How To Get Time Back

I used to hate November. It smelled of death.

In November 1994, my friend Melissa’s mom died of cancer. Melissa was only motherless for two years. In November 1996, Melissa died in a car accident, days after the anniversary of her mother’s death.

I had to wait four more years before my friend, Joe, died, this time in another car accident, within the first two weeks of this dreaded month.

Soon I learned to ball up my fists and wait. Who would November kill this year? I cynically asked myself. It was only a matter of time before death aimed straight for that month and took another loved one away.

I felt obligated to loathe November. What choice did I have? Until one day that tiny God voice somewhere within asked me if I wanted to keep hating November. It suggested so audaciously that maybe God didn’t want me to hate entire months or days, that all time belonged to God.

I took the bait. Okay, God. I don’t want to hate November anymore. Give me November back.

I had to wait five, maybe six years. Josh and I were married and we told God, Give us a year without a baby, please. But as soon as the year was up, I wanted that baby.

Nothing. Month after disappointing month went by. No pregnancy.

Then in March the next year, two lines showed up in pink. Pregnant! I calculated the due date date: November 8. Two days before the death of my friend, Joe.

John ended up coming a week later, November 15. And maybe that was better. Smack in the middle of the most worstest time of my year.

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And that is how, in 2010, God gave me November back. What was once a time committed purely to mourning and emptiness had been turned into a celebration. A birth where death had lived, stealing and destroying.

Now my remembrance of my loved ones drips with redemption and hope, where before it felt so empty.

Isn’t that so like God, to trade our mourning for joy?

What day or month or season do you need back? All our years and days belong to him. Ask him to give it back to you, to restore beauty and goodness where it’s been stolen. He can do it. And at just the right time, in the best way, he will.

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Will The Next Mr. Mandela Please Stand Up?

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When I was born, Mr. Mandela was still in prison serving a life sentence with other anti-apartheid activists. And he would be there for nine more years.

I didn’t know about him and his fight when I was still young, didn’t know he sat in jail for 27 years while the country brawled around him. His chains represented the apartheid on his people.

From childhood, Nelson hoped to impact the fight for freedom in Africa. But he never sought to be an activist for black people especially; he longed for racial equality most of all. In his Speech from the Dock in 1964, he said,

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Despite knowing his oppressors were white, he never made them the enemy. A profoundly gracious and wise soul, he transcended the small minds who warred against him, making enemies of racism and inequality instead.

“A free and democratic society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities…an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Nelson, this is what I want too. Most of the sane among us agree. Yet while I believe in this virtue, is it an ideal for which I am prepared to die?

Many of us are angry about ageism and sexism and racism and all the other -isms that plague our hearts, though we don’t want to admit them.

I believe I don’t want anyone to be treated with disrespect because of things they cannot control, or choices they make that are not harmful to others. I believe people should be free to safely and freely practice the religions of their choice.

But I am afraid. And because of my fear, I am outside the fight. I am still not prepared to die. Or would I be, if the choice were presented to me?

Martin Luther King Jr. died for this cause. Nelson never had to. But both men were prepared to die.

And now in the passing of this Mr. Mandela’s great presence from our earth, the torch is passed to you and me.

Am I prepared to die for what I love and believe in, for Jesus, for freedom, for equality? Or am I still terrified of what I lose?

Do I remember that someone died for me first to free me from this crippling prison of fear?

And what about you? Are you ready to die for your freedom ideals? What would make you say ‘Yes’?

{Let’s grow our courage together. Subscribe to the blog for free updates and a first copy of my book, Dream or Die, at its release early next year. And stay connected on Facebook or Twitter.}

Why We Are So Tired Right Now

There’s a trend going around lately, and I don’t like it. Its a trend of severe, pandemic exhaustion.

Talking with co-workers, friends and family, I hear the same familiar laments. We are all tired.

For much of the year, Josh and I felt this way. This year beat us up pretty bad, but we stayed in the mess. Until the past few weeks.

The tiredness we all feel right now is the worn out feeling of laboring without results. It is a hard and difficult work without reward or breakthrough.

