Friday, January 8, 2010

Posting Schedule for 2010

I just wanted to remind everyone that I will be posting 5 days a week, Monday through Friday, this year. Come back and see me on Monday, and in the meantime, have a great weekend!

The Power of Positive Thinking

A coworker recently gave me an article entitled "The Art of Living Mindfully" from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article was about a psychologist who has conducted experiments about the power our minds have over our lives and our bodies. Her experiments suggested that a group of hotel maids began to lose weight just by believing that their work was as good as a workout at the gym and that old men could look and feel younger just by reminiscing about their past in depth for a week. This psychologist embraced an 'anything is possible' attitude and encouraged others to be more open minded, even as many academians attacked her for her lack of scientific precision. I'm no psychologist and am in no position to comment on the validity of her research, but she is only one in a long line of people who have touted the power of positive thinking.

How many people have told us that we could do anything if we put our minds to it? Don't we tell our children that they can grow up to be anything they want to be? Yet, as adults we feel forced to live in the 'real world' where most dreams don't come true. We don't really believe some of the promises we claim are dearest to our hearts. We limit our acceptance of what is possible because we don't want to be disappointed. Still, I think that the risk of faith is worth it. That's the whole reason I'm a Christian. If we allow ourselves to truly believe something, we give it power to change our lives.

Let's consider just one example of how believing in God's promises can make a dramatic difference in our lives. Paul wrote, "I can do all things through God who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13) Paul asserted that he could do anything so long as God as with him in the endeavor. He could go without food, rest, shelter, and adequate clothing and still stay strong both physically and emotionally. He could preach to riotous crowds and find the right words to say. In fact, Paul believed he could overcome any challenge, great or small, in his service to God. Paul's life is an incredible story of triumph and endurance in the face of adversity. Even when he was tired and sad, Paul still believed he could do anything for God. Moses tried to tell God that He couldn't lead the people of Israel because he had a speech impediment, but God told Moses that He would make Moses capable of being a great leader. Moses could do anything—even lead an entire nation through the Red Sea and across the wilderness to the Promised Land—because God strengthened him. The Bible is filled with accounts of ordinary people doing extraordinary things because they believed God was with them.

The same can be true for you and me. It's hard for us to believe that we can achieve things we never dreamed possible (like Moses and Paul), so we feel a little skeptical even if we want to believe in this promise. Sometimes we're more like the father of the demon-possessed child in Mark 9, declaring, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" It's true that we need to have reasonable expectations when it comes to expecting assistance from God. He strengthens us for His purposes, so He isn't likely to miraculously grant us the power to do arbitrary things. It probably isn't God's plan for me to become a figure skater, an opera star, or a millionaire. (Although, if it was God's will for me to be any of those things, I could be with His help!) Even if God is not offering to be our personal genie, we can believe in the truth that He will give us the power to follow Him, to do His work, to make a positive impact on the world, and to overcome the obstacles we face.

I often worry about my ability to follow the path God has laid before me, so I especially need to pay attention to this lesson. If God means for me to write for the encouragement and edification of myself and others, then He will grant me the wisdom, strength, and perseverance to do so, even if my own talents are lacking. I don't have to be a genius in order to write well for God. I can do anything—even exceed my own intrinsic writing ability—through God who strengthens me. I don't have to be afraid to try to follow whatever callings I might receive because of my own limitations. If God is my ally, not even my own ineptitude can hold me back. God will make me what I need to be. When I truly believe that I can be more than I am through God's help, I benefit not only from the aid I receive but also from the power of my own positive thinking.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Belonging to God

