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Under the Broom Tree

broom-tree

A broom tree.

I suppose that I am looking for a broom tree.

I have a propensity to run, like Elijah.

Oh, he had good reason to run.  Ahab had told Jezebel of the prophets of Baal that Elijah had slain.  And she, in blind fury, was determined to return the favor.  She was determined to slay Elijah.  And so, in fear, he ran.

But, I wonder, if there wasn’t more than just fear in his fleeing.

Because, isn’t it interesting that, after running for an entire day into the wilderness and setting (maybe collapsing) himself down underneath the broom tree, he then implores that God would slay him.  That God would take his life.  This man, who was under threat of losing his life at the hands of Jezebel and who fled in fear did not pray that God protect him and spare his life.  No, he prayed to die.  At the hands of God, which, I suppose, would be better than being slaughtered at the hand of Jezebel, but still.  Dead is dead.

So, I wonder, if it was not just fear that sent Elijah into the wilderness.  I wonder if it was something more.  Something in addition to the fear.  Something else at work in Elijah’s mind and soul.

Despair?  A sense of desperation?

Or was it crushing weariness?

We’ve all been there.  We kid ourselves when we say we have not.  It comes when, in seasons of ministry, it’s more funerals and contentious business meetings and long nights sitting with hurting parents than potlucks and increasing attendance and tangible changed lives.  It comes when, as parents, it’s more financial worries and teens making deadly decisions and even seemingly endless weeks of little ones with strep throat instead of chubby newborns and graduates with honors and hours sitting at the table playing Uno together.  It comes when, as employees, it’s more deadlines and pressure and worry over job fidelity instead of promotions and vacations and achievements.  It comes when, as humans, it’s more battling real depression and loneliness and sin instead of peace and contentment and joy.

And, it comes when, as we stumble along this path called “Christ-follower”, it’s more silence and doubt and fear than soul-stirring worship and Biblical insights and certainty of God’s existence.  It comes when it’s more apathy and nightmares and weariness than communion and faith and living.

It’s when the grace seems absent.

Not that it is absent.  It isn’t.  It never is.  But sometimes; sometimes, it is hard to see.

Elijah ran away from Jezebel’s threats.  I get that.  But what if there was more to it then just that?  He doesn’t seem to me to be someone easily frightened.  I mean, he ran away from the threat of death only to plead for death at the hands of God.  He was one prophet of God in the midst of 450 prophets of Baal, and yet he took them all on.  He called Ahab on the carpet.

Elijah was not weak.

And yet, he was.

Under that broom tree, he was finished.  He was done.  His words were thus:  “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

It is enough, indeed.

And then, Elijah slept.  Was it the sleep of a dead person–deep, unconscious sleep?  Or was it fitful, filled with nightmares?

You, and I, know this place.  This “I can’t take another step forward” place.  It’s what paralyzes us.  It’s what drives us to run.

I’m there, now.  In this undisclosed, unnamed hotel room in a random city.  It’s that need to be where no one can find you and no one knows you and no one knows where you are.  It’s looking for that broom tree.  It’s even hoping that God will say to you “What are you doing here, my child?” as He said to Elijah.  It’s that soul-yearning desire to hear God in that low whisper, even when we’d prefer the great and strong wind, or the earthquake, or the fire.  Or anything.  It’s that hope that when you open scripture it will be as the cake baked on hot stones and jar of water was to Elijah.

I’m sitting under this broom tree.

Be near, God.  Please.

Arise and eat.  The journey is too great for you.

 

Is Scripture Sufficient?

Hard Cases

Is Scripture sufficient to address all the needs of the soul?  The griefs, the addictions, the pride, the anger, the lust, the wounds, the fear, the sin?

I know the right answer is “Yes.”  I know that is the answer I am “supposed” to give, as a Christ-follower.

But, I’m not sure that I have believed it, whole-heartedly; and I certainly know that I haven’t lived it.

I received a review copy of the book Counseling the Hard Cases from Broadman & Holman publishers to provide a review here on my website.  I expected that I would find it interesting, which I did.  I did not expect to find it challenging, as in, challenging of my views on scripture.

My undergrad degree is in psychology/sociology, a degree I pursued mainly to try to “fix” myself.  I found, in my courses of study, though, that I was a good listener.  A good counselor, if you will.  I excelled at case studies and in our video-taped sessions.

I’ve also participated in personal counseling and psychiatric visits as a result of challenges in my own life.  The personal counseling was of good benefit–it went to great lengths to get me moving again after my ex-husband was imprisoned and the subsequent divorce.  It helped me with parenting my kids through the huge turmoil of that.  It assisted not in reconciling past pain with my present grief, but rather “framing” that pain in a manageable way.  And, it was interesting.

