I’m GREAT at Religion [but I’m a struggling Christ follower]

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Here are some facts about me:

I am efficient. I strive to do things better and faster and have no patience for anything else.

I am a rule follower. Give me guidelines and I will operate within them, strictly following each letter of the law.

I am a high achiever. I believe I can always do better, achieve more, and succeed no matter the obstacle in front of me.

I am very independent. If I see something that needs to be done, I do it; I handle it and take responsibility.

These traits naturally lend to being REALLY good at Religion – the rule following especially. Religion, at its very basic level, is a set of rules and guidelines that one must follow in order to go to Heaven. If you follow these rules and do the right things you get to go up when you die. If you don’t, you go down. So, as a rule following, efficient, strive-to-do-your-best, independent person, Religion is my jam.  The 10 Commandments? Yep, I can follow those. Trying to be the best person I can be all the time? I have been trying to do that since I can remember. Doing the right thing because God says I should? I strive to do that too. Tithe 10%? Okay, it’s in the Bible, I can follow that rule. I can see sin in others and I can tell you what the Bible says about it. On and on with the rules. I will try to achieve them all. I will do my best. I will…. I….

Did you notice how many times “I” came up? I am good at Religion, but I am struggling as a Christian. Why? Because ultimately, I am trying to earn God’s grace and acceptance. Instead of going to God first and seeking His will, His grace, and His mercy, I take control and try to make peace with God. That is Religion, when WE try to make peace with God. I naturally fall into the religion category. In fact, go ahead and call me a Pharisee.

The Pharisees were the religious elite of Jesus’ day. They knew the Old Testament books and teachings inside and out. They knew every. single. thing. they should do and say. They could follow all the rules and they challenged Jesus often based on their understanding of the Old Testament. The Pharisees were supposed to be the example of God’s love and covenant with the Jewish people. They were to help Jewish people perform sacrifices and answer their questions so that everyone could be right with the Lord. However, they soon became a ruling class. A group of people so caught up in the rules and regulations of the law that they missed the whole point of the Scriptures and also missed the fact that Jesus is Messiah.

Lately, I have seen myself fitting more into the Pharisee category than the Jesus category. I want to follow a set of rules. I want to clean myself up before I approach the throne. I want my works and my actions to bring me the peace that God offers. I judge others based on outward decisions. And then I feel like a complete failure when I am not enough and I can’t do enough to be where I want to be with Jesus.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees often. In Matthew 23 verses 3 and 4, Jesus says this, “So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”  How often I do this to myself and others. Do I practice what I teach? Do I put into action the teachings of the Bible and the words of Christ? Sadly, I often do not.

The truth is friends, I can NEVER do enough to feel at peace with God. The only way to be at peace with God is through relationship with Him. Changing my behavior will only work for so long before I burn out or make a major mistake. Truthfully. the only thing that can bring me the peace I so desire is communion with Jesus. But because of my innate gifts (which by the way God created in me, why couldn’t he have made this easier?) this is very difficult for me to do.

Are you here, too? Maybe you have been trying to be good your whole life and just can’t measure up. Maybe you DO follow all the rules but STILL don’t have peace. Perhaps you are the good religious person, but find you lack grace for others and yourself.

I think most of us have it backwards. Instead of us striving to be right with God, we should be surrendering to God and allowing His peace to wash over us.  Instead of trying to do good works, we should be asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit so we can participate in the larger plan that God has. Instead of worrying about what to do and say, we should look to the example of Jesus and seek to honor him in our thoughts, words, and actions.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God” (NIV) another translations says “Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God” (GW). Yet another translation says “Cease your striving and know that I am God” (New American Standard).

I want to honor God in all I do, but I need to let go of my need for control and my desire for clearly laid out rules and instead seek to find God first. I need Jesus to be the Lord of my life in order to enjoy the fullness of life that has been offered to me. I am still figuring out how to do this, but I think it all starts with a simple statement:

Cease striving.

So, what helped?