As a Christian, I call myself a child of God. I believe that God created me and designed me specifically to be me. I also believe that God has claimed me through the sacrifice of His Son, that I was marked as God's own at my baptism, and that I have willingly accepted my place in God's family. I belong to God because He wants me and also because I want to be with Him. That's a pretty heady concept, so it can be a little complicated to think about what belonging to God actually means in my life. To help me examine this, I've compiled a short (and incomplete list) of what belonging to God means to me.
  • I am never alone. Honestly, I believe that God is with all people whether they believe in Him or not, but it makes a big difference that I consciously realize that God is with me. When I feel lonely or friendless or afraid, I don't have to feel like one tiny mortal out against the whole world because God is right there with me. I have a friend, ally, and confidant no matter where I might find myself.
  • I am loved. Even if no single person on this planet cares a thing about me, belonging to God means I am still cherished by someone very special. God knows my name and my personality. He likes spending time with me and wants to keep me with Him forever. I am precious in His sight. No matter what happens to me, even if I am caught up in worldly violence or natural disasters, God will seek me out and find me. God is willing to sacrifice for me and to work for my good.
  • I have something to live for. My life has meaning because I live it for God. Even if I am incapable of leaving behind a legacy of success, benevolence, or wealth, I still have the power to make a difference by sharing God's love with others. Following God means living up to my true potential and maximizing my impact on the world. Even if my good works are small, they have meaning because God has given me and my efforts a purpose.
  • I don't have to fear death. We humans know that our lives are finite and we often worry about our own mortality. We wonder about what would happen "if tomorrow never comes." Well, if I belong to God, then I'm never going to run out of tomorrows. I can live each day to its fullest without worrying about the future. Even when I die, my soul will live on. When my loved ones die, there is a very real chance that I will get to see them again in Heaven. (That's up to them, of course, but I serve a benevolent God who will strive to keep them with Him.)
  • I'm part of a bigger picture. I am just one small human, and I don't have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders—God's taking care of that for me. I don't have to be some kind of superhero because God is already in charge of saving the world. Being a normal person is OK, because God is making sure that my contributions are being integrated into a greater whole, and that gives meaning to the small things that I do. A lot of other people besides me belong to God, and that's a good thing. We're all in this together, so I don't have to feel the pressure of being God's extra-special child or something. I have lots of brothers and sisters, and God loves us all and doesn't put shattering expectations on any of us. 
Realizing that I belong to God helps me feel free to just be me. Because I belong to God, I don't have to live for others and make myself a slave to their opinions. Because I belong to God, I don't have to worry about what will happen to me. Because I belong to God, I don't have to wonder if my entire existence is pointless. Being with God is a pretty good stress reliever. I am really grateful not only that I belong to God, but also that I know I do.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Plan

I am the kind of person who likes to have a plan most of the time. Each day I plan out the meals I'll eat all day. I plan out when I'm going to get up each morning before I decide when I should go to bed. I plan when I'm going to work out and when I'm going to go shopping, sometimes days in advance. I like to have plans, but they don't necessarily have to be rigid and minute. I'm OK with knowing that I'm meeting a friend at a certain time and place, even if I don't know what we're going to do while we're together. I'm fine knowing that a coworker will send me a document "sometime next week" or that I need to call the seamstress about having a dress altered around the beginning of March. I don't have to nail everything down, but I like a general sense of what's going to happen and what will be expected of me. I like some sort of plan to be in place, even if it's a loose one.

The problem with following God is that He has a plan, but I don't necessarily get to know what it is. Sometimes it feels a bit like being led led around blindfolded. I have no idea where I'm being led, but I know I certainly wouldn't do any better wandering around on my own. I could make a plan for my life right here and now without consulting God, but it wouldn't be a very good one. I'd be wandering around blindly with no one to guide me if I didn't follow God. Still, if I stick with God I have to deal with the way He works. If I follow God's path, I can't force Him to show me the road map to my life in its entirety. God gets to decide when to reveal parts of the plan and how much to show me. I'm following a plan, but it's not really mine—it's God's.

Sometimes following God's invisible plan feels like aimless wandering. If I can't feel the figurative hand on my arm, I begin to worry that I'm wandering lost. I have to trust that God is nearby, watching my steps and ready to redirect me if I go too far out the way He's prepared for me. Sometimes it feels like I'm getting no direction at all, and it can be hard to keep my faith when I feel so lost. I pray and try to listen, but I find nothing but silence. I worry that the lack of instructions means I have somehow gone astray. It's hard to accept that the silence might just be an indicator that I simply need to keep doing what I'm doing, continue placing one foot in front of the other and trust that God is still leading me.

