Category Archives: Meditation
Hey you. Yes, you who may or may not know me but have nonethleless found yourself here, reading my words.
I have a message for you. It’s a message I don’t believe half the time, and so I feel like a bit of a fraud sharing it. But I believe it today, with all my heart. Because it is true.
You have a role to play. You have a purpose.
Maybe you’re dogmatic, or maybe you a free spirit. You could be someone who is bold, or someone who is humble. You might be an intellectual, or someone who doesn’t think much about the deeper parts of life and is just very practical.
Perhaps you’re an eternal optimist, or a cynic, or someone in between who wavers between the two extremes. Maybe you are your own worst enemy, and your insecurities get the best of you more often than not. Or maybe you’re confident and comfortable in who you are, and the world around you doesn’t faze you much.
You could be energetic, or steady, or opinionated, or kind, or confrontational, or compliant.
But I just want you to know…
You have a role to play in this world. You have a purpose. YOU. Not the faint shadow of who you could be, or who you want to be. You, with all your flaws and all your strengths and all the myriad of qualities that are jumbled together to make you an incredible, beautiful, unique person. You have a place.
Perhaps your role is quite small, and you’ll spend your life making just a little impact. Or maybe it’s huge, and you wield influence beyond the dreams you had when you were young.
But here’s the cool thing. That doesn’t matter. Whether your role is small or large, you have a place. You have a sphere of influence and people to love and people who love you. You have a part in something beyond yourself, beyond the little pocket of existence that sums up who you are.
You possess this beautiful, messy blend of strengths and weaknesses and memories and personality traits and thoughts and deeds and temperaments and beliefs and convictions that no one else in this world does. You have a place in this world that no one else can fill.
I am in awe of the depth and complexity of the human being. I think about the thousands of thoughts and dreams and convictions and emotions that I go through on a daily basis, and I realize that in that way I am not unique, that all human beings experience the same thing. And it fills me with wonder every time I think about it because I realize all over again how unbelievably precious we all are. I think about how we all bring something to the table that no one else can.
And sometimes that’s hard, because it inevitably means you will clash with your fellow human beings from time to time. But you will also find kindred spirits, people whose own humanity dovetails beautifully with your own. And when you find those people, it’s magical. And when you find the people who clash with you, that’s magical too. Because often they challenge you, and bring your weaknesses into the light.
Anyway, I don’t know what the purpose of this long rant is. All I know is I’ve been in a creative funk for the last few months, and tonight as I was driving home I just started thinking about the interactions I’ve been having with people I love lately, and how complex and beautiful we all are. And before I knew it, I had to let those thoughts flow through my fingers and come out in written words.
Because it’s all true. You are precious and unique and filled with so many qualities that no one else ever has or ever will possess. You hold a place in this world that no one could ever fill. Maybe that doesn’t feel true for you today, or maybe it does.
That doesn’t matter. It is true, because you live that truth every single day.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” ~ Matthew 7:13-14
This little pair of verses is one of the most commonly quoted among Christians. It is almost a mantra, I have heard it so many times growing up: from the pulpit, from my dad, and perhaps most often, in my own head.
When I was taught this passage growing up, it was almost always about salvation. It split human beings into two groups: the big group of people who take the easy way in life, and the small group whose lives are flipping hard because they are living for Jesus.
As a Christian, I’ve undoubtedly had to consider that I belong to the smaller group. And based on the way I was taught this passage, I’ve always understood it to be based on belief. I choose the hard beliefs; I choose the beliefs that leave people thinking I’m a judgmental asshole sometimes. I choose the beliefs that result in being misunderstood, or naive. Because of course, if this Christian life is easy and without trials and difficulties, and if my beliefs aren’t challenged and opposed by the world around me, I must not be on the narrow path after all, right?
I wish that Jesus had offered more context when he spoke this saying. But there really isn’t any; it comes right in the middle of a bunch of other quick, brief teachings: don’t judge, don’t throw you pearls before swine (a weird passage if I ever heard one!), have confidence that God will give you what you ask for.
