Why shouldn’t I, in this moment, be perfectly, blissfully happy?

It’s Saturday morning. I’ve slept in and I’m sitting in bed with my porridge and a cup of tea that is teetering on being tepid as I forgot about it while I was scrolling through Facebook. It’s still warm enough to be pleasant though, and as I raise it to my lips I look out my window to see birds fly behind barren winter tree branches. I hear them chirping and cooing and suddenly the question pops into my head: Why shouldn’t you, in this moment, be perfectly, blissfully happy?

It surprises me, because I don’t feel like that, but as I think about it, I have no reason not to. Right in this moment, I don’t need to think about the school marking I have to do, or the cleaning, or whatever pressures I may have in life. In this moment I am free to be abundantly content.

How many ‘this moments’ exist in a day? Hundreds of them; thousands even. I remember hearing once that anxiety and worry are almost always concerned with the past and the future. Rarely do we have anything to seriously concern ourselves with in this moment.

This truth can be liberating. As I drink my now-lukewarm tea, I am going to choose, for this moment to be perfectly, blissfully happy.

Everyone’s awesome… so everyone’s inadequate

I spent my afternoon at a SACE clarifying forum. I always manage to leave feeling inadequate.

At the forum, year 12 teachers get together in a room with paper cups of instant coffee and read exemplars of student work.

There are two types of people that scare me in these groups – the innovators and the ‘I-wouldn’t-have-graded-it-that-high’ experts.

We had an innovator at our table. Fresh out of University, new ideas and perfect English literary lingo flowed from his mouth. He spoke with the authority that only a new grad or a thirty-year veteran can.

I spent my time between feeling impressed, indignant and inadequate. Clearly this barely-even-an-adult was more competent than me. Thank goodness he didn’t know I’m running the faculty at my school.

The ‘experts’ were also out in full force. Irrespective of the piece, they always thought it was about two grades worse than I had. No matter that they were technically wrong, their air of superiority made it clear that their standards were higher than mine. I felt my insides wilting with the knowledge that I wouldn’t even know how to teach to their standard.

Many times I’ve felt a niggling feeling that I’m an imposter in this word of academics.

I wondered after, though, whether we’re all playing the same game. For all I know Mr. University left feeling inadequate next to the experience of the others on the table and the experts left wondering how, after so many years, they could still be marking too hard. We all put our best foot forward. We all want to look awesome. And, no doubt, we all struggle with feeling inadequate.

Do cultural norms overpower sexual attraction?

Sexual attraction is surely one of the strongest forces intrinsic to humans, but is it possible that the external force of cultural trends can suppress, or even eliminate it?

This is one of the tangents my year 12 class and I found ourselves on today during a discussion about themes of identity and family in a play we have recently seen.

We noted that, with the exception of a minority that feeds the pages of New Idea magazine, sexual attraction between consenting, adult family members, in Australia, is rare. We could be led to believe that this is because it is fundamentally immoral, but historically and cross-culturally this is not seen to be the case.

Marriage of first cousins is, in fact (and unbeknownst to me until today) legal in Australia, the UK and 19 states of America. It is however, highly stigmatized. My class and I noted that this cultural stigma is so powerful that if we were to meet and be attracted to someone, and later find out that they were actually our cousin, the attraction would immediately subside.

I found it interesting to read that the “practice of marrying your siblings is now archaic (not to mention extremely icky)” and I wondered where this ‘ickiness’ comes from.

Of course genetic concerns regarding procreation play a role in the social stigma, but I found it interesting to consider the idea that a person’s sexual attractions can be curbed or influenced by the trends of their culture.

 

Celebrating Weakness as a Key to my Identity

 

Wow, this is making me feel inadequate!
I’m still shocked that these words came out of my mouth, but they did, before I even had time to think.
I was talking to a friend about owning property. Like me, they’d been very circumstantially blessed in this area and, despite the humble way that they spoke about it, it was clear that they were sitting on some very valuable investments. My instant feeling, when faced with someone in a ‘better position’ to me was inadequacy.
This was further highlighted to me this week as I realized how often I do a self-appraisal of how ‘successful’ I am at life. Ironically much of this centers around how I think my life looks to other people.
Here’s some embarrassing examples of what goes through my head:

Ok, so I’m single. I’m basically failing at the most significant thing in life, so I need to make up for it somehow. I need to prove that my life is still awesome enough to justify being alone.

