Tag Archives: Christianity

Complications

Fear Has Big Eyes--Wikipedia

Recently I received  notification congratulating me for six years with WordPress. It’s difficult to believe it has been that long since I timidly began this little adventure. And while the posts have been a bit sparse lately due to some major life changes, thoughts of this blog are rarely far away.

Several days ago, I was checking my “stats” and noticed the following post had received some attention. I went back to re-read it and realized how much I needed to hear my daughter’s wisdom that day, my life having acquired a few of those “complications.”

It is my hope that you too will find encouragement as you read, and be reminded as I was, that God really does have all things under His control. No matter what the mess, He is well able to see us through.

Don’t Send a Boy To Do A Man’s Work

Below is an essay from my daughter’s blog, “My Soul Found Rest.” When she first sent me the rough draft to look over, I was moved by what she wrote. Now, I will be the first to admit that I have never read Wendell Berry; had not even heard of him before my daughter told me that he was the focus of this semester’s Honors College at Belhaven University. I know, this admission shows me to be a severely under-educated individual; there is clearly no limit to the number of things I do not know.

My daughter’s life has, like the rest of ours, had its share of “complications.” It has been part of my job as her mother to help her navigate some of the rough rapids on the river of her life. Occasionally, she has been summarily dumped out of the boat and into the water, leaving her hurt and floundering. Each time though, she has climbed back into the boat and kept on paddling.

It has been a privilege to watch my daughter grow in her faith. She has met the complications in her life by doing what we all should do: turn to the Lord first. She truly believes that life has a “happy ending,” not because she has a false “Pollyanna-like” attitude, but because she has chosen to place her faith in the surety of God and His Word to her. She knows that no matter what this life brings, her Father continues to uphold her; her goal is Heaven. She has learned she doesn’t have to fear the future, she can trust God to use the events in her life which have left her bruised, for His purposes and the maturing of her faith. And, while her life has had no shortage of “bumps in the road,” she has learned, as her father and I have, that there is only one place we can go to find help.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68 (ESV)

It is easy to get bogged down in the trials and tribulations of our lives. We lose our focus; we forget God is Sovereign; we begin to fear we are on a path that has no good end. Just as in the Wendell Berry story referenced below, our Father comes and straightens out the mess we make of our lives and He does so with a deft and gentle Hand. His mercy, His grace, His love always ready to lift us out of the quagmire, setting our feet on solid ground.

It’s Complicated

This was my first honors essay of the semester. The short story referenced is from Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land, a collection of his short stories.

In his short story, “Don’t Send a Boy to Do a Man’s Work,” Wendell Berry describes the consequences of complications. The main character in the story, a twelve-year-old boy named Athey Keith, has been left in charge of overseeing a hog-killing while his father, Carter Keith, is out-of-town. Carter Keith has laid specific plans and enlisted the help of knowledgeable men to make sure the work gets done efficiently and well. However, several complications arise during the hog-killing, which turn the Keiths’ well-laid plans upside down and cause the story to turn in an unexpected direction. The rest of the story hinges on how Athey and the other men deal with the complications.

Complications are hardly an uncommon event in our day-to-day lives. The dictionary built into my computer defines “complicate” as such: “[to] make (something) more difficult or confusing by causing it to be more complex.” Complications, or problems, as we more often call them, seem to arise with impeccable timing whenever we least desire them. Yet it seems that although complications may be sometimes unwelcome and turn our story in unexpected directions, our stories, once finished, become clearer and more illuminating as we reach the end of the book.

The plot’s driving force in Berry’s short story is the three complications and how Athey and the other men handle them. While Athey would certainly have had a much more productive hog-killing and a less harrowing day without any such complications, such a plot (or lack thereof) would not have made much of a story. Stories are driven by conflict.

When I was part of a fiction-writing group in high school, my teacher (a fiction author) had to remind me over and over again that I needed more conflict in my story. What I was writing would have been nice to live, but it was boring to read. There was no impetus to drive the plot forward. I resented her correction, because I wanted to write stories like I wanted to live, sweet, delightful, and all with happy endings. That’s still how I would like to live my life. But I am old enough now to begin to realize that my life is not going to go in a carefully plotted way to reach its happy ending. It’s going to take its twists and turns, and complications (whether small or large) are going to arise.

