Before I write about anything else, I need to come clean. I’ve felt guilt as I’ve asked God to search my heart and show me where I keep tripping. It’s like a perpetual game of Chutes and Ladders or the sequence in Ground Hog Day when Bill Murray is trying to change the outcome of a day that keeps repeating. The problem is, time keeps marching on. Circumstances change, moods change, people change– a lot changes. One day things flow well while other days, it’s one challenging thing after another.
Live and learn.
Respond, not react.
Forgive and forget.
Count your blessings, not your burdens.
With my contemplative mood and yearning to get things right with God, a verse comes on my heart. I pray– “Search my heart. Show me my ways. Create in me a clean heart, Lord! Renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore unto me, the joy of your salvation. Renew a right spirit within me.” It is a Psalm I recall from my youth–
Following a spiritual high like a mission trip or other act of faith, even at the close of an exceptionally “blessed” day, there can be a backlash of verbal abuse from Satan. He uses our human weakness to get us to stumble into his way of thinking. “Who do you think you are to write that? To go there? To say that? To do that?” [Ref. Rev 12:10-12]
“At one time or another, all people experience the painful consequences of sin. Psalm 51 has been a comfort and a help to millions who have prayed these words as their own. It invites all who are broken to come before God and lean upon His compassion. It teaches that we need not only to be forgiven for the wrong we have done, but we also need to be cleansed of its effects on us. Ultimately, it helps us recognize that if we are to be healed, it is the work of God to create in us a heart that is clean and a spirit that is strong.”
–An excerpt from “The Voice”* introducing Psalm 51
It can be challenging even when your faith is strong. How do you counteract his schemes? By taking those thoughts before God in prayer and searching for truth in His Word. He has provided it as a guide to carry us to the end of time on earth. An earnest search will net positive results because you’ll find encouragement. But you may find rebuke if you’ve strayed away from His will.
Recently I have written things and deleted them or privatized them so only I can read them after feeling convicted my motives weren’t honorable. I’m finding it best to change the privacy setting on social media if I feel remorse about my word choice, my tone, or my intent. If deleted (rather than privatizing) I cannot reread them. Like a journal, I can come back after reflection to revisit my state of mind. I can decide if the words should be edited and republished, or deleted and an apology needs to be made. Unlike a journal, the chance someone has read your words is irreversible. If known, you can apologize. But what if an offense is unknown? The offended just takes a step away? You lose your credentials? Ultimately, you cannot please everyone or look for affirmation from your audience. But if you have a relationship with Christ, the Spirit living in your heart and mind is a dependable, consistent guide.
I have a placeholder tucked in my bible at 1 Peter 3. It has been there for two years. The bookmark is a photo of a Christian woman I met on one of my trips. We agreed to pray for one another, specifically for our marriages. This scripture was originally brought to my attention by a dear friend as we prepared material for a similar trip. We were leading group discussions with women in Belize four years ago. The timeframe is important to give you a picture how long I’ve been coming back to this scripture. Remember my lead-in with an analogy of the Chutes and Ladders game? It’s been a long cycle. It is frustrating but I know the Apostle Paul struggled as well, in Romans 7:15-25 (shortened below) he writes:
“I can determine that I am going to do good, but I don’t do it; instead, I end up living out the evil that I decided not to do… Here’s an important principle I’ve discovered: regardless of my desire to do the right thing, it is clear that evil is never far away. For deep down I am in happy agreement with God’s law; but the rest of me does not concur. I see a very different principle at work in my bodily members, and it is at war with my mind … I am thankful to God for the freedom that comes through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! …”
Paul includes these words so we know it is human nature to struggle in this regard. A wise teacher, Jill Briscoe, offered this insight– We never learn exactly what Paul struggled with because, if we did, we would compare our thorn to his. The bottomline of this teaching is that, even though we struggle with sin, and even though we have the grace of salvation through Christ Jesus, we don’t have a license to sin uncontrollably.
Let me get to my point and what I need to “come clean” about–
My husband and I struggle. We love each other very much. Like many married couples, we struggle… a lot. I recently wrote this but will say it again– we were separated in June 2000, reunited after 9/11 in 2002 and have been in reconciliation ever since. We have a lot of tools in our toolbox that aren’t being used. As this game of Chutes and Ladders carries on, I come before God and ask, “What am I doing wrong? Show me what is in my heart that needs to change.”