How am I going at life? Actually I’m doing okay. I have property. Lots of people my age don’t, and I’m going to nail this whole mortgage thing.
I have a career that I enjoy and I’m in leadership now and…
I’ve traveled…
I have lots of friends…
I give to missions and charity…
I have…
                        I can…
                                                I do…
                                                                        I am…

Successful.

I have a decent personal resume. Most of the time it’s enough to make me feel okay about being alone. Most of the time I feel that my strengths are outweighing my weaknesses.
But.
Sometimes they don’t help at all. They offer no answer when the ugly question rears it’s head ‘Why, despite all this, does nobody want me?’

Most of the time I also know that the successes I’m counting aren’t actually the things that matter; that they’re all superficial things that can be lost in an instant.

It really hit home the other day as I was crying out to God to speak into my life and He took me to James 1:10-11.
“[Let the rich boast] in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away… So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”
What does it mean, I asked, to boast in my humiliation? I was reminded of the way in which the Apostle Paul boasted in his weaknesses and counted everything he had gained in this world as loss for the sake of knowing Christ, and I knew… it is in my weaknesses, not my successes, that my true greatness lies, because my true greatness does not come from me.

I thought of my ‘humiliations’ in life and discovered that in each of them lay a truth about my identity that was far more significant than any house, or job or travel. Here are some:

I am single – I am pursued and loved by God
I am dust – I am a new, eternal creation
I am weak – I have the strength of the Almighty
I am sometimes socially awkward – I am safe in God’s sovereign plan
I am alone – I am hid with Christ in God and am never alone.
I am sinful – I am forgiven and made righteous
I am overlooked – I am found and known and cherished.

So there are my greatest weaknesses; the yucky parts of who I am; the ones I try to cover up with the more glamorous looking list. But there also, in Christ, are my greatest strengths. As I reflect on who I am, and how I’m going in life, may I always remember that my boast is in these things, not the other list to which I cling so tightly. Because the other list? It is as fleeting as a spring flower.

Christian, turn the cheek on Facebook

Today I woke to news of another terror attack, this time targeting Christians as they celebrated Palm Sunday in Egypt.

It is tragic and frightening and naturally created an emotional response in the Christian world.

We live in an unprecedented time in which a person’s opinions and responses can be publicly proclaimed through social media, and it makes me wonder… how are we using it?

I question sometimes, as I see Christians around the world taking to Facebook as a soapbox to remind the world of our rights, whether we’re getting it wrong.

I was reminded yesterday of Jesus’ command to ‘turn the other cheek;’ of the promise of persecution and of the cross we all vow to bear. What happened in Egypt is a human rights tragedy, but I wonder whether the response of Christians stems more from fear for their own future safety, than from a true understanding of what it is to live the Christian life.

Christians in Australia have experienced peace for generations, and we must admit that we have sometimes used our high and favoured position to look down at, and isolate others. Now, as the tables turn, we take to social media and condemn those who are against us. Maybe it’s time to turn the other cheek. Maybe it’s time to take up our cross with the meekness of our Saviour and use any words we have to preach His Gospel of salvation, even to those who persecute us, rather than asserting our rights.

The number ONE reason we should follow Jesus… isn’t to get eternal life

Why do we invite people to come to Jesus?

This questions was raised in my lunchtime Bible study group today, which amazingly, this year, includes two atheist students. I see reflected in it many mistakes of my own evangelical history.

Over the years I have invited people to come to Jesus for many a reason, some more flawed than others:

To some I promised a more purposeful life

To others, increased happiness.

At times it was because they were at risk of hell

And on the flip side, who isn’t enticed by the promise of heaven?

Shamefully, I admit, there were also times when I merely wanted to recruit allies; people who would see the world from my point of view and not oppose me.

Today, however, I was reminded, as I studied the Word with these students, that the number one reason that we should invite people to come to Jesus is because He is worthy.

If God is as powerful as he must be as creator, and Jesus is truly Lord of all, then people should come to him in humble worship, simply because He deserves it.

The beautiful paradox of Christianity is that God invites us to come, and then blesses us with every spiritual blessing and life eternal when we do.

It is His kindness that brings us to repentance, but we must never forget who He is or how worthy He is. We must call people to worship the giver, not come for the gifts.