If I believe the promises of Scripture, that God works in all things for the good of those that are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), then I can navigate the bumps in the road with confidence. But questions still remain, and I am sure that I am not the first person to raise questions such as, “Is there any way to avoid complications? If I can, should I? Do all complications arise from sin? Even if they do, can they still turn out all right in the end (and preferably before the end too)?”

Athey could not have avoided the particular problems that came his way, all of which began with other people. He could not foresee them, nor could he escape them. The only thing he could do was be prepared for them, in the sense that he could be ready to deal with any problems that might occur. But when the complications came, he was not ready. The somewhat cocky young boy that he was, his pride and fear caused him to react in a way that allowed the originally small problems to become big ones.

I don’t think there were any complications in the Garden of Eden. Life there must have been like the story I tried to write—boring to read, but wonderful to live. Like in Berry’s story, the first Biblical complication came from another person. The complications Athey had to deal with all began with other people, but his fear caused him to react in a way that exacerbated the problem instead of solving it. Neither did Adam and Eve begin the first complication in this world, but they chose to yield to it instead of standing up and resisting. This first complication resulted in the fall of man from perfection, and now the human story is, well, complicated. At times it’s positively messy.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid complications altogether. If there were, someone surely would have found a way by now! We can’t force others into our perfectly molded stories for ourselves—they’re going to bring complications, and sometimes we aren’t going to like the results. But neither our stories nor Berry’s story ends with failures to handle problems correctly. Fortunately for young Athey, his father came back—to a mess, it’s true, but he was quite up to handling the challenge and soon put things back to rights.

The human story doesn’t end with failure either. Although Adam and Eve didn’t have the power to put to right the wrong that they had done—that took someone with the proper authority—our Father sent His Son to earth to handle the challenge and put things back to rights. Unlike Carter Keith, He never has to go on a business trip, leaving us in charge. If Keith had been present at the hog-killing, the complications that arose would have been handled differently, and the resulting problems avoided. Likewise, because the Lord is present, we have the ability to handle the complications that come our way correctly. Not that we always will (in fact, many times we won’t), but we can, through His power. What is more, we have the guarantee that our stories will have happy endings. There might be cliffhangers after some chapters, and plot twists, and some pages might have tears on them. But in the end, we will close the book with a sigh of relief and meet our Author, the finisher of our faith.

Author: My Soul Found Rest (Used with permission)

Original Content: Copyright © 2016 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Pathway To Belief

Spurgeon- That Is Faith

 

For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.  1 Samuel 1:27-28a (NKJV)

My daughter has given me many reasons to be proud over her almost twenty-five years of life. This post from her blog, “My Soul Found Rest,” is one of them–an example of her courage and character.

I asked her if the timing of this “faith reconstruction” coincided with the death of her father a little over two years ago. That type of life event often triggers a “crisis of faith.”  She states it actually began a month earlier with the start of  graduate school and an introduction to new perspectives on long-held beliefs.

I have learned over and over God is never threatened by our questions, our doubts, or our fragile faith. He patiently hangs on to us even when our grasp on Him weakens.

I trust Hannah’s journey will bring encouragement as you trod your own pathway to belief.

My Soul Isn’t Finding Rest

What do you do when your soul doesn’t find rest? What do you do when you’re so deep in reconstructing your faith you feel you have nothing to stand on? Two years ago, I started a process of deconstructing and reconstructing my faith. Oh, it started slowly at first, but those things snowball on you. First it starts with one belief, and then you realize that if that belief is up for grabs, maybe the rest are too, and so it begins. Combine that with a growing appreciation for mistakes and flaws in humanity, and you soon have a recipe for unbelief. It looks like this:

Take one tablespoon of “hm, this seems odd,” and mix it with a cup of “that doesn’t make sense” and you get a recipe for “what the &%$* do I believe, and why would I believe something that sounds so incredible again?”

I mean, let’s put this bluntly. We believe that a being that we can’t see, can’t touch, can’t hear, and won’t be able to see, touch, or hear for as long as live, somehow created the universe, plus us. All this was fine and dandy until we screwed up, cue every horror ever perpetrated in history, which is only our fault, not the being’s. Said being only talks to certain people at certain times in certain ways, and then we get to the central part of the story, where said being hops down to earth, becomes human, dies, rises from the dead (!) and disappears, leaving a couple hundred people to put together a religion and travel all over the world with it.

