Saturday, October 24, 2015

Overwhelmed: Part 4

Do You Trust Me?
What if the sense of “being overwhelmed” (that is, the feeling itself) isn’t the problem or a sign of a sinful pattern? What if it is actually a crossroads where an important choice has to be made? What if it is Jesus’ way of asking, “Do you trust Me?”? What if it is my reaction to being overwhelmed and my response to the question that feeds either the Monster or my faith, that causes the ever-darkening spiral of shame or gives light on the path ahead?
In this light, perhaps being overwhelmed is a good thing. Maybe it points to living toward something bigger than me. Perhaps I feel it so often because God is always calling me to something I cannot do by myself. Maybe God is taking me to places where all I can do is trust Him more deeply, more desperately. THAT is a beautiful place to be.

Granted, boundary issues and perfectionism, people-pleasing and “Savior complexes” (as I like to call the if-I-don’t-fill-the-need-then-no-one-will belief) are not healthy ways of living. They are heavy burdens that I, as a child of God living under Jesus’ New Covenant of grace, was not meant to carry.

But, as I read back through my journals, I just assumed that the pattern revealed something wrong in me. I never considered it being God’s intentional work. I only thought it was me messing up. Or being too much. Or not being enough. I tend to be an optimistic person, but I never considered the reason for the pattern of overwhelmed feelings to be God calling me to something bigger, inviting me into His plan. I never considered that it could be Him who takes me to that place on purpose, the place where I really cannot walk forward on my own.  What if, in these moments of being overwhelmed, God is inviting me to do His work and to trust Him in it?

A Renaissance Mind
Someone suggested to me recently that perhaps I have a “Renaissance Mind.” I never knew that was a thing. Who knew there were enough other people with this issue as to merit a special name?! A person with a “Renaissance Mind” is one who knows a little about a lot of things, has a wide variety of interests and many things about which (s)he is passionate. It is the positive version of the old adage, “jack of all trades, master of none.” This definitely describes me! I am a licensed Physical Therapist practicing Speech Pathology and Autism therapy (overseas, cross culturally and in a second language and, soon, I will add a third culture and language to that mix). When working in my professional role, I love large group training just as much as I enjoy one-on-one therapy sessions. I love making my own schedule, but long for structure. When organizing my thoughts, I often make charts, but have recently discovered the joy of mind maps and words and sketches strewn on a page in colored pencil. I love spending the day in the city (or on a hike in the mountains) with my Canon and favorite 50mm prime lens. I am an avid journaler, maintain a blog and am in the middle of three or four other writing projects, one of which is a book. I digitally design most of the birthday cards, invitations and notecards I send to friends. I am a homebody that loves travelling and exploring new places. I am trained as a life coach with only practice hours standing in the way of my certification. Oh, and cooking. I love that too—trying new foods and experimenting with new recipes. As you can imagine, I am rarely bored. Conversely, I wish for more days off of work, so my various “hobbies” can be more like a handful of part-time jobs. Many years back, someone asked me the question, “Ten years from now, what would you regret not having or doing if it wasn’t in your life?” Then, that question was easy. Now, I am not sure I could choose.

Hmmm. Perhaps my regular feeling of “being overwhelmed” is because I am trying to make all of these things fit into one life. The possibilities of how to spend my time on a daily basis are almost infinite. Choosing is often an overwhelming task. Add on top of that my superhuman expectation of perfection for myself and the possibilities begin to crush me.

Jesus’ Asks a Strange Question
Sitting on top of a mountain with His disciples, Jesus saw a large crowd of 5000+ people coming toward Him. He turns, looks directly at Philip and asks:  

“Where are we to buy bread so these people may eat?” (John 6.5, ESV)?

What a strange question! Jesus knows the disciples’ money pouches aren’t bulging. He knows there is no market close by that sells that amount of food at one time. Why would Jesus ask Philip this question? Was He giving the responsibility to feed the people to him? Did He really want Philip to do the math, go look for scraps, find a way or devise a plan to feed the people?