 

 

 

On the dislike of teenagers

I was sitting with a group of (lovely) ladies a few weeks back and the topic of teenagers came up. Perhaps forgetting that I actually choose to work with this vicious species on a daily basis, they described them in less than complimentary terms. One lady piped up “Well, you must remember, we’re living in the age of the narcissist.”

I don’t necessarily disagree with her premise, but her accusatory tone made me feel surprisingly defensive of this generation that is both loathed and feared by much of society. Teenagers, beneath their narcissism and behind the luminous screens of their smart phones, are precious individuals who are finding their way in the world and forging a new path for our future.

Teenagers hold our future whether we like it or not, and before we despair or shake our fists, we do well to look at where they came from. If a teenager is narcissistic, who did they learn it from? If they can’t function without technology, who gave it to them? If they are undisciplined or entitled or lacking respect, who is the generation who raised them?

The last thing that teenagers need is our condescension. They are not the enemy, and if we treat them as such we draw battle lines for a war that will have no victor. Teenagers need the love and support of society. They need freedom and boundaries, encouragement and discipline. Our condemnation foolishly despises that which we, as a village, have raised ourselves.

The Western dream… no servitude

I was in year 12 when I first heard about ‘The American Dream.’ We were studying Of Mice and Men and my teacher was explaining George and Lennie’s pursuit of land to call their own as the ultimate American dream.

This goal has become the veritable ‘pot at the end of the rainbow’ for much of western society; to own a piece of land has become both the American and Australian dream. We may have masters at work, but at home we are slaves to no one. Even our political systems are built on the premise that the common man does not serve the leader, but the leader serves the common man.

As a result, one of the greatest challenges I face is that of servitude to God. No longer does my generation feel any real duty to ‘King and Country.’ In fact, if I’m honest, the concept of truly living my life in servitude to anyone seems foreign to me.

There are many who have laid down their lives for our liberty, and for that I am grateful, but I am afraid that it has created a dangerous illusion. I struggle to lay down my life in full servitude to God, because I have been falsely led to believe that my life is my own. Not only to I fail to see that I am a slave to sin or self, but I have lost all comprehension of the honour it is to serve a great master.

But I’ve been patient for a long time!

573785_35739861950403bcce628b84f7b54513_largeDoes anyone else have things that they’ve been praying about for a long time?

For ten years I prayed that God would heal me from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. For even longer I’ve had a desire to get married. For a lifetime I’ve been praying for unsaved family members.

Sometimes God answers prayer quickly, but sometimes, as I found yet again the other day, the Still Small Voice says to me ‘Sarah, be patient and trust me.’

I must confess, I responded with an indignant lament: ‘But God, I’ve BEEN patient… for a really long time!’

It felt like a valid point. How could God still ask for patience when I had already waited so long. And therein I discovered my error. Patience and waiting are not the same thing. It was quite possible that I could have waited for something for ten years and yet never actually been patient.

I looked the word up:

Patient: bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger or the like.

It turns out that patience is an attribute that still needs great cultivation in my life.

It’s funny how God reminded me to be patient and trust. For the Christian, the two must go together. How can I bear hardship and delay with great fortitude and calm? Because I know that my God, who holds and ordains all things, can be trusted to bring me that which is good, in His perfect time.

Gratitude and a busted microwave

When I was a teenager, my parents’ microwave broke. It seems odd to me now, but I distinctly remember feeling surprised when my dad went out that weekend and bought a new one.

microwave_212022

I imagine I’d reached the age where I realized that things cost money, and perhaps begun to have my eyes opened to the fact that there were lots of things that some people couldn’t afford.

A microwave seemed like a big expense, and when dad came home with a new one, I realized, probably for the first time, that my parents were rich. Not filthy rich, perhaps, but comfortable rich. I remember saying to dad, ‘Wow, it’s pretty amazing that you can just go out and buy a new microwave. Some people couldn’t do that.’

I’ve been reminded of this many times over the years when I face unexpected expenses. Last Friday my car wouldn’t start. Within an hour the RAA had come and I had a new battery. The $170 was an expense that was very inconvenient and I felt like getting annoyed, but then I remembered to be grateful.

I will still eat this week. I will still pay my mortgage and I still bought the shoes I needed. Many people can’t do that. I have to remember that any time I receive a bill I can afford to pay, it is a time to be grateful.