Self-forgetfulness

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel we are good – above all, that we are better than someone else – I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Chrisitianity

The above is from a chapter of this beloved work, entitled “The Great Sin”.

Lewis says about this sin: “There is one vice in the world of which no man in the world is free…” and “There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.” It’s the one that pretty much made me realize I wasn’t a Christian when I had been professing to be for eighteen years.

Pride. 

This sin presents itself in our lives and the lives of others in a million ways and about a million more ways that we don’t even see, precisely because we do suffer from it. For instance, it is pride itself that will try to tell you you don’t have a problem with pride, thus confirming it.

The opposite is humility. Basically, it’s everything Christ is (see Philippians 2), and what we cannot exhibit without His working it into our hearts.

And the thing is, if we do have traces of humility by the grace of God’s Spirit, we can’t really see it in ourselves. Because, like my friend Clive Staples says, we have forgotten about ourselves altogether in those humble moments. And the reason? We are in the presence of God. We are too caught up in His goodness and His love.

To me, that sounds like a dream. To be so in love that you have forgotten how beautiful/talented/cool/[insert anything about you] you are.

Can you think of anything more freeing? You’re just dancing in it, in the presence of someone so exquisite that you can’t get enough. Like a movie with a great storyline or a glorious meal. Purely entranced. Pure enjoyment.

And He’s dancing with you. We can know He wants us there dancing with Him because He delighted us into existence with an effortless breath. And Christ has invited us to the party.

Today, again, I am hungering for that kind of self-forgetfulness and God-mindfulness.

The First Artist: God the Creator

And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  – John 17:3

You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13

God wants to be known by people. That’s what this phrase “eternal life” really means. Knowing Him for-e-ver (cue Squints Palledorous). And He’s not trying to hide from us either. But we’ve got to be interested in Him for the unique being that He is, not so we can get something out of Him or use Him for our own gain (which I do about every day). So that’s what I am attempting to do: get interested in Him, so I can know Him more.

squints2

I would like to spend the first several days of this 31-day writing challenge celebrating the surprising, whimsical, trustworthy character of this interesting God – a God that is worthy of being feared and loved. First up: God is creative. The first artist.

In the beginning, God created… – Genesis 1:1. We are five words into the Bible and we know He’s not boring. This should be even more apparent when we consider all that He did create – not just mountains, trees, birds, light, oceans, everything we see and don’t see, etc., etc, but, people too.

He made us in His image (Gn 1:27). And who are people? Artists, thinkers, dreamers, scientists, teachers, musicians, lovers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, bakers, bankers, architects, janitors, comedians, mothers, daughters, fathers, brothers, husbands, wives, etc., etc.

There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs’, all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented – as an author invents characters in a novel – all the different men that you and I were intended to be.  – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

Let us not make Him out to be any less creative, intelligent, or loving than us, His little creations. He is the best of all of these professions and roles, and so much more.

Think of the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen, the most brilliant piece of literature, the most important or bizarre scientific discovery, the most carefully crafted sculpture or painting or dress from Anthropologie (for the gals)….and our hearts leap with praise.

Praise the Artist who made the brains to enable the making of these – and provided the materials, too.

Quest For Love

I think and talk a lot about dating and marriage. Being a single, 20-something woman, this shouldn’t be too surprising. I have a deep desire for these things to be done well, in my life and in others’ lives. Obviously, life is messy, we are messy, and “done well” is a process, a combination of talking, listening, prayer, self-sacrifice, and a hundred other things that I don’t even have the wisdom to name. Relationships in general – friend/friend, parent/child, sibling/sibling, boss/employee, etc. – are complex. Relationships between the sexes, from my perspective, could be one of the most complex things in the world. I am a child when it comes to them, and I am not going to pretend to know a lot. Nevertheless, I have had the privilege of observing for a great number of years, and am endlessly fascinated (and perplexed) on the subject. I love these statements from C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, about how men and women “see” one another:

They [women] laugh at us [men] a good deal. That is just as it should be. Where the sexes, having no real shared activities, can meet only in Affection and Eros – cannot be Friends – it is healthy that each should have a lively sense of the other’s absurdity. Indeed it is always healthy. No one ever really appreciated the other sex – just as no one really appreciates children or animals – without at times feeling them to be funny. For both sexes are. Humanity is tragi-comical; but the division into sexes enables each to see in the other the joke that often escapes it in itself – and the pathos too. 