They say God always answers prayer— it’s either yes, no, or wait. We’ve been doing a two-step dance to Tom Petty’s lyric “the waiting is the hardest part” with two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward… like that game of Chutes and Ladders. A huge mistake I keep making is pushing my husband into the drivers seat to lead and then pushing him under the bus instead. Let me get back to the scripture where my bookmark has been sitting for two years and where I have stumbled since November 2015.
It isn’t the oft misunderstood “wives, submit to your husbands.” My translation reads, “In the same way, wives, you should patiently accept the authority of your husbands.” I can swallow that without a chaser. It’s verse two that was encouraging to the women of Belize and to me— “This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live.”
Awe, that’s lovely, isn’t it? Lived out, it should take about 21 – 40 days to melt his heart and change your life forever. All you have to do is stick to this plan and, “Viola! Ta-da!! Happy wife, happy life!” But then life…
Remember Paul, treading water and swimming in circles? Mmm, hmm… living it can be challenging. Especially when you swallow your pride and get acid reflux with your words. Read Ephesians 5:25-33 below:
Husbands, you must love your wives so deeply, purely, and sacrificially that we can understand it only when we compare it to the love the Christ has for His bride, the church. We know He gave Himself up completely to make her His own, washing her clean of all her impurity with water and the powerful presence of His word. He has given Himself so that He can present the church as His radiant bride, unstained, unwrinkled, and unblemished—completely free from all impurity—holy and innocent before Him. So husbands should care for their wives as if their lives depended on it, the same way they care for their own bodies. As you love her, you ultimately are loving part of yourself (remember, you are one flesh). No one really hates his own body; he takes care to feed and love it, just as the Anointed takes care of His church, because we are living members of His body. “And this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother and is united with his wife; the two come together as one flesh.” There is a great mystery reflected in this Scripture, and I say that it has to do with the marriage of the Anointed One and the church. Nevertheless, each husband is to love and protect his own wife as if she were his very heart, and each wife is to respect her own husband.
That is a beautiful picture as encouragement to live out the plan God has for us through our marriage commitment. It is NOT going to work if, through my tears or with my angry eyes I recite, “You’re not treating me like Jesus!“
Writing is cathartic and today is no exception. By pouring over scriptures to include and asking God to guide my words, I’ve found new encouragement to apply. It’s time to open the tool box and start using the tools myself instead of throwing the hammer at my husband. I am confident God can do more than I can imagine if I submit my will authentically to God. I’m going to hop in the backseat, enjoy the ride, and stop being a backseat driver. In due time, in God’s time, the story will unfold. He will tell it through me in His time, not mine. And for His glory, not my own vindication or defense of my behavior. When I step outside His will, I can feel His spirit dissipate– leave my body. I am virtually stumbling in the absence of Light. I long to be approachable with a teachable spirit. Each day I need less of the old me and more of Him; He who is consistent and timeless. [Ephesians 4:22-24]
Before I wrap up, I’d like to come back to 1 Peter 3, where I found myself in the wee hours of the morning. We’ve already discussed the first half of the chapter. The surprise 2-for-1 special came from reading through to the end of the chapter [verses 8-16]. I misstepped from His will with something I had published in regard to marriage and finances on my Facebook profile. I sensed it in my spirit, posted anyway then went to prayer and counsel after reading a cautionary response. (After I swallowed my pride and privatized the post.) I had felt conviction in my heart– I divulged too much of the story that is unfolding in our lives. Although I had been a witness of God’s truths one day, the next I stumbled and crashed head-first into a wall of self-vindication I had built. Here is what I read before work today:
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and humility to and for each other— not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing. It was this you were called to do, so that you might inherit a blessing. It is written in the psalms,
If you love life and want to live a good, long time, Then be careful what you say. Don’t tell lies or spread gossip or talk about improper things. Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. For the Lord watches over the righteous, and His ears are attuned to their prayers. But His face is set against His enemies; He will punish evildoers.