When I have a crowd of 5000+ ideas in front of me, it seems Jesus is asking me a question similar to the one He asked Philip. Is Jesus asking me to run through my list of resources and figure out the most efficient way to accomplish them?  When I am feeling overwhelmed, is He asking me to find a way to solve it? To push through? To tweak the milliseconds in my schedule to make it all happen? These are the questions I often hear and strive to answer. I think Philip heard Jesus’ question this way, too.

Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii [wages for 200 days of labor] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” (John 6.7)   

Andrew, another disciple, didn’t really understand Jesus’ question either. And, his response implies that the disciples did, in fact, surveyed their resources and tried to figure out a solution.

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6.9)

These sound like reasonable interpretations and responses to Jesus’ question, but, I think Jesus had something else in mind. The verse immediately following Jesus’ strange question offers a bit of a commentary that I find remarkable. 

Jesus said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. (John 6.6)            

What was He testing? What was Jesus trying to find out about Philip? What was He trying to expose in his heart? I think Jesus’ question to Philip was really, “Do you trust Me?” In this situation that you have never faced before, that all your logical answers and problem solving are not going to fix, do you trust Me? Will you look to what you see with your eyes or will you trust in the bigger Unseen? Are you going to lean on your own wisdom, which is obviously not enough, or are you going to trust Me?

Perhaps, when I am feeling overwhelmed, Jesus is really asking, “Do you trust Me?”. What are you going to do with what is on your plate today? Will you choose your own wisdom and strength, or Mine? Where will you find insight and creativity? To whom will you look for resources? What will you do with these opportunities I have placed before you? Are you going to let them crush you or trust Me for a miracle?

Jesus doesn’t respond directly to Philip or Andrew, but rather, has the entire crowd sit down (John 6.10) while He proceeded to give thanks and multiply the fish and loaves to feed all of people. In effect, He says, “No guys. You didn’t get it. Rest and watch me do My thing.” His way. His resources. Above and beyond all they could have asked or imagined. Each person filled and satisfied.

I think that’s just how God is. He probes, digs, seeks, exposes. But, it is not to cause me to squirm or hurt or fear, though those things may come in the process. He seeks to extend an invitation, to transform, to reveal His greatness. He is indeed inviting me into something bigger than myself—the building of His Kingdom. And I cannot do it by myself, but I can cling to the same promise from God as the Apostle Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2Co 12:9, ESV).

How vital it becomes to remember that I am not alone. Every time I feel overwhelmed, in the face of each choice, Jesus is beside me, beckoning me with His outstretched hand and asking, “Do you trust Me?”. It is also crucial that I carve out time (sometimes it does feel like chipping away at marble with a dull chisel!) for solitude, silence, listening. I cannot, nor am I meant to navigate all of these interests and passions and possibilities alone. God is my Shepherd, Wise Counselor and Companion. I want to grab ahold of His hand and walk forward with Him. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Overwhelmed: Part 3

God in Pursuit of My Heart 

God has been consistently and patiently speaking to the issues of perfectionism and productivity-based identity in my heart for many years. He has been slowly revealing the reality and enormity of the Monster that I, at the same time, both loathe and nurture.

A little over ten years ago, I stood in a full auditorium at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, worshipping alongside thousands. But, God spoke to me as if I was the only one there. “All My thoughts toward you are holy, full of love and grace,” Lincoln Brewster sang (You Are the One, “Amazed,” 2002). God translated those words to my heart saying, “I do not think of you the way you think of you.” I had to sit down from the significance of what God was revealing to me. My understanding of God and His love for me was so warped. A short time later, my pastor drew a picture for me that even more clearly depicted my false assumptions of God and His view of me (see below).

That picture reminded me of a similar one I had shared with college students and friends so many times—a divide between man and God that only Jesus can fill. Yes, for them but also for me. Then and still, every day. However, I was living as if the divide had never been bridged by the Cross, as if God was a line to be achieved or as if there was a standard required for His approval.

