I love donkeys. And come on, elephants are just plain cool!
Can we just leave it at that? Can we stop there before you write me off because of my political leanings or I get upset with you for yours? In spite of all the naysayers and Chicken Littles in the media, I don’t really think we’re looking at the end of life as we know it as a result of the 2012 election (or any other election). But it’s okay; if you insist on continuing to needle me, go ahead. I doubt I’ll be dissolving into tears over it. Continue reading You Can Mock Me About These Things and I Won’t Cry (Really)→
We were somewhere in the Western Caribbean between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands when I first met Erica McNeal. A group of about 100 of us were considering how to best use the communication gifts God had given us and we were doing it while enjoying the beauty of His creation on a cruise for “Christian Creatives”. Not a bad gig.
It was formal dinner night and Erica sat down at the same table as me. She was vivacious and friendly, a genuine “people person” with a winsome smile and that way of focusing on your face when you talk that makes you feel she is truly interested in what you have to say. That’s a gift I wish I had.
When she told me she was writing a book to help people see the grief process as healthy and natural, I was a little surprised. I mean, that’s kind of heavy, right? Then she said she wanted to give people practical ways to respond to their grieving friends and loved ones, and I was skeptical. After all, that’s a pretty tall order for one so young and lively. What could she possibly know about pain that cut so deep it required a guidebook to navigate?
Then she told me a little of her story:
“By the time I was thirty-two years old, I had already suffered through radiation treatments and nearly died from chemo to beat cancer three times. I had made life and death decisions about my tiny baby girl born at twenty-two-and-a-half weeks gestation and lost her only 80 minutes after she was born. And after falling in love, I handed a child I believed in my soul was meant to be my son, back to his birth mother when she decided to revoke his adoption plan.”
What she said next really stunned me, but then it made perfect sense:
“The reality is: the worst pain in life doesn’t always come from illness, child-loss, death, or even grief itself. Often, the greatest obstacles to overcome are the unintended hurt caused by painful words spoken and things done or not done by those in our support system that care for us.”
She knew what people said to her and her husband, often in a well-meaning way, that had stunted their recovery process and wanted to spare others that pain. She wanted to share specific encouragement and alternative approaches that would be so much more helpful.
Erica challenges the way Christians sometimes view 1 Corinthians 10:13 – that God will not give us more than we can handle. Her experience is that God will allow us to be stretched beyond our human capabilities in order to show us our need for Him.
If you’ve ever wondered what to say (or not say) to someone who is grieving, what tangible ways you can help and support them, how to specifically pray, even how to recognize warning signs that they may be succumbing to depression, it’s all in this book. She also outlines a process she calls “breaking it down”, where she gives an example of how to use the Bible as a road map for lowering anxiety and stress, a simple but very effective exercise that has application to other areas of life.
As Erica says, “Learn from the triumphs and tragedies of others. Life is too short to experience everything yourself.” This book will help you do that. It is convicting but never condemning, enlightening but never trite.
As part of her launch this week, Erica has some great giveaways. If you purchase a copy of Good Grief between June 11th – 16th at http://amzn.to/goodgrieflaunch and send your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org, you’ll have a chance to win free books, gift cards, podcasts, study guides and more. Go to Erica’s website at www.ericamcneal.com for details. And be sure to follow Erica on Twitter: @toddanderica .
Let’s be honest. If I wanted to hide, I wouldn’t stick a hundred hedge clippers in the ground and crouch behind them, I’d find a cave or a big rock and hunker down. If I wanted to protect my skull from fracture, I wouldn’t duct tape a bunch of putty knives to my scalp, I’d get a helmet.
Just like it makes no sense to use hedge clippers as a wall or putty knives as a hat, it makes no sense to reduce my prayers to a defensive tactic – a flurry of words to ward off doom – when they are intended to be a powerful connection with an Almighty God.
Sadly, I do this regularly.