Why would anyone harm you if you eagerly do good? Even if you should suffer for doing what is right, you will receive a blessing. Don’t let them frighten you. Don’t be intimidated, but exalt Him as Lord in your heart. Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope. Keep your conscience clear so that those who ridicule your good conduct in the Anointed and say bad things about you will be put to shame.
So then there’s that… good stuff, right? I had been thinking about things I’ve witnessed in real life and virtual life on social media. Since we are all socially distanced, there is a lot to digest on our various platforms. I’m taking it in, considering the source, and trying to learn as much from this experience as I possibly can. Because God is efficient with His omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience– leaning into Him has been fascinating! He never disappoints. His timing is perfect. God has been merciful to reveal things I’ve needed to change for a long [really long] time but hadn’t fully relinquished control. I thought I had but, there’s always room to be humbled. Because when you think you can’t be humbled any further, you’ve proven yourself a fool.
I pulled up my faith britches, tightened my bootstraps, and quieted my heart to hear His voice (rather than the world) when this pandemic started inching our way. It became clear Covid-19 was going to knock on the door of America and come crashing in before we had a chance to answer. That’s all I’m going to say about it today to set the scene. I’ve read the Book (yes, THEE Book) and knew this type of thing could get pretty nasty. Not just the “plague” itself but the behavior of humankind. We’ve proven there is less kind in humans than we might have imagined. But here’s the thing– the word ends with kind. Kindness can make a world of difference in the big picture and the small snapshots of life too.
Live and learn.
Respond, not react.
Forgive and forget.
Count your blessings, not your burdens.
We are blessed. Not because we have a home and food. And I don’t feel less blessed because things aren’t what I expected at this point in life. I feel blessed because I know the same Spirit that lives in me also lives in my husband. He is a really wonderful guy. I love him very much. I want the best life God has planned for him. I’m not a trophy he has won but an investment he has made. If I want OUR investment in our marriage to start an upward trend, I need to stop chipping away at the foundation. It’s squandering– instead of wasting money, we’ve squandered time.
On September 11 2001, I was headed to Chicago for work. The car I was traveling in wasn’t turning around. David and I were in divorce court at the time. As the car moved closer to downtown Chicago where buildings were being evacuated and the world had no clue what might happen next, God had my attention. I prayed, justifying my life circumstances saying, “I’m trying to get it right.” It was the second time in my life I heard a “voice” in my head. A firm, direct, fatherly “voice” said, “You don’t have time to get it right.” The Voice was unmistakeable (not Morgan Freeman). It was the same Voice I had heard a decade before when I attempted (and failed) at the ultimate life-control maneuver. So then there’s that— another slide down the long chute to reset the game board of life. I thought you might need a backstory to see the big picture.
Both songs are uplifting and I hope you find them encouraging too. “Alive in You” is a great illustration of the Spirit that lives in you when you relent your life to Christ. God is sovereign over every step. And nothing can stop and “Unstoppable God”, He’s not afraid of impossible odds. This is the promise that I’m standing on. (Quoting some of the lyrics)
I’ll close with a prayer to send you on your way–
I never know who you’ll lead to this blog to read what you’ve given me but I trust, whoever is reading could use a little more of you in their life. Thank you for coming to us so that we could relate to you on a human level. Thank you for always being gentle and kind. Help us to be more like you until the day we see you face to face.
I pray for my married readers to be encouraged to include you in their marriages as the strongest of three strands. Even if they are not equally yoked with their partner, I pray you will carry the extra load for them. I pray they both grow in their faith, especially if one is not walking with you Lord.
I pray for my unmarried readers as well. May they be led to pray for their future partner so they know, without a doubt, your will for them when they finally meet. Protect each of them. Guard their hearts and minds. Help them to unpack their bags– for healing and strength.
I pray for readers who may have lost a partner to death or divorce. I pray their hearts are not hardened toward You because of their loss. May they lean to you for support and encouragement. I pray divorced or estranged people can come to a place of peace found only through you. That they may begin to pray blessings on their former loves so they too can draw closer to you.
I ask forgiveness for anything I have written and published that has caused personal offense in the past because I know this has caused pain. I love you and want to live to glorify you.
In Jesus’ name–
*The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.