Saturday, October 17, 2009


God has no beginning or end. His existence stretches out through eternity, encompassing an infinite scope that we can't even imagine. Because we know that our bodies will one day die, humans have trouble imagining a world without endings. As a Christian, however, I believe that my death will not be finite. It will really be a transition to a different kind of living, not an ending. I've come to realize that endings are something that we impose on ourselves to make sense of things that seem too vast to comprehend. We need closure and resolution and the ability to compartmentalize events into finite episodes so that we can understand them. But God doesn't really heed these endings that we make up for ourselves. God's way of love is a journey that has no end.

Sometimes I think that God wants us to stop putting so much store in endings, because they aren't as real as we think they are. The Bible shows that God has endured many rough patches with His people, but He never gave up on having a special relationship with them. God doesn't believe in terminated relationships because He knows that love doesn't have to end when things go wrong. There is always a chance for healing. I know firsthand what it feels like to experience a terrible rift in a friendship. I thought that a couple of my friendships had ended, only to discover after a lengthy estrangement that we still loved each other after all. In a couple of cases, I have come back together with beloved friends after years spent apart, discovering that our bond could grow to be even stronger than it was before. No matter how terrible of a fight I have with my family or friends, and no matter how long our wounds fester, it is never really too late to reconcile. If we love each other enough, we can choose to heal those wounds and to move forward again. We are not subject to unchangeable endings. We must deal with something far more challenging than fate—our own human choices about whether to renew love or walk away.

I've also come to believe that I never really have to give up. Just as I can choose to pursue healing in a broken relationship, I can also choose to keep fighting for the values I believe in, even if they seem like lost causes. Even though I may lose some battles, my lifelong struggle to live my faith never has to end. Even if I give up for a while, I can decide to try again and recommit myself to the tasks I care about. My journey toward becoming a better Christian will never end. It might involve pauses and even some backtracking, but I can always choose to keep going forward after a setback. Eventually I will die, but even then my life and the things I fought for will not be over. My soul will go on to be with God, and God will appoint others to take on the work I left unfinished.

Love and faith never really end because they are gifts from an eternal God. Because I am made in God's image and have the gift of the Holy Spirit, I don't have to be subject to endings anymore either. Just as Jesus will give me the power to defy death, God gives me the perseverance I need to heal relationships and to fight battles that the human world tells me are over. The endings are all in my mind, and with God's help, I can defy them.

Friday, October 16, 2009

To Everything There Is a Season

This past Monday, it snowed most of the day. The trees were covered, and the college campus where I work looked like a winter wonderland. It made me want to hum Christmas carols. There's only one problem—it's mid-October. We're known to get snow around Halloween sometimes here in Minnesota, but according to the meteorologist, it's been 30 years since we've had this amount of snow this early in the year. It's supposed to be in the 50s or 60s right now, not the 30s or 40s. The leaves haven't even fully turned yet, and it was odd to see snow on top of green foliage. Right now, a part of me feels that I have been cheated out of my favorite season, a slight that's even worse considering that I live in a climate where we have to put up with five months of winter even in good years. What's more, I wasn't prepared for this cold snap—I didn't have enough sweaters or a coat that fits. Even when I went shopping I couldn't find everything I wanted because the stores aren't stocking some cold weather items yet. Everyone is complaining about the weather because we weren't ready for it, and we couldn't have predicted it a couple of weeks ago.

My life seems to have cycles much like the seasons. I expect my life to progress in a somewhat predictable way, but sometimes completely unexpected things happen. When they do, I sometimes feel angry about the unfairness of it all or I go into denial and try to pretend that things are how I want them to be. Those reactions don't really help me deal with the situation. Because I stopped being angry about the snow long enough to realize that it was beautiful, I was able to enjoy walking across campus and my resentment at missing out on fall eased a little. Likewise, because I accepted that snow really was coming at this absurdly early date, I was able to prepare myself by shopping for the clothes I need. If I hadn't taken action to deal with this seemingly ridiculous situation, I would be very cold right now. I find that being willing to adapt is a very important skill in my life. I have to be able to deal with whatever is thrown my way, even if it's not what I want right now.

