good gifts. Though Ecclesiastes condemns flippancy, he clearly has no time for the super spirituality which is too proud or too pious ever to laugh and have fun. Seek grace to work hard at whatever life calls you to do and enjoy your work as you do it. Leave to God its issues, let him measure its ultimate worth – your part is to use all the good sense and enterprise at your command in exploiting the opportunities that are before you. This is the way of wisdom.”

When tuning out means tuning in.

If you’re a 20-something and you’re on Facebook (is that redundant?) it’s likely that you’ve laid eyes on a dozen or more links that read something like this:

– 20 Things 20-Somethings Don’t Get

– 50 Things All 20-Somethings Should Know

– 10 Most Important Lessons for 20-Something Workers

This list goes on and on. These lists exist because there is demand for them, and therefore, the supply rises to meet me and my peers who are, as the internet seems to define us, wanderlust-y idealists who are facing unmet expectations.

This may be true of some of us. This may be true of a lot of us. I’ve read a lot of articles like these and will readily admit that they often contain great advice. I welcome advice. But I’m starting to have a problem with all these articles, and here’s why:

You are, I am, we are – unique individuals with a unique story. As young people who are largely inexperienced, we need all the advice and help we can get. However, I  begin to worry when we allow strangers who know nothing about us and nothing about our stories heavily influence our decisions. As Christians, God asks us to work hard (Colossians 3:23),  and to seek counsel from “many advisers”(Proverbs 15:22), but 2 Corinthians 5:7 also reminds us that we are to “walk by faith, not by sight.”

If we gather anything from reading about some of the Bible’s most compelling characters, we see that God often leads his followers down crazy, unexpected roads. He works in what seem to us to be strange, even nonsensical ways. But God is in the business of redeeming stories. One great example is Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers as a young child. That’s a rough start. God ends up using Joseph to save all of Israel and Egypt from a horrible famine (see: Genesis chapters 30-50). That’s a good ending.

So am I saying that horrible circumstances (i.e. being sold into slavery) means that you’re on the fast track to be second in command in Egypt? No. I’m saying that YOU DON’T KNOW – that you can’t predict the future – and that it would be unwise to find a false sense of security and a hollow sense of worth in how well  your story fits nicely into the “20-Something To-Do Box.”

You are a unique individual with a unique story. Censor this internet advice through that lens. If you don’t make it to the 20 places to travel in your 20s and all that jazz, you are not defined by what you have or have not done. Sometimes we have too many voices in our head and it makes it impossible to think clearly, know what we actually want, and hear from God. Lots of good , well-meaning advice can lead to confusion and indecision.

What if tuning in really means tuning out – tuning out all the expectations of who we’re supposed to be as defined by our culture, the media…anyone who is not God. Seek counsel, but seek it from those who know you and your heart, your skills, your abilities, and your dreams. Have real dialogue with people you trust. Work hard. Read your Bible, soak in what God says is true. Seek a meaningful life that takes into account family, friends, career, and spirituality.

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”
― C.S. Lewis

Decisions about life and the future.

“I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”

THAT is the most common phrase I hear from people my age. We are early twenty-somethings who are making big-kid decisions for the first time. We want everything and are therefore paralyzed from moving toward anything. Our lives have consisted of school, then more school, then more school. For many of us, our biggest decisions have been about romantic relationships or how to spend our precious summer months. All of a sudden it’s time to walk down a career path, talk about marriage, and to step out of parental co-dependence into a world that is much less structured and kind. My intention is not to downplay the difficult decisions that many of us make during our adolescent years, because they certainly seem (and may very well be) huge when we’re faced with them. However, this new season of independence is equally liberating and terrifying. Here is what I think God has to say about it:

Find your identity in Jesus.

I will say that I am pretty okay with the future. For the most part, it doesn’t freak me out too much lately. But there are days – times when I get lost in thought about all the things I want to do, and I go into a manic job-application binge. During these times, I spend an hour on indeed.com feeling frustrated and thinking that I will be a boring old lady with nothing to offer the world. I worry about my ability to get my foot in the door somewhere; to be in a place that facilitates upward mobility and gets me closer to my ”dream job.” I worry that I will get stuck somewhere and that I won’t ever travel again, won’t ever have a thriving career, or will be miserable doing menial work for my entire life. I wonder if I’ll have children and have trouble prioritizing them over my career. I was thinking on this yesterday and all of a sudden I realized a common theme in my thoughts.