It sounds like a highly convenient fairy tale, which is great when you have the little-kid gloss over your eyes. But what happens when you get to be an adult and the response changes from “Wow, that’s so cool! How’d he do that?” to “What the #$*!”

That’s when you get to the frantic slipping foundation stage of it all. Apparently, after doing some reading, this deconstruction thing is actually a thing, by which I mean to say that it’s considered a legitimate stage of faith over a lifetime. Roughly, you have the little-kid stage of total acceptance, then the mid-stage of blind acceptance, then the next mid-stage of @#$&, then the last state of total acceptance. I’m paraphrasing and condensing, but that’s basically it. The problem is that the church glorifies stages one, two, and four, without accepting (although this is changing) that there’s a stage three in there, and that stage four can’t be reached without going through stage three. The usual timeframe for stage three is early adulthood, so it’s not like I’m going through something weird or unusual. In fact, it’s a good thing… it just doesn’t feel like it in the moment.

However much of a good thing it might be, I’m still stuck here, now, fighting it out. Which brings me to my original questions—what do you grab onto when you feel there’s nothing left? Whatever is graspable is different for everyone; for me it’s the fact that the world is just too perfect and too beautiful for chance, and that I’ve been friends with the Lord for so long I can’t imagine leaving my best friend. Some days that really feels like all I can grab, and that’s okay. I staked my path to His years ago, and He’s gently reminded me He’s staked His to mine too. That’s why He said He wouldn’t leave us alone, that He would come to us, because this walk is much too difficult to do without help.

I confess I debated writing this for a number of reasons; one, doubt is still considered weakness in the church instead of a pathway to belief, and two, it’s just my own journey, and to blog about it seems pretty self-centered. But I chose to write it because it’s those voices online who have been my solid foundation recently, the ones who write of the same doubt process, the ones who aren’t afraid to say that faith is hard work but they’re slogging it out. It’s rough not being at rest, but Proverbs says that the first side of the story always seems right, until the second comes along and questions it. Truth can survive any amount of questioning, and so I hang onto the fact that despite all my fears and questions and doubt, and yes, unbelief, that the truth will out. Like murder, the truth will out, and this isn’t forever—rest will come again.

My Soul Found Rest
Used with permission

Original Content:
Copyright © 2015 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

“My Humility And How I Attained It”

Humility--Photobucket

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6b (NKJV)

One of our favorite family one-liners, when we catch ourselves sounding a bit less than humble, is this:  “Have you read my book, ‘My Humility And How I Attained It?'”

When I was growing up in suburban Milwaukee, WI, there was an empty lot next door. Eventually, this was purchased by a family and a house was built. The family who lived there was not readily accepted by the other neighbors living on our street primarily because “Mrs. R” was always bragging about how much bigger her house was, how successful her husband’s television repair shop was, how much money they had, and how brilliant her children were. This attitude spawned a saying of my father’s invention: “She struts when she sits.”

I am keenly aware lately how much pride is infused into everything we do–even as Christians. We are proud of our sports teams, proud of our schools and colleges, proud of our houses, our cars, our kids, our jobs, our education, our ethnic background, even our pastors, theology, and denominations. You name it, we’re proud of it.

It is no wonder our culture and country are such a mess. It’s often difficult to tell the Christians from the non-Christians by how we act and speak. We listen to the same music, watch the same movies and television shows, read the same books, use the same language, and go to the same events. We get so caught up, we don’t take time to examine whether what we are doing pleases the Lord or is even fitting behavior for ambassadors of the King of Kings.

Like “Mrs. R,” our lives have become a never-ending strut of pride. Of course, we don’t call it that. We use affable sounding words like “self-esteem” and “being proud of ourselves.” We “deserve” those blessings which have come our way because we worked harder, were more talented, smarter, or more “special” than others. It is no wonder God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Pride is ugly–in all its various forms.

As for me, I need to constantly keep a guard on my attitude and  mouth, reminding myself Who is the Giver and Sustainer of my life.  All good things flow from His Hand and He graciously allows me to share in them. I didn’t earn them, I certainly don’t deserve them, and I have no right to be proud of anything He freely gives me.

As I look around me at the Church, our country, and our culture, I have to wonder, what are we so proud of?

A bit of humility would go a long way. . .

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” 1 Peter 5: 6 (NKJV)

Copyright © 2015 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

The Long, Dark Hallway

Long Dark Hallway

(The following parable is the result of a time of intense prayer for a deeply troubled friend.)

