Bitter Roots

Sometimes life is dang complicated. I need not go into detail, but my complication meter has been reaching some never-before-seen heights. And yet I know that even these record-breaking levels will one day be shattered. Because although life with three boys is busy and important and foundational now, I know my life will grow even more complex as they get older. And quite honestly, it scares me. I want them to know in the depths of their souls that my love is unconditional. I want to be Christ-like, loving them beyond measure — never fully reaching how deep, how wide, how long and high is my love for them.

But I’m an imperfect person, and therefore an imperfect parent. That means as much as I hate it, I have already done things to harm the fragile psyches of my beloved little boys, and I’ll continue to make mistakes that hurt them emotionally. Yet the last thing I want to do is to embitter them, to plant bitter roots that can grow and infect others. The writer of Hebrews understood this completely, warning “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” (12:15) In essence, bitterness is like any other weed, it has the potential to take over, to choke out the life around it. The weed killer is the grace of God, and we cannot fail to obtain it.

So bitter roots are eradicated by the grace of God, that’s great news. But how do we obtain the grace of God? We simply admit we don’t have all the answers. We admit that we’ve fallen short. We acknowledge that in our human effort we will always fall short. Wouldn’t it be terribly arrogant to maintain otherwise? And yet the existence of sin is forcefully resisted. There’s an ever-present temptation to compare ourselves to others. We tell ourselves that we not as bad as this person and certainly not as bad as that person. But it’s not relative. Other people aren’t the standard. God is. And Jesus lived the standard here on earth in human flesh. A lack of information is not our problem.

So to obtain the grace of God, all you have to do is acknowledge your own need. And to quote Beth Moore, “Once we get it, we give it.”

So my prayer this week is all about grace. I’m praying that I will get grace. That I’ll understand it like never before, that I’ll give it like never before. My prayer is also that my boys will get it and give it, even to their very own mother.

Living in Radical Peace

I’m hoping to close out this series on the book of Hebrews in the next week or so, but to do that I’m going to have to gloss over some fantastic verses, so I hope you’ll take the time to read these last two chapters in their entirety. They are incredibly rich: Hebrews 12 and Hebrews 13.
Hebrews 12:14 instructs us to “Make every effort to live in peace with all men.” If you stop to think about it, that is an absolutely radical statement. All men? All men! Really? Does that include the people we want to hate? Because if we’re honest, everybody wants to hate someone. Right now, many Americans want to hate Carl-Henric Svanberg (Chairman of BP) and lots of Brits want to hate Robert Green (English World Cup goalkeeper). But these aren’t unique times, someone is always being demonized by some group. The “Hate is Not a Family Value” bumper-sticker was common during the Clinton era, yet vehement hatred was just as common during the Bush years. So maybe it’s not surprising that Barack Obama’s message of change has yet to quell the wave of hate. And think of the animus mustered for wayward husbands, from John Edwards to Mark Sanford to Jesse James. To be honest, it is my strong inclination to loathe John Edwards and Mark “Soul Mate” Sanford. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called to live at peace with everyone. I am called to pray for those I’m inclined to hate, even for those who would persecute me, and wish only goodwill towards every single person. It is a high standard. How can we possibly meet it?
The truth, of course, is that we cannot, in our humanness, purify our emotions. Our battle in the flesh is futile, and the fruits of the spirit are divine. No one can just wake up in the morning and decide to be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle or self-controlled. Apart from God, any progress is small and fleeting. Very simply, we need Jesus. By focusing and relying on Him we can become more like Him. And He is all of these things. Jesus is all-loving, full of joy, ever-patient, always kind, forever good, ceaselessly faithful, gentle and self-controlled.
But the great heart physician, does not perform His work without consent. He does not change you against your will. You will never become more like Him without recognizing that YOU NEED HIM. So may we take a hard look at our own lives. Do you feel like you could never ever be Carl-Henric Svanberg, Bernie Madoff, O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, or Mark Sanford? Do you think you are beyond certain sins, that it’s just not in you? Well, until we recognize the dark, dark corner of our own hearts, we will never have compassion on these people, and we will never live in radical peace with all men.
This is a tough road. In fact, it’s an impossible road, but for the grace of God. Although I want to hate and feel superior to wretches like those mentioned above, I need to remind myself daily that I too am a wretch, and that God’s economy is never merit-based, but grace-based.
This week may we recognize God’s abundant mercy and love, and live at peace with all men.

No Discipline?

I am not a disciplined person. My time-management skills are abysmal. If I have a project to do or a party to throw or an article to write, I procrastinate terribly. My husband calls it procrastireading, because I escape in a book instead of doing what I should. Then as the deadline approaches I get frantically focused, packing weeks of work or preparation into the final hours. It’s not good. It’s a lack of discipline and it seeps into many areas of my life.

The last month has been particularly bad. I’ve had writing projects, school projects, and I threw Will a graduation party. The trifecta of wrapping up the school year, finishing up the soccer season, and launching the swim season has left me with little time to blog. I’ve spent nearly every spare minute in the pool with Sam because I am so anxious for him to swim. And he’s loving it. He is a self-taught little fish, pushing the limits of what is reasonable for a three-year-old. If I grab him out of grave concern that he needs to take a breath, he gets indignant:”Stop touching me!”
But as I’ve written here before I miss blogging terribly when I fall away. It is such a great way for me to process what’s going on in my life. It helps me remember to be thankful, to be intentional about life, to listen intently to what God is calling me to be and to do. So I’m renewing my commitment to Spur, because frankly I need it. More than once a month!
Because my life is so divinely orchestrated, the next chapter in Hebrews is about discipline. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” I can hear little Nate saying this verse. He has always had an amazing propensity for memorization and knew this one, along with many others when he was three. During that pre-school, pre-sports era, Will and I were disciplined about helping the boys memorize verses, and we were disciplined about discipline too. Life is much more hurried now. We are often racing from one thing to the next, and our harvest of righteousness and peace is less bountiful.
There is a balance we’ve yet to strike. Sometimes we go, do, see, and experience at the expense of reflecting and being. I need more discipline in my life, and my boys need it too.
How are you doing? Are you a disciplined person? Do you see evidence of the righteousness and peace that stem from it? In what areas could you be more disciplined?
The very word “discipline” is humbling for me, yet God gives grace to the humble. I am so very thankful that this is true and that I do not have to earn His love. I can rest assuredly in the fact that Jesus is not only the author of my faith, but the perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12: 2).
May we heed the call this week and fix our eyes on Jesus!