Friday, March 27, 2009

When is enough really enough? I'm seriously asking.

When is enough really enough? At what point should you draw a line in the sand in a relationship and say "I'm done"? I don't have a good answer to that question and it's really starting to bug me. I'm writing today in hopes of stirring some conversation and gaining some insight, or at least some new perspectives.

I don't think the root of my confusion can be found in human logic. From a logical and human perspective, I think those lines can sometimes be clear. If someone hurts you continually or is more selfish than not, maybe it's time to walk away. In my humanness, there have been times when I have felt like a relationship wasn't worth the work it required and I've wanted to walk away. I think that's normal and happens quite often in relationships. There seems to be a natural ebb and flow to life and people come and go from our lives and our relationships change.

But, what is the right thing to do? What is the godly thing to do? This is where I get frustrated. In the last few months I've spent some time reading Paul's epistles. The theme I see over and over again is that we are to love like Christ. That's what we're called to do. Love like Christ. What does that look like? What does that mean?

Does it mean that I keep loving someone who hurts me (intentionally or not) over and over again? Do I stay in relationship with that person? Is there a point when it's excusable to walk away?

I have a family member with whom I do not speak. She chose to be selfish, to lie, and to hurt my family intentionally. I feel as though it's appropriate for her to experience consequences for her actions. As a family, we have chosen not to be in relationship with her until she makes things right. And, part of me believes that's the best thing for all involved. Consequences are important teaching tools and, had she experienced more consequences in the past instead of being excused all of the time, perhaps she would have made different choices. But, there is a part of me that truly hates broken relationships and wonders if my family is going to have to make the first move to restore the relationship, even though the breach wasn't our fault. What if she never accepts responsibility? What if she never apologizes? What if it keeps happening? I keep hearing an echo in my heart...."70 times 7". But, does forgiveness have to mean restoration of the relationship? Can you really love someone, forgive what they've done, but not restore the fellowship? To me, that somehow feels incomplete.

In giving advice to a friend recently, I told her that things won't change overnight and that she had to choose to keep loving even when the person doesn't respond the way she hopes. Isn't that what we're supposed to do? Isn't that what Christ does for us? How often we reject Him and yet He loves us. He forgives us. He removes our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. So, who am I to choose to be unloving?

My fatal flaw seems to be that I feel things too deeply and too intensely. Once I have chosen to love someone, there's not much that can change it. It is a maddening quality to those who love me. They see me take hit after hit in relationships and yet not walk away. (Let me be clear that this does not involve physical abuse of any kind. I am only speaking of the wounds we inflict upon one another when we choose to be selfish or thoughtless or intentionally mean). I tend to hear "I told you so" a good bit. Maybe I'm just stubborn and hard-headed, but I hold on until there is absolutely nothing left to hold. I'm fierce about relationships that way. But, from the outside, it doesn't make sense.

In talking to another friend this week, I was told that my ability to love and feel so deeply is a truly beautiful thing when it's right. I believe that to be true. I believe we're supposed to keep on loving and keep on forgiving and keep on working on our relationships. We have to give each other grace and find a way to keep trying. What if it actually does make a difference? What if loving someone, regardless of what they say or do, actually begins to change them? Wouldn't that be beautiful?

But, how much of yourself do you give up in the process?

Over the years, I have learned to make better boundaries for myself and have found a way to guard my heart until a person can be trusted. That hasn't always been easy for me. But now I find myself behind walls I hoped never to have because I've been wounded and need to protect myself from further injury. I wish that wasn't necessary. It's unnatural and uncomfortable for me.

So, what's a person to do? I know myself well enough to know that I’m going to keep on choosing to love even when it doesn't make sense to people around me. I'm going to continue taking the flack and doing what I believe is right. I believe we're supposed to love like Christ. I want to become more and more like Him. I want to find ways to love people in my life who have done nothing to earn it and everything to destroy it. Is that crazy? Is it wrong? What am I missing?

Seriously...feedback is encouraged and desired. Anyone have any thoughts?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Putting things in perspective....again

As I was driving this afternoon, I was surprised by a new perspective on my relationship with God. Some time ago, I was involved in a business venture that was completely frustrating. A competitor approached us and asked for help in running his business. You see, my family has been in the travel business for more than 20 years, and I, myself, have been involved with the agency for the last 15. We have seen the industry go through a number of big changes and have managed to survive, and prosper, through them all. This competitor, although a businessman, did not have any experience in the travel industry. So, as he was waiting out his contracts, he asked us if we would help.

We arranged a situation that was mutually beneficial and had a plan to help him recoup as much money as possible (or at least not lose any more) and then absorb his business once his contractual obligations were fulfilled. It was a good plan. It should have worked for both parties. What we failed to factor in, however, was his inability to truly relinquish control. For nearly a year we tried to use our experience and knowledge to make changes in the way the business was run. But, we were handcuffed at every turn. I was given the task of managing the office, but not given the authority to do so. He came in every day and questioned everything and still played the role of boss. The employees were confused and didn't know to whom they should listen. On top of everything, he had also created a hostile work environment where the employees were terrified to do anything for fear of being yelled at or made to feel stupid. It was awful on more levels than I can say. It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I would come home every day completely exhausted from the drain of it. I couldn’t understand why he would ask for our help and yet ignore every suggestion and resist every change. Didn't he come to us? Aren't we the ones who have experience and knowledge?

hmmmmmm. What does that sound like? Yes. That sounds exactly like they way I often handle things in my own life. I will have moments of clarity where I know that the best thing to do is place my life, my plans, hopes and dreams in the hands of the One who made me. I know, in my heart, that He knows what's best for me and what will only cause me pain. He created me with a purpose and a plan in mind. Who better to allow complete control of my life than the One who holds everything in His hands and does all things well?