It feels like we are getting up every day for more of the same. There is little to look forward to since our labors produced little yesterday. There is a sense of wandering, a lostness or purposelessness. We don’t know why we are here or if what we do each day is worth it.

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Can you relate to that feeling?

As I thought of my own story and heard that of others, I wondered where the rest went. Why can we not rest?

At a prayer meeting a couple weeks ago, I think I learned the answer.

I want to suggest that the feeling of tiredness and exhaustion we are experiencing is a lack of gratitude and awareness of God, resulting in a lack of breakthrough.

We forgot what God has done for us in the past, and we have become our own saviors. We rely on ourselves for the results because forgetting God’s work in our lives causes us to also forget his trustworthiness. We become orphan-minded, with a Me Against The World mentality.

How do we recover rest and trust and meaning and all the good stuff?

Psalm 37:3 tells us to “dwell in the land and feed on God’s faithfulness”.

Feeding on the faithfulness of God is to allow ourselves be nurtured and nourished by his faithfulness, by the things that he’s done in the past and present. It is meditating on God’s big and little interventions in our lives. It is consciously and gratefully taking in, eating, enjoying the fruit of God’s provision.

This act stirs up gratitude and thankfulness in my heart, which actually results in a calming response in my mind. “If I could trust God then and see him intervene on my behalf, I can trust him to do the same now.”

This sense of well-being and trust puts us in a position to do what verse 4 says: “Delight yourself in The Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” From a place of resting and delight, we are positioned to receive the breakthrough we desire and the longings of our heart, which before we were laboring for with no results.

So here is where we get the breakthrough: we dwell in the land, we feed and nurture ourselves on the faithfulness of God we meditate on the things that he’s done, and we are put in a position to be delighted by God and get results.

When God and his kingdom and his rest become our focus, Jesus made a promise to us: he said that “when we seek first the kingdom, all these things will be added to you. All these things are our most basic necessities and our wildest desires.

Isn’t this awesome? This is changing everything for me.

It’s Thanksgiving month here in the US. We eat and give thanks, but then it’s over.

What if gratitude wasn’t a holiday but a regular life rhythm?

Let’s practice conscious thankfulness and delight from now on. Here’s how I am going to be doing it:

1. Making regular lists of how I saw God work in my life each week.

2. Decreasing my intake of media that is whiny and self-centered. Instead, I am listening to sermon podcasts while I drive or keeping the 24/7 IHOP Prayer Room webstream going.

3. Telling other people about what God does for me, rather than complaining about what is wrong as much.

How will you maintain a heart of rest through gratitude? Share your practices below.

[photo credit: ericstarkey.com]

A Pillar of Remembrance

{Today I’m a guest over at Megan Bowker’s blog, where she’s participating in The Nester’s #31Days of Remembrance. Megan’s been writing daily about things in her life she’s grateful for – it turns out there’s a lot. I’m honored to share a time in my life when a great need of mine collided with God’s infinite provision. It’s a fun story – want to hear? Well, here we go.}

It only took me nine months to figure it out: full-time ministry was not for me. I didn’t like the feeling of always being “on”, and raising my own support team never stopped intimidating me.

Most of all, I hated being a professional Christian. Getting paid to promote Jesus and develop “intentional relationships” felt fraudulent to me. I wondered if people I met looked at me suspiciously, thinking, “Well, of course you like Jesus. You get paid to like him.”

This is pretty much how I felt somedays.

So after nine months, I prayed a resignation prayer and hoped God would accept. I knew I was risking becoming a less-effective Christian because powerful Christians who really want to serve God go into full-time ministry and selfish, scared Christians who don’t like support-raising get predictable day jobs. Or so I thought.

Despite this conviction, I was miserable enough to ask anyway. I knew God called us to things we really didn’t want to do, but I hoped and prayed he would let me out. I just wanted to be normal. A regular person with a regular job whose life had been radically transformed by Jesus.

