Sometimes It Doesn’t Make Sense

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Matthew 19:16, 21, 22

What happens when there’s something we know for certain we need to do, but the action itself goes against what makes sense to us?

Do we ignore that nagging voice telling us to follow through?

God often gives instructions to act on what He says without explaining why. Perhaps you can relate to some of the stories in the Bible.

Joshua was a general. He followed Moses as leader of the Israelites when God led them to the Promised Land. It was now time for them to seize the property and take possession of it. The first city to be taken was Jericho.

God explained to Joshua that He had delivered Jericho into his hands. It implied that all the people had to do was follow God’s instructions. Imagine what some of the people must have thought when they were told the plan.

March around the city with all the armed men and the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant for six days. On the seventh day, as they marched, the priests were to blow the trumpets. When they heard the long blast from the trumpets, God told Joshua to have the people shout loudly. “The walls of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.”

Yell at a huge fortified city after marching in silence for six days? That doesn’t make sense. But they did it. The city fell.

God chose Gideon as a judge of Israel to defeat the Midianites who were constantly harassing the people. Here’s another example of God commanding a plan that doesn’t make sense to mere mortals.

To prepare for the battle, God told Gideon to reduce his troops to 300 men. First, the ones who were afraid to fight went home excused. The rest of the army was tested to see if they lapped water like dogs or with their hands to their mouths. Only the men who drank water in a ready position were retained.

Fight the enemy with only 300 men?

Gideon had previously been wary of God’s message that he was a “mighty man of valor” and even went so far as to ask for signs from God that He meant what He said. When Gideon asked, God didn’t become angry; He answered Gideon in the way Gideon requested. (Judges 6:36-40; 7:1-8)

Naaman, commander of King Aram’s army “was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.” He sought a way to be healed and one of his servants offered a solution. She suggested her master see the prophet Elisha. When Naaman arrived, Elisha sent a messenger to say that the commander should wash himself seven times in the Jordan River and his flesh would be restored.

Naaman went away angry. He had the idea that Elisha would intervene, calling on the name of the Lord for a miracle. When considering the solution given, he ranted that the Jordan was an unfit river and there were better ones in which he could dip himself.

Again, his servants seemed to grasp the situation better than he. They reasoned that if the prophet had told him to go and “do some great thing,” would he not have done it?

Washing in what Naaman thought was a dirty river didn’t make sense to him. But he went. He was cleansed. (2 Kings 5: 1-14)

The prophet Jeremiah had an inside track with God, continually receiving God’s word as a way to speak to the Israelites about His plans. The message that the people would be sent into exile wasn’t a pretty one. The message had been given by other prophets as well. Israel had plenty of warning about what was coming.

At one point, God told Jeremiah to buy a piece of land from his cousin. Surely buying property during a time of siege by the Babylonians must have seemed foolish to Jeremiah’s friends. Even to his enemies.

However, Jeremiah obeyed God when his cousin came to him in the courtyard of the guards. Despite the fact that he was a prisoner and the people would be exiled for seventy years, Jeremiah knew when God restored His people, “Houses, fields and vineyards (would) again be bought in (the) land.” (Jeremiah 32: 6-25)

Jesus’ chosen apostle, Peter, was a commercial fisherman. One day, after Jesus taught the people who gathered on the shore to hear Him, He told Peter to put his boat into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.

“Simon (Peter) answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”

After fishing all night and not catching a thing? Why now? That doesn’t make sense.

But Peter obeyed. And they caught such a large number of fish the nets broke. (Luke 5: 4-11)take first step

Who are you most like? Naaman, who argues God’s instructions? Gideon who doubts he can be used by God and asks for signs to be sure? Jeremiah who has an inside track and trusts God will come through? Or Joshua and Peter, who obey immediately because God “says so”?

Maybe you’ve acted like any one of them at some time. That would be understandable because faith can be a tricky thing.

Sometimes, as in Naaman’s case, we need other people to help us see what God is trying to do in our lives. Or we need to ask God for further clarification like Gideon did with the fleece. Then we can move with a small “army” instead of surging ahead full force.

