No One Is Immune




As I continue to reflect on my adult life that was often stressed, too busy, and left me tired in ways not replenished by a weekend of sleeping late or opting out of a committee or two, I knew a great deal about what was wrong and even some of the choices I made that brought me to that bone-tired frazzled place. A graduate program in clinical counseling reveals a lot of glaring things about yourself long before you sit down with your first client.


The hard part for me (and maybe you) was that the choices I made and the things I did were not bad things. In fact, they were good things that others were glad I was doing. They didn’t see the toll and for quite some time I didn’t see it either.


I would never have called myself especially prideful. I knew there were pockets of it, but I didn’t see it connecting to my busy, stressed, and tiring life.


Then when I was reading Hannah Anderson’s book, Humble Roots, she brought me into sharper focus.


 “But being busy with good things didn’t make me immune to pride. If anything, those of us who are busy “working for Jesus” may be the first to miss that we are struggling with pride because it can hide our good intentions.”


 When I first read her words I felt something well up inside against such a suggestion. How could that be right? I was a Midwesterner who grew up with a strong work ethic and conviction about helping others and serving in our church. My parents were active in every area of the church and we were one of those families who were there Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday night at the very least. It was the model I grew up believing in and then lived as an adult.


A few pages after reading those words from Hannah, she added a bit more to broaden the picture (and conviction).


“Pride convinces us that we are stronger and more capable than we actually are. Pride convinces us that we must do and be more than we are able. And when we try, we find ourselves feeling “thin, sort of stretched…like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” (From J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring) We begin to fall apart physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the simple reason that we are not existing as we were meant to exist.”


That description of Tolkien’s resonated for a chunk of my life when I was working and PICT0166going to school. The sad part was that it became an entrenched habit. I lost track of how to relax and be okay with doing nothing even for a short period. It happened progressively. Rest was not a real part of my routine. There was always something to do or something I wanted to do. I had learned early in childhood laziness was not a good thing. I had also never learned to play, kick back, and relax. Those things felt awkward and foreign to me. Rest sounded slothful.


Yet, over and over Jesus admonishes his disciples (that includes you and me) to rest, to leave the cares of the world behind. What can be far too easy to miss is that He wants us to rely on Him more than we rely on ourselves. That means accepting the truth that I must be dependent on Him. It means when the body He created makes clear that I am tired, He wants me to rest. It means when the mind keeps spinning, He wants me to rest. It means when I can’t find a place on my calendar for one more thing, He wants me to step back and look at His life on earth.


He had three short years of ministry recorded in the gospels. Those of us in the current day would have developed a strategic plan and had our calendars crammed full. We see Jesus instead having time with friends like Lazarus, Mary, & Martha. We see Him enjoying dinner with others and going away to rest or pray when crowds were seeking Him out. What a clear contrast to us in ministry!


Hannah Anderson gives a good description of what too many of us experience on a regular basis.


“When we disregard our natural human limitations, we set ourselves in God’s place. When we insist that our voice and our work is essential and must be honored, we set ourselves in God’s place. When we believe that with enough effort, enough organization, or enough commitment, we can fix things that are broken, we set ourselves in God’s place. And when we do, we reap stress, restlessness, and anxiety. Instead of submitting to His yoke, we break it and run wild, trampling the very ground we are meant to cultivate.”


It can be easy to forget that the power of humility does not rely on its own strength, but trusts in the One who is powerful and infinitely resourceful.





A Pesky Problem




No matter what age we may be, where we live or work, or what our exercise regimen, two of the most common maladies I hear mentioned are stress and the lack of feeling rested and refreshed. I get that! I lived with both for longer than I care to admit. I also sought a variety of healthy remedies. These included hiring a personal trainer and exercising, adjusting my diet, and trying to adjust my sleep schedule. I even learned to say “no” a bit more.


I experienced some improvement but it didn’t last. I read about the impact of cortisol on the body as a result of stress and it all made sense. But knowledge does not always provide a solution. Sometimes the knowledge is incomplete or faulty.


I prayed about it and asked the Lord for more energy and stamina and while I was still working in full-time ministry (emphasis on FULL) regular vacations were scheduled. I would often sleep for 10 hours the first night we would arrive at our destination and still nap the following day. It would be two or three days before I began to feel somewhat normal and in the blink of an eye the vacation was over and whatever I gained would seep out faster than I could imagine. (Yes, I was also taking vitamins and supplements to help.)