Through an agonizing wrestling match in which I profusely apologized to heaven for being weak-hearted, God pulled back the weird, little Christian lie I believed, that being a Jesus follower for a living was the highest calling. I realized my assignment for this season was to be embedded in the world with everyone else. Where the people didn’t know Jesus yet, and they wouldn’t end up in a church on Sundays, but they would hear about him because of me.

This new trajectory moved my heart with passion. With it came the peace to leave full-time ministry. But I had no idea where to go next. In a week, I would have no job, no house, and my financial support would end.

People Who See The Past and Future You

I am one of those lucky people who seems to have friendships that never end. My bridesmaids were nearly all women I’d known and been close with for the better part of a decade, if not longer. And we are all still friends.

L-R: Ingrid, Holly, Jen, Ica, Rachel and Jazzy. [Photo credit: Sara Tafoya Photography]

L-R: Ingrid, Holly (my sister), Jen, Ica, Rachel and Jazzy. [Photo credit: Sara Tafoya Photography]

I met Jazzy on the playground when we were 12. My cousin, Jen, helped me leave the party scene and (try to) stay on the straight and narrow the summer before I turned 17. I met Rachel in high school, and Ica in youth group. Ingrid was my newest, college friend, but by my wedding, we already had a few years behind us.

Each of these friends in their own way grounded and stabilized me. I could look into my past and see how each of these women helped shape and define me, dreamed with me about our future husbands and lives, splashed my canvas with creativity and fun, and helped deepen my love for God, giving me someone to walk life with.

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These friendships are foundational for me. In many ways, they are the launch pad of my life, the shoulders I stand on. They know the old me, the historic Sarah who changed her major at least three times and finally pulled the last major out of a cereal bowl in indecisive desperation. They knew what I looked like after too much to drink, they talked me out of bad relationships and consoled me when I couldn’t make people think I was cool. We shared wardrobes and bad ideas, midnight road trips and slumber parties.

They know me well. But in many ways, they know the old me best.

I am so thankful for these friends who are still integral in my life, but I also needed friends who didn’t just know my past. I needed friends who could see my future.

During the past two years, I’ve developed friendships with two women who have been brave enough to believe in me in an unprecedented way. They don’t just know I’m a writer – they read my blog regularly. They tell me they know I’m going to make it, that I will be an author some day. They tell me God wants me to write, that my “words will set the word on fire”.

These friends know little about my past, but they see the future me. They know the today-me struggles with discipline and self-doubt. They know sometimes I get writer’s block. They see my insecurity. And yet, they believe in me. They remind me of the God-breathed, Spirit-enhanced version of me.

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And I can see this in them as well. In these friendships without years of history, we only have a short collection of months to go on. But in getting to know each other, we are intentional to listen in to heaven and see what God says about the other, to not let one another dwell in the painful present but to call out the gifts and destiny in each woman.

No one friendship is better than the other. I need all these women. I need all these friendships. I need the foundational, grounding voices, the ones who know my past. And I need the friends with binoculars who know that what I only dream about is really my future history.

I am so thankful for the effortless friendships of the women who’ve known me in every season. And I am grateful for my new friends with their confident, reassuring voices of what’s to come.

As I write, I remember the importance of aiming my eyes toward the future for all my friends, no matter how long I’ve known them. We all need someone to see the giant in us when we feel next to invisible.

We will always need shoulders to stand on and eyes to see the future we are afraid to dream of for ourselves.

So let’s be intentional to nurture all our relationships, the old and the new. We can’t neglect any of them.

Do you have both kinds of friends? What can you do to cultivate these friendships in your life? Tell me in the Comments below.

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I Feel For the Cowardly Lion

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Yesterday I went to lunch with my son and my dad at a deli in a wealthy part of Kansas City. Everyone always seems so put together there, and I always feel out of place. No surprise. My car wasn’t clean, and John and I were wearing cut-off jean shorts and sandals. Oh well.

We sat down to order, but John started his shark thing where he never stops moving. The waitress brought us crayons and paper, and we begin to feel more at home.

Not long after we sat down, a good-looking, middle-aged man was seated at a table next to us. As he pulled out his chair to sit, I looked up at him and the thought came to mind: “He has back pain.” Weird. He didn’t look like he was in pain. Maybe I was making this up. But I know to pay attention to these thoughts.