Now, ten years later, God is taking me back to the same Truth. He continues to woo me into deep relationship with Himself, reminding me often of His love that is without limit and His indescribable grace extended toward me. Recorded in the pages of my journal, I can see Him peeling back layers of my false view of His character and He is digging out even more deeply rooted lies about my identity in Him.

* When I find myself feeling tired and weak and overwhelmed, the Lord speaks to my heart:
Be still. And come to Me. My burden is light. I will make yours light. Spend time with Me and I will show you the way, guide your steps...
The Holy Spirit reminds me what the Cross is for, why Jesus suffered and died—that I might live free, that I might embrace grace and forgiveness right in the middle of my sin, that I might not live under the burden of guilt and standards that I cannot meet, that I may know the pleasure and closeness of God in the midst of my messiness. He never turns His face away.

* When the burdens of doubt and grief weigh heavily, failing to lessen with sleep, God reminds me that I do not need to carry them. They are not my portion, even though they feel insurmountable, impenetrable, unclimbable. Even though I feel like I am in a besieged city, He is ready to show me His steadfast love (Psalm 31.21). My God is a God of the impossible. He loves to take me to the edge of the vast sea and part the waters or tear down city walls with a shout. He enables my feet to be secure on the heights. He loves to show Himself mighty and faithful, strong and gracious, powerful and merciful, Protector and Comforter.
 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” (Psalm 32.8)

* And, when I am feeling worthy of the labels of “inefficient” and “lazy” and a sense of despair so dependably joins them, God takes me to the bookmark in my Bible. In Luke 5, Jesus climbed into Simon Peter’s boat and ordered him to cast the fishing nets again. The group had fished all night catching nothing, but Simon Peter obeyed anyway. They caught two boats full of fish and overflowing. The setting, equipment and actions were all the same in both times the nets were cast. The only difference was the presence of Jesus. I know that, somehow, the answer to my stress and feeling of despair lies this Truth. I need wisdom and faith and complete trust in the presence of Jesus with me. His strength. His power. His energy. His timing. His way. Not my own decisions, efficiency, hard work, diplomacy, stamina…..His. 
* When I am incredibly stingy and dictator-ish in extending grace to myself, when my standards are sky-high and I would rather escape real life for the fictional one of a novel or TV show, when my soul cries out, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?!” the Holy Spirit prompts me to pick up The Valley of Vision (Arthur Bennett. Banner of Truth Trust, 1975). The words I read at my bookmark are timely:  
O Heavenly Father,
Teach me to see
That if Christ has pacified Thee and satisfied divine justice, He can also deliver me from my sins;
That Christ does not desire me, now justified, to live in self-confidence in my own strength, but gives me the law of the Spirit of life to enable me to obey Thee;
That the Spirit and His power are all mine by resting on Christ’s death;
That the Spirit of life within answers to the law without. (p 57)

Regardless of how I feel, God does not stop speaking. I am grateful for His constancy, His faithfulness, His continual pursuit of me. I love the way He is able to lift me out of a muddy sinkhole of despair and grief and loneliness and selfishness and set my feet upon a Rock. And, He often does this before I realize I am sinking! He is amazing! Beautiful God!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Overwhelmed: Part 2

The Ugly Spiral of Shame

Productive. Efficient. Disciplined. Self-controlled. Making good use of time. Compiling lists and checking off finished tasks. How often these things drive me. And the absence of them devastate and paralyze me. I am constantly trying to make the rules and lists and busyness work. Sometimes, they do. A project is finished. I actually finish everything I set out to do on a given day. Errands completed in record time. The wonderful feeling when I discover that there is no difference if I only rinse my clothes once in the machine, so a load now only takes thirty minutes and uses less water. The joy of a subway station right next to my apartment complex, cutting my commute down by twenty minutes…

There is a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when these things happen. But, how often have I refused to answer the phone or been short with someone because my productivity rhythm would have been thrown off. Red flag! Isolation is never a good outcome.

With these issues that drive me so naturally, so deeply, you would think that I would be a millionaire business woman or a well-published author or at the top of my field. Unfortunately (or maybe not?), my strategies have not worked out that way for me. I am not driven to “succeed” (except in my inner world with its warped standards of perfection). Perhaps because, in my Evangelical Christian upbringing, I know better (at least intellectually) than to think that riches and fame are the ultimate goal. Yet, the underlying motivations and heart-forces are the same.