In light of that, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we can look at these verses with an entirely different lens than the salvation/damnation paradigm. A little while ago, I read Rob Bell’s wonderful little book Love Wins. He has this remarkable way of personalizing Jesus’ teachings in the book while staying faithful to their message. He talked about heaven and hell—i.e., the narrow way and the broad way—not in terms of two places that human beings are divided into based on God’s judgment, but rather states of being that we choose for ourselves in this life—in the here and now.
So if we choose bitterness over a past wrong, we’ve chosen hell. If we choose to go out of our way to show kindness to someone, we’ve chosen heaven.
I think that same idea can be applied to this saying about the narrow way and the broad way. I think it might tie in nicely with all the stuff Paul says (in Romans I think, but probably in other letters too) about the lure of our sinful spirits, and about how difficult it is to choose Jesus. And really, choosing Jesus and choosing life are the same thing at the end of the day, aren’t they?
Anyway, tying back to what I said earlier about choosing the hard beliefs, I think the narrow way, the way that leads to life, isn’t about an exclusive set of beliefs. Or at least it isn’t just about that. I think so much of it has to do with how I view people, how inclusive I am of those around me.
At the end of the day, that is so much harder than having beliefs that “the world” thinks are silly and archaic. I’ve done that my whole life—believe me, I’ve got that down pat, and it doesn’t really faze me anymore (probably because I have come to realize that a lot of my beliefs were silly and archaic!). What is so much harder is breaking down stereotypes, seeing the people around me for the beautiful souls that they are instead of judging them based on the myriad ways of judging that human beings have invented and then passed down to their children.
That is hard. That is a narrow path that few people ever find.
But maybe, at least when looking at it this way, recognizing the path you are on is the first step to retracing your steps and finding your way back to the narrow path that Jesus desires us to take. I don’t think choosing the broad path has to be the final word, for otherwise what is the purpose of grace?
It’s so incredible when you peel back the layers of scripture like this, and unfold the myriad meanings that you can draw even from little sayings like this. That is why I love the Gospels so much; each story, each saying, each teaching can be viewed from a dozen different dimensions, and can result in a dozen different meanings. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it.
So yeah, I think narrow path could represent choosing a set of beliefs that most of the people around you have rejected. It could also represent the kind of radical inclusion that Jesus displayed (a path that I think many Christians today are totally not on!). Or it could be about something else entirely. You could pick your demons, really, based on what you are struggling with or what areas of ignorance or blind spots you currently have in your life. That’s the beauty of stories; there’s more than one way to read them.
Saturday, October 11 was a pretty ordinary day for me. I taught swim lessons in the morning, then went for a long-overdue shopping trip for much of the afternoon. After I got home, I did some cleaning and otherwise spent the evening watching TV and relaxing. Pretty typical.
For a lot of people, though, Saturday, October 11 was a pretty special day, because it was National Coming Out Day. I saw a handful of Facebook statuses as I scrolled through my feed that day about guys and girls who were out and proud, etc. Some were more bold about it than others, and some were kinda funny and made me chuckle.
As I thought about these gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people who were announcing their pride in their sexuality to the social media world, I could help but think about how much I truly hope for the day when these kinds of statuses won’t be written anymore.
Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t for the reasons you think. It isn’t because gay pride offends me, or because I think people should keep a lid on it, or anything of the sort. Rather, it seems to me that this pride is expressed so loudly because it is a retaliation against those who wish to silence and shame them because of their sexuality.
It seems to me that, through no fault of their own, LGBT people have more to prove when it comes to being comfortable with their sexuality, because for so very long they couldn’t be without also being stigmatized and looked down on. And now that the tides are changing and same-sex relationships are becoming more widely accepted—though of course still not uncontested by a long shot—they are able to take pride in being out. And they should.