Me.

Me…my career, my success, my life, and ultimately my identity and my worth.

This is an ugly realization. Many of the things I want to do in life are careers that allow me to ”help” other people in tangible ways. I am interested in social justice, cross-cultural  relations, religious freedom, humanitarian aid, and poverty alleviation. So how do I get off making those things about me? If someone else told me that they approached these worthy causes with such selfish ambitions and motivations, I would think they were a horrible, selfish person. But it is the truth that rears its ugly head from the depths of my heart when my fears start churning.

So I am faced with a truth. I am a selfish person. I am never enough and no matter what I do, it will never be ”enough.” I rarely meet the expectations I have for myself, and when I do meet them outwardly, my motivations are often tainted by some remnant of pride. I look around and see the amazing things that others are doing and I rarely measure up in comparison. I lose perspective. I get bitter.

Then I remember what God says about me. That I am so very ordinary in my human-ness, but of extraordinary worth in the eyes of God. That my identity is not found in what I do, but in whom I belong to.

”You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians :11

This is my identity in Christ. I am washed clean. In Christ, I have been brought to fullness. (Colossians 2:10). I look at this nifty list and remember that my life is not my own: Storyline Blog – my identity in Christ. Go Donald Miller.

I remember that I was bought with a price (Jesus’ life and death and life) and that God has saved me from a life that is all about ME. He has saved me by his grace through my faith in Jesus, not because of anything I’ve done. And he has prepared good works for me to do – also not about ME. He has asked me to think about myself less so I have more time to love and serve others.  Hear ye Christians, please do not raise money to go on a mission trip as an excuse to travel. Please do not lead a Bible study so you can look cool and spiritual. Please do not apply for NGO jobs because they are hip and trendy and you want to be hip and trendy. Please DO all of the aforementioned things with a pure and humble heart. The people around you need you and the love that you can offer them because of the love extended to you, by God, through Jesus.

So when you’re making decisions, join me in trying to think less about yourself and more about honoring God and serving people. I have a lot of work to do in this area. What will benefit society as a whole? What will reconcile people to each other and to God? What will help people have their basic needs met?

The conventional wisdom of today tells us that true happiness comes in the freedom to pursue whatever we want whenever we want. In my life, that eventually manifested itself as an inability to commit to anything, extreme indecisiveness, and the worst case of wanderlust you’ve ever seen. That is not freedom, it’s slavery to a life and to desires that are all about ME. Take my word for it, or don’t, and spend your entire life searching the world looking for the next best thing.

Now read as Tim Keller puts my thoughts into more eloquent words than I could ever hope to:

1. Put your heart’s deepest trust in God and his grace. Every day remind yourself of his unconditioned, covenantal love for you. Do not instead put your hopes in idols or in your own performance.

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3-5a)

2. Submit your whole mind to Scripture. Don’t think you know better than God’s word. Bring it to bear on every area of life. Become a person under authority.

“Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5b-6)

3. Be humble and teachable toward others. Be forgiving and understanding when you want to be critical of them; be ready to learn from others when they come to be critical of you.

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:7-8)

4. Be generous with all your possessions, and passionate about justice. Share your time, talent, and treasure with those who have less.

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)

5. Accept and learn from difficulties and suffering. Through the gospel, recognize them as not punishment, but a way of refining you.

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:10-11)

As I meditated on these five elements–rooted in his grace, obeying and delighting in his Word, humble before other people, sacrificially generous toward our neighbor, and steadfast in trials–I thought of Jesus.

The New Testament tells us that the personified ‘divine wisdom’ of the Old Testament is actually Jesus.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19)

And I realized that:

a) Jesus showed the ultimate trust and faithfulness to God and to us by going to the cross,

b) Jesus was saturated with and shaped by Scripture,

c) Jesus was meek and lowly in heart

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30),

d) Jesus, though rich, became poor for us,

e) and he bore his suffering, for us, without complaint. We can only grow in these five areas if you know you are saved by costly grace. That keeps you from idols, from self-sufficiency and pride, from selfishness with your things, and from crumbling under troubles. Jesus is wisdom personified, and believing his gospel brings these character qualities into your life.