Don’t you love that? To me, it is so true. I speak, think, and act differently when I am in the company of men rather than with just women. Even if I’ve known the dudes for forever, it is different. This is inevitable. There is a kind of whimsical humor in the air when guys and gals hang out. And it’s because we’re different from one another. Because men are men and they are not women and women are women and they are not men. This may seem obvious, but we were made to be different and distinct from one another. And that is a really good and beautiful thing. But it also makes relating to one another a wee bit tricky.

No one has spoken more wisdom into my life about celebrating these distinctions – men embracing their masculinity and women embracing their femininity – than Elisabeth Elliot. The woman has spent literally decades speaking, writing, and answering letters about how men and women should relate to one another in such a way that will lead to the joy and good of each. She is qualified because she has lived it, and she has seen multitudes of others live it too. She even compiled these stories – her own in Passion and Purity, and others’ spanning the last two centuries in Quest For Love, which is precisely the book I would like to recommend to you now.

This little gem will blow your mind and all you ever thought about dating and “how to find the one”.

First of all, I need to clarify that Elisabeth is writing from the perspective that dating (a rather new practice, actually) only exists to help lead to one thing – marriage. In fact, she often suggests in her book that dating could actually be an unnecessary evil and that maybe we should, “obviate dating altogether”.  You may be thinking, “Whoa whoa whoa. That’s crazy right? How are we supposed to get to know one another? I can’t marry someone I haven’t spent a good amount of time with!”. Yeah, I thought that way too. Until I read about 20 or so firsthand accounts of couples who seemed to barely know each other commit to marriages that lasted for a lifetime.

Elisabeth also includes real letters that men and women have sent her in the past – arguing with her, pleading with her, desperately seeking advice about what to do in X situation in regard to their love lives (or lack thereof). Her answers consistently align with a few simple principles about how to do our part as men or women in the quest for love – principles that may seem odd to our texting/sexting/keep it casual age, but have voluminous records of success that frankly cannot be argued with. Because these are real people.

There is no perfect way to do relationships, no perfect formula. Dating, courting, or not dating and not courting – all of them have worked or failed to work at some point. But we can begin, or begin again, with a sober mind that has the wisdom to seek counsel from those who have done it well.

summer reading list

I am so thankful for time to read this summer. If only I could make more time for it during the “school year”. I doubt – actually, I know – that I won’t make enough time for it (and maybe that’s a good thing – since loving people is my job, not reading books), so I really want to take advantage this summer. Here’s the list:

Working on…

The Hiding Place – Corrie ten Boom. I’ve been reading this book since, oh, January. No, it’s not 2000 pages. I think it’s less than 200. I have this thing where I read many books at one time and for some reason, it keeps ending up at the bottom of the stack. It’s great though, and I really identify with Corrie. Also, she has made me realize (or remember) that amazing things don’t stop happening when we’re past our 20s. I sadly find myself believing that lie sometimes. She was 55 when the Lord called her to courageous action in Holland during World War II. What a story.

A Praying Life – Paul Miller. When I expressed having some trouble “making time to pray”/having a right prayer perspective to the girls on my team earlier this year, Elizabeth suggested this book. I never started reading it, and then we all received a copy at Greek Summit. Meant to be. I am learning so much and my prayer life really has changed. I am starting to understand the importance of approaching the Lord as a child, being above all honest with Him. He is my Father, after all.

Do All To The Glory Of God – Watchman Nee. Part of the “Basic Lesson Series” from the Chinese church leader. He discusses topics such as marriage, friendship, speech, clothing, eating, and finances.

Calm My Anxious Heart – Linda Dillow. Mom, Maggie, and I are reading this one together and discussing it each week. What a blessing! It’s all about being content in Christ regardless of circumstances, therefore, reducing and hopefully eliminating much everyday anxiety.

Plan to read…

The Cost Of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

A Chance To Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael – Elisabeth Elliot.

Against The Tide: The Story of Watchman Nee – Angus Kinnear.

Also, I would like to re-read/finish Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (Paul David Tripp), and read the last two books in The Hunger Games series (how have I set this aside?).