I wonder if, even despite my drive toward perfection and excellence, my lack of a prolific life is God’s grace poured out on me. I wonder if He has wired me and orchestrated my circumstances in such a way as to cause me to run to Him, to show me that there really is no other place to go.
In my inner drive toward efficiency and perfectionism, there is a diabolical twist, a soul-wounding double-edge. Part-way into a task, one of two things happens. Either fear stabs deep or the realization of impossibility cuts to the core. I see the height of the bar or the location of the finish line raised so high or so far away that my energy is sapped and my motivation grinds to a halt. It is either fear of failure, fear of the unknown or humanly impossible goals that freeze me and keep me from continuing the task.

So, the half-completed task gets put in a pile on the side.

Sometimes, I manage to lower the bar or draw the finish line a bit closer and dredge up strength from some recess somewhere to fight it out to the end. Even though there is an initial rush of accomplishment, the Monstrosity of my lack stands just to the side and rouses, whispering sinister accusations. “How much better could it have been had I one less hour of sleep or fifteen minutes shorter of a break? What could I have accomplished had I come home from my friend’s house just a little bit earlier or not gone at all? Lazy. Lumpy. Indulgent. Capable of better. Not enough….”

It doesn’t take much for the Pile-Monster to notice how the growth of the pile of “unfinished” adds fuel to his fiery darts. “Another task incomplete. That doesn’t say much for your intelligence or stamina or ability. It wouldn’t have taken that much to finish a couple of those things. You said you would do it and broke your promise. Not a good teammate, employee, friend….”

Layers upon layers of guilt, stacked up heavy. And each inflamed dart hits its mark—dead-on and painfully lodging in my heart. Yet, somehow, the searing burn of the darts is comfortable. I have come to rely on the pain they give. As I limp forward, each step reminds me that my list-making, productivity-and-efficiency-driven life-strategy can still work for me—a stronger me. When I sit down to rest, the darts dig and twist in even deeper, telling me with each twinge of shooting pain that a less lazy and more disciplined me can actually make this life work. I keep them to “help” me and they keep me in the vicious cycle.

It reminds me of a Jason Gray song…….
But wounded is a part
I’ve learned to play well
Though the wound may run deeper
Than I know how to tell
Where pain’s an addiction
That keeps me buried alive
But when it’s all that I know
I’m afraid to leave it behind
(Without Running Away, “A Way to See in the Dark,” Jason Gray, 2011)

And, what do I do? I use the same strategy that got it all started to attempt to fix it. I dig the smaller tasks—the ones that will take the least time and energy—out from the gargantuan Pile, pull myself up by my colloquial boot straps and just do it. I feel great…..until I dream up more projects and lists…until I look up and see what remains in the Heap…until that evil Monster starts talking again. “Dig up another one. Another one. Another one!” And the cycle continues unstoppable.

You see, he offers a way for me to make him smaller and more manageable, but his promises are no better than thinly veiled malice. Yet, in the moment of feeling overwhelmed, I find it hard to see through the veil and his suggestions seems to be my only option. The problem is, that as I attempt to complete more tasks in the Pile thinking I am helping myself, I am actually feeding the insatiable Monster. He grows bigger and uglier and more powerful and his intent is and always will be to crush me under his weight.

Occasionally, I hear God’s voice louder than the gorged, dart-throwing Monster. God speaks His everlasting, Truth into my heart and a dart or two lose their grip and fall away, powerless to the ground. A layer of guilt is lifted off. I feel lightness and freedom, like it is supposed to be. I am amazed by His strength and grace. My heart knows in those moments that this is what Jesus came for—to render the Monster powerless and carry all the heavy darts and layers of guilt away. He took them all upon Himself and continually offers to carry them away for me. He invites me to come to Him, to seek Him and find rest and freedom in His presence.

“You shall know the Truth and the Truth will set you free” (John 8.32).