Yet, the optimist in me can’t help but think about a day when they won’t have to. I am hopeful for a time when it is so normal for a girl to confess feelings for another girl, for a guy to marry another guy, for a girl to admit she was born with the wrong gender, that we don’t bat an eye at it. That will be the time when there is true equality, when LGBT people are fully accepted in our culture as the beautiful people that they are.
I pray for that day. I really do.
So right now, yes. Be as bold and abrasive as you want to be on social media on National Coming Out Day. It is, after all, your day. Declare the truth about your sexuality from the rooftops. But also hope. Hope for a day when telling someone you’re gay is so ordinary, so mundane, that they respond with a shrug of their shoulder and a question about if you have a crush on someone. A day when, if they’re a good friend, they don’t have to feel sorrow for what you’ll go through as a result of being out. A day when revealing the gender you’re attracted to is no different from another part of who you are coming out of the woodwork as you develop into adulthood.
For that day will be so much better than this one.
Just so you know, this is going to be a rambling, unfocused blog post because that’s how my relationship with God is right now.
The way I approach my faith and my theology has undergone so many shifts in the past few years, and I’ve realized that some of these shifts are unhealthy. I’ve written about the negative effects of having shed the little box of conservatism that I grew up in (see this post, and this one). But recently I’ve been mulling over how my attitude about Christianity has become largely reactive.
Christian people say things, or write things, or share them on Facebook, and I so often impulsively push back against what they say. You’re trying to tell me that the Bible is “clear” about this issue or that issue? Let me show you how incredibly ambiguous it is. You think that this is the way Christians should respond to such-and-such an issue? Let me show you how that person responded, and how I think it is a very Christian-like response despite looking nothing like what you’d think.
The list goes on. I resist the attempts of those around me to guide me to a place of agreement and mutual understanding, and instead dig for the flaws in their ways of thinking.
I think it’s because I’ve gotten used to being disappointed whenever I bring up my struggles with my faith to another Christian. Much more often than not, when I talk about my shifting ideas and my new ways of seeing God and believing in the Bible and interacting with other people as a follower of Christ, I am met with firm advice to remember that God is God, and I shouldn’t be reinventing His character to suit my conscience, or twisting his Word to make it believe what I want to believe.
So the conversation turns reactive. I push back against their ideas, trying to make them understand in my own naturally antagonistic, argumentative tone that there is more to experience in Jesus than the same old tropes we hear about time and again.
But then I feel like a hypocrite, because even as I try to convince the Christians around me that I have discovered something stronger, deeper, more lovely than what I was taught to believe growing up, I remember that I’ve lost that feeling and I’m in a spiritual dry spell right now. And if that is how I feel, who’s to say I am right about any of it?
But you know what?
It’s a good thing faith doesn’t depend on how I feel. Or on how distant God feels. Or on how much I am struggling with these strange new theologies I’m exploring, even as I see a ring of truth in them. Faith is more than that. It’s realizing that God is working in my life even when it doesn’t feel that way. It’s realizing he loves me deeply even though I alienate those around me with my rash opinions and my reactionary attitude.
I know that is all basic stuff; the kind of stuff people like me who have been a part of the Christian religion their whole lives should have nailed down and secure by now. Be kind and gentle, not argumentative. Know you are beloved anyway, don’t doubt it.
It is easier said than done, easier said than believed. But it’s true.
This Christian life is such a freaking roller coaster ride. Sometimes, it’s downright exhausting.
Until a few weeks ago, I was sailing along pretty easily. I was thinking gracious thoughts towards those around me, and meditating on what God wants of me. I was reading my Bible hungrily and with a submissive spirit that feels pretty rare these days. Basically, things were going pretty well for me, spiritually speaking. I was at the top of a hill, convinced that the valleys were far behind me.
Then, in the space of a week, my circumstances took a huge turn for the worse. My roommate moved out unexpectedly, leaving me having to suddenly pay extra on rent and depleting my savings account, which is always something that stresses me out tremendously. Then just two days later, I got bad news about my family. I’ll spare you the details of it, but basically my dad has bi-polar disorder and had to be hospitalized. I know this doesn’t sound like too much of a crisis, but trust me, it was.
