Tag Archive | fellowship

The Dilemma of Helpfulness

dilemma of helpfulnessThis week at the grocery store, I noticed a mom who seemed to be in trouble. She had a child strapped to her chest, crying, and a little one underfoot she was trying to corral with her legs. With one hand she was tossing groceries from the cart to the bagging table; with the other patting the tired baby. All of this was done with a lot of speed, and she didn’t look happy.

I offered to help her bag. She made it clear that my offer was not acceptable, that she was fine, that even though I might have needed help when my children were little, she did not.

It hurt. In my attempt to help her, I had offended and upset her. All kinds of thoughts went through my head. Was it the way I asked? Did I somehow express that I thought she was failing? Did I break some sort of taboo by noticing her distress? I am not good at social cues, so there was a good chance I did something wrong by even asking.

It was a simple exchange. Took less than a minute, but for the rest of the day I felt dark and sad, like I’d failed. What you need to understand is that I’m not comfortable with people. I have been trying hard to be loving and compassionate toward people, because it doesn’t come naturally to me. People scare me. They upset me. I’m supposed to love them, but I don’t. Sometimes I don’t even like them. But I’ve been praying for eyes to see them as Jesus does, worthy of love and compassion regardless of circumstance. I want to be sweet and kind, but it’s hard to get past fears and hurts to do it. I’ve had people be really unkind to me, and so I was stepping hugely outside my comfort zone even to approach this woman. And I hit unkindness again.

Eventually I had to let myself off the hook. People in the world aren’t especially kind. I knew my intention was simply to help her get home faster so her tired baby could rest or eat or play. That was it. If she chose to get upset, that was on her.

Without realizing it, sometimes we do this in the church. I bet all of us remember moments when someone in our church bodies offered to help us with something, and we quickly told them No, I’m fine. I don’t need anything. I don’t want to put you out.

It hurts, doesn’t it? Makes you question asking again? Makes you wonder what value you have if simple offers of help are turned away?

Long ago I knew a woman who felt her calling was to help people in church. If a problem arose, she was the first to offer food, counsel, whatever was necessary. But then when life went back to normal, she wasn’t around. She wasn’t developing friendships or relationships; she was simply filling needs.

This same woman refused to accept help. I invited her to a cookie exchange. She said she didn’t have time to bake cookies. I explained that I had overbaked. I had a ton of cookies at my house. (This was in my pre-diabetes years.) She insisted it was unfair to eat my cookies and would not accept my offer. In the end, I had to throw them away. They went stale before anyone got to them. And we didn’t get her company at the exchange.

After that day, I didn’t accept help from that woman again. Bearing burdens needs to be a two-way street. God didn’t tell us to help one another to show the world we are good people. We’re not doing it to the check the Obedience or Good Deeds boxes in our spiritual checklist. He did it because we need to be intimate. We need to have friendships and relationships. Life is hard. The world is mean. We need to have people around us who don’t only help us in time of need but also love us in times of good and joy. It isn’t about tasks done; it’s about hearts woven together in an unbreakable tapestry.

I call people like my old friend the foul-weather friends. The lady at the grocery store turned around and offered her cart to someone when she left the store. She wanted to be kind to strangers, but it offended her to accept kindness. That was weakness. I think we do that in church, too. Many of us jump to help, but we don’t accept help. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We pat ourselves on the back for doing a good deed and forget about anything deeper.

Again, I’m working on this. I’m trying to be helpful, but I also want to build friendships and relationships. I’m the kind of person who could live on a deserted island for a decade before I started talking to volleyballs, but God wants me to interact, so I’m trying to interact. It’s not easy. It’s not easy for any of us. Our society is about independence. Our society isn’t God’s society, and that’s clearer every day.