After my last blog post When you [don’t] love your baby I was asked a question by a friend (who gave me permission to use this question):

     “What specifically helped you through this time with Vincent – spiritually, emotional, mentally?            What did dealing with lack of feeling look like for you as you struggled through the process?”

I thought these were great questions – but I really had to think about them.  How did I actually do this? What did help me during this time? I have been reflecting on these questions all week and I have had some thoughts that I wanted to share. There are 3 things that I think helped me through those first 8 weeks.

The first thing that helped me through this time is my relationship with Jesus Christ. I can’t tell you how many times I cried out to God in silent prayer, wrote in my journal, or just asked for comfort.  I honestly do not know how parents do the whole parenting thing without believing in a higher power. I feel like I need God’s help, peace, and guidance every single day.  That being said, I would like to add that Jesus did not magically make the process easier. I would ask God, “why can’t I just set this baby down?!?!? Please Lord, just let him sleep for 30 minutes by himself!” or something of the like. I can tell you that at those moments Vincent did not automatically fall into a peaceful dream state and then I immediately calmed down and then had a perfect day after. Why? Because newborns act the way they do for a reason – they are learning how to function in this new world and it’s overwhelming. I think that my relationship with God gave me a solid foundation to stand on, I stood on my rock and this kept me grounded even on the hardest days. God DID send me comforts – Bryan would get home from class early so I could take a nap, a friend from church would text or bring over dinner, another new mom would stop by with her baby and I would have company, my parents would call with encouraging words.  It might not have been the 8+ hours of sleep that I was hoping for, but God bore me up in different ways so I could keep going.

The second thing that got me through is my self talk. I have always had a strong inner dialogue with myself.  For majority of my life this was third person.  I don’t know if you have ever thought about how you speak to yourself, but typically when I speak to myself in the third person it is negative, “Why did you do that?!” “How could you make that mistake!” etc.  Thankfully, one thing that I began before Vincent came was talking to myself in the first person and asserting truths when things were difficult.  When I was feeling like the worst mom in the world because I didn’t want to hold my child anymore, I would speak to myself truthfully and logically (sometimes out loud) “You are tired, and that’s okay, but Vincent needs to be held right now and you can do that.  Holding Vincent helps his brain develop, I am helping him feel protected and cared for.  I am a good mom because I am doing exactly what Vincent needs right now.”  I would also assert Biblical truths over myself and Vincent.  You see, Satan (who is very real) plays tricks on our minds often. Unfortunately, he just has to plant a little seed of doubt, discouragement, question, or deception for our brains to latch on and let them grow out of control. He would slip in with thoughts of “You aren’t good at this” “You can’t keep going” “You shouldn’t have had a kid” and on and on. What I have learned is that we have extraordinary power over ourselves simply based off of what we think and what we listen to. When these thoughts would slip in, I would speak a truth to combat the lie.

Lie: “You aren’t good enough”

Truth: “Jesus died on a cross and said that I am worth the price, I am his daughter, I am good enough for Jesus and I need nothing else”

Lie: “You shouldn’t have had kids”

Truth: “God knit this child together in my womb. He created this life and chose me to be his mom. This was divinely appointed, not by chance. I am supposed to be Vincent’s mom”

Lie: “You can’t keep going”

Truth: “God will lift me up on eagle’s wings.  He will support and sustain me.  He is Jehovah Jireh – God who provides. I cannot do it on my own, but God will help me”

We have such power in what we say to ourselves and what God says about us. It’s amazing how quickly things turn around when we start focusing on God’s truth and do not let the lies enter into our thoughts.  If you don’t have a relationship with God (or even if you do), I would encourage you to ask God a question, “What are lies I am currently telling myself?” and then if you discover any, “God, what do you say about these things?” I think it would be an interesting experiment. Even if you don’t feel like that would work, or you are opposed to a higher power, I would encourage you to start practicing positive self talk. No matter what, I think you will see a difference in the way you hold yourself, act, and respond when negativity comes your way.