In the week I spent away from this blog, I thought and prayed a great deal about whether I should continue to write it. I don't know what role God wants me to play in the world and in the Body of Christ, and I don't know whether this blog is part of it. When I started writing here, it seemed like something that was a good idea, not something that was a calling. So I found myself confused about whether the initiative for the project had come from God or me. Was this a silly whim or an important project? I didn't know. So I thought and prayed and asked... and heard nothing. No answer. I realized that I didn't feel profoundly guilty for not writing for a few days, but I wasn't convinced I should leave it behind, either. In the end, I decided that the lack of information meant that I should continue on, so here I am. 

Now I'm left to wonder whether or not my decision to continue on with my blog was divinely guided. After all, when I prayed I didn't get a definitive answer. I heard nothing. Still, I've learned that silence can sometimes be an answer. Perhaps God anticipated that I could work this problem out on my own. Maybe God wasn't ready to answer my questions about my purpose in life and where I'm going as a Christian. God might have thought that a definitive answer about whether or not this blog is an important part of a developing ministry in my life was too much information to share with me at this point in my life. I don't know. I can only hope that if this project is in any way detrimental to God's plan for me that He will somehow let me own. In the meantime, I will continue blindly on as best I can.

I know that God is watching and guiding me. Sometimes I can see His hand in my life and sometimes I can't, but I trust it's there. Sometimes I've only been able to appreciate the divine guidance in my life months or even years after the events took place. I cannot always see how God is working, but that's OK because I'm not in charge of the plan. God's got the plan under control, and that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fresh Start

Passing through the end of 2009 and crossing into 2010 has given me new appreciation for fresh starts. By the end, 2009 was a bit exhausting. I needed a chance to stop, rest, and recharge before diving into 2010. Luckily, the New Year's holiday weekend provided me with just such an opportunity. I slept a lot, unpacked from my holiday travels, took down my Christmas decorations, and cleaned up my house. I relaxed with my husband and tried not to think too hard about the obligations that were coming. It took several days for my sleep to get back on track and for me to feel positive and energetic again. A lot happened this year, and I wanted to start 2010 fresh. Luckily, I got that chance.

This experience gives me new appreciation for the rest periods that God builds into our lives. God created day and night and designed humans to sleep quite regularly. In fact, God thought rest was so important that He instructed the people of Israel to keep a Sabbath day. The people had a chance to rest and recover from each week before they moved onto the next one. They got to remove themselves from their daily tasks for a little while, providing them a chance to look at their lives with fresh eyes when the beginning of the week came around again. Although I do not observe a strict Sabbath (as perhaps I ought), I do enjoy weekends best when I have a chance to rest. Some weekends are furiously busy, but often I get to sleep in and I have some chunks of unprogrammed time when nothing specific is required of me. I love those weekends, and after they are gone I often feel very fresh and positive on Monday morning.

We need breaks. When the disciples returned from their first missionary journeys, Jesus took them to a quiet place by themselves so that they could rest before diving back into the ministry at hand. Jesus, in his wisdom, knew that they needed some time—even if it was just a little time—to relax, eat, rest, and just be with each other before they could go on with their work. Right now my husband is enjoying a few weeks off after a very difficult semester before he continues on with his graduate program. I enjoyed some vacation time over the holidays and have returned to work feeling much fresher and more focused than when I left. After leaving this blog fallow for a week, I find it much easier to start thinking of new ideas and topics of discussion.

In a hectic world where we often push ourselves to work long hours and to toil on endlessly, I would like to take a moment to thank God for inventing rest. If God isn't too good for rest, then neither am I. If the almighty can take a day off after creating the universe, then I don't have to feel so bad about taking a little time to recover after a long day, a tiring week, or a full year. Through His own example and through the instructions He's given us, God is telling us that it's OK for us to rest now and then. A little rest affords us the clarity and energy of a fresh start, and wise person knows that's worth it. So today I pledge to try to give myself the rest I need so that I can be more productive during my work time. A fresh start can make a big difference.
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