As usual, I so did not want to get up and pray for this guy right in front of the whole deli. So to take up time, I argued with myself. Since my last impression about a stranger was related to back pain, I countered, “Sarah, you think everyone has back pain.” But obviously I didn’t get that impression about everyone else in the deli.

The man and his possible back pain bothered me through the rest of the meal. Especially when his attractive wife showed up to join him. I just didn’t want to pray right there, right then. And what if he didn’t even have back pain? I was going to look weird either way, and we already stood out, and people in this part of town don’t do well with weird.

As we finished our sandwiches, my dad picked up the tab, and we said our goodbyes. The man was getting ready to leave as well. Internally, I groaned. If I was going to do something, time was running out. I did nothing.

John and I walked to the bathroom, and the man walked out the door. As the door swung shut behind him, I saw him wincing in pain, his hands straightening at his side.

So he was in pain.

The bathroom was occupied, and I thought maybe I had one last chance. I walked toward the parking garage where I thought he might be, and I saw him walking toward his car, quite a distance away. I would have to shout. I suddenly had too much dignity to shout.

But what if God could heal him? What if he could walk away from here without pain? Wasn’t that worth a little weird? I thought, finally a little bit sane.

John pressed the UP button on the elevator, and we waited. I saw the man driving toward us, and I knew, if I was just crazy enough, I could stop him in the garage and pray for him right there. I’d already come this far, practically chased him down. But my feet were stuck. My mouth stayed shut.

The elevator door swung open. John and I didn’t enter. The elevator door shut again. The man and his big blue car drove past. John pressed UP one more time.

And I knew he was gone.

We entered the elevator with another mom and baby, and I tried to smile. But I was heartbroken. I was scared, and a man left the deli in pain. He didn’t have to, but he did. Because I went into self-preservation mode and forgot who mattered.

He had a beautiful wife, nice clothes and a big, cushy car. But you can’t buy health. And you can’t buy peace. And I had that to offer.

And that’s why I feel for the cowardly lion. I am a lion who forgets who she is. I think fear is the safe bet so I stay under its umbrella. We all miss out when we play the cowardly lion, when we forget who we are.

My heart felt like a stone on the drive home. I wondered if God would maybe let me see him one more time, some crazy way, but I knew I needed to sit in this. I knew I needed to feel the pain, the wages of fear.

It still feels sad to say. I wish there was a happier ending. But please, be brave today. If God shows you a person who needs something, offer the time or the prayer or the presence or the money. Don’t be fearful. Don’t be stingy. Don’t let your heart shrink.

Instead, remember who you are. You are a lion. You might be cowardly at times. But you are still a lion. And that’s a very powerful creature, whether you believe it or not.

When are you most likely to play the cowardly lion? Tell me in the comments below.

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God, Actual Size

I’m really good at exaggerating to make a point. I am one of the best exaggerators I know. Maybe the best in the world. Whoops, there I go again. (I know you saw that coming.)

When I find myself face first in a dilemma, it always feels like I’ve been stuck for centuries and the whole problem is hopeless. Often I complain, which I call “external processing”, but my introvert husband doesn’t buy it. My condition feels insurmountable, whether it’s a health issue, a financial crisis, worry about my future career, or what to have for dinner.

Each poses a troublesome obstacle for my tiny brain. Why? Because I’m excellent at elevating problems. Good self-talk shrinks problems down briefly, but before long, another one pops up to take its place.

God’s answer comes in the form of two old words that always trip me up: magnify and exalt. One particular spot brings them together in radiant obscurity:

Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together. (Psalm 34:3)

Like any good, modern English-speaking Christian, I hop the text. Sounds archaic. It probably means sing songs to God or something. And…moving on.

But if he just means music, why isn’t he saying that? Because magnify and exalt are not only about guitar and drums and hands up – or down, if you’re more comfortable – on a Sunday morning. David’s talking about a proper view of God.

I remember in grade school, taking a magnifying glass out to the driveway, and if we tilted it just right, we could chase an insect with a ray of fire or burn a scrap of paper. It was a fun science experiment. You should try it, if you haven’t.