So in the space of those few days, I went from feeling positive and optimistic and loving towards my heavenly Father…to not caring a bit about anything related to God, and just wanting to be home with my family. So I made the drive, and spent a weekend with them. I visited my dad twice, which was extremely difficult for me emotionally. And then I drove back to an ordinary week at work, when inside I was falling apart at the seams.
Right now, my heart is still heavy, but I am on the mend and am able to process everything I’m going through. I still haven’t found a roommate, so I’m still feeling incredibly anxious. But my dad’s situation is improving a lot, and he may be released from the hospital early next week. So all in all, things are looking up for me. But during that week while I was still an emotional wreck about everything that was going on, I just didn’t give a fig for God. He wasn’t the one I turned to for comfort; it was to friends and family. I regarded my Bible with bitterness and angst, instead of drawing comfort from its holy words, as many of my friends tried to help me to do.
And now, as I process all of this, there is one thought that recurrently runs through my head: Geez. Faith is so fickle.
All it took was my circumstances being derailed out of my control for any sense of security I felt in Jesus to evaporate into thin air. All it took was a combination of these two crises—mostly what happened with my dad, but the roommate situation really wasn’t helping matters—for every faithful, positive thought I had about God to just drain completely out of me. I think the reasons for this are complicated, because I really believe it has a lot to do with the specifics circumstances of my dad’s story, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Because seriously. What does that say about me? What does that say about the true strength of my walk with God? I get dealt a bad blow in life, and suddenly a faith that felt alive and vibrant and pushing forward suddenly felt dead and useless? In the space of a week I went from feeling secure to feeling hopeless, feeling optimistic to feeling apathetic, feeling joy to feeling downright miserable pain and abandonment.
How does that happen?
It’s so discouraging. And yet, if nothing else, what I’ve gone through over the last few weeks have taught me this: God’s grace, God’s love, are not dependent on my feelings. Whether I am soaring to the peak of a hill, or trapped in a valley so low I don’t even care if God exists at all, He is there, loving me still. That will never change, no matter how difficult and emotionally taxing my circumstances are.
Faith has never been about my emotions.
It’s just so hard to remind myself of that when the emotions are all negative ones.
I ask myself that question sometimes. Why me? Why did God choose that I be born into the family that I was born into? Why did he afford me place of such extreme privilege? I hear about the stories…the things that are happening in the other parts of the world and even in my own country, and it makes me realize how incredibly, unfairly blessed I am. I take these things for granted every day: running water, heat, an apartment of my own, a car, a stable job that I enjoy. Siblings with whom I have a strong bond, parents who have showered love on me from the moment I was born, the opportunity to attend a fantastic college. No one has ever persecuted me because of my religious beliefs, no one has ever threatened my safety in any way, and no one has ever bullied me.
The list is nearly infinite. And I think…why? Why have I been given so very much in this life? It is so very easy to take it all for granted and not connect with the reality that my life is abundantly privileged in every way.
Sometimes I feel this deeply abiding sense of guilt for the wonderful life I have led. I think about inspirational stories of people who have pulled themselves up from the ashes, who have been born into the most destitute of circumstances, found God, and went on achieve so much in the name of the Savior.
And I wonder: why don’t I feel as though I am on the path to achieve these things? I, who have had all the support in the world?
The more I reflect on this, the more I wonder…maybe I have it all backwards. After all, many of the men and women of God throughout the Bible who began their lives from a place of privilege were the worst examples of what it means to live a life bent to the will of the Father. Saul, Solomon, pretty much all the OT Israelite kings, the Pharisees—these people were all blessed with abundance and stature, and they were completely corrupted. And of course there are exceptions, such as David and Josiah in the OT, and Matthew the tax collector in the NT.