We are all familiar with the saying 'to everything there is a season,' but we often want those seasons to be predictable. The seasons of our lives can be even more unpredictable than the weather, however. All kinds of things happen to us that we aren't ready for—we find ourselves in relationships we weren't expecting, we are called to do work we hadn't anticipated, and we sometimes move far away from where we thought we'd be. There are births and deaths and job changes, losses and gains of all kinds. Why should we expect to be able to predict the seasons? There is a time for everything, but it is not always the time we want or expect.

Each season, no matter when it comes, brings its own challenges and opportunities. When the snow came, I had a chance to walk through it with a content heart, laughing as the trees dumped splats of snow on my head. It's the same with the seasons of my life. When a time of mourning comes, I have a chance to use it to grow closer to God and to reach out to other people. When a time of loss comes, I have a chance to celebrate the blessings I do have. When a time of growth comes, I have a chance to appreciate what I'm gaining, even if I'm really tired. I don't want to waste these opportunities by being angry or stubborn about what season I think it should be. Sometimes I can't control the seasons of my life any more than I can control the weather, but I can learn to appreciate them nevertheless.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Gift of Time

Time is one of the most precious things we have to give to those we love. Even though anyone can share their time with others, it can still be a difficult gift to give. I have many demands on my time, and sometimes I have trouble deciding how best to use the time I have. By investing my time wisely, I have the opportunity to show others how important they are to me. Whenever I start a conversation, call someone to catch up, or schedule a social date, I let the other person know that our relationship is a priority for me. Nothing else I could do expresses the same level of commitment as my eagerness to spend time with people I love.

So many people seem to focus too much on using their time to get money, prestige, or personal fulfillment. I do want to be successful, but what I want most is to be a loving family member, a good friend, and an actively contributing member of my community. The people who really love me want my time more than they want expensive gifts. Likewise, my church and the organizations I'm passionate about benefit from my willingness to volunteer just as much as they do from my money. I'm learning that money without time isn't really very useful in a loving relationship. On our deepest level, most of us yearn to connect with others, and no amount of money, gadgets, fame, or accomplishments can take away that need. It can only be met by spending time with people we love.

I suffer when I don't get enough time with the people I love. I start to feel isolated and unimportant, and I worry about the status of my relationships. I'm beginning to realize that when I feel alone, I shouldn't retreat into my solitude. Instead I should reach out to others and try to find more opportunities to share my time. Some of the people I offer to share my time with may not be available or interested, but eventually I will find someone who does want to connect with me. Then, as I give the gift of my time, I will be able to enjoy that person's time as well, and I won't feel so alone anymore. I know that my struggles are not unique, so I can also help my loved ones by being more intentional and proactive about sharing my time with them. I don't want the people I love to have to wonder if they're important to me. I want to be able to be there for them before they even have to ask.

I sometimes worry that I don't have anything of value to give my loved ones, but I am beginning to realize that sometimes my time is all I need to give in order to make a difference. I may not have money to give fancy gifts, but I can provide companionship and support. I may not have words of wisdom, but I can offer a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear, and a smile to sustain someone else's joy. I have evenings to spend playing board games with friends and hours to pass on the phone with my family. I have time to pray, even for the people who don't have time for me. I have moments to brainstorm about how I can help meet someone else's needs. As long as I have time to give, I will always have something valuable to offer the people I love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Difference Between Sins and Sinners

Our job as Christians is to love God and to love each other. Sin is what happens when we deviate from that mission. I've discovered that sin often leads to more sin, and one person's mistake can disrupt many people's love. I can't ignore sin, but it's my duty as a Christian to confront it without sacrificing my love for God or others. As I've struggled with this problem, I've discovered that the single most important tool I have is the knowledge that there is a difference between sins and sinners. As a Christian, I am called to judge actions, not people. I have to be able to call a choice bad without condemning the person who made it. I have to go on loving people even after I see them hurt others, and I have to remember that even sinners are made in God's image.

To help me visualize the important distinction between sins and sinners, I imagine that a person is a beautiful garment conceived by a brilliant designer, sewn by a master tailor, and made of the finest materials. Then I imagine that sin is an unsightly stain. When the garment becomes stained, we may be tempted to call it ugly, but it's not really. It's still a beautiful garment—it just needs to be cleaned. If people keep sinning and don't seek forgiveness, they could become so stained that no one can even imagine the beautiful garment underneath anymore, but God's forgiveness is so powerful that it can remove any stain. Underneath the stain, the garment is still beautiful and priceless—it's the stain that's repulsive.