Magnification makes things larger. When I encounter an obstacle, my response is magnification. Will it be God or the problem? What I choose depends less on the problem and more on what I’ve been practicing up until that point.

Exalt is really an old word, and there are no elementary science tricks to help us with this one. The word means “to raise in rank, honor, power, character, quality, etc; elevate.”

Back when I had all-disposable income, I used to attend concerts as often as possible: Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, to name a few of my favorites. They played different styles and genres, but they all played on a stage.

Stages elevate, which makes the band easier to see, but it’s also a physical representation of what we’ve already done to the band. We paid a minimum of $30 for lawn seats or nosebleeds because months before, we “exalted” this band or artist to the position that justified spending that much money and time. The stage is a place of exaltation. 

Dave, high up on stage.

So here we have two old words that finally make sense.

Magnify = make bigger.

Exalt = lift up.

What if I was to make God bigger and lift him up every day? How would I do it? Here are a few ways to make God actual size:

1. Worship and praise: Making God large is most certainly done through worship, by singing songs about his power and connecting our hearts to heaven through music. Worship admits to our hearts about our own smallness and gives God the proper stage elevation in our lives. Psalm 22:3 says “You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” God’s governs from the top of his people’s adoration. When we praise God, we allow his ruling and government into our situation, where we are sure to benefit from his mercy and justice.

2. Remember. One of my biggest problems is forgetting, not just where my keys are, but mostly how God has powerfully intervened in my life, again and again. He brings the right thing at the right time. He gives me all my necessities and more. When I forget, I grow fearful and orphaned, trying to figure out how I will make my own ends meet. Psalm 78 illustrates how our hearts wander and fail us when we forget what God does:

“The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; they did not keep God’s covenant, and refused to live by his law. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.”

Israel, fully-armored warriors with God on their side, panicked when they forgot every time God supernaturally moved in their midst. They forgot. And they ran. Their problems grew while their God shrank.

3. Gratitude. A relative of remembering, gratitude puts us in the recipient position. It’s the place where I acknowledge I am the one in need, and I need someone to give me something. That’s what Thank You means. “I needed something; you provided it. Thank you.”

When my God dims and my troubles brighten, my heart grows anxious instantly. It looks like even God can’t save me this time, I tell myself. Paul faces off against this forgetful fear in Philippians 4.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” 

Anxiety bows to prayerful gratitude.

So next time you can tell your problems are swelling, and fear is rising up and choking you out, put on some worship music, write a short list of the last five times God bailed you out and thank him for each of them.

Then you can restore God to Actual Size in your heart and mind. Now doesn’t that feel better? 

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What Your Influence Is For: Sanity Not Required

I know a crazy guy.

He’s so crazy, he’s running 24 miles, rim to rim, through the Grand Canyon on September 15.

He’s so crazy, he’s trying to raise $50,000 to save 50 girls from a life of prostitution in Ethiopia.

He’s so crazy, he imagines himself his own version of Liam Neeson from Taken, kicking down doors in rescue, seeing the faces of the lost and desperate as he bursts in. He knows with every step he takes and every thousand dollars he raises, he is plucking the life of a child from the muck and mire of a life never meant for her and standing her up on a rock of restoration and redemption.

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He doesn’t look crazy, but don’t let that fool you.

He is crazy because he’s inspired. Because he believes he can change something. And it’s catching.

This crazy guy I know is Steve Wiens. And he’s really doing this. All of this. So far, he and his tribe have raised over $31,000 for Eyes that See, an organization assisting with the transformation process for girls and women leaving forced prostitution. And many people are joining in on race day for solidarity runs or coming up with wildly creative ways to support him.

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He’s chasing down a cause worth his time, his energy and his heart. And he’s using his influence.

Steve is a pastor, a dad, a husband, a runner and a blogger. He has a growing base of influence, people who wait for his words to show up in their morning email. People like me who look to him for peaceful, accepting wisdom and inspiration to be as crazy as their dreams tell them they can be.