If someone offers to help you, maybe it’s not a sign of weakness to accept. Maybe it’s as much part of being a good disciple of Christ as offering. Maybe that help won’t only aid your life, but it will build up the one who offered. It’s a two-way street. The world is rough, and we are called to comfort each other, laugh with each other, enjoy each other, weep with each other, and walk each other to Heaven’s doors.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bride on Her Own Terms

bride on her own termsI read an article recently about young people turning from church and pursuing God alone. They don’t trust the Bible. They don’t trust the church. They want to find a spirituality that’s strictly individual and doesn’t ask for more than they want to give. They want a spiritual life fully on their terms, and they have no patience with people who get in their way or inconvenience them.

I don’t think young people are alone in this. Spiritual community isn’t easy, because community in general isn’t easy. We don’t live in a culture where community is a thing, so in the church it feels forced and strange and unnatural.

I attend a church with very few programs. If I’m going to live in community with my worship family, I have to do it on my own. I have to search out the pregnant mom and offer her a meal. There is no meal committee to make it happen. If someone needs help moving furniture, someone has to learn it the old fashioned way, through talking and relationship. There is no moving committee.

We do have a couple programs. A simple children’s program, although nothing for older kids. As of a couple days ago, my son is the only high school student in our church, so I tease him about having youth group when he’s hanging out alone. We have teams to get things done, like setting up the worship space (we meet in a building with multiple uses) or praying during worship. But even there, there’s a lot of freedom as to how we interact.

In other words, we have to decide to live in community and then do it. Nobody’s going to make it easier. Programs are fine, as long as they don’t become a substitute for community, but I’ve discovered I kind of like the informality of a non-programmed church. It means when someone in the body shows me love, it’s spontaneous, not scripted. It’s heartfelt. Often it’s creative and out of the blue. No, we don’t always do it well. We still get caught up in the busyness of our individual lives and miss huge needs in our corporate life, but we’re working on it. Community is happening.

I spent some time in Mexico, and a tiny body of believers there met every night in someone’s house. Every night. Can you imagine? Community completely trumped individual, independent spirituality. They were all connected and united. They learned and lived and died as a group. Part of it had to do with this being a small village that already understood community. They lived it daily, working together to survive. But here, community is foreign, so we struggle to live as a body, since our spiritual life is the only place we do it.

A body. Yeah, Jesus used that term, didn’t he? I feel like we use the word without thinking about it. Each us of want to be a whole body. Our (MY!) math is Me+God=Healthy spiritual life.  But God says we each have a role, and without some of us, the whole thing is broken. God’s math is this: God+me+you+you+you+you…=healthy spiritual life. We rely on each other. God didn’t give any of us all the answers (not even the super-rich authors and megachurch pastors who make the news. Yep, they need you and me. We all need each other.). He did that on purpose. For some reason, from the beginning, he wanted us in groups. Families. Churches. Nations. He made us to need groups.

This is coming from an introvert who sometimes has words with God about this whole group thing. Trust me, I’d like to be a whole body. Some days I want nothing to do with community. I want Christianity on my terms, and my terms include words like solitude and peace and convenience. Which are fine sometimes. But his terms include words like body, sacrifice, and unity. It can be rough.

What if Jesus had used our logic on earth? First, he and God had a really good thing going. Morning prayers, sinlessness–it was good. What if Jesus had looked at the Israelites–and everyone else– and said Wow. These sinners are dampening my spiritual fervor. God loves a bunch of irritating people. They bring me down. Plus, I hate all the rituals and commandments. I’m just going to head back to God and forget this whole sacrifice thing. This isn’t about them. It’s just me and God. And we’re good.

The crucifixion wouldn’t have happened, because that’s as far from individual spirituality as possible. But Jesus lived in community. He lived for community. He was here to rescue that community, clean it up, build it up, and then offer it to God. A single bride. A single body.

I hope the young people realize individual spirituality needs to be lived out in a body. I hope all of us realize we aren’t our own, myself included. Jesus loves us each as individuals, sure. But he didn’t mean for us to live our spiritual lives that way. We have to put aside all the frustrations of dealing with people–just like he did–and find community again. On his terms.

It’s not easy. Or at least it isn’t for me. In this culture it’s awkward and takes thought and work. It means  rearranging life to accommodate the needs that arise within the body. Time. Patience. But Jesus says it’s worth it. He wants to present his beautiful bride to God.  One single bride. I look forward to that wedding day, and that means I have to be part of that beautiful bride’s body.

