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Posts Tagged ‘faith’


Saying I need to care for myself sounds so self-centered.  Many of us who follow Jesus Christ might even feel a little nauseated at the idea, because it feels like letting our flesh, our sin, have its way.  Entire sermons are preached and books written against living this way, but we must be careful and specific, because words matter and self-loathing or condemnation can stealthily slip in wearing godly clothes.

Self-care and self-indulgence are not the same; in fact, they couldn’t be more separate and distinct.  I believe the confusion arises from the term “self”, which frequently invokes an image of self-centered living and selfishness, which are, almost universally, considered detrimental to human health, relationship and a functioning society.  In fact, love, compassion, service in integrity, putting others needs before one’s own all run counter to, and are essentially incompatible with, living with self as my focus, because my immediate feelings and desires for me will without exception out-prioritize needs of others.  This is not to say a self-centered person can never serve others; rather, it means they are only capable of doing so either once their own perceived needs are met or perhaps under a guise of integrity crafted in fear.

Motivations behind our will are often obscured to the eye, quietly churning and hardening like stony gravel concealed in our hearts and flesh.  For those known by Jesus Christ and who trust his offer, God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:26-27 is fulfilled and the heart of stone has been supplanted by our loving creator with a refreshed heart of flesh as the catalytic initiation of new life in God, deliverance from the desperate and dark hopelessness of sin’s prison.  This deliverance has been presented by some as requiring a complete despising of one’s self, even one’s identity, typically referring to the word of Jesus in Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”  But let’s take a broader look to include the context of this event.  Jesus said these words immediately after correcting Peter for his self-centered protest of Jesus when he warned the disciples of his approaching death: “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.'” (v. 22-23, my emphasis) Now reread v. 24. So, did Jesus intend for Peter to wholly neglect his personhood, his identity as a man?  Or was Jesus instead pointing to the sin lurking in Peter’s flesh?  Was he calling out the fear rising in his mind from hearing of his Lord being murdered and prompting him to refuse the possibility?  After all, Jesus created Peter; not with sin, but with all his gifts and character in an original, unique design, as he has each human being.  Surely that design is what God is working to restore, not reject, and even enhance along with the rest of his creation (Revelation 21:1-5).

So, then, how do I care for my self in a healthy way?  Self-care manifests as differently as the varied life experiences of each person yet dwells within the same existence and touches the same places in our hearts, like diverse mini-currents and eddies all maneuvering within the larger flow of the same stream.  Self-care is quietness of mind, heart and soul.  It is being willing – more fundamentally, agreeing with the need – to separate from routine engagements with other people and things and choosing to absorb, rather than expend.  A temporary closing of the valve, if you will, of the outflow of our energy and life.  Self-care acknowledges the incontrovertible physical, emotional, mental and spiritual necessity for equilibrium and that the elements of our human design always seek it out, despite potential frustration from our will pushing to stay the course.  Yet, there is much more to it than just “taking a break”.    

For many of us, the startling disorientation Peter experienced from contemplating such a horrific loss can cause our flesh to similarly lurch into denial as a means of survival, to escape and refuse reality to protect what we have secretly defined as “life”.  It exposes a crucial truth:  our hope rests on an outcome rather than on Jesus himself.  This is central, not only to our growth in him and his daily work to restore us, but also to how we care for ourselves.  Self-care is not immersion in or protection of idols we’ve grasped, motivated by fear, but the recognition of those idols as idols, releasing them as powerless and transferring the hope we had previously placed in them to Jesus and his supreme affection for us.  Self-care is a reorientation to truth and light; a consolidation of trust and following, decoupling from the myriad facades of hope and life to select and pursue the one voice that credibly and compassionately promises eternal fulfillment of our original intricate being.

The truth is, ultimate self-care is immersion in, union with, God.  My energy, my love, my healing, my fullness of life come from him alone.  Without self-care, even as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have little to offer anyone in my life because my efforts will, at best, produce a thin residue of love scraped from the remnant of my last encounter with him.  I have gone weeks before without spending more than a few minutes with him (“arrow prayers”), and it takes a toll.  Suddenly, I discover I’m less able to respond in a healthy, productive way to those who depend on me. Life just gets harder, and I start to despair.  Many people I’ve met carry the faint awareness of this in their eyes, flickers of hope losing ground to shadow.  They know deep in their being we were not intended for such an inconsequential, futile existence, but that fading hope is daily met with reinforcement of pain from the world and false helpers, often others who are equally terrified yet also refusing to risk full pursuit of union with God.  Instead, eyes shut tight, they cling to a fraying but familiar rope over a bottomless chasm.  That was me, too; it feels safe, but really caring for myself is opening my eyes and considering that what feels true may be incomplete.  Self-care is moving my gaze off the weakening strands of that rope long enough to discover Jesus reaching out just above my head as he gently encourages me to trust him all the way and instead grab his strong, immovable hand.