As we mature spiritually, God gives us an “inside track.” We may still pray for a clearer vision, or depend on others to help us see how God intends His instructions for our benefit. Ultimately, we’ll come to a point in which we simply obey because God says so.

Even when it doesn’t make sense.

Imagine what would have happened for the young man whom Jesus told to sell his possessions and give to the poor. Imagine the rewards he would have seen and the joy that could have been his if he’d decided to obey, despite the fact that losing his riches didn’t make sense.

What is God asking you to do today that doesn’t seem to make sense? God’s thoughts are greater than ours. His ultimate plan may be hidden even though He provides a way to see His revealed will. Maybe today is the day to trust God and put our lives completely in His hands.

“We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Choosing My Battles

david-goliathHow is a bathmat like the giant Goliath whom the future king David slew with a stone from his sling (1 Samuel 17)? A bathmat becomes like the Philistine warrior when it presents an opportunity to wisely choose which battle we’ll fight and which battle we’ll walk away from.

My battle of the bathmat taught me a good lesson one evening with what I’ll call The Bathmat Issue. What a silly thing I had been doing. I kept nagging my kids to put the bathmat back when they were done bathing so it could dry out. I would go in after them, pick it up, fuss at them and be irritated. In fact, after my yelling, everyone was irritated. One particular night, when I was picking up the bathmat, I had what could be called a “light bulb moment.”

Obviously the kids didn’t care about picking up the bathmat; it wasn’t a big deal to them. It was only important to me. Giving it more serious thought, harmony in my home was more important than how the mat made its way off the floor. God was pointing out to me in a gentle way what was really important. I decided to let go of The Bathmat Issue.

The apostle Paul advises us

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). We are to “seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34: 14)

So even when we find ourselves in a situation where we have to fight a “battle” for what we believe is right, a resolution of peace is the goal. It involves risk, but it will be worth it. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” for good reason.

In addition to learning how to pursue a peaceful resolution, I’ve learned something else from the bathmat experience. There’s a difference between picking my battles and picking fights. When I go into “battle,” I don’t have to be a bully.

With an eyeful of wisdom, and sometimes the eye of a wise friend, I can see whether I’m just being selfish and my attitude needs adjustment. I’m still learning how to choose my battles and how to behave when fighting them. I ask questions like:

“Does it make a big difference one way or the other if things turn out my way?” “Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?” “Will my actions in fighting this battle harm someone or harm the relationship?”

In all cases, I try to be discerning.

David, who fought Goliath in the familiar story, recognized that the giant was wrong to mock the army of the Lord of hosts. Depending on God, David knew it was a battle he was meant to fight. On the other hand, I was upset about a soggy inanimate object.

In choosing my battles, I try to also remember that the key to all of them is prayer. Because that’s how important is the end result.

Not A Unicorn

Advice to Young Poets
Never pretend
to be a unicorn
by sticking a plunger on your head
from The Republic of Poetry by Martin Espada

When I started writing this blog and was confronted with creating an “About” page for the blog and for myself, the idea was more than I wanted to consider. I played it lazy and kept it short. In fact, when I read them now, I sound silly to myself.

I’m like anyone else, I suppose; I can talk about myself all day long. If we’re honest, we can admit that we–or something about our life–are own favorite subject. Both of my “About” pages are as vague as can be. Now I give you Mr. Espada’s poem as an adjunct to getting to know me and as advice to follow. Truly.

I’m sincere by writing that in my blog I hope to share my journey in finding joy and contentment with Jesus Christ. I also hope to sometimes encourage, comfort, offer consolation, teach, break through spiritual obstacles or propel someone toward God’s purpose for them.

If a post brings someone closer in intimacy with God, that’s great too. I’d be humbled by that for sure.

But I haven’t been totally honest yet. I’ve been wearing a plunger on my head, so to speak. Unknown to some of you, I’ve been trying to be something I’m not and it’s time to reveal my secret. I have manic-depressive illness and it’s not totally controlled even though I take my medications as directed and also try to do all the things my doctor prescribes.

