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June 25, 2013

4 Gifts of Being in the Maze

If you've ever felt like you were in a maze--stuck, boxed in, limited choices, dead ends--then I have some encouragement for you.

I base my observations on why being in a maze is a good thing on the authority of Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord.

Try to think like a mouse for a minute.

Yes, the field is full of potential and the maze is very restrictive. Yes, you might have some family and a comforting burrow in a natural habitat, and the maze is cold, lonely and empty.

Reframe for a moment with me, if you will:

Why the Maze Might Be Exactly What You Need Right Now:

1. There is a well-defined path to the end goal, even if YOU can't see it.
That's not true in the field. There may be many paths to many rewards. It's a time of exploration for someone who has all the time in the world, including the time to make mistakes (and the heart to endure them). The maze requires use of other senses than your eyes and current thinking, is all. Mice sniff their way through the corridors. What sense do you need to cultivate to feel your way through?

2. You can smell/sense the nearness of the reward.
The maze should alert you to the fact that there is a specific destination in your immediate future. The heightened sense of attention required to step into a specific destiny also makes you hypersensitive to your doubts. Disregard. As the writer of a beautiful greeting card on my refrigerator once said, "If you're going to doubt something, doubt your limits." This is a time for walking not according to the flesh but by faith in the guidance that gives you a glimpse of the big picture and the next step--and nothing else.

3. Someone designed this maze and is watching over you, desiring that you reach the cheese, and protecting you from mission-killing predators, weather, and bad decisions.
When you miss the turn your GPS has laid out for you, it immediately starts rerouting you, "Turn at the next light, make a U turn, you missed your turn, ok, fine, go up to the next light and make a right. What are you doing? It's not too late, if you get on the freeway up ahead you can loop around and we can still get there..." You can almost hear the GPS panicking.

This is not that. This is "there's no time for wrong turns."

Multiple options decrease focus and create the stress of decision-making. Freedom holds great potential...for success and for mistakes. A closed door is a great sign that you don't have to waste time on a dead-end. Who do you think is doing that for you? You'll feel a whole lot better if you trust Him.

4. There is an almost ironclad certainty that you will succeed as long as you don't quit.
We like guarantees. A lot. Just recently I heard someone who has walked with God for a long time say, the way we all do, "I just wish He'd give me the roadmap." If you're in a maze, you've got a more detailed roadmap than a field would give you.

Are You a Dummy?
I don't mean this to be rude, because I'm in a maze myself at the moment, but sometimes being in a maze might mean that your inattention, doubt or pride have caused you to miss the pleasant path through the field God tried to point you to, and that you require a maze to get where He undoubtedly wants you to go, despite yourself. Destination for Dummies, you might call it. Take it as a sign that He loves you and wants you to succeed enough to take the reins and get you there.

In a maze right now? Trusting the maze and it's creator might not shorten the trip to the prize, but it will reduce your focus on your confusion and claustrophobia and that will surely help you find your way to the end faster.

Got any other ideas to add to this list?

June 7, 2013

The Two Ways We Compare...and the Third Choice We Sometimes Miss


They're killers. They are guaranteed to make us feel less than. Except, of course, when they make us feel more than.

If we compare ourselves to those who are "better off," whatever that means to us, we are bound to experience jealousy, inferiority, lack, frustration, discontent. We'll call this a negative comparison.

I don't like feeling all these negative emotions, so at some time in my past, I learned not to compare myself to those better off than myself. In that pendulum-swingy way we do, it made sense to then start comparing myself to those "less fortunate" than me because, at the time and up til now, I thought that was the only other choice. To think that no matter how bad things were for me, somebody somewhere else had it worse, so why should I complain? made sense. We'll call this a positive comparison.

It was working for me until I recently came across this quote (which I now can't find) that has been haunting me a bit:

"When viewed through the resurrection life, nothing is a crisis."

Now, being in an ongoing crisis comprised of a lot of mini-crises, this thought caught my eye like a LOSE 15 POUNDS WITHOUT DIETING OR EXERCISING banner snags my attention. I wondered if this was a true statement. I wondered if the presence of so much sense of crisis meant I wasn't viewing life through the resurrection?