 

Battle, notecards, prayers for drought and rain

notecard blogI’ve mentioned that I’m learning about prayer this year, both personal prayer as well as intercessory prayer (praying for others) during weekly communion at my church.  During the week I find myself praying again for those I pray with on Sundays, and I decided I want to acknowledge that connection.

I’m not the kind of person who picks up the phone and calls people. In fact, at the moment we have no phone in our house, either landline or mobile. So calling is out. Emailing is a possibility, but I had this idea that I wanted to do this old school. I wanted to write a quick note to people God brought to my mind during the week. The kind of note that requires an ink pen and a stamp.

So, I went online and started to look for note cards, specifically note cards good for writing about prayer. I found a few. Some were expensive, although most of those were gorgeous works of art. Some were average. Some had images and some words. But nothing jumped out as the perfect prayer card. Sure, a simple piece of paper would do, but there is so much more going on here, and I want even the card to symbolize what happens when brothers and sisters pray for one another.

Okay, if you’ve read enough of my blogs or know me personally, you might have figured out I never, ever, ever do things the easy way. I had this amazing idea while searching–I would make my own cards! There are online printers who could print them inexpensively, and then my cards could perfectly express my feelings about what a prayer card should be.

If you’re laughing, that’s okay. I’m some odd mix of perfectionist/control freak/crafting freak/crazy person. And this card idea got all those different parts of my personality drooling. A new project.

First, I wanted a Bible verse, because I believe there is power in the Word of God. Turns out there are a lot of Bible verses about prayer. A whole lot. Tons. Somehow, I found myself in James five. The old classic is there, about the prayer of a righteous man availing much. However, that entire section of James is about prayer. It’s about Elijah praying for drought because Ahab was worshiping false gods. Then three years later he prayed for the rain to return, and after a big brouhaha between Elijah and the Baal worshipers that included fire from heaven, God sent rain.

James recounts this in simple terms, his point being that a normal guy can pray and expect big things to happen. Some of that passage is very commonly quoted. But one verse, one simple little verse, hit somewhere in my gut, and I knew that was what I wanted to express on my cards. The truth of this verse was the truth I’d been looking for, the one I want to share with anyone I pray with.

James 5:18 says “And he (Elijah) prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

It’s about the meeting of heaven and earth, of the otherwordly and the wordly, of physical need and higher need. The phrase “heaven gave rain” might simply mean the sky, but I suspect it means more, because rain has a lot more meaning in scripture, too. Rain has to do with life, with growth. And usually mention of rain is tied to the fact that we can’t control it. Rain and drought are in God’s hands, so rain is a gift from above.

So, Elijah, a man like us, first prayed for drought against the wicked. We still pray for that–for justice, for fairness, for evil to be curbed. We pray against false gods, false philosophies, leaders who lead their people astray. We pray that the kingdom will expand, because that will require the old, sinful world to contract.

But then we turn around and pray for restoration, for a return to the garden where we began. In that garden we knew perfect health. We experienced unbroken relationships with people, and we walked closely with God. We labored with success. I realized this week just how many of our prayers are for restoration–health, family, relationships, jobs, physical needs, rest, salvation for loved ones… Almost every prayer takes us to the garden. It takes us to our need for rain from heaven and fruit from the earth.

Prayer note idea 2Second, I wanted something pretty. The person who opens this card needs to feel special. He or she needs to know I  am taking him/her to God’s throne. My prayer friends need to know how much I value and treasure the opportunity to do that. They need to know they are worthy of God’s blessings of beauty and comfort, whatever situation they find themselves in.

I’m leaning toward images of flowers, maybe because it’s spring, and I’m already thinking flowers and growth and warmth and life. I  want to send not only words of hope and restoration, but images of it, too. Beauty is part of the kingdom. So why not tuck a little beauty into my envelopes?

