No man is an island, but man is it ever tempting to try it out sometimes! There is nothing quite like having to suffer through the consequences of someone else's decision to make you want to bar the doors and windows and give the hermit-life a try. As long as we live on this planet, we will be effected by the decisions of others. Sometimes for good, other times not so much. The same decision-making capability and freedom that God granted you, he also gave to your family members, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, co-worker, boss, pastor, political leader, and even strangers on the street.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot control those around us or insulate ourselves from their choices. So what can be done when we find ourselves tossed in the wake of someone else's decisions?
1. Take a deep breath. Maybe more than one.
2. Remember that you are responsible for your own actions and reactions, regardless of how you feel or who made you feel that way. One bad decision by someone else doesn't necessitate another from you.
3. Plead with God for a higher perspective and a compassionate heart. It may come right away, but it might not. Expect it. Wait for it.
4. Acknowledge the reality of the situation and the greater reality of God's sovereignty and His promise to work everything together for your good (Romans 8:28). Acknowledge it in prayer, in journaling, in a conversation with someone you trust. Keep acknowledging it until you find yourself dwelling more on what He can do than on what was done "to you."
5. Take one step in the right direction. A step of forgiveness, a step of faith, a step away, a step forward, whatever is the next right thing - do that. Don't wait too long.
Repeat as needed.
Bonus - #6. Thank God for your own freedom to make decisions and even to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask Him to help you vividly remember this moment when you next make a decision that will impact those around you.
I've decided life is really about sifting.
Perhaps I should clarify. In 2013 in the United States, I would venture to guess that most households do not own a sifter and most youngsters today have likely never even seen one. There are many different types of sifters for many different purposes, but the one I'm most familiar with is a flour sifter. Hang with me here... I think it will be worth it in the end... Kitchensavvy.com tells us that, "In earlier days, sifting flour served several purposes. When flour was milled using stone wheels, as opposed to modern steel rollers, sifting removed bits of the millstone and other impurities that might be found in the flour. Sifting also breaks up clumps, adds air to the flour which helps produce lighter cakes and pastries, and makes measurement more uniform."
So why do I think life is really all about sifting? Well, I've seen people who've been through horrible, nightmarish things in life who still live healthy, happy, fulfilled, purposeful lives and I've seen others who've been completely sidelined by the most minor offense.
The bottom line is that what we hold onto and what we let slip away, for better or for worse, really does define our human experience.
So how do we sift what life hands us? We can't hold onto everything we experience in life, so how do we decide what to hold onto and what to release? Here are two questions to ask about the stuff in our lives we are holding onto to determine whether it should survive a good sifting:
1. Is it pure? In the description of the flour sifter, we learned that one reason for sifting is to remove impurities. Is what you are holding onto pure? Is it True? Is it producing purity and truth in you? If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
2. Is it adding lasting value? A flour sifter incorporates air into the flour which makes the resulting baked goods light and fluffy. Is what you are holding onto adding value to your life that will produce something even better in the long run? If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
So, what sorts of things need to be sifted...
If the flour sifter example is any indicator, things get clumpy the longer they sit. Why not run the stagnant, clumpy parts of your life through the sifter and see what happens... chances are there are some things that you've held on to that need to be broken up (reevaluated), filled with air (reinvigorated or reframed), and thoroughly filtered (keeping the good and releasing the impure and untruthful).
Hosea 10:12 "Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you." ESV
The video below is a PERFECT example of a life that has been well sifted.
When I was a very little girl, close to five years old, I experienced what it is like to be drowning. My parents, my Nanny and Pappaw, my brother and I were canoeing down a river in Florida together. It was a beautiful day and we were having a great time together. Eventually, my brother and I got into the river and took the seat cushions from one of the canoes and used them as flotation devices and we floated lazily alongside the canoes in the cool water. It was a perfect summer day. My brother was a strong swimmer, but I was not. None of us were concerned about this though because we were staying close together and the water was not very deep. The events that led up to me gasping for breath are fuzzy in my mind now some 30+ years later, but I do know that one of the canoes tipped over and my grandparents (who did not know how to swim) ended up in the water. I know that my older brother left me alone to swim over and help them and I let go of my flotation device in the midst of the ensuing chaos. My Dad jumped out of his canoe to go help my grandparents and in the process, his canoe tipped. In the craziness of trying to get the canoes righted and the people back in them, I was quietly sinking below the water and bobbing back up with increasing desperation. I couldn't understand why no one was coming to help me! It was obvious to me that I was dying, but no one else seemed to notice. How was that possible?!