Steve has a platform and he’s using it, not for self-promotion. Not to monetize his blog so he can take extra long vacations. He’s using his presence for a mighty, great good. He’s gathering the people to war and fight and run and pray. He’s giving his tribe something bigger than themselves, something only our rescuer Father God could dream up.

This is what influence is for.

Influence is for the common good. Influence is for calling forth purpose in everyone, no matter their walk in life. Influence is for giving us all a battle cry and a vision before us. Influence is not for me. It’s not for you. It’s for all of us.

You have influence in your spheres. At work, at church, in your home and community. Maybe you’re big and famous or maybe you feel like no one knows about you. But you have influence, I assure you. And it’s not to make you look cool. It’s to partner with God, make his love evident and enormous to the world, and to give everyone around you a real reason to live and move and breathe.

Use your influence for big things today. Speak kindness, use gentleness, motivate and empower instead of belittling and demeaning. Don’t wait for vindication or revenge. Throw flowers instead. And call the people around you to greatness by the very way you live your crazy, inspired, generous life.

And now that you want to know more about this crazy guy, here’s what you can do: Come throw your hat in with Steve and the great rescue effort, or if you want to learn more about Eyes That See, the organization he’s sponsoring, visit the site here.

These stories pump water

I love brand new ideas, really good ones I wish I thought of. Don’t you?

Well, here’s one for you. Have you heard of CausePub yet? If you haven’t, you’re about to.

I just wrote a story for CausePub, an organization creating books for a cause through group-publishing. [Click here to read the story and vote]. [Their current book project is called Couch Rebels, a collection of stories about folks who rebelled against horizontal life and got up to do something, to change something, even if the thing they changed was themselves. The concept is genius. Here’s how it works.

  • CausePub identifies a charity or cause they want their book to support
  • CausePub solicits stories from adventurers and story-tellers
  • After stories are submitted, they approve the stories and post them to their site
  • Story-writers solicit votes from friends and strangers
  • CausePub selects great stories they love with the most votes
  • The Couch Rebel book will be published as a Kindle eBook on August 14. So soon!
  • When anyone purchases the book, the proceeds are divided between the cause, the writers and basic overhead costs.
  • For Couch Rebel, 50% of the proceeds will benefit Blood: Water Mission. The breakdown is in the graphic below.

[Follow CausePub on Twitter here and find them on Facebook here.]

Here’s where I need your help: I wrote a story for CausePub, and I need your vote.

The story is below. It’s a story about a time when God met me and my seatmate on a plane to Atlanta. I didn’t see it coming. I love this story because it makes me like God even more. Please read and take a second to click VOTE. Thank you so much.

What God Thinks About You

“So, where are you headed?” I asked the young brunette next to me to end the awkward silence. She smiled the stranger smile, as if wondering how long this conversation might take. “Somewhere tropical. With friends.” She needed a little prodding, and I wondered if I should just lay off. Instead, I offered my own less glamorous destination: Atlanta.

I attempted to stir the conversation with more questions about her destination, responding with appropriate amounts of awe and jealousy. I hoped we would catch a common thread in our lives and the chatter would take off, giving me an opportunity to eventually talk with her about Jesus.

But no such luck. The conversation flailed, and we politely took up our books. I leaned into the window, pretending to read, but inside I argued with myself, knowing God might have bigger plans for this three-hour plane ride.

Eventually, my discomfort with silence grew larger than my desire to be well-mannered company. “What are you reading?” I finally inquired. She stammered a bit. “It’s a little unconventional. I’m not sure I want to say.” She tucked the pink book cover down toward her lap. I attempted to reassure her I didn’t have plans to judge, but I wasn’t going to push it. But what was she reading?

“I’m reading about artificial insemination,” she offered hesitantly, waiting for the verdict to read on my face as she turned the cover toward me. “I’m not married yet, but I’m 35. And I want to have a baby.”

Oh.

Click the button below to keep reading and vote.

Vote

The God of Self-Help

If you’ve been in church, or been around churchy people, you’ve heard people talk about God. Mostly he sounds like a philanthropic celebrity, but kind of religiousy. The hazy God-descriptions based on scriptural references don’t help.