Third, I am extremely stubborn and hate failure. And this really helped me persevere.  Being stubborn and having a fear of failure is definitely something that I am not always proud of, but in this circumstance it worked to my advantage. You want to know why I was able to breastfeed for a year? Because I am stubborn and I set a goal – I was going to achieve it NO. MATTER. WHAT. I didn’t want to fail. You want to know why I woke up every two hours to feed Vincent for those first 8 weeks? Because I am stubborn, I wanted to continue to breastfeed, and I knew I had to keep going in order to be successful. When I felt void of emotions and that I wanted to shirk away from responsibility – I couldn’t because I am too stubborn to admit that I couldn’t do it so I just kept going. This is called perseverance and the experience of living through the newborn stage helped me realize how important perseverance is in life overall.  They say the best things aren’t easy, and I would say motherhood and the newborn phase definitely fall into that category. I learned a lot about humility and asking for help with Vincent, which was good growth for me. But ultimately the will and drive to not give up and just keep going did help me get through a really hard time and continue to breast feed through it all.

The second part of the question, “What did dealing with lack of feeling look like for you as you struggled through the process?” this part is more difficult. Apparently, to outsiders it looked like I was fine. After I wrote the original piece my husband said, “I had no idea you were feeling that way.” In my head I thought,how could you NOT know that I was feeling that way?! I was a wreck and I looked like a disaster!  But at the time, I didn’t express much of the lack of feeling because everything was SO OVERWHELMING. While I didn’t feel like I loved Vincent and felt void of many emotions, I was equally overwhelmed with the amount of change that occurred. I have been able to process these feelings in the year that has followed and I have been able to sort through the difficulties. At the time, I couldn’t express these feelings because I didn’t really fully grasp what was going on. I simply existed and got through the day.  AND WE HAD GOOD DAYS! Here is proof

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See! I am actually happy, that’s not a fake smile. I don’t mean to sound like everything was doom and gloom, it was just hard. I do remember happy times in those early days, too.

As I reflected on this time I realized that social media also played with my head. I had several friends that also had babies around the same time I did. They were posting pictures of these precious little bundles with captions like, “My everything!” “I love him/her so much!” “We are so in love with our little one!” etc. I would see these pictures and think, “I don’t feel that way!” but then immediately feel the need to post a picture with some sort of heartwarming caption because other people were doing it. Here’s the thing – I STILL don’t post pictures with captions like that. My captions are literal, sarcastic, sometimes (I think) funny, etc. The closest I got to “heartwarming” was when we were in the hospital and snapped this pic with the caption “Be still my heart” –

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but looking back it is interesting that I felt I needed to SHOW and PROVE my love for my child via pics and captions on social media. Just because I don’t post things that way, does it mean I love my child any less? No, it means that type of characterization is not genuine to who I am as an individual. And that’s okay. I don’t have to be sappy just because I am a mom. So this time around I know that social media does not define my affections for my child and I don’t need to worry about how much or how little I post about him.

So those are my thoughts and responses. Mamas – what got you through the newborn phase??

 

 

Abide (…waiting part 2)

As promised, this is my follow-up post to …Waiting…

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The past 3 months have been incredible for our family. When I wrote my last post I was only 9 days into a 30 day prayer covenant (If you aren’t familiar with the practice, you commit to praying for a specific area, person, action, etc for 30 days and invite others to join with you.  During the 30 days you work to seek God’s direction and voice instead of trying to take action on your own or control the outcome).  The 30 days was challenging, but helped me in so many ways.

The main effect of the prayer covenant was teaching me to abide.  Abide is a synonym for wait, but unlike waiting which is passive, abide is an active verb meaning “to stop temporarily and wait for” (thesaurus.com).  God calls us to abide in him, but I often don’t practice this and honestly, I don’t know if I understood what it meant until we went through this process.

After asking my company if they would relocate me to Cincinnati it was unclear if this was going to happen – enter 30 day prayer covenant.  This time was a very anxious period of time for me and every day I had to turn my anxiety and worry over to God.  I constantly asked God to come over the decision, help us know the right decision to make, and provide financially for a long move.  There were many days at work where I had to write down my anxieties and put them in my prayer box to try to physically separate myself from them (by the way this totally works for me – if you have worry/anxiety issues I highly suggest this practice!). But ultimately, the anxiety I was experience lead me to abide with God through the process and wait on him. Slowly, I was able to more easily turn my fears and worries over to God and I felt his peace come over me day by day.  I started to believe that no matter what, God would provide for us and He would see us through.