Since then I've learned about something that life guards call, "The Instinctive Drowning Response." You see, as it turns out, drowning in real life looks nothing like drowning in the movies or on TV. Drowning people do not thrash about or yell for help. They can't. All of their energy is being expended on getting above the water and catching as much breath as possible before they inevitably sink back beneath the surface. They can't wave their arms because they are instinctively using their arms to push down on the water's surface in order to leverage their bodies and get their mouths above water. With that being the case, statistics show that half of all children who die each year from drowning do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult who didn't recognize that they were drowning.
Have you ever felt that way in your day to day life? Drowning, while no one notices? Chances are you think it should be obvious. You can't fathom why no one seems to see that you are living on the brink. Survival, just making it through the day, is so consuming your thoughts and energy that you can't understand why others don't sense your desperation, despair, constant struggle.
On that perfect day in Florida, we all got a reality check. Starting with me. Once the canoes were back in place and those who were obviously endangered were in the clear, my father came over to me. In a loud voice he said, "Stand up!" I could not respond verbally or physically. I kept sinking below the surface frantically climbing this invisible ladder that would bring me back up just long enough to gasp for air before I went back under. Finally he grabbed me by my shoulders lifted me slightly and said again, louder and right to my face, "Carla, Stand up!" With my head now being held above the water by his strong arms, I could respond. Coughing and sputtering, I extended my legs and to my unfathomable surprise the river bottom was not far below. I had been drowning in water that only came up to chest. At any point I could have stretched out my legs, found solid ground and caught my breath, but I didn't know that. I had no idea that my salvation was that close, that accessible, and my family had no idea that I was in danger. Frightening, isn't it?
This memory surfaced for me this week while I was watching online as Louie Giglio taught a lesson at the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta. He shared two different stories from the Bible where people were healed or brought back to life, but the final step in that restoration process involved them "standing to their feet." That is a powerful image for me. Stand up! Bear your own weight! You are not a victim, you have what you need to carry on!
If you feel like you are drowning and no one is noticing, rest assured, the Solid Rock is beneath you. It will require you transferring some of your energy from trying to stay afloat into remembering the One who put breath in your lungs to begin with, and that transfer of thought and energy will feel like a risk - but it is one that will pay off. In Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) God says, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." You will also be required to look at those around you a bit differently. The answer is, No. They can't tell that you are in despair, in danger. It isn't always as obvious as you feel like it is. People are busy and their thought lives are complicated (they have their own canoes tipping over left and right), that doesn't mean that they wouldn't come and support you while reminding you of the solid ground beneath you if they knew you needed that help. Find a way to reach out - this too will feel like a risk, but it is one that will eventually pay off. It helps if you reach out to those who aren't also drowning. Someone standing on solid ground is much better equipped to help you find your footing than someone who is frantically climbing that invisible ladder too.
If you are one of the ones standing safely on the Rock, don't wait for those around you to completely slip below the surface before you reach out to them. In real life, people drowning emotionally and spiritually don't look like they are drowning either. They are often spending so much of their energy just trying to get through the day that they don't ask you for help or even know where to begin to describe the peril they are in. Just like I didn't, couldn't respond to my Dad's instruction from afar to "Stand Up!" until he gripped me by the shoulders - others will need you to get closer than shouting distance in order to feel safe enough to try the suggestions you have for their relief from suffering. And you'll need to be close enough to see that they need your help. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." - Romans 12:10-13 NIV.
(P.S. - After that day, as a five year old, my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons at a local pool. I was terrified, but at their insistence I learned to swim - a skill that serves me well to this day. If you have found yourself emotionally or spiritually drowning at some point don't be satisfied with temporary relief - get involved in a local Bible believing church, seek biblical counseling, make an appointment with a Christian physician, build your support system and gain the tools you need so that the next time the "water feels too deep" you will have what you need to survive and persevere.)
(P.P.S. - The point of this post wasn't really about physical drowning, but since I brought it up, here is a link to help us notice the signs of someone who is in distress in the water. It is good information for all of us to have!)
I am currently reading the autobiography of Helen Keller. I am barely 100 pages in and I have already become enthralled with the world and life of this remarkable woman who lost both her hearing and sight at the age of 18 months (due to illness).