I need to pray for people all week long. I plan to listen closely and see if he wants me to pray spontaneously for those he’s put in my life, maybe those whose needs I don’t even know. Regardless, I’m soon to be armed with my little cards. Then, of course, I have to use them. Spiritual battle is real, and even my silly little cards will bring it on. But that’s okay. Elijah was an ordinary man, and he fought evil with prayers on a mountain and saw fire from heaven and then rain. I plan to battle with short Sunday prayers and note cards, and I hope to see a few fires and some rain myself.

 

 

 

Not Quite a Warrior

sorrow bwRecently I felt a call to join our church’s prayer team. What this means is that during communion, I am available to pray with people who wish to pray with someone.

This sounds simple. However, if you’ve ever read any of my blog posts before, or if you know me personally, you know it’s not that simple. Praying out loud with people isn’t exactly a skill that comes naturally to me.

I’ve waffled about this ministry. Do I truly feel a call to this? I don’t pray that well in my own life. I’m reading and learning and soaking in what I can about prayer, but I still don’t make the time to do it like I should. I admitted to someone recently that I fear praying for some things because if I don’t ask, God can’t say no, and I feel like I hear more nos than yeses in answer to my prayers. I’d love to be a prayer warrior. However, I’m not there yet. Not even close.

And yet, I still feel this niggling call to do this. Go figure.

For the first few weeks I planned to listen more than speak. You know, learn the ropes. Hear how it’s done. Hide out because I was afraid to do it myself, if you want the truth. And you probably want the truth. How silly this would be if I just wrote lies to you all the time. Regardless of the logic, the plan was to listen and not speak for a while.

But someone had a prayer need, and I understood it. I related so much I wanted to jump up and down and say “Me Too, Me Too.” I didn’t do this, but I did pray. Out loud.

Funny thing, this praying out loud in the back of the church during communion. First, I have no idea what I said. Knowing my great skills at small talk (NOT!), my total inability to speak on the fly, I suspect the words weren’t elegant. Or clear. In fact, I might have spouted complete nonsense. The person with whom I prayed might have returned to her seat scratching her head and wondering if nonsense prayers count.

I, however, had an epiphany that day, because I suddenly realized yes, nonsense prayers do count. In my head, I knew exactly what I was talking about. The words might not have reflected this, but the thought was there. The idea was sound. In my head, I was speaking with complete cohesion, and He knew what I was saying.

In other words, praying with people isn’t that much different than praying alone. It’s still about God and me. When I draw close to God with others at my side, they get drawn, too, even if I say the wrong words. It’s the heart that matters. The thoughts in my head. The beliefs in my soul. When I take someone’s hand and lead them to God with me, I can’t fail. Not really.

I dislike blog posts about the wrong things to say to people. The idea that if I don’t carefully count each word, I will destroy people who are hurting, people who are single, people who have lost someone, people who are different than me. The idea is that I must always get the words right. Yes, words are powerful. Yes, I should wield them carefully. But I get them wrong enough to know that it’s not simply words that matter. If that was true, nobody would ever speak to me, because I bungle words. It’s the meaning behind them. When I lost a baby, sometimes people said the wrong words, but not one of them ever, in any way, meant to hurt me. Never. We just have limited words to express big, deep thoughts, and sometimes the words don’t cut it. I can choose to hear the words and get offended, or I can choose to hear the heart that speaks them. I tend to choose the heart, mostly because I want the favor returned.

I hope people who pray with me understand that. I might say exactly the wrong thing from my mouth, but my heart and head aren’t failing. I promise. God hears the words of my heart. My spirit and His Spirit are communing. Let me take your hand and lead you there, even if the words get in the way. And if I have no words and simply take you with me to his throne in silence when you don’t have the strength to get there yourself, God hears both our hearts. He hears our desires. He delights in us coming together to meet with him, and he will always take time out to visit with us.

Today, don’t get caught up in someone’s words. Words are silly. (Says the writer!!) They’re limited. They don’t always reflect reality. Get caught up in someone’s heart, in their intentions. Pray with someone, even if it’s rough. Love someone different, even if you don’t completely understand. The Spirit can let us understand one another and help one another if we come with love and bear with each other’s weaknesses. For me, the spoken word is my biggest weakness.