My visits with the psychiatrist–not so much.  They consisted of hour-long waits, because he was always late, as in, not-even-in-the-office-yet-when-I-arrived late.  Our visits were usually 10 minutes long, and each week I seemed to emerge with new medication.  Eventually I was on 2 antidepressants, 1 mood stabilizer, 1 anti-anxiety med, and Ambien.

Each author in this book seemed to lean quite a ways away from the use of medication.  I will not say that the meds were not helpful for me, personally.  At the point of crises, they (or, at least a couple of them) were of assistance.  I am not one to believe that there is no place for medication when confronted with ongoing issues of the mind.  But, the authors are correct on this point:  medication does not change the soul.  It may level things out so that the soul is more readily available for work and change, but it does not change the soul.  I am no longer on any such medication.  In my case, I began to not trust my doctor and his tendency to continually increase and add medication when he really didn’t know me.  Plus, I knew my addictive behavior.  I was headed down the wrong path.

In this book, Counseling the Hard Cases, the authors present a series of case studies–actual counseling cases that they have encountered.  They attempt to show how they used scripture, alone, to guide each counselee.

I have to say, they made a convincing case.

I certainly did not agree with all of their methods or approaches; but I know few, if any therapists who agree 100% in methodology.  There is always something we would do differently.

Also, there were times that I vehemently disagreed with the use of particular scripture, applied in particular ways, to particular situations.  Proof-texting is wrong, no matter what the setting.  Reading into scripture something that is not there is wrong as well.  And, offering the trite and cliché to hurting souls does nothing but encouraging them to rely on the trite and cliché.  I’m not saying scripture is ever trite or cliché, but when used in the wrong context or used as a magical formula, we as fallible humans water it down to that.  This should not be.

But, those negatives aside, this certainly did some re-ordering to my view of scripture and its ability to be sufficient.  No, that’s not correct.  It’s not that it has the “ability” to be sufficient.  It is sufficient.

Reading this book led me to an in-depth look at 2nd Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Do I believe this is truth?  Do I believe it is truth in the lives of the people God brings to me who are in dire need of His grace?  Who are experiencing real crises?  Do I believe it is truth in my own life–every single, ordinary, routine day?

Some of this book was hard to read.  Some of it was irritating.  Sometimes I wanted to shake the counselors.  Sometimes I wanted to shake those being counseled.  But I cannot deny that those instances were few in comparison to the points where I saw evidence of scripture applied correctly making actual soul change.  That this surprised me is absurd, because I know the change that scripture has wrought and is working in my own life.  But I needed a “bigger picture, Step-outside” reminder.

I don’t know why God chose scripture–His word–as the vehicle for His gospel.  Why not His physical presence, on this earth, continually?  Why leave it in the hands of us–He knows we are sinful, messy people.  I have my theories, but I have no answers.  But even without answers to those and other questions, I know that doing scripture work–the meditation upon, the reading of, the hearing of, and the application of–produces soul changes, even in the most hopeless of situations.

The Redeeming Value of Lists

Lists

Lists save me.

Yes, ultimately the work of the cross has saved me.  Ultimately God’s forgiveness of my sins has saved me.  Is saving me.

But, there is a very real sense in which making lists save me as well.  Like insulin saves a diabetic.  Like nitroglycerin saves someone in the throes of a heart attack.

I can’t get by without them.

They order my day.  They push me when I get mired.  They show me accomplishment and progress, which spurs me on.

I have several smaller lists that I use on a need-to basis–these cover items that I need to do weekly or monthly, or just occasionally in special situations.  Like packing for business trips.  I have a list, stored in Evernote, for packing.  And I rarely deviate from it.

I also have four major lists that I use every. single. day.  Ok, maybe occasionally I forego one, or two, or on really tough days, all three.  But that is a rarity.