Ouch.

I'm just like that business owner who couldn't let go. I know that the best thing for me is to give complete control to the Father, but I don't really do it. I hold onto pieces and gradually take back more and more. I'm a person who likes to have control over situations. I'm very cautious and I like to know where I’m going. I like to have a plan. And, I actually like to have a number of back up plans, just in case the original plan doesn't work out. I do not like to leave control over my life in the hands of anyone. And, too often, that includes the One who created me.

I was talking to my cousin today and she was telling me of her plans. Then, she said, "but, God looks at our plans and laughs, right? So..who knows?" And, she's right. "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). Psalm 2 says, "Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One. 'Let us break their chains,' they say, 'and throw off their fetters.' The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them all."

I've often wondered at the Israelites and how they could go astray so many times. I have never understood how they could walk across the Red Sea on dry land and then turn around and worship another god. But, I do it too. Days like today remind me that I am just like them. I pray that each day I get closer and closer to staying true. I pray that one day I will really let go of the things I hold so tightly and find the freedom the comes with giving them into the Father's hand. Maybe having a visual and an emotional association with this failed business venture and overbearing owner will help me remember to not be like that in my relationship with the Lord.

At least I know the Lord has a sense of humor and can laugh at me in my attempts to do it on my own. That's strangely comforting...to be seen as a stubborn child who is loved so much by her Father that He lets her make her mistakes and catches her when she falls.

Praise God that He loves us like that! Where would we be without His grace?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Come Thou Fount

This is one of my favorite hymns. It resonates within my heart like little else. It's been on my mind for the last few days, and I've been meditating on the words.

Come Thou Fount

Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodius sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love

Here I raise mine Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I'm come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger,
interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above



I think there are a number of reasons why this song resonates so deeply with me.
First of all, I love words and word pictures. There are several here that give me pictures of theology that make it digestible and real to me. The picture of God's grace and blessing as a fountain flowing with rushing water and streams of mercy leaves my heart refreshed. As a musician, the thought of tuning my heart to hear His grace reminds me of the dissonance and disharmony that comes, not from close harmony, but voices or instruments out of tune with one another. It makes me recognize the discord in my own heart and relationships when I've fallen out of tune with His grace. Mixed with a melody that I dearly love, these truths and images find their way into my heart.

I relate deeply with the sentiment of the author. When he writes, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love", I feel the pain, sorrow, and disconnect that comes when I realize I have wandered away from my First Love. I feel the pull of my sin nature so often and I am prone to wander into it, even though I know it's not in my best interest. I hear the words of Paul, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing" (Romans 7:19) and I understand his struggle. I've been in that place where I have the best of intentions to do what is right, but I fall yet again. And, it's not because I don't love God, it's just those moments when I lose the battle with my flesh. And, that's why I love the beginning of that verse, "O to grace, how great a debtor, daily I'm constrained to be. Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee". I owe so much to the grace of God. If I were to be bound to anything, I would want to be chained to the grace of God and unable to wander from the God I love. I want, more than anything, to stay in the will of God and contiue in His grace and mercy. I hate the times when I wander.

The second verse is a quick presentation of the Gospel story. We come to God only with His help. Jesus came after us when we were strangers to Him. His blood covers our sin, takes our place, and allows us access to the family of God.

There is an argument to be made that old hymns deliver stronger messages than the contemporary praise choruses employed by many churches. I think it's good to have a combination of both and truly enjoy contemporary artists who have begun refreshing hymns for a new generation. But, what I love about hymns is the straight forward voices of the writers and the deep theology taught through song. I love how they stir my heart, challenge my faith, and remind me of deep spiritual truths. And, I love how the vehicle of song puts these nuggets in my heart in a way that few sermons ever have.

I grew up with hymns, but it has been so long since I've been part of a church where hymns are common that I've forgotten their power. I love contemporary worship songs, but there is still a place for hymns in our modern worship. Their truths never change, for they speak the truth of God. Perhaps the vehicle needs tweaking in order to find its way into the hearts of this generation. But, the truths, they are timeless, and stirring, and a tool that God has used over and over again to bind my wandering heart to Him.

Blogging Silence

The other day, I happened to notice that it had been 3 months since my last blog entry. I can't believe it's been that long! There's usually a number of reasons why my writing goes silent and the top two are:

1. Busyness
2. Emotional drain

It's not usually because I don't want to write, but because I can't. I hate those periods of time because the lack of writing usually signals real struggles in my heart, mind, and/or spirit. However, when the fog lifts, writing becomes my way of processing all of the things that have happened and a way to chronicle what I've learn.

The last time I wrote, I was processing grief. Since then, much has happened in my life and there is much to process. I love this time. Thanks for indulging me as I share my thoughts, my life, and my heart in the coming weeks.