But the love in my heart, placed there by God, is my biggest strength. Probably yours, too. Be bold. Let it out. Sometimes it clashes with the weaknesses, but that’s when we have to have patience with one another and know that we are family, in this together, wanting the best for each other. Regardless of the words that might slip out. And know I will always extend the same grace to you. I get it. I really do.

The Elusive Christian Community

Community blogIf you’ve been in a church for any length of time, you’ve watched the powers that be wrestle with community.  Personally, I’ve been part of Life Groups, Community Groups, Women’s Groups, Homeschool Groups, and a number of other programs designed to unite us into communities.   I’ve seen them divided by life stages, educational preference, sex, and more.   The biggest common factor is that a couple years down the road someone throws up his/her hands in despair and tries a new program of community.

Not to say we shouldn’t try.  The Bible is filled with commandments about unity, bearing burdens, praying together, eating together, sharing belongings, and otherwise being in community.  It sounds so simple–we are all part of this invisible kingdom.  In a way, it’s us against the world.  That united purpose should create some sort of natural community, right?  So why is it so hard to do that? Continue reading

Winning Lulu

DSC00960Author’s note: Usually Friday is my simple living blog. Well, it seems I tore a muscle between some ribs in my back, so at the moment I’m doing more whining than decluttering, and my schedule is mostly simple because I’m being lazy until it heals. So, for the next Friday or two I’m throwing in some different posts. Today, meet another one of my pets, who teaches me more about life than I care to admit.

About four years ago, I had to put a kitten to sleep.  She was nine months old, named Salamander, and to this day my heart hurts when I think about losing her.  She was a rescued feral, and I really loved her, but she had an illness that couldn’t be cured.

Salamander had a brother named Cricket, and for six solid weeks after she died, he looked for her and called for her.  My broken heart proceeded to break into still smaller parts, so I went to PetsMart during an adoption weekend and found a five-month old cat to be Cricket’s new sister.  Her name was Lulu.

Lulu was a very pretty cat, bright eyed and full of energy.  When I got her home and opened the paperwork that had come with her, I realized she’d had four names in her short life.  She’d been passed to different families and had even been returned after an adoption.  The result, unknown to us, was that Lulu didn’t really bond with people.

Eventually we renamed her Sprite.  In a few days she and Cricket bonded, and they raced around the house like cats will do.  When Cricket wandered through the house calling for a playmate, she came to play.  Cricket was happy again.

It didn’t take long to realize Sprite barely noticed the people in the house.  We had her over a year before she would make eye contact.  She didn’t like to be petted, and she certainly didn’t like to be held.  Because she’s an incredibly soft, long-haired cat with a small body, it was hard to respect her boundaries, because she just screams to be petted and held.  But, we tried to respect that and loved on her any way she’d let us.

Slowly, Sprite is coming to bond with the people in the house.  Now she looks us right in the eyes.  When she’s hungry, she’ll climb on the table and chirp at us, pawing at us for attention.  She doesn’t yet like to be held, but she’ll tolerate being petted.  Recently, in a shocking move, she sat down on my youngest son’s lap, and I had to laugh at the gentle way he treated her, like a child with a butterfly on his finger he was trying not to frighten away.

Whatever fears came with Sprite are being released.  We didn’t return her, and we didn’t push her.  We try to treat her well, and we didn’t take it personally when she wasn’t the cat we wanted her to be right from the start.  She’ll always be a little off, but that’s okay.  She’s Sprite.  She’s our cat.

I’ve met a few human Sprites in my life.  (In many situations, I’m the human Sprite in the room!!)  There are people with whom I don’t immediately bond.  People who don’t live up to whatever expectations I have for them. Sometimes people who aren’t nice to me. And it’s easier to avoid them than wait for them and care for them. Regardless, I don’t always treat humans as well as my family treated a cat.  And that’s kind of shameful.  If I can wait a year to have a cat look me in the eyes, why do I give up on humans when less time passes?  Maybe if I can accept more people as they are, those who are broken, even if I don’t know anything about what broke them, will feel safer and be able to push through their fears.