Here’s an example: My daughter was having surgery one day last week and I asked everyone I could think of to pray for her. Neither her life nor her long term health was in danger, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way I was storming the gates of Heaven with my petitions. I was cowering before God, asking Him to protect her, calm her, make her recovery swift and complete. And I guess I was hoping that if enough people joined in and echoed my concerns, the numbers might impress Him and He might decide to act. Have you ever done that?
After the surgery, she was in pain for days and the only time I felt I could relax and not worry about her was NOT when I was praying – which would have been the good Christian approach – but when the doctor was with her and reassuring me she was healing just fine. I had faith that she was safe in the hands of the doctor but apparently I didn’t rest in the knowledge that she was even safer in the arms of the Great Physician.
I pray and pray about things, fearing that if I stop, things will get worse. It’s as if deep down, I don’t think I’m really going to get a positive answer from God; I’m just trying to hold disaster at bay. Do I think my volley of words-words-words can do that?
I frantically keep it up, repeating the same requests over and over. If I were of another faith tradition, I might be lighting candles, chanting mantras, or flailing myself with a stick. And I would be no more successful in personally controlling the outcome than if I said or did nothing.
My lack of faith astounds me. And even worse is the way my actions insult God by implying He isn’t good; that He can’t be trusted.
We use the term “prayer warrior”, because our prayers are an offensive weapon – against evil, apathy, and pain. Our prayers can DO something, not just KEEP something from happening.
I want to be humble in my prayers, accepting that the outcome of all I pray for is ultimately in God’s hands and that He is good. But I don’t want to be shrinking and sobbing, fearing the worst. I devalue my own prayers when I do that; I want to be confident that God is trustworthy.
I don’t think I’m alone in this dilemma, am I?
Every Friday I have a standing phone “date” with my Dad, always my go-to spiritual resource and mentor. I asked him what he thought about this . . . this apparent lack of faith, this weakness of mine. You know what he told me?
“Honey, the Devil can’t take away your eternal salvation- that is assured – but he can mess with your witness and make you miserable. He can make you doubt and worry and take your focus off God. That’s when you run into problems like this. Just keep your eyes on God. He’s always glad to hear from you, even when you’re wringing your hands. I’m sure He just wishes you wouldn’t worry about things He already has under control.”
That’s the key. Stop letting the Enemy get me in a ditch with his foot on my neck. Keep my focus on God, not on myself or my need to control things. Remember that my prayers are a strong connection to the One who has already won the battle and longs to comfort me, not a desperate deflecting tactic from a position of weakness. I have no reason to be fatalistic when I have all of Heaven on my side.
Can you relate to this? Feel free to weigh in with your comments below.
In recent months, my co-author and I have agonized over the best approach for our book on singleness. We thought we had it; then we weren’t so sure. We have both worked with singles and single parents for years and have many stories to share about those who have found healing and wholeness as singles. Our desire has always been to encourage singles and help them understand their value. We say we want them to be “whole-hearted singles” and that all singles have equal worth in the eyes of God, even though in the church singles often feel “less than” because they aren’t married.
The New Testament invites all to be part of the family of believers and to reproduce spiritually, whether single or married. In that view, the family is as much a spiritual entity as a physical one and the role singles have to play in God’s story is both significant and unique. I’m on board with all of that.
Then one night in September I was watching the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” on TV (for about the third time since it came out in 2003) and an interesting thing happened in my heart.
If you saw the movie, you may recall the premise. Diane Lane plays a woman in her mid-30s who has been dumped by her husband and who goes to Italy to start a new, independent life. But even though she is successful at renovating this rundown villa and making lots of new, wonderful friends, she still longs to be in a loving relationship. There’s a scene near the end – and this is where I was drawn into the story again in a personal way – where she watches a married man, who has become a close friend, interact tenderly with his wife and family. It is clear that Lane’s character aches with longing to be in a relationship like that. I was ambushed by the emotions she portrayed and was transported back to that place in my own life.