But most of the people Jesus chose as disciples were the ones who were barely scraping by, who knew little of what it means to live in comfort. And I have to wonder if this is because they were more malleable. They knew what it meant to be compelled to rely on another for their daily bread, and so perhaps their hearts were more teachable (though I can’t be certain—after all, Peter strikes me as pretty obstinate fellow!).
So I think there is room to feel grateful for my privilege, but also to realize that sometimes privilege can lead you to believe your life is a blessing from God instead of a hurdle that prevents you from learning utter dependence on Jesus. God gave me the life that he did for a reason, but I need to be aware of what this comfortable life that I have means in light of my relationship with the Lord.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:38-39
I’ve been reading a lot lately about the boundless nature of God’s grace and love. I’ve been reading about how there is no corner of the earth he won’t go to in order to search out his wayward children, and that no amount of sin could possibly make God love us less. I’ve been drinking it all in, marveling at the truth of it.
And all the while, I’ve found my heart grow hardened toward the other side of God. I don’t want to think about or talk about God’s holiness and justness. I feel as though, to acknowledge that my God is as much a God of judgment as He is a God of love would somehow dampen my conception of the breadth of His love. I feel as though talking about consequences and holiness and the pursuit of right living would somehow make those beautiful verses in Romans less true.
It’s a frightfully complex paradox. The more I think about God’s nature and how it is wholly defined by that beautiful word—love—the more I realize just how little I understand about what the word means. Does love mean that hell can’t exist? Does love mean that our sins are washed away? Without repentance, will love one day expire and be replaced by wrath? When does love constitute discipline and when does it constitute mercy? How do I love when I don’t even fully understand what love is?
To try to measure God’s love seems to be a futile task, and I can’t begin to dream of knowing how to address it. All I know is that I can look back to moments in my life, and remember with stunning clarity the times when I felt truly and unconditionally loved. And those times never carried a trace of guilt-tripping or condemnation, though sometimes they involved gentle chastisement. Those demonstrations of love were never about reminding me how much I’d screwed up, but rather they were about affirming my value as a daughter, friend, sister, human being.
And I think those moments, those little specks of time that have since fleeted but remain burned in my memory, those are times when the people around me became unknowing vessels of God’s love to teach me what His love really is.
God’s love is a mystery, but I must trust it.
For a while, I was sharing a lot of angsty thoughts about my church—all the reasons it’s doing things wrong, and all the ways it needs to improve. While I still think those concerns are valid, I have found that they are bothering me much less than they were before, due to a combination of factors. One of them, I think, is that I’ve quit going to the service on Sunday mornings. Instead, I go to a Saturday night service called Ignite which is considerably more low-key, laid-back, and significantly smaller. I love Ignite, and every time I miss a service I’m seriously bummed out about it.
I’ve noticed, though, that I’ve become aware of a different problem with church—and this problem doesn’t have much to do with the institution itself and everything to do with me. See, I am a major introvert. Though I am generally friendly and happy to carry on a conversation, I’m downright lousy at starting them. It really defies my nature to walk up to someone I don’t know and just start chatting away. So usually, when I go to Ignite I just slip in a little late and let the worship songs sink into me. And I always bring my Bible and a notebook, because I can absorb the message more easily if I take notes on it. I really enjoy myself in my little bubble, but when the service is over, I usually glance around plaintively, half-hoping that someone will come up and talk to me. I’m anxious for conversation and interaction, especially when it’s about God, but I’m just an absolute pansy about initiating those conversations most of the time. So I usually just take the easy way out and leave early.
Well, the other day at Ignite, I actually ran into someone I knew—an older man who recently got hired where I work. That made it easier to talk, and it was no time before we were chatting away, talking about a pleasant variety of topics. Then…he asked me if I knew anybody else who attended the service that night. Mind you, I had just finished telling him that I’d been coming to Ignite for at year and a half! I pointed sheepishly at one couple, who I know reasonably well because I’m good friends with their daughter.