List:  Daily Routine

In terms of sheer productiveness and sanity, this list keeps me moving forward.  I keep it, as I do all my lists, in Evernote, and it is the first thing I open after prayer/study and checking work email to make sure there isn’t an urgent task that needs to be tackled.  While my third list (below) is the foundation–the absolute bedrock–of my day and life, this list frames each day.  It consists of 4 sections:

  • Morning Routine
  • Daily Routine
  • Before Bed Routine
  • Daily To-Dos

This is where I list all the things that make up my “every” day:  Sweep the floor.  Do a load of laundry.  Exercise 30 minutes.  One hour of writing.  Clean desk.  Empty Dishwasher.  I even have “Get Dressed” on there.  That may sound ridiculous, but those of you who may have battled clinical depression or other challenges know that it is far from ridiculous.  Marking these items off my list every single day does more for my mind than I can explain.  There is a book titled “Do Something” by Miles McPherson.  I don’t think I ever read it; I just remember seeing its cover each time I worked Lifeway.  I have no idea what the book is about, but there is a lot of wisdom in that short title.  When I don’t know what to do next, this list tells me.  Just do the next thing.  And the next.

Do List

This list is reserved for Action Items that fall under my responsibility.  For example, right now on my list I have the following:

  • Return tables
  • Set up collaborative meeting with illustrator for second children’s book
  • Send By-laws to 127WW Administrative Subgroup
  • Do Taxes
  • Plan Outer Banks/Tim’s Boot Camp Trip

These are all items that I need to work on as I get time to.  If they are urgent, they get moved to the top of the list and placed in my calendar with reminders.  If they are not urgent, I work on them in those 15 minute windows of time, such as when I take a lunch break.  Sometimes this list feels overwhelming:  It’s a bit longer than what I’ve shared here.  But if I don’t capture these Action Items in Evernote, they get lost.  Lost items do not get done.

Day Zero Project

My Day Zero Project list is where I set my longer term goals.  It is actually a website that helps you track 101 goals in 1001 days.  I dream big there.  Here is just a sample of items I’m tracking:

  • Reach My Goal Weight
  • Ask 40 Friends to suggest one book, read them all
  • Travel Somewhere by Train
  • Run the Color Run
  • Write a Book
  • Move to Montana

I have 80 items on my list so far, with 780 days left.  I’ve reached 20% of my goals completed.  Each goal comes with the ability to attach progress notes, pictures and files.  I can quickly glance and see which items are completed, which items are in progress, and which items haven’t been started yet.  I don’t work on this list every day, but I open it once a day to quickly review so that these goals are never far from my mind.  You can make your own Day Zero Project List by clicking on those words above.

My Most Important List

While listed last here, this list–like mentioned above–is the bedrock to my existence.  That sounds dramatic, but there is no other way to describe it.  It actually consists of 4 lists that I use for Bible Study/Prayer/Writing early each morning.  It’s the first thing I open when I get up, usually anywhere between 5 and 6 am.  Don’t be impressed by that; I’ve always been an early morning person.  Or a late at night person.  Or a middle of the night person.   Ok, so sleep can be a bit challenging for me.  Regardless, of when I rise, these lists are where I go.  They were shared with me several years ago when I was desperate to know if God was real and, if He was real, if He saw and knew who I was.  These lists helped pave the way to solidifying those things in both my mind and my soul.  They consist of the following four sub-sections:

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanksgiving
  • Intercession/Supplication

Each list contains scriptures that have become like old, flannel shirt to me.  Familiar.  Comforting.  Reassuring.  That’s not to mean they are all easy.  They are not.  Even after studying them several times, they still have a kick to them, especially those centered around both Confession and Adoration.  This list prods me to the daily writing of my prayers.  It keeps me consistent in praying for others–not “Prayer Request List” prayers, but earnest, focused prayer.  I don’t tell people I’m praying for them unless I’m actually praying for them, and this is the avenue I use for that.  These lists also send me into deeper study of certain passages.  I have to be careful about that, though, because I’m much more comfortable studying than interacting with God on a personal level.  But the study aspect is important, too.

Is this list a sure-fire formula that I will experience God or commune with Him (whatever that is supposed to mean) each morning?  No, it is not.  There are many mornings that I “feel” nothing.  That I don’t sense His presence.  But that doesn’t preclude this early morning meeting with God, no matter what the outcome or “feeling” from working steadily on my mind/soul.  It. Just. Does.  I don’t understand it.  And I’ve given up trying.

There are times that I don’t use Adoration/Confession/Thanksgiving/Intercession in the mornings.  Sometimes I use other things; reading a book of the Bible in one setting, or sometimes I am wrecked enough that the morning consists of just writing out scripture–turning the words over and over in my head and on paper until I am settled.  But many mornings my soul is focused on these four things.  They’ve become a lifeline.  Not my life, although I can certainly slide down that slope of legalism so easily.  I’m good at that.  But they help me remember that God is my life.  There is no other.

Wrapping Up

There is not magic formula.  I wish there was.  You can read my writings on Checkbox Christianity for my thoughts on that.  Good gracious, I wish there was a formula.  A works-based salvation, even.  But there is not.