People may taint themselves with bad behavior, but underneath they still have the potential that lies within all people because they are created in the image of God. As a Christian I should expose sin when I find it, but I should do that so that the stain can be cleansed away, not to punish the person who wears the stain. If I approach someone with anger and condemnation, I may only drive the stain in deeper, but with love I may be able to help remove it.

When I want to remove a stain from a piece of clothing that I'm particularly fond of, I don't waste time discussing whose fault the stain is or what that person's punishment should be. Instead I concentrate on removing the stain as quickly and thoroughly as possible so I can go back to enjoying my beautiful garment. It won't really help me to just sit around feeling indignant that someone allowed this stain to happen. Sure, it's helpful to try to figure out how the stain happened so that I can try to prevent future stains, but no revenge for this stain will help me protect my garment. Likewise, I want to help prevent and eradicate sin from the world around me, but only so my brothers and sisters and I can love each other freely as God intended. After all, love is the entire point.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

This is one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received, especially when I realize how much of what happens in my daily life is "small stuff". When I put my life into a Christian perspective, I realize that love and relationships are the main point, and the rest is just a collection of details that aren't worth my worry or my anger.

For example, my marriage is very important. I lean on my husband a lot because he is the person I trust most in the world. He is my partner and my companion, and I want us to have a mutually beneficial marriage. I know that I should focus on nurturing our loving relationship, but sometimes I let the small stuff get in the way. When I get angry over a thoughtless mistake or a chore left undone, I put distance between us that interferes with our ability to emotionally support each other. I've come to realize that our relationship is far more important than the trivial thing that made me angry with him. I need to be understanding with him when he fails to live up to my expectations, and I need to help him be understanding with me when I fail. That's what our marriage is really about. We still have to discuss our problems sometimes, but I don't find myself getting so angry anymore. Instead I remember what a blessing he is in my life and I tell him I love him, when not so long ago I might have been yelling at him and creating a rift that would take days to heal. I am slowly learning how to apply the lessons I am learning from my marriage to other relationships so that I may become more like God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

I'm also learning not to worry quite so much about things that seem important but really aren't. On the surface, my career may seem like a big deal. What am I doing to put myself in a position to advance up the career ladder? What am I doing to ensure I make more money? Am I a productive enough employee? These are all relevant questions, but I've discovered that the answers to those questions are far less important to me than the answers to questions like, "How am I spreading God's love in the world?" or "What actions am I taking to help myself become more Christlike?". In the bigger picture, it doesn't really matter what job I have or how much money I make. What's important is how good and faithful a servant I am to the God I love. My life on this world is temporary, but my relationship with God and with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is eternal. That means my physical needs are small stuff compared to my spiritual needs and my contributions toward meeting the spiritual needs of others.

Why should I waste so much of my energy, emotions, and attention on temporary things? Instead of focusing on how much money I'm making at my job, I want to challenge myself to figure out new ways to be a blessing to others while I'm at work. Instead of worrying about how much my mortgage costs, I want to rejoice in the fact that I have a special relationship with a God who will keep my soul healthy no matter what happens to my body. Instead of getting frustrated because a friend is late for an appointment, I want to rejoice when she arrives because of the time we will get to spend together. I want to make love my priority, and in the meantime, I will endeavor not to sweat the small stuff.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Unrequited Love

Love in and of itself is never harmful to us. I write this as someone who has had my share of experiences with unrequited love. I've pined away for boys who refused to date me, I've chased after people of both sexes who had no interest in being my friend, and I've tried and failed to win respect or attention from people I greatly admired. These sorts of encounters leave scars, and even as I write this, not all of mine have healed. But even so, I have come to realize that love itself was never the problem. Unfortunately, when our love is unrequited, we tend to let it get tangled up in all kinds of other things that end up hurting us.