When I retired three years ago I discovered how long it took me to begin to feel refreshed and rested. I realized for the first time how weary I was and that sleep, diet, and exercise alone were not enough even if I was putting better boundaries in place about use of my time.


Little by little I began to get hints about the underlying problem I saw in my own life and the lives of so many others decades younger than I. As they came into better focus I also picked up an insightful book by Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots, and her insight and words confirmed what I had begun to discover. I would recommend the book highly, but also want to spend a few posts reflecting on what she confirmed and what most of us might be missing about the relentless tiredness and stress that plagues us.


Jesus has told us we will find rest in Him, so why does it elude us to such a great extent?


Despite our knowledge of all things healthy, we still feel tired, toss and turn many sleepless nights, and wonder what is wrong with us. How do we get to that place of being like the lilies of the field? Women have some of the highest levels of stress as we try desperately to keep all the balls in the air and manage the many roles that never show up on a resume and still manage to consume 24 hours of every day of nearly every week.


More little things start to slip through the cracks and our control and lack of it increases. It becomes frustrating when we slowly must admit that we have control over so little. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and questions about who understands or cares about us. I was a clinical counselor for more than 25 years and I saw and heard it often.


Hannah nails the problem at the outset in the very first chapter of her book.


“When we believe that we are responsible for our own existence, when we trust our ability to care for ourselves, we will have nothing but stress because we are unequal to the task. You know this. Deep inside, you know your limits even as you press forward by sheer determination. But at some point, the world becomes too much, and the largeness of life threatens to overwhelm you.”


I know those words may ring true for some of you. They were true for me for a long time. I recall how grateful I was that my mother lived a short distance away when I was teaching, going to graduate school part-time, and juggling the many roles of mother and wife. I felt guilty that I needed her help and yet so grateful that some days I would arrive home to find a casserole prepared for dinner that night, fresh baked cookies waiting on the kitchen counter, and an empty hamper when she discovered how full it was. Her recognition of my need exposed the pride hiding underneath that somehow I could manage it all.


Some of you may recall that song and commercial that talked about women who could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and so on and so on. It can be easy even if we don’t work outside the home. We want to be a success and buy-in to the model no matter what our world and circumstances are like.


Jesus invites us to enter into His rest and tells us His yoke is easy and burden is light. What does He really mean and how do I get to that place?


On top of that how do we handle our serving in ministry and/or church? We want to use our gifts and talents. Leaders ask for us to help and serve and some add guilt to our shoulders when we cannot, do not, or stop. We try to press on so we meet expectations, model service, and ratchet up our performance in whatever way we can so we don’t disappoint anyone and don’t disappoint ourselves. We even fear we will disappoint the Lord if we don’t keep pushing forward.


Hannah’s words point to where our search for rest must begin.


“We must take His yoke. We must learn of Him. And here is the rub. Here is the real source of our anxiety and stress. Here is the root of our unhappiness. The rest that Jesus offers only comes when we humble ourselves and submit to Him.”


Ouch! I thought I had done it all those years, but she exposed something I had missed. Next time I will share a bit more of what I see now.

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Have We Forgotten?


I was asking my grandchildren what their favorite school subjects are as another year marches closer. Their answers give me clues about who they are and their interests. (I confess that as a former teacher I am also just plain curious.) Even within the same family, no two children give me the same answer.


One of my favorite subjects was and is history. I caught it from my dad. He had so many tidbits of information beyond a list of dates or facts. He read the stories of the people, places, and events to learn about those time periods not only to pass a test, but also to learn about the stories behind those things.  He had a marvelous sentence to remember the last names of the presidents of the United States. (My daughter learned it and taught it to her children who are home schooled.)


It seems that the subject of history has slipped into a catchall subject of social studies for some time now. It combines the old subjects of geography and history. Too often it can leave out the very stories and information my father knew and shared with me that I love to this very day.


I know when I mention the word history more than a few people may groan, is it because they don’t have the whole picture? One modern example that helps the interest come alive is a recent book entitled George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade. Modern students get a glimpse into a piece of history that will surprise them. Of course there are other fascinating stories out there as well.