Even though there is not, there is something to be said for routine.  For measurable, trackable routine.  I track everything.  How many calories I eat.  How many steps I take in a day.  What books I read.  I know that today is Friday, which means I need to clean out my car.  It sounds rigid, controlling.  Non-spontaneous.  But it’s what I need.

I can’t deny the effects using lists have had on my life.  I’ve always used lists, even when I was a little girl.  I kept a list of my sins, even.  And a catalog of my favorite stickers from my sticker collection (remember those?)  I regularly inventoried my books.  So, keeping lists come naturally to me.  But in recent years, they have become more than natural, they’ve become life-saving.

If you’d like more information on how to set up lists, particularly My Most Important List (Bible Study/Prayer), please send me a message.  I’d love to share ideas with you and introduce you to the tools that have been vital to me.

 

The “Why” of Healing

Why of Healing

God binds up the broken-hearted.

Psalm 147:3 is truth.  I know it is.  I’ve had a front row seat to Psalm 147:3 in my own life.  I’ve lived it.  Am living it.

But Why?

What is the purpose behind His caring for our deepest wounds?  What is the motive?

Motives are important to me.  When I make a decision, I sometimes can agonize longer over my motive behind that decision, then the time that it actually took to make the decision to act.  I question people’s motives.  No, it’s uglier than that.  I judge people’s motives.  I try to figure out what the motive is, and then I, in my pride and arrogance, pronounce judgement upon that motive.  Maybe that’s a trust thing.  I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter; it’s just ugly of me no matter how it is sliced.  Hiding behind the words “I have difficulty with trust” is a sham.  It’s just ugliness.

And, in my ugliness, I have been known to judge God.

Which is so disastrous and fallible and foolish and, above all else, sinful.  How could I, who know that God is all things good and just, not trust that His motives are such as well?

But, maybe with God, it is not so much that I am looking for error or for unrighteous motives.  I’m not smart, but I’m smart enough to know I will find neither.  Scripture is very clear on that.  Psalm 145:15-19.  1 John 3:1-3.  1 Peter 2:22.  And so much more evidence.  He is sinless.

His motives are pure.

But what is His reasoning?  Why does He care for our hearts?  Is salvation not enough, and our achings and grievings in this world be damned?

Why did Jesus perform miracles–actual, literal, physical and soul miracles–while here on earth?  Why raise the little girl from the dead?  Why respond in healing compassion and look upon the “sinful woman” who washed His feet?  Why did God give peace to the Psalmist’s soul over and over and over again?  Was it not enough that He offered forgiveness of sins, and the hope of eternal life?  Why was He concerned about their lives in this world, this broken world with its cancer and divorces and abuse and loneliness and diabetes?  Why is He concerned when we are discouraged, or fighting deep depression, or battling addiction, or fearful, or worried about finances?  Why does He care when the doctor’s report is grim, or when we are abandoned, or when we don’t think we can take another step, or when we are shaken by nightmares?

Why does he bind up the broken-hearted?

The healing of the grief in my life or yours does not produce salvation.  It saves, yes.  It saves me from endless blank-hole hopelessness that paralyzes and stultifies.  O, my soul, how I know that His healing of deep, gruesome soul wounds saves.  It saves me to Joy.  But it does not produce salvation–eternal salvation.  Only Christ crucified generates salvation.  1 Corinthians 1:18 shows that clearly.

But, what He does in your soul, and in my soul, is a daily, here and now manifestation of His grace.  And grace is a conduit for salvation.

John Piper explains it infinitely better than I ever could hope to, in this article from 1991:

But even if signs and wonders can’t save the soul, they can, if God pleases, shatter the shell of disinterest; they can shatter the shell of cynicism; they can shatter the shell of false religion. Like every other good witness to the word of grace, they can help the fallen heart to fix its gaze on the gospel where the soul-saving, self-authenticating glory of the Lord shines. 

I see myself, so clearly, in those words.

But is the healing of our broken hearts and our grief a sign and wonder?

Yes.  A thousand times yes.  I can’t explain why, I just know assuredly that they are, because it is a wonder what He has done, and continues to do, with the griefs of my life.  And with the griefs of the lives of those that are dear to me, and those that I watch from afar.  They are wonders.  And, they are signs.

Signs of grace.

We will hurt because “hurt” is a part of this world and a part of our lives.  We will grieve–both acutely, in moments of crises, and dully, as an undercurrent.  But we will also experience signs and wonders and healing of those grievous things.

I guess, because He loves us.