Thursday, April 11, 2013

Letting Go of Ungratefulness

God has been working on a sin in my heart lately. And when that happens, I start noticing that same sin in others. And let me tell you, MANY people struggle with this. It's not in a self-righteous way, but more in a "let's talk about this and figure this out together" sort of way that I write this post. So let's dig in. I will warn you, this is not a post of soft, fuzzy puppies and fragrant spring flowers, people. This is ugly. This is serious.

And here's what it is about: Being ungrateful.

I've got admit right off the bat that I don't have any extreme trials in my life right now. I'm relatively healthy, I'm married to a wonderful, Godly man who knows how to love me well (don't hate, but in the 12 years we have been married, we have never, ever had an argument. Discussions, yes. Arguments, no.) I have 3 handsome, healthy, fun-loving sons. I have a lovely house that we are building ourselves, surrounded by the forest and nature on 12 acres. I have no debt other than our mortgage. I do not have to work outside of the home. I have a completely stocked pantry and refrigerator (for the moment...), I am part of a growing, vibrant church where my family and I experience the power and presence of God in our lives, and where we are vitally involved in the worship ministry.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Sounds like I have a pretty blessed life, right?

Sounds like God has provided for me in some pretty incredible ways, right?

Well why, then, do I find myself, more often than not, in a state of frustration over something? Why do I look at all the blessings above, not for what they are (which is blessings), but instead, look at them as a source of curse? The answer is simple. I am ungrateful. I need more thankfulness in my life. If you were to take a look at your life, I bet you could come to the same conclusion.

How do we get ourselves into such a miserable "woe is me" type of mindset in the first place? Well, it turns out that we're in pretty good company. One might even go so far as to label it a generational curse on humanity- one that has been in place since the bite of the forbidden fruit in the garden. Nothing is ever enough. Nothing is ever satisfying. And the reason is, that we don't seek our satisfaction solely from God and we don't thank Him for the many blessings He has given.

If you know the story of the Israelites from the Old Testament, then you can see we, as the descendent apples haven't fallen far from the tree. We read their story. We celebrate their release from freedom and then shake our head at their stupidity as they time and time again relapse into bad habits of being greedy, wanting more, not being satisfied with what they have, not being thankful. Here is an example:

And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them. Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!" Numbers 11:1-4

Good grief, Israelite people! SHUT UP already! You just about got burnt to a crisp for whining, God saved you, and you are right back at whining AGAIN!?! It's frustratingly painful to read. And do you know why? Because we are just as guilty. We see our own reflection in the face of the whining Israelites. We are mired in the same cycle of stupidity.

I need more.

I need it now.

I need to get my way.

If I just had________, then I'd be happy.

We are so wrapped up in our petty, nonsensical "issues" that we miss the bigger picture. We are so miserable and so overcome by our First World Problems, that we forget that there are people living a world away who would love to be in our shoes. We struggle and strain and complain and get moody over NOTHING!!!! (I am speaking to myself just as much as I am speaking to you, so don't get defensive.)

Friends. We have it better than we deserve. If your life is not in imminent danger right now while you are reading this, you're doing pretty well. In fact, you're doing better than most of the people living on this earth at the moment.

Did you drive somewhere in a vehicle today? 
Did you eat anything at all today? 
Did you turn on a faucet and clean water came out of it? 
Did you put on some clothes? 
Did anyone acknowledge your existence today?

If your answer is yes to even ONE of these, then you have a reason to give thanks.
But even if you couldn't say "yes" to ANY of those questions, you still have a reason to give thanks. And here is why- the God of the Universe is a prayer away. He wants to be Your comfort today. He wants to heal. He wants to love you. But you know why you won't reach out to Him? Because you're so concerned about all your little problems. 

Do you understand that in this world, we are up against a very strong, very evil enemy? Do you further understand that one of his best weapons is when he MAKES us a weapon against ourselves? satan gets us tangled up in our little webs of trouble and then all he has to do is sit back and watch the self-destruction begin. It is cunning and it is cruel. But it's easy to recognize. God has mercifully been waking me up to this truth and I feel like I'd be a real jerk if I didn't try to reach through this screen and grab you by the shoulders and shake you a bit. When we let our light and momentary troubles consume us, then we're fairly useless for the Kingdom. That is right where our enemy wants us. And most of us are there.

Are you thankful? Do you believe deep within your heart, soul, and mind that God has everything under control?

Then stop bemoaning whatever it is that you're dealing with right now. And trust me, I understand that there are seasons of life that are hard. I have been through them. God doesn't expect us to paste a smile on and pretend life is grand all the time. Because He knows better than anyone, that this is a broken world. He so longed to make it better that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to win us back. And He is making a home in Heaven for us where these troubles we face today won't hurt us ever again! 

That good day you had where you lifted your eyes heavenward and gave God a prayer of thanks? That's great that you did that. But today when the stuff is hitting the fan and you're feeling aggravated? Just take a moment to find something to be thankful for- in fact, make a list. And I bet you'll start to feel some chains falling off and hear them clattering to the floor. 

That "one thing" that's making you nuts? Let. It. Go. 