History has such a value to us. From it we can learn not only what happened, but also what the actions of those who lived then produced. It gives us the bonus of what they learned from their mistakes as well as their successes. That helps us equip ourselves to benefit from those who came before us in many ways. We often hear that “hindsight is 20/20” and it’s true. If we had known what we learned after a situation or event before these occurred, wisdom and discernment might have guided us to better choices.


Esther Meek made this observation in her thought-provoking book, Learning to Know:


Every age in history is especially blind to its own assumptions. When you read books from a different era, you will be helped to see what your own age over-looks. For while they will exhibit the characteristic blindness of their own age, their blindness falls in different areas from yours.”


She also says:089308f585eac4deb441c771901f7df7


“We can be especially blind to the things that we rely on that are close to us, whether they are bodily behaviors or philosophical assumptions.”


I can attest to the truth in that as I look back over my lifetime, but I also see it in the Bible as well. How often we see Jesus speaking from the book of Isaiah and other Old Testament passages when He ministered on the earth. He was pointing back to truths those He spoke to should already know and yet they didn’t know them. He reminded those who believed in Him that what had happened and been written before was given to help them with now.


If they had known and understood passages in Isaiah, how could they have missed that the hoped for Messiah stood in front of them? Do we make the same mistake by not reading what God has told us to guide us toward the return of Jesus? There is much to learn and see beyond the passages about the “signs of the times” many know in the book of Matthew.


There is a great deal of evidence that mankind is very dense. The causes are varied and include not learning from our mistakes, avoiding truth because we prefer a fantasy version, and also because as Esther Meek says, “our character is bent”. With all the modern devices at hand to gain knowledge, the truth is that we still suffer from the same issues.


We do not need to stay stuck in that place, however.


“Not only are we inexplicably dense; we are also disastrously stuck in our density. But that is the point of the life-giving message of the good news of Jesus Christ. The one to whom we are resistantly blind is perfectly positioned to cure our blindness.”   Esther Meek




An Illusive Quest



The news headlines point to questions about what will happen next in numerous places around the world and sometimes our own neighborhoods. It would be so nice if we could feel certain about the future or even today. It can be easy to look for any and all ways possible to bring some level of certainty to any area of our lives .


We look for “safe” investments to offset our doubts about the future. We even read labels on food more than ever before to try to find the less risky options on the shelves of our grocery store. We avoid relationships that may not feel or be “safe” from our perspective. We grasp in subtle and not so subtle ways to gain some scrap of control over whatever we can as we recognize the decks are stacked against us in more than a few areas.


For the whole of human history, certainty has not been available. Is that why we sometimes look for it? Reassurance to find certainty in one area or another would ease anxiety.


Uncertainty permeates everything in large part because we cannot know everything about everything. Let’s face it, we can’t even know everything about one thing for certain. New information is discovered every day. People and things are in almost constant change so just when we think we are sure we have all the needed data something shifts.


It could be easy to give up on knowing. That would not be the answer, however. Even though we cannot know everything or anything wholly, it’s important to remember that knowing or learning to know, is a skill. Skills of any kind can be improved by practice. If we persevere in our study or research, we will uncover more pieces to the puzzle, more evidence of reality, or more truth. Then we may not have absolute certainty, but our choices and decisions will be fraught with less risk and greater peace. We will learn to make fewer careless mistakes. Truth based on reality will accumulate to guide us.


To do this means we lay aside our assumptions that are likely to be faulty. How often we later discover that we have been blind in our assumptions and judgments! To do this means we set aside the subtle belief that we know and take a humble position that we may not know. It means we see mistakes as valuable in our quest because of what new insights we gain from them.


Coming to grips with the truth that uncertainty is a “given” permeates and challenges our spiritual life many times. We live with the paradox of knowing as believers that grace grants us salvation and eternity with God while dealing with the disappointment that He does not always answer our prayers as we would wish even if we say “in Jesus name” at the end.


A major choice for each of us is whether or not we will trust the Lord no matter what the headlines shout at us, no matter what the diagnosis we hear, and no matter what the status of our employment. In reality, that is where the rubber meets the road in our faith walk. If we trust the Lord for eternity, can we trust Him for the “now”?


