Tyranny of the Good

“Sometimes saying ‘No’ is the only way back to a life of ‘Yes.’”  Shauna Niequist.

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.  I Corinthians 10:23

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Good Things

Have there been times in your life, maybe even now, when you are doing good things—really good things, LOTS of good things—but you realize that something isn’t quite right? If you’re like me, the answer is a resounding “YES!” And if we’re honest, most of us walk (or run really fast) that pathway more often than not. We get busy doing activities or jobs that are productive and helpful and serving others and life-giving. Why would we NOT want to do those things??

When our family moved from our beloved east Texas to Colorado several years ago, I felt that if I didn’t get involved and be of service and make friends pretty quickly, I might sink. We had left the place where we raised our children and ourselves; where we helped start a church, served in the community, and were involved in myriad home school activities; we left friends we did life with and with whom we developed roots. So even before we got unpacked, I started putting my name on lists, volunteering for needs at church, and looking for people who were in the same life-vein as I was.

All of those things were good!

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But about a year after we got settled in CO, something—or Someone—spoke to me. “Slow down. Stop striving. Rest.” And then, “You will be just fine—even better. Get to know yourself and love those who are most important in your life right now. All of those other activities and needs and people aren’t going anywhere—but the most important ones are right in front of you. THIS is where you need to be.”

STOP! Get to know yourself and love those who are most important in your life right now.” What?! Wasn’t I doing that? Hadn’t I done that all along? I was already doing that by staying busy with all the good things and people around us, while also teaching my children about service and what was important. What does that mean, “Get to know yourself”??

Tyranny of the Good

Somewhere along the way of life, where so many good things were before me, I thought I had to do them all and work to make sure things got done. I had to serve because there were so many needs, and surely, no one else would do the job; or because others expected me to do it; or maybe because it made me feel important. Really? Rather than pray over all of those good tasks (there’s a concept!) before deciding what was best for all concerned—especially my family and me—I took off running. I loved what I was doing: working, teaching, leading, heading up hospitality committees, attending to others’ needs.

And even though I thought my busyness and service were necessary and good, they weren’t best. The work I was doing wasn’t always profitable—at least, not for me; I was striving. The goodness of life, while always a gift, had started to become a very heavy weight; and before I realized it, I was on a track where knowing God, knowing myself, and knowing those I love most, had taken a back seat.

Saying No

Soon after I heard that voice telling me to slow down and “get to know myself” and to truly connect with and love those around me, I started saying “No.” I said No when I was asked to manage a website for something at church; No when a need was posted for a co-op leader; No when asked to volunteer weekly at a food bank. All of these needs were important, necessary, and good—and it wasn’t easy using the N word (at first). But eventually, I gained a freedom that was even more important, necessary, meaningful—and so much better.

Gradually, I started saying Yes to quiet mornings at home; Yes to writing more; Yes to deep and important conversations with my adult children; Yes to serving those in my home. I had to learn No so I could get back to Yes.

In the process, I slowly began to realize things about myself and understand more of what God wanted me to know: that He will use me right where I am; I don’t need to chase after all of those good things in life I am not responsible for; He directs my path toward goodness as long as I seek Him first.

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He who dwells in  the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.  Psalm 116:7

Return to Your Rest

Once you find the Rest your soul needs, you’ll realize that Life is still there, all of those good things are still waiting. But you will also be able to discern what is profitable. When you’re able to step back and see not only what the world around you needs, but what YOU need, you’ll walk toward to a more healthy and whole path and will be able to say Yes once again.

        “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness                                                                    and in trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 

The Goodness of God

“God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister Betsie to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp.”  Corrie Ten Boom

Wow Corrie – pretty much 2 extremes. How can the god of good weather be the same god in a German concentration camp?

I’m not exactly sure, except that deep down – way deep – I know it’s true.

When I first read those words, somehow they brought peace to my heart. I don’t know how or why, because when I imagine the suffering and despair in that concentration camp and when I hear in the news about the suffering and despair in the world – my heart aches. But Corrie Ten Boom’s words bring peace? Yes. Yes, they do.

The continuum of God’s Goodness, from happiness to hardship – from weather to death in a concentration camp and everything in between – yes, it is hard to understand why it’s all part of the goodness of God. Too often we don’t recognize Goodness, because we put our circumstances ~ as hard as they often are ~ above what we know about the God who made us, who loves us, and who wants to spend eternity with us. Of course, our initial response and reaction to hard things is often instinctual. But then we need to step back and focus up, because It is in our heart and soul where we experience God’s Goodness no matter what.

And I realize that is also where we experience great pain and sadness. When life throws its curves, which it does all the time, we can choose to give up on the beauty we have at our fingertips – because the circumstances loom so big before us – or we can look deep and know that those circumstances can be transforming, for better or for worse. And while I’m here, I want to live life in the best possible way, whether I’m hoping for good weather at a picnic or doing my best to find peace out of chaos in a concentration camp.

raindropConc campPeace comes easy when life is easy. It’s when we can’t see through the darkness that we need Peace that passes understanding ~ Peace that is so real and so strong that we have joy in the midst of great sorrow.

I have no doubt that my life could have looked very different had I let circumstances rule rather than look deep for what God was doing. I could have let bitterness take over when I was 17 and my dad died in my arms. Or I could have let the confusion I felt in college rule my life when I was so desperately trying to find my feet in my new-found Faith, and I struggled to find those who were like-minded. Or when my friend died from aids. Or…

Sheldon VanAuken, in his beautiful book A Severe Mercy, speaks of wanting to live life in a way where he truly experiences its beauty and heartache – the Heights and the Depths. Life is Heights and Depths – but do we allow ourselves to feel them, learn from them, grow because of them, learn to love deeper? To realize that they are all part of God’s Goodness?

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Choices – those others see, and those only we know about…those internal choices which point us to God’s goodness even when we can’t see it. But His goodness is always there.

Our friends from Rwanda lost family and friends to genocide and aids and eventually escaped to the U.S. Did they think of God’s goodness when they were burying loved ones or running for their lives? Yes ~ because they knew then, as they know now, that the God of the universe loved them, loved those around them, loved their countrymen ~ and that one day, all would be redeemed. When they talk of God and His goodness, joy shines on their faces – and that joy can only come from the Peace that rests deep in their souls and knowing that God is good in the midst of heartache and tragedy.

Corrie Ten Boom lived it in ways that are so hard to comprehend. But something about her words get to the deepest part of my soul, and I get it. Because though we will probably never live or die in a concentration camp, life presents everyday-hells that we must rise above if we are to know that peace that passes understanding. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

We are called to walk alongside those who suffer – with humility, a listening ear, kindness, graciousness, goodness. That is exactly what Corrie and her sister did, while they also suffered.  “You will regret burning bridges like a pyro but you will never regret gentleness” (Jen Hatmaker). The Goodness of God.