Margaret walked as if in a dream. She found herself in a long, dark hallway, many doors on either side. With no visible light, she was puzzled how she could see anything at all. There seemed to be no end to the hallway she was in; she could not see where it led. As Margaret slowly made her way down the hallway, each successive door opened, spilling light into the darkened hallway, and then closed of its own accord, leaving darkness where once had been light. Door after door opened and closed as she walked, finally leaving her in total darkness.

Then she heard these words softly spoken:

“Each doorway represents a friendship or relationship that has ended because you would not let them into your heart. The hallways of your heart echo with your loneliness. You pushed away the people you love and those who loved you in return, because you have been afraid. Fear has choked out true joy. You have run from relationships because you did not believe anything in you could be loved. You rejected others before they could reject you. The vulnerability of your heart, when you loved, terrified you. You chose to hide behind sarcasm; wounding others with your careless words, hoping against hope to protect yourself. You have become cold and distant, wanting to be left alone, thinking this was somehow simpler, easier.”

“And yet this has not worked. You have found no peace. Your life is empty. You are haunted by the darkness in your heart and the memories of hurt in the eyes of those you have shut out. This pain is more than you can bear. And yet, you push it deeper and deeper so you won’t have to deal with it.”

“You have lived your life and made your choices as if you alone determine your course. You have forgotten you belong to Me. I chose before the foundations of the world which steps you should take. I placed people into your life to add richness to it and help you grow. I have not given you every ability you will need to accomplish My Kingdom purposes. You need the strengths and skills of others to help you.”

“You now face a choice. You may continue down this current path, wind up alone and unloved, or you can turn around. None of these doors are locked. All you need do is to open each one and step in. Love still waits for you through those doorways, but you must repent for your fear, repent for your hard heart, repent for your selfishness, and repent for the hurt you have caused others.”

“Margaret, the choice is yours and yours alone. But be careful, because you shall have whichever you choose.”

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live. Deuteronomy 30:19 (NKJV)

For You will light my lamp; the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness. Psalm 18:28 (NKJV)

Copyright © 2015 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Messy Places Require Tidying

The Basement--Photobucket

“Messy places require tidying and permanent cleanness requires God.”

We all have “messy places.” God has been busy lately showing me where all of mine are. One of God’s great desires is to get into the deepest recesses of my heart, dispelling the darkness that resides there. And when He sweeps those nasty, dank places clean with the power of the Holy Spirit, I am clean indeed.

The following is from my daughter’s blog, “My Soul Found Rest.” I am so grateful for all that God has been doing in her life and for her willingness to let Him do it.

The Hidden Place

“Hello? Is anyone there?” I brushed away the cobwebs from the doorway and peered into the gloom. A chill breeze brushed past me, and I shivered. The thought of venturing into such a forbidding place was unthinkable. I stood in the doorway, teetering with indecision.

Musty rooms, cobwebs, chill breezes: such are the components of a bad horror story. But this is no horror story; it is a vivid picture of what goes on inside me. That doorway is the door to my heart, the deepest place inside me where I fear to tread. “Here there be monsters,” reads the saying, and that’s exactly what it feels like.

What’s inside? What squashed hopes, unfulfilled dreams, thwarted longings, long-held grudges, impassioned jealousies, and gripping fears might turn into terrible beasts and leap out at me from the shadows? What holds me captive and prevents me from accepting the truth that has penetrated only so far as my mind? Do I even want to know?

The truth is that sometimes I don’t. If I’m totally honest, life seems a lot easier when I can cover over and tidy the entrance to the messy places. With a little paint and dim lighting, it looks almost respectable. But when God digs deep within, and the lamp of the Lord lights up my innermost places, then the façade is shown for what is.

I tremble when I hear the “suggestion” of the Lord: “Daughter, let’s go down here. What’s in here?” The question is for my benefit–it’s not as if He doesn’t know. I don’t want to answer His question or follow His suggestion. But messy places require tidying, and permanent cleanness requires God, not my shabby painting skills. Clinging to Him, I follow the light of His lantern through the doorway.

I am willing, Lord, because Yours is the hand that does the tidying…

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Psalm 119:105 (NKJV)

“The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the inner depths of his heart.” Proverbs 20:27 (NKJV)

By My Soul Found Rest
Copyright © 2012
Used with permission