Towards the end of our 30 days I got news from my company that they were willing to relocate me to the Cincinnati office! This was such a blessing! And I was so excited to know that we were moving home.  I think that it is easy to look at this circumstance and say “God gave us the desire of our hearts” – which is totally true! In this instance, our desires lined up with God’s timing.  But what if He hadn’t? What if he would have asked us to stay where we are? Because I had been practicing abiding with God I had gained the confidence to know that if we weren’t able to move home he would have provided for us wherever we were.

I am so thankful and so excited to move back to Cincinnati! I know that this is an answer to prayer and that we are beyond blessed to have the opportunity to move. I am so thankful to work for a company that supports family and work-life balance that they see the importance of being near loved ones and supporting their employees. It has been awesome to experience God’s love, peace, and provision through this process.

Ultimately, I want to encourage you, friend! I encourage you to pray and ask God for the desires of your heart and experience a journey with Him.  If you haven’t ever done something like this – you can’t do it alone! I would love to partner with you and see where God leads! I would just invite you to try and see what happens, see what changes you experience, see what you realize during a waiting and abiding period. I think that no matter what you will learn something about yourself and get to experience God in a different way.

…waiting…

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I penned (typed rather) this post before I started the blog, way bay in March when there were so many pieces of life that needed to come together. I wanted to share it as part one of two this weekend…. please take a read back to March 2016….

The past few weeks have passed like an inch worm leisurely meandering down the road, in other words, very very slowly. Do you ever find that when you face a period of waiting time automatically passes about 1000 times slower than usual?

I have entered yet another period of waiting, it seems to be our pattern the last couple of years, but this time it is different. I am waiting for thing that I am REALLY excited about. Our first ultrasound for Baby Peach number two, my mom and sister to visit, and for a 30 day prayer covenant to be up.

I should backtrack. Once we found out we were preggers again, I immediately wanted to move home. We have wanted to move back home basically since moving away, but it’s always been a “sometime in the future” conversation.  Yeah, at some point we’d like to move back. Sure, it would be great to get back to Ohio sometime. But it seems like now that we are about to have 2 children under 2 that “some point” is NOW.

I like immediate decisions and action. I do not like waiting and I am not good at being patient. When I asked my work if they would relocate me to Cincinnati, I got back a vague non committal answer. It lead me to questioning if now is the right time to move. So, I decided to enter into a 30 day prayer covenant with God asking for guidance with our decision and that he would help me better understand His desire for our lives.

There have been many times in the 9 days since I made this decision that I am very upset with myself for making it. Now that I committed to it, I can’t back out! And all I want to do is talk to work and tell them what I want and make a decision! But, that’s not what I agreed to do and that’s not what God’s intention is.

As the days have crept by minute by minute, I have come to the conclusion that if nothing else results from my 30 days of prayer I will have practiced patience and waiting on God to give direction instead of taking my life into my own hands. Now, let me be clear, I do not believe that God does everything for you and you have to put nothing forward or make hard decisions. I believe that God empowers us to do the hard things, he shows us the way that is most beneficial for our lives, and if you choose to follow Him you will have a fulfilling (but probably not easy) life. I want to be clear that I think God is helping me practice patience and taking myself out of the equation and allowing God to be in control of my life. I am actually certain of this because I would do things so differently than what He does, therefore I know he is teaching me.

It is a difficult lesson, but I am learning to find peace.  There are still plenty of times when I am anxious and worried, but I work to pray through this reminding myself that God does not send us anxiety or fear. He is the God who Provides (Jehovah-Jireh).  He tells us “who adds one day to your life by worrying?” and one of my favorite verses, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” Isaiah 41:13.

How have you found God respond during times of waiting? Do you have any verses that were helpful?