“He’s the God of the oppressed.”
“He’s the Father to the fatherless.”
“He’s a friend to those in need.”
“He is a refuge for those who seek him.”

While these might be true, why the archaic language to describe someone who is supposed to be “closer than a brother”? These antiquities of speech only widen the gap between confused little me and a God who already feels far away.

I grew up in church, and for those of us who did, at some point we decided if we wanted to interact with God or not. If he was really there and worth our time. The general malaise present in many North American churches serves only to sedate and even quench the passion for the divine with which children are born.

Eventually, if you stay in the shades-of-slate suburbia long enough, you’ll be introduced to The God of Self-Help. This God wants you to “be good”. With only rare head nods to a nicely tanned, smiling Jesus, DIY spirituality is the flavor of the millennium. The mantra: “I can do it myself, with a little help from Jesus.”

Needing help is reserved for only special occasions, like praying for orphans in Africa or the parent with a rare form of cancer. People who really need it. Otherwise, we rarely have to bother God. After all, he hath bestowed on us Deepak Chopra and Oprah and Dr. Oz. What more do we need? A full life awaits us.

I’m a Christian, and I follow Jesus. Self-help affirmations and feel-good quotations give me the willies, but if I’m honest, I will usually pick The God of Self-Help over Real Jesus. Why? Four main reasons:

1. I can do it on my own.
2. I should do it on my own.
3. I owe Jesus to get my crap together after all he’s done for me.
4. I don’t want to bother with all this relationship stuff. It’s too unpredictable.

Self-help offers the thing we all want so desperately: a formula for success with little mess. How do I get to heaven? How can I make the boss like me? How can I have one more baby? How can I get the things I’ve been wanting, tangible or intangible?

I want to achieve. I want to check boxes. I want to feel good. I want to make a difference because I want my name on something. I want people to be impressed with me. And I don’t want anyone questioning my motives or giving me a hard time. Get out of my way. I am trying to get rich and famous, or at least be decently oblivious and happy over here.

And it sure seems like Real Jesus wants to come in and mess it all up.

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It’s easier to dismiss the King James deities, all unrelatable and distant. The Self-Help God offers me a solution to my surface desires, which distracts me with niceties and a busy spiritual life.

Then along comes this Jesus guy, God with flesh on, messing everything up. Touching lepers, playing with kids, drinking wine, sitting in dirt. And dying.

Suddenly it becomes quite clear that Self-Help God is holding out on me. Because why would this other God go to all this trouble to redeem a bunch fully qualified humans? Why the bloody death if we can just read a handbook to pass? Overkill much?

Or perhaps self-help is not enough. Perhaps I am a giant, flailing mess and not even the people around me can toss the tube over cause they’re too busy drowning in it too.

Indeed, self-help is help yourself. Every man and woman for him or herself. There are no extra resources. I need all the points I can get. It’s “I can’t save you so you better work and try to save yourself.”

I’m sorry I’ve been dialing the God of Self-Help while keeping the Real Jesus at arm’s length, suspiciously eyeing him and fearing for what he will ask of me.

I still want to fix myself. I think I need to try harder. But Jesus’ crazy life says I’m desperate, and if I slow down long enough to look around, I can see that I am. I need way more than self-help. I need a rope deep enough to reach into hell and pluck me from the flames seconds from the burn.

God, I’m sorry I drank the Kool-Aid thinking you were gonna help me be a nice person, that you were peddling best-sellers on formulas for a better life. You couldn’t care less about my manicured lawn and nails if my heart is rotting out. You look past skin and landscaping to see the whitewashed tomb inside.

It’s ugly. I need a makeover. This is no DIY project. It’s major surgery. There is nothing worth saving here. I need a life-transplant.

Real Jesus, I’m done with The God of Self-Help. I am really sorry I’ve been one of those friends who only calls when she needs something. And I’m sorry I’ve been a liar, liar, pants on fire about my relationship with you. I’m a novice. A born-yesterday beginner. But I’m aware now.

Help.