To practice knowing I am reminded of the wise words of Pat Springle in his book, Trusting: The Issue at the Heart of Every Relationship. Pat uses the term “perceptive trust” in his book and defines it this way:

“Perceptive trust entails the ability to objectively discern the trustworthiness of others and the capacity to take the risk of trusting them. People who have learned to exercise perceptive trust grow in wisdom over time and through many experiences, gradually learning when, how, and whom to trust.”


 Yes, that definition looks at horizontal connections and relationships, but isn’t there a correlation to our vertical relationship with the Lord?


Later Pat Springle looks at how his definition fits with the Lord and he says that perceptive people “always remember that only God remains 100 percent trustworthy, as well as totally outside of their control.”


 You see, uncertainty became a reality when Adam and Eve sought to know as much as God by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree. Before that fateful moment, they trusted Him. The serpent planted a seed of doubt and pride crept in and we live with the result.


Our challenge as New Testament believers is to walk in the truth of the gospel that has been clear since Old Testament days: He is and will be with us…always! Whatever certainty we have is centered in that one true reality if we call Him Savior.






Relational Legacy




A few days ago our daughter arrived with three of her four children for a brief visit. The challenges of a busy active family has not made such a visit possible in the summer for a number of years, but they managed to tuck this one into a full summer schedule. There were multiple purposes, but a primary one was for me to share with my 14 and 16 year-old granddaughters how to can peaches (also review it for my daughter). A second key purpose was for our 12 year-old grandson to be able to spend time with my husband practicing shooting his .22 rifle and throwing a hatchet in preparation for competition at a Brigade camp in a few weeks.


IMG_2588This year Ohio has had perfect weather for peach trees to produce an abundant harvest of delicious juicy peaches. Since it has been a few years since weather conditions were just right, I was certain I could get peaches for the task. The challenge would be to find the cling-free peaches I would need that hit the exact ripeness needed for the day we scheduled to do the job.


Several Amish ladies at our local orchard helped me select the very best ones and a few days ago we enjoyed this special memory-making time. It reminded me of another day a few years ago when my daughter-in-law invited me to teach her the same skill with a bit of help from her daughter (our oldest granddaughter). IMG_0264


Growing up on our family farm in Ohio meant I experienced a very busy summer each year. My father’s garden was full of an abundant assortment of vegetables and fruit. There were berry bushes and fruit trees as well. Whether the task was freezing, canning, jelly-making, or pickling, I was taught all of them and worked alongside my mother as an apprentice of sorts from June through September.


IMG_2227 (2)I am not sure I would have counted it a gift then. It was all a part of our life and the life of all my aunts, uncles, and cousins. As a new wife and mother, I continued some of those traditions for a number of years. Then when I started teaching full-time and our children had busier schedules, I set it all aside. My parents lived just two miles away and they blessed us with some of these gifts of preserved fruits and vegetables for some years also.


Peach season was a favorite one of mine back then. My mother never looked at the task of canning several bushels of peaches as a burden, but much like the Proverbs 31 woman she saw it as a way to provide healthy food for her family. I recall so well watching my IMG_2200mother do all the peeling of the peaches. Her hands soon dripped with juice as she laughingly told me that she had to eat any bruised spots and often offered one to me.


As I set about canning peaches a few days ago, I needed to brush off my dusty memories of some of the specifics. (My daughter who had helped me years ago did so as well.) My two granddaughters had no idea what to expect, but as we got into the project each watched with a keen set of eyes and joined in with the various steps involved.


By the end of the process, they admired the peaches arranged row-by-row in the glass jars as they enjoyed how they helped make the end product happen.


As they traveled home and talked about the time, my granddaughters expressed surprise at how relational the whole process was (unlike many kitchen duties). Helping each other at each step, laughing and chatting about the task and other odds and ends made the work at hand go faster.


How often we rush about looking for the quickest and fastest way to prepare and serve up food for our families much of the time! It can even be hard to have everyone home to eat dinner together many days. Days when canning were a common part of life were busy, but they also bonded the women together that shared in the experience.




The end result? They had not only beautiful jars of peaches on their shelves, but also a rich relational heritage.


My granddaughters joined that legacy a few days ago and I have no doubt they will smile when they open the first jar of peaches later this winter they helped to can. I am also sure that my mother would smile broadly as well to know the heritage she gave me has passed to two more generations beyond me.