A big issue for me is pride. It hurts my self-esteem when people I love don't love me back. I want their approval so that I can feel like a good and worthwhile person. When I don't get it, I am tempted to either feel worthless or to get angry with the other person for failing to acknowledge my contributions or potential. Neither of these responses have anything to do with love. They're all about my need for validation and recognition and are grounded in the demands of my pride. When I get angry at not being recognized, I am focusing on myself, but humility could help me focus on my desire to do good for the other person, no matter what I do or don't get in return. Ironically, I've found that humility can also save me from the self-loathing and despair I feel when others reject me. For a Christian, true humility is based in the belief that it is God who makes us special, not we ourselves. But my failures and human rejections cannot take away God's love for me, and so I have worth, no matter how many times I am passed over by others. Humility means that God's opinion counts more than anyone else's, including my own.

There's also jealousy. Sometimes when I really love someone, I want to have more of their time, attention, or affection, and I resent the people with whom I have to share those things. It seems odd to me that I sometimes want people to love me more than anyone else, because I never feel that way about God. I rejoice in the idea of God's love being shared with everyone, but perhaps that's because I have faith in God to still give me what I need even as He is taking care of other people. I sometimes wonder if my jealousy over people is based in a lack of trust that makes me suspect that they won't have time for me if I'm not on the top of their list. But once again, of course, the focus has come back to me, and that's not what love is about. In the end, I do good for the people I love because I want them to prosper, not because I want to be rewarded. When I'm able to remember that, the jealousy fades.

I also have to deal with body image issues or even lust, and I've noticed that these issues don't necessarily confine themselves to romantic crushes. I wonder sometimes if my physical attractiveness (or lack thereof) is a factor in all kinds of relationships. Would others respond better to me if I was prettier? Some part of me worries that I cannot effectively love people of either sex if they don't find me physically appealing at some basic level. There's certainly plenty of advertising in our culture to promote that idea, and in some cases people do reject me in a variety of relationships because of the way I look. But others' perceptions of me don't have to limit my love. Of course I want the people I love to love me back, but I want them to love my soul, not my face, so I should act accordingly.

I am not writing these things as someone who has conquered unrequited love. I still fight battles against pride, humiliation, jealousy, and sometimes even lust. I yearn for validation from others, even when I know that I don't need it because I have God's unfailing devotion to support me. But these reflections remind me that it is not my loving heart that got me into these messes. To give up on love would cause me more heartache than dealing with the unfortunate side effects of unrequited love.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gifts from God

As a Christian, I understand that God loves me and has blessed me abundantly. But as a human, God can seem like a more distant part of my life. The gifts from my human loved ones can seem so much more real because they are right there in front of my face. God's blessings are often so much bigger and broader, things that encompass my entire existence and can therefore get lost among more trivial daily details. Sure, God has given me eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus, but it can be hard to focus on that in everyday life. Luckily, the future is only one of many gifts that God has given me. God has blessed me with all sorts of things that are part of my mundane daily existence so that I can remember how much He loves me. These tokens of God's love include:
  • My body. That might seem kind of obvious, but without this body I couldn't experience life on Earth. With my body I can experience the world and move through it, and I have the freedom to do and be many different things. My body has all kinds of unique qualities that make me different from everyone else so that I can feel special. God cared enough to customize me, and He sees me as one of a kind, not a mass-produced drone.
  •  Creation. God gave me an environment in which to live. He gave me mountains to climb and oceans to sail and stars to stir up my imagination. He's given me a world that can provide food and shelter and challenges to help me grow. 
  • Talents. I have special talents that were given to me by God. I have the ability to express myself well through writing, and I have a creative imagination that provides me with topics to write about. I have a good singing voice and the ability to entertain and touch others through song. I have good organizational skills and the ability to process information. I have many more talents, both known and unknown to me, that allow me to relate well to others or to accomplish tasks more easily and successfully.  
  • The Holy Spirit. I have a constant companion who helps me when I need to make difficult decisions and supports me when I feel weak. The Holy Spirit talks to God for me when I can't figure out what to say, and it coaches me on what to do when I'm not sure how to make our relationship better. I don't have to face any challenge alone, because God has given me the Holy Spirit to help me live up to my true potential.
God is constantly giving me all kinds of gifts in my daily life. I can find God's love in serendipitous encounters, lucky chances, or seemingly random blessings. God is helping me to succeed in my endeavors and is blessing my fruitful interpersonal relationships. He has certainly given me many good gifts!
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