Scripture and scripture references taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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Much has been written in social media and news outlets on the subject of George Floyd’s death while in custody of the Minneapolis Police.  What I want to discuss here are the broader related topics that permeate our culture in the United States of America and how we Christians living as the “fragrance of Christ” to the world might offer hope.

While I appreciate reading the varied perspectives currently peppered throughout social media, what seems to be missing is mutual respect for people regardless of their ethnicity or position on the topic being discussed.  I suppose that could be said for social media at large; but if reconciliation is truly the goal, every perspective represented must initially be treated as valid, even if it is incorrect, because it is based on that individual’s experience, learning, psychology, suffering, nurturing, etc.  Disagreement, even vehement opposition, is not legitimate grounds for mocking or silencing those perspectives.  Growth in someone’s perspective and understanding has never been accomplished by wielding inflammatory labels or a dismissive or insulting posture against them.  Engagement, active listening, respect, and dignity must be exhibited by all parties if growth is to be realized; and growth almost always occurs simultaneously to varying degrees in all parties who are willing.

While it is certainly true there remains inequity in the social systems of the USA, and that this inequity, combined with violent dispositions of human beings, frequently results in harm or death, I honestly don’t see how we emerge from this present agony closer to a healed, reconciled society while engagement and listening are minimized and provocative labels and terminology continue to be used.  Despite the persuasive and energetic arguments from those passionate about these topics that have recently produced pithy terms like “white privilege” to describe the inequity, this does injustice to the spiritual and psychological reality of human existence.  As a Christian, I believe from reading God’s word in the Bible that each human being, no matter how repulsive their actions, bears God’s image, no matter how obscured. Modern science and psychology have revealed that every single person is a complex being, not just those we agree with or like or find tolerable. Every person has intrinsic value, not only those we endorse or are in relationship with.  Every person is capable – indeed, desperately needy – of giving and receiving love, even and especially those it is so easy to categorize into binary terms or a meme because of a few words uttered in frustration, or foolish mistakes made or even acts of ignorance, violence or atrocity.

I must honestly ask myself: What is my interest here? What am I seeking?  If the answer is justice, my vision is very short-sighted and inadequate.  Pure justice is not enough, because pure justice can only be applied equally to all, and I must evaluate whether I truly want that for myself before answering too quickly.  Pure justice is mathematical; it does away with mercy.  I find it much too easy to cry for justice for others who offend and then plead for mercy and grace for myself.

I believe we must not put our hope for a healthier society merely in disruption, assuming we’ll somehow be at least a little better on the other side. This is fantasy. We also must resist joining the world’s urgent efforts to find some blamable symbol or person or group of people or political leader, all from a desire to discover a simple, rational explanation and solution.  This denies all we have learned of the complexity of human spirituality, psychology, emotion and reason.  There is certainly legitimate anger, confusion and scrutiny that arises when a person is flagrantly mistreated, even to death (especially by those in the role of protector) and the visual capture of that event is available to watch over and over.  Imagery is so powerful because it instantly shapes perception.  Visually observing one shocking, horrifying action gives birth to interpretation and then forms a knowledge, the imagery cemented in our minds as the truth of the event.  It’s not easy but it is simple, manageable.  Unfortunately, I have to admit, I’ve seen many things in my life and formed many opinions and passed many judgements on actions I wasn’t present for, words I didn’t hear and, worst of all, people I don’t know. And I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right. Each of us is susceptible to my error, especially when we are immersed in the kind of outrage erupting right now.  To deny that susceptibility is to choose arrogance and illusion.

Our grieving process as a society has been re-ignited, and that process is an essential prerequisite for true healing and reconciliation, but it does not constitute those.  Rage, additional violence, hatred, vengeance – though all are understandable, none of these bring healing but rather guarantee more suffering, agony, loss and division, pushing us all further from what we claim is our goal. Without dialogue filled with the humility to accept that we may not actually know enough about another human being to categorize their value and true nature, I fear we will circle in the grief, oddly savoring the pain, and curdling it until it is hardened and our society’s mindset is trapped, growth stunted once more until the next horrible act of violence to be visually captured goes viral.  This is an opportunity to breathe love and grace into pain and sadness.  We must keep the eyes of our hearts on the prize we seek:  reconciliation and healing.  The restoration of all human beings to each other and God, in the name of Jesus Christ and his love for the world.  That is where abundant hope waits to sooth our grief.

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