So, my list is kind of lacking in novels/fictional stories. Suggestions would be appreciated!

Three incredible books I’ve already finished this summer: Let Me Be a Woman – Elisabeth Elliot, The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis (I find myself reading this every so often – it’s so short and very rich. Please read it.), and, one that I want to spend some time writing about, a book that the Lord is using to change the way I look at myself and at Him so piercingly and beautifully, Grace For The Good Girlby Emily P. Freeman. Thank you Lauren for recommending it!!

Emily kind of wrote my biography and doesn’t know it. She articulates so well much of what I experienced growing up, before I truly understood the gospel, and still struggle with to this day. Let me share some excerpts to further explain.

If my story were a planet, then your rejection of me would be my nuclear holocaust. This fear of rejection drives me hard, eating away at my courage. And so I am cautious in my love. I am timid in my faith. My life tells a small story. I long to be seen, but feel safe when I’m invisible. 

The energy it takes to live for you is killing me — to see me through your eyes, to search for myself in your face, to be sure you are pleased as it regards me. I want you to always regard me.

If you wonder what gives you the authority to define me, I will say it is because you exist. I must have worth, and it is up to you to give it to me. It doesn’t matter who you are…

This innate desire to be good indeed protected me from a lot of heartache and baggage…but it did not bring me any greater understanding of God. It did not protect me from my own impossible expectations. Growing up a good girl was natural for me. But there were those times when it was exhausting to try to measure up. Good girls are good listeners — are always there for everyone — don’t get mad — are laid-back — roll with the punches, go with the flow, follow the leader (as long as the leader is a good girl, of course).

…but it often kept me from saying what I really meant….I avoided vulnerability for fear of being rejected or being labeled needy. Good girls aren’t needy, they are needed. And so instead of living free, I lived safe.

Couldn’t have written it better myself. This is a small picture of what my biggest inner struggle looks like. This is the selfish, hiding, try-hard lifestyle. Selfish, because if I am trying to find my worth and identity in other people, “people become measuring sticks for my goodness rather than unique expressions of God.” Sad. I’m not thinking of God. I’m not thinking of others. I’m thinking of me.

We know something’s wrong with us. We know there is such a thing as excellence, goodness, purity [freedom from anything that debases, contaminates, pollutes]. And we fall short. And we long for identity.

But I have been rescued from this try-hard lifestyle. There is another way, and it’s Jesus. It’s grace. God knew we couldn’t be good enough after we originally fell, so He sent One who is eternally good. And we were made to find our identity in Him. And we. can. rest!!! Hallelujah!

I invite all the “good girls” out there (by the way, there is no such thing) to unpack your specific people-pleasing tactics with the help of Emily Freeman’s wise, Spirit-filled words and meaty reflection questions – – and find freedom.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30.

the remains of the day and some c.s.

Do you know Kazuo Ishiguro? He has written two well-known novels (and probably many more): The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. The latter is relatively recent – 2005, I think. I had to read it for a world lit class in college – and loved it. I reread it recently, prompted by the movie version that came out late last year. Oh, how I’m dying to see it! Of course, it didn’t play in theaters here. I’m from a relatively small town. It has its advantages and disadvantages, and this has always been one of the worst disses.

And now, I am reading Remains. It’s the story of an English butler in the 1950s, looking back on his life and his career, a career he takes great pride in.

I really say all of this because I want to share a new word I learned from it. It’s a word we all know. August. No, no, it is not just a month. It is also an adjective. Exciting, eh? The line reads,

Of course, I had heard these same sentiments expressed by his lordship on many occasions before, but such was the depth of conviction with which he spoke in this august setting that I could not help but be moved afresh.”

Doesn’t it make you want to read the book? Ah. Well, here’s what august as an adjective means, as it is used above: “inspiring reverence or admiration; of supreme dignity or grandeur; majestic”.

Also, a quote from C.S. Lewis that I read yesterday, and have read before, and really need to read every day because I am such a pride-puppy when it comes to my artistic tastes (obviously – see above). What a snob I can be. Barf.

A man who is eating or lying with his wife or preparing to go to sleep in humility, thankfulness and temperance, is, by Christian standards, in an infinitely higher state than one who is listening to Bach or reading Plato in a state of pride.”