Questions like that, in my opinion, become a crack in a prison wall for those wanting to be free of something. The crack let in enough resurrection light to point me to a set of chains I was wearing that I didn't even realize: The very chains of comparison I thought were freeing me. Epiphany: Both negative and positive comparisons were a trap!

I'm not crisis-free yet, but here's why I think this is an idea worth pursuing:

1. Even Good Comparisons Are Bad
This was my unexamined premise: how could it be bad to regain perspective on my blessings by setting them side by side with someone without those blessings? But comparing myself to those less fortunate had a stealth factor: It left me with the inability to completely enjoy anything I had or to pray for just about anything. My less fortunate companions stayed with me when I was in a good situation too. I felt guilty for any excess I had or for my desire for an easier path. I knew this was a problem; I just didn't know what was causing it, because this mindset seemed so superior to negative comparisons.

2. The Opposite of Bad isn't Always Good
We have an enemy who knows how to flip bad ideas to opposite bad ideas that are all dressed up to look good. He hides that there might be a third, fresh possibility for gaining perspective in our struggles. Comparison is so human! Of course, God would have a different "way of escape"!

3. God-vision Glasses Aren't Made of Mirrors
A resurrection focus is not only based on a supernatural event, it's also supernatural itself. It's not a mirror that can be tilted one way or another to make us look skinnier or taller than we are. It's a lens. A completely new way to see. A portal to see the invisible. Christ as our vision. Miraculous!

4. Considering Isn't Comparing
Hebrews 12:3 tells us when in hard times to consider the suffering of Christ. It contrasts our suffering with His, but I don't think the message is "your suffering is insignificant compared to His, so stop yer whining."

Since Us versus Jesus is clearly a "no-comparison" kind of deal, the deeper message is seen in light of the resurrection that's also under discussion in this chapter. His suffering ended in resurrection, yours will too. Consider the tools he used to overcome. They are yours too. Seeing the whole picture--suffering followed by resurrection--is a perspective that forestalls crisis. This is how martyrs marched to their deaths singing praises to God.

Here are my take-aways:

  • Consider, don't compare. 
It's almost impossible not to stuff your feelings about your own situation when you look at a worse situation and discount your own before you've done the work of processing your struggle. When you've processed (this hurts and here's why), then stepping back and considering how blessed you really are in the grand scheme of things constitutes fully viewing through the Resurrection lens.
  • We have an enemy and his favorite scheme is smoke and mirrors!
He loves to get your mind all pretzeled up with fixes that don't really fix. Famed author Henri Nouwen tells of a time when he went to see Mother Theresa with a heavy heart. After spending an hour with her, recounting his woes, she said, "It doesn't sound like anything an hour a day adoring our Lord wouldn't handle." The trick of feeling better because someone else feels worse is a ploy of Satan's with a significant backlash, but the power of Resurrection focus obliterates smoke and mirrors in a miraculous way:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face. 
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of his glory and grace.

One of the things that grows dim is our need to define ourselves in relation to any other person.
  • Guilt over your own blessings doesn't help those in need
Resurrection focus teaches us to be grateful for our blessings while always on the alert for how to use them for those without. It turns our focus away from our blessings (too much! too little!) to others in need, and to action vs. despair. This is a fine line almost impossible to walk without the guidance of the Spirit.
  • View all of life--difficulties and blessings--through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
Modern-day contemplative Randy Harris says that "unanswered prayers are the pre-resurrection side of the arc of a redemption story." Blessings, then, must be the post-resurrection side of these redemption stories we are continually walking out. This perspective is guaranteed to grant the equilibrium we all continually seek.

Next time you're feeling jealous, frustrated, inferior, lacking in anything or discontent, examine that piece of glass in front of you: Is it a mirror or a Resurrection lens? Chances are, you'll see a comparison fogging up your vision.

What do you think about this quote: "When viewed through the resurrection life, nothing is a crisis"?

March 13, 2013

When Your Word Chooses You

Everybody seems to have a "word" this year, including me.

In October, I felt that my word was REST. My counselor told me that "Mary had chosen the one thing that was needed," and that resting seemed to be the one thing God was calling me to do at that time. He said rest is not sleep, relaxation or entertainment, it is something bestowed upon you: "Come to me and I will give you rest." I did and He did.