Before language had been fully developed in her mind, she was thrust into a world where her only means of interpreting the stuff of life would be her sense of touch, taste, smell and imagination. She couldn't see the love in her parents eyes or hear their words of affection. Their identity in her life became an amalgam of how they smelled, what they did for her and exposed her to, and how they touched her. She had no way of expressing her needs and wants other than crude pantomime, and she had no way of contemplating anything that wasn't concretely observable through her remaining senses. Talk about a dark existence.
Enter Ann Sullivan, the woman Helen would come to affectionately call "Teacher." When Ann first met Helen (almost age 7), she brought her a doll as a gift. In the days ahead as Ann tried to break through the darkness in Helen's mind by teaching her language by spelling out words in her hand using the manual alphabet, Helen would, understandably, become frustrated and angry. In one moment of particular frustration, she took out her aggression on the doll: "I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment of tenderness.”
On that same day as God would have it, Helen had a breakthrough. Ann took her outside to the well on her family's property and poured the cool well water over her cupped hands and then spelled the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm. "Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”
While this story in and of itself is truly amazing and wonderful, it is what happened next in Helen's account that captured my attention even more. When they came back to the house after her encounter with w-a-t-e-r, this is what she recounts: "On entering the door, I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears, for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
How remarkable this is to me! It wasn't until the light shined into Helen's dark world through the gift of language that she was able to step outside of her own self-centered existence to grieve over the ramifications of her actions. The doll immediately became, not just "one more thing in a dark world to be touched and examined," but rather "a gift" from someone who cared enough about her to work with her through her frustrations to help her get to a place where the light could shine.
Perspective is a gift. How many things in our lives do we (literally, or figuratively with our words) "dash upon the floor" in frustration all because we lack the perspective?
This is how Helen describes the end of that blessed day in her book: "It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my bed at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”
Perspective. Light. Grace. Living Water. The Word. These are the things that brought Helen Keller out of darkness, out of that unfeeling place and into a state of mind that could make a blind and deaf child joyful and thoroughly excited about the days ahead. Because of the love of God, the best teacher of all, these things still have this power and always will.
The words of Jesus from John 7:38, "He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" NASB
I had a thought today that keeps ricocheting around the corners of my mind. It goes something like this, "Reality is a true friend that we have a tendency to treat like a stranger."
With my dear husband out of town for the weekend and my son at a friend's home for a sleepover, I awoke this morning to a quiet, empty house. Being a true introvert, this did not disturb me one iota! I took a deep breath and imagined the bliss of a morning spent recharging my batteries as only time alone can do for me. I got a mug of hot chocolate and put some laundry in the washer and settled into my favorite place on the sofa. I read for pleasure. I practiced the praise and worship songs for this Sunday's church service. I watched Project Runway on Hulu. I napped. Before I knew it, it was 1pm and I was still in my pajamas (and the laundry had never made it to the dryer). I had intended to spend time being more active, but I hadn't. It was cold in the house and I was hesitant to leave my warm blanket on the couch. After awhile I started to feel a bit low... guilty for being lazy and even a bit sullen. What happened to my blissful, battery recharging day?!?
I got up and took a shower and then grabbed my keys and purse to drive across town to pick up my son from his sleepover, saddened that my morning alone hadn't left me in the positive emotional state I'd hoped for. As soon as I stepped outside my front door, my countenance lifted. The sun was shining brightly. The air was warm. There was not a cloud in the sky. I put the top down in the Mustang and soaked in every ray of sunshine and the breeze in my hair and on my skin. Why had I wasted a single minute acting as though my reality was a cold house and a sullen perspective? That was the small immediate reality I was choosing, but it wasn't the greater reality. God's reality is much broader than the narrow places we allow ourselves to land from time to time. I wonder how many of our bad moods, depressive states, and even some more serious mental health issues can be attributed to a break from His TRUE reality. We aren't necessarily schizophrenic... we are just self-centered. We have allowed our narrow view of reality to dictate our mood and then our actions (or inactions) follow and things spiral down from there. God calls us to embrace a much larger reality than the one we can currently perceive. His reality isn't always sunshine and rides in a convertible, but it is always COMPLETELY TRUE and always eternally focused, rather than limited and egocentric.
Next time I find myself feeling blue and out of sorts, it is time for a reality check.
Job 40:1-4 "The Lord said to Job, 'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!' Then Job answered the Lord, 'I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.'" NIV
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!