The list of grievances you have about your spouse or kids or house or body or job or friend or enemy? Burn it.

The way you rush around to try to get more done and more out of your day? That's actually causing you to MISS OUT on your day. Stop.

I have been doing 3 things on top of seeking God in prayer, the Word, and worship,  that are helping me overcome my ungrateful heart and they are as follows:

1. Read Ann Voscamp's book "1000 Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are"

2. Anytime you start to feel a sense of entitlement, dread, or frustration, just stop and find a way to find a reason to thank God in that moment. A silly example- I was looking at a huge pile of pots and pans to clean on my counter today and I was frustrated about the time it would take. As I started to wash, rather than get ticked off, I thanked God for each pan and thought about how my parents gave them to me as a wedding gift- and I gave thanks. I thought about my clean water that I didn't have to walk miles to get. I thought about the lovely view out of the window. I thanked God for all of it. Then at the end of that time, I thanked God for the time I had to just talk to Him and thank Him! And voila! The work was done! It seems silly. But it worked. The process of being thankful almost has a viral quality to it. We need to be infected with thankfulness!

3. In Voscamp's book, she has a journal where she lists her blessings daily. I have a chalkboard by the door where we are writing what we are thankful for. I try to do one every day. Being thankful begins with paying attention and not taking things for granted. So take some time to really consider the gifts that you have in your life. They are countless and far outweigh the difficulties you face.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
2 Corinthians 4:7-12

You don't have to make yourself miserable and frustrated. Life is in you. You get that one life to live in this world. One chance to make a difference. Look beyond yourself. Look at all that God has done and all that He gives. He is all we need. When we do that, our worship will become life-changing, our relationships will be stronger, our satisfaction will be fuller, because it's all based on Him. Give thanks to the Giver and you will not find yourself wanting.

Friday, April 5, 2013

This Was NOT a Pinterest Morning

Good Morning all you frazzled parents out there. I've got a little secret to share with you all--- this morning? My house? My kids? Total chaos. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was a giant sized fit over the grey shirt that didn't match the camo pants. There was an uproar over breakfast. My little normally sweet 6 year old was so angry, that on the way home from dropping him off at school, my 4 year old, Cohen, quite seriously asked, "do you think Silas is going to the dark side, Mom?" Which caused me to have my own fit- of laughter!

Isn't it just annoying to have a morning like this? No one is feeling good about things. Everyone is insecure in their role as parent/child. All those "what have I done wrong?" kinds of questions linger. Your mind drifts to all those other "perfect" parents you know sending their smiling kids out the door with a beautifully packed lunch of epic homemade proportions, wearing clothes they made themselves, carrying a hand-folded cardboard box with hand-painted spring flowers on the side, with beautiful, perfect treats for their (also perfect) classmates inside? I'm not buying it. I have a day once in a while where I can achieve those things, but more often than not, my morning is like a circus. Or a marathon. Or a wrestling match. There is nothing I could take a photo of from this morning and pin on Pinterest boards today at all. My kid had a piece of bacon coming out of his mouth, tears dropping out of his eyes, and that wild brown hair shooting up in every direction. We ran from the house in a late frenzy to the van and scrambled in as fast as we could. Not exactly a peaceful experience.

In the end, after a long talk on the way to school, as he was exiting the mini-van, we both had smiles on our faces and he gave me two kisses and a big hug and said he was sorry for his anger and disrespectful words- and I forgave him. Lesson learned. Disaster morning over. And so we all move on. It was not the morning I would have wished upon us, but it was the morning that we had. We parents pressure ourselves so much to have every moment be sparkling and delightful, straight from the pages of a parenting magazine. But it's not reality. Life is not perfect. The sooner our kids (and we, as parents) learn that lesson and get the grace to deal with it, the better. I am the kind of person who has always liked things orderly, tidy, neat and wrapped up in a bow. Guess what? I'm getting over it. Because if you hold ridiculous expectations, you're going to be miserable, and I don't want to live my life that way. I want to let go of this idea that everything has to be perfect, because it can't be. It can be close, but only at the expense of our sanity and family. And those are two trades I am not willing to make. We are fallen, broken people living in an angry, hurting, chaotic world. The only perfection we can know is the perfection that is found in our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our example, and though we strive for a whole lifetime, we know we will never attain that perfection. But along the way, even in mornings like this, our faith and our relationships are tested, torn, and strengthened once again. And we grow. There was nothing perfect or contained about this morning. But I'm pretty sure not much would have been learned had it been that way.

Just before he opened the door of his school, he turned around with a huge toothy smile and asked, "tomorrow is Saturday, right Mom?" Yes it is, my sweet son. A chance to recharge and regain our composure as we look to the challenges ahead. Because we never know what the next day will hold. But we know WHO holds our next day. Thank You, God. For loving us even in our chaos. For giving us grace that we don't deserve. For showing us perfection, but not expecting it from us. For being good. For giving us rest. For being our source of security. For Your love.

Praying that you all have a blessed, restful weekend. Give your kids an extra hug today. Life is hard for everybody and we all have "one of those days" once in a while.