Aaand that was it. In a stunning moment of revelation, I realized that I knew nothing about a single person in the entire room—not their names, not anything about their families. Nothing. And as I said, I’d been going to this church for a year and half! I’d always just walked in the door, basked in the service, then quietly and promptly walked out. I was kind of ashamed to realize it.
I’m not really sure what to do about it, though. As I said, it is entirely against my nature to just walk up to people and start talking to them. I really enjoy deep, meaningful conversation, but I’m downright lousy at getting the ball rolling on them. And I know church is definitely supposed to be a place where those sorts of conversations are had; I just don’t know how to make church that kind of place for me while being true to who I am. Because while sometimes my introversion feels like it stems from insecurity, other times I realize it for the gift that it is—I can easily identify with others who are shy, and I can have conversations that dig into the meat of a matter because I spend so much time thinking about such matters. So I do think my introversion is a gift. I just need to figure out how to make it work within a church setting.
I just had a fantastic revelation! Like, a mind-blowing revelation and I gotta share it! And it is this: context matters when you’re reading scripture!!!
Haha. Okay. Done being snarky. But seriously…read this:
“For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (although it is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed—namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Do you see? Do you get it? We Christians have always been fond of quoting Romans 3:23 in isolation. But when you read it in context, this verse is not meant to be a condemnation of humanity bur rather a way of leveling the playing field between the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul is saying to his fellow Jews, “Hey, guess what you guys? The Law doesn’t make you righteous. You are no more righteous than the Gentiles even though you have adhered to the Law so dutifully.
This may seem blatantly obvious to you. But after a lifetime of being told that that verse is a reminder that all of humanity hopelessly depraved…after a lifetime of hearing that verse in an accusatory light, it is more liberating than I can express to understand that this verse was written as a message of solidarity, a message to say that the law-abiders and the law-breakers are all on level a level playing field under the New Covenant.
Isn’t that just so freaking cool?!?!
P.S. I hope you appreciate the informal tone of this blog post. I only wrote it this way because I’m just ecstatic to be reading this verse in a totally new light. And when I’m ecstatic, my serious and profound way of writing out my thoughts kinda goes out the window!
Every now and then, I wonder plaintively if I truly am a Christian in the most authentic parts of me. If it were all stripped away—my upbringing, my prejudices, my culture, all the things this world has given to me that have led me to the belief that Jesus is real and He is the Son of God and the key to fulfillment and eternal life. I wonder if Jesus is nothing more than a safety blanket, a construct of humanity designed to drive us and give us purpose in an otherwise purposeless existence (whoa…that totally sounds like I pulled it straight from The Matrix Trilogy!).
So I think…what if? What if I abandon it all and live my life as a non-Christian? What if I just drop all these beliefs I’ve been lugging around my whole life and run free? If I’m better off without religion, wouldn’t that prove none of it matters anyway?
I try that sometimes, in my head. And guess what? I can’t do it.
The thing that draws me back to the Gospel like a prodigal child is the realization that life apart from Christ is just entirely inconceivable to me. A framework for viewing my world and my life and my spirituality that doesn’t revolve around the cross of Jesus is entirely unfathomable—nothing would make sense without it. Of course then I think, That’s just your upbringing speaking, Tiff. You just feel that way because you were raised in a predominantly Christian nation by firm Bible-believing parents.
But I believe I have come to know the recesses of my heart well enough to know beyond a shadow of doubt now that this isn’t true. That there is something deep inside of me with which the Gospel rings clear as Truth. Clear as Love. Clear as Light. There is a part of my heart that lines up with Jesus’ life, death, and teachings in a way that is both exhilarating and sobering to me—kind of in the same way that holiness is supposed to feel, I think. I can’t explain it at all but it is there.
And I wonder if that piece of me that resonates so deeply with the Gospel is the reality of faith. That mystical, illusive feeling that Jesus holds the key to life like nothing else does. I think trusting in that—letting that sensation of Jesus’ sovereignty completely saturate the way I think about Christianity—maybe that is what faith is. Maybe that is why the label “Christian” truly is the only religious label that will ever fit me.