I know this revelation sets me up for criticism immediately. It’s okay. I don’t like being criticized for something I can’t help; but I think I can take it. Criticism coming from one of you, or a “follower” of this blog deciding to stop following will be fine. You certainly can’t call me anything worse than I’ve called myself.*

Life with manic-depressive illness, also called bi-polar disorder, can be devastating to the one diagnosed with it. Depending on the severity of our individual diagnoses–and there are many–it can also make life hard for the families of those with it. We don’t always act like we ‘should.’ We don’t respond the same way as people who have what I call “respectable” illnesses like asthma or heart disease or diabetes. People with those illnesses have some physical manifestations if things get out of synch. But with a mental illness the manifestations are behavioral. Always behavioral.

Maybe you’ve witnessed those manifestations. We just don’t act right. We can’t control our conversations (there’s no filter and we talk really fast). We get truly depressed, not just ‘having a bad day.’ We yell, have panic attacks and make you wonder what on earth you did to make it happen.

I’m not writing today to go into my story from the day I was diagnosed (and before) until now. This also isn’t a pity-party. Most of all, I can’t educate you in a short blog post. I decided to write for a couple of reasons.

  • If you decide you want to continue reading my blog, it should be based on my honesty. You don’t have to be honest, but I need to take the plunger off my head. Then you’ll see me as I really am.
  • Honesty about who I am in this regard will also help us both see how blessed I’ve been so far in my journey. God has been holding my hand through so many difficult times. Inpatient and outpatient.

And that’s something people who walk past me in the hallways at church aren’t even aware of. **

The Church–and our culture–as a whole is becoming more aware of its role in meeting the needs of those in their communities who are mentally ill. It’s encouraging to see this. Some of the awareness has come as a result of family tragedies that hit the news and our very own senses like tsunamis.

Yet, there it is. I don’t pretend to know God’s ways, but I do know he invaded my life like never before through manic-depressive illness. His voice has never been heard so sweetly to me as when he whispers, “I love you” when I’m crawling the walls or sobbing like a lost child.

It’s his voice that crowds out all the others. The lies, the taunts, the ones telling me to put that plunger back on my head.

Almighty Father, thank you that when we realize our identity in you we no longer need to pretend to be something we’re not. Grant us the ability to love one another no matter what physical, spiritual, emotional or mental affliction is with us now. Heal us and sustain us as you see fit. Extend grace to us in our weaknesses for your glory and in the name of Jesus. Amen.

*Although I have yet to call myself a unicorn.
**Until now.

For more information about Mental Illness awareness and diagnosis (your own or that of someone you love), contact National Alliance on Mental Illness or Mental Health America .

Pep Talk

This past summer on June 7, Eugenio Suarez, a rookie with the Detroit Tigers, got his first major league hit playing at home against the Boston Red Sox.

A first major league hit has to be exciting. What made Suarez’ hit all the more exciting was that it was also a home run.

He. Knocked. It. Outta there.

I am a loyal baseball fan. Even though my team (Go Tigers!) didn’t make it to the World Series, I still enjoyed those seven games between the Giants and the Royals.

Ball players step up to the plate and settle into their stance. They concentrate on their form, digging their feet into the ground beneath them. There’s no guarantee they’ll get a hit. But they keep stepping up to the plate.

It’s true for any endeavor in life. Whether we’re trying a new recipe, attempting to ski for the first time, or putting limits on our children and doling out consequences. We may not even hit the ball into fair territory. We might strike out. Yet, we continue to step up to the plate.

We keep cooking meals. Skiing may actually become our favorite sport. Eventually, we’ll get it right with the kids more often than not.

If we compare life to a baseball game, are you believing that taking risks and trusting God will pay off in home runs?

Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9, 10)

He also used a parable of a widow to show us we should always be persistent in prayer. (Luke 18: 1-8)

Home runs won’t happen every time we step up to the plate, but even Eugenio Suarez knew the history he’d made. His first hit being a home run was the first time that had happened in major league play since 1974.

Forty years is a long time, but I think we can be reassured it won’t take that long for our hits to go out of the ballpark. We’ll round those bases, stepping on home plate to resounding cheers.

The idea is to keep getting up there. Keep believing you’ll make a hit. Because in reality, with God as your “coach,” you will.