I write books, and I once had a character ask what would church be like it if was safe.  What if everyone who belonged in a congregation knew for sure that all trespasses would be forgiven, all mistakes forgotten, that there was nothing but safety within the walls of the church?  It would rock the world.  Just like it rocked the life of one little, lost cat.

Surely I can learn something from Sprite and make the world a safer place for the people God puts in my path. Especially since so often I’m the Sprite, I should understand that sometimes I need to be patient, look deeper, and embrace those God sends to walk with me on this journey.

Are introverts broken, or is fellowship?

I read an article yesterday about fellowship, and it made me smile.  As an introvert, not much about fellowship does that.  I thought fellowship was just about small talk in large groups, and I’m terrible at that, to the point where I’ve even questioned my Christianity.  I mean, if it’s all about group functions, and I don’t like them, maybe I’m not who I think I am.  But an alternate view made me think differently, and that makes me smile.

First, some quick definitions.  Extraverts are those whose batteries are charged by people.  They like to be surrounded by people, and it gives them energy and life.  Introverts are charged internally.  Give an introvert a few hours in his own head, and he’s happy.  Stick him in a roomful of people, and regardless of how he loves the people, or how charming he is, when it’s over he needs time alone to recharge.

The church is set up for the extraverts.  Probably because of our culture’s views on time, we want to pack life full to the brim, so group functions are king.  And they can be rough for the introvert.  On days when I absolutely don’t have the energy for small talk, I’ve been known to stay home from worship completely.  I feel guilty, but I also know that a person who attends worship and then high-tails it home is considered a little snobby.  And yes, vainly, I’d rather skip worship than be labeled a snob.

So what’s an introvert to do?  Are we natural?  Are we broken?  Is it really a genetic condition, or is it a sinfulness we need to repent and turn from?  And if we miss out on a lot of the group stuff, are we hurting  the church?  Are we hurting ourselves?  How often do I need to attend a group thing before I’ve done enough?

I'm not entirely comfortable in groups, although flying would be cool.

I had no answers.  I just know I try.  I try to show up, and I try to smile and pretend all is good.  Usually I don’t mingle like I should, instead happy to talk with some depth with one or two people, which is completely not how it’s to be done.  The position of wallflower doesn’t bother me except I know I’m supposed to do something more.

Then I read something that said fellowship, used biblically, really doesn’t mean small talk over donuts.  It’s much bigger, more intimate.  And it can be done in a small group or one-on-one setting.  It just means being in it together.  The church is our family.  We need to share burdens, sacrifice for one another, financially look out for each other.  It means sometimes we do hard things together.  We all have the same major goals, working toward the growth of the same kingdom.

The best visual of this definition is from the Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien puts together the Fellowship of the Ring.  They weren’t really the best at small talk, barely getting along at all.  They didn’t have one potluck.  Instead, the fellowship was about a mission.  It was about sticking with each other for a bigger goal than their happiness or entertainment or even friendship.  It was huge, and it mattered.

I like that idea.  I want to fellowship like that, and I didn’t know I’d ever wanted to fellowship at all.  I’m not broken.  My wiring is fine if I can use all the skills given to me to work with my Christian family toward a common goal.  For the sake of the extraverts, who need the big group functions sometimes to charge up, I will keep attending some of those.  But that’s out of love for them, not the need to fellowship.  Fellowship is bigger, and I’m glad it’s bigger.  I’m glad to know I’m part of such an important mission, that I need to watch the backs of those on the journey with me, and they’ll look out for mine.  It’s comforting.  And honestly, I never thought I’d think of fellowship as comforting in any way.

So, if you’re an extravert, give the introverts a break and know they have your backs even if they miss the picnics or socials.  And if you’re an introvert, try to help those extraverts recharge, but also know you’re valuable as you are.  And then, focus on the mission.  We’re not out to destroy a ring to save the world; we’re out to bring a message and usher in a kingdom to save the world.  It’s huge and amazing and life changing.  Donuts and small talk are optional.