Understand: I was a single parent for 18 years before I remarried five years ago. I raised my daughter alone and developed a deep, abiding dependency on Christ during that time thanks to prayer, a strong church and the support of committed Christian friends. If anyone understands that singleness can be rewarding and that Jesus is sufficient, it’s me.
But watching that scene, I remembered with painful clarity the times when I was single that I, too, ached for another chance at love; the times I gave in to self-condemnation, thinking that perhaps I just didn’t deserve it; and the feelings of resignation and sadness that I would probably grow old “alone”. That night, in front of the TV, I was there all over again and the intensity of my reaction caught me by surprise. I was reminded that we are truly created for relationship and that the longing to be loved is a universal one. I was also reminded of how crushing that desire can be.
Here’s what I concluded: We may acknowledge on an intellectual level that singleness is useful and honorable for the long haul – perhaps even preferable for some – and Christ can meet our needs. That is truth right out of the Bible. But we tend to believe that this applies to others, not to us. I may be wrong about this, but I think the majority of singles don’t really want to stay single, even with Jesus by their side; they want to be in a loving human relationship. And no amount of casting singleness in a more “spiritual” light – however valid and Biblical – is going to make them want to stay where they didn’t want to be in the first place.
Asking people to accept singleness as an acceptable long-term alternative to marriage may be a valid effort, but it still feels to many like the consolation prize (especially in the Christian community). And what happens is, singles spend so much energy trying to get out of being single, they miss the rare opportunities for growth where they are.
Perhaps singles would be better served by being encouraged to make the most of this time while they are single. What if we gave practical steps for singles to confirm their value, find healing, experience wholeness, and enjoy community while single in ways that simply aren’t possible while in a committed relationship? Think of it as “becoming singleful” – making the most of a unique time of life, whether it is for a season or a lifetime.
What do you think it would look like to become “singleful”? Do you know anyone you might call “singleful”?
Have you had a moment of clarity that shifted your thinking about an important issue? What led up to it and how did you respond?
It’s 7:00 on a Friday night and the lobby is filling up fast. The women are dressed to the nines, sizing up the other women, trying to get a read on the “competition”, while the outnumbered men – looking a little awkward and uncomfortable themselves – are checking out the women. There’s a band starting up in the auditorium and the air is electric with expectation.
It’s not a rock concert. It’s a singles “Kickoff” event at a suburban church.
The newcomers have a hard time distinguishing between the pulsing bass and their own thrumming heartbeats. The seasoned pros practice looking nonchalant, bobbing their heads and tapping their fingers to the beat of the music. Everyone is nervous and hopeful.
A young widow fights the urge to turn around and run back to her car. A newly-divorced accountant wonders if this was such a good idea after the stressful day he just had. The single mom hopes the evening won’t end with her wishing she had stayed home with her preschooler. The never-married machinist hopes no one remembers the unintentional slur against “40 year old single guys” from the pulpit a few weeks ago. And the professional woman debates whether to tell the men she is in law enforcement or make something up, just for tonight.
There are people there with secrets they don’t want anyone to know and others with gaping emotional wounds. Most are just lonely and longing to be understood. And truth be told, all of them are hoping to find someone who will want to know them, value them, and make them whole.
The scene above plays out regularly, year after year, in churches nationwide: Singles looking to get out of being single, wanting to find someone with whom they can enjoy and share life. Many never realize they could be taking advantage of a remarkable opportunity for personal healing, meaningful community, and unique intimacy with Christ as a single, whether or not they eventually marry.
They are missing their chance to be “Whole-Hearted Singles”.
What if singleness was not just a life stage to get through on the way to something “better”, but a status of great significance to embrace, whether for a season or a lifetime?
Do you believe singles really can enjoy a deeply satisfying intimacy with Christ and a thrilling experience of the true community He wants for His followers?
Did you know there’s a Biblical basis for singleness that raises the value of singles and gives them equal status and significance in the eyes of God?
I’m writing a book about this with a seasoned pastor at my church. Your input – whether you are single or married – is more than welcome!