Dinner was served on hand-me-down plates from my late grandparents. Our everyday dinnerware was loaded into the dishwasher, hence the need for the ‘fancier’ plates. It worked out nicely since we were having a fancier meal: strip loin steak, baked potatoes and grilled asparagus.
Whenever I plate food or pour a drink into their antique dinnerware, I think back to memories I’ve shared with them. An odd but timely memory was activated during our steak and potato meal. I remember when I was a teenager my grandmother having to leave the kitchen anytime my grandfather ran the dish water. She couldn’t handle the violent sound the rushing water made as it filled up the sink. I thought that this was so peculiar and the reaction was just her being fussy.
With not much to do these days, we’ve had to be creative in how we spend our free time. One of our new ‘fun’ activities is puzzling. Before all this, I never saw myself as a puzzler but, here we are! Our first puzzle was a beautiful starry night at an old lake house with three dogs sitting on the dock. Unlike our second and third puzzle, this one had very intricate pieces that had us seriously baffled. After an hour of puzzling our eyes were seeing similarly toned pieces as a wash of undistinguishable colours. Several times we had placed a piece in a spot that appeared to fit but did not. That one misplaced piece threw off the chance of fitting any other piece around the area, adding more hours to our puzzling fun.
Time spent puzzling made for opportunity to reflect (a constant practice in my life). Puzzling revealed more than just a beautiful old lake house under a starry sky. It also uncovered an interesting revelation: putting the wrong piece where it doesn’t belong tries to solve a problem but in actuality it doesn’t. It only throws you off course.
My nephew (a new addition to our family) is absolutely adorable and full of charm. The other day I was video chatting with him (and my sister) while he was eating his dinner. My sister couldn’t get the food to him fast enough. I was surprised that he was enjoying spinach, broccoli and salmon. There’s not a lot this little guy doesn’t like to eat. Thinking back to my own childhood, boy was I a picky eater compared to him. I could not handle anything with a ‘funny’ texture, including eggs and most meat (to this day, I still can’t.)
My video chat with my nephew during dinner time got me thinking about a much larger dilemma than my picky eating habits as a child. When life serves us a diet that is unpalatable we are quick to push the plate away. Our ‘food’ dislikes are actually unwanted emotions and experiences such as discontentment, sadness and loneliness. These can be brought on by loss, disappointment, failure and disagreements.
Just like I avoided eggs and most meat as a child (and adult), I’ve also pushed away many unwanted emotions and experiences. I did this by covering up reality with motivational mantras like, “Don’t give up! Stay positive! Do what’s right!” With such an unbalanced diet of motivational mantras, I neglected to notice any deficiency. The unbalanced diet, while tasty, caused an upset stomach. Unlike a child, I could no longer close my lips and shake my head, “No!” I had to acknowledge every platitude I had collected over the years: “Strong successful people persist! Don’t show weakness! Pray the roadblocks away!” All these taught me the art of resistance.
I write this sitting in my backyard on a warm breezy fall afternoon. The setting is ideal. My demeanour calm and collected. I pride myself on how well I can hide the inner turmoil at times. I’m reluctant to admit how difficult the last few months have been and how the culminating eruption took me out.
Mulling over the drink menu at one of our favourite local restaurants, four of us sat on bar stools catching up about last week’s birthday celebration. It was a fun event that brought together a large crowd of new and old neighbours, friends from work and old band mates, as well as family. Being an introvert at a party and knowing only half of the crowd required a lot of energy (small talk is not my thing).
As the party was coming to a close, I met my friends’ former neighbours – an outspoken extrovert and his quiet introverted wife. Filling the air with colourful words, he told stories of anarchy while I stood there smiling uncomfortably and being shocked into laughter. He was a force, untamed, wild and free. He made no apologies. He is who he is, like it or leave it. As uncomfortable as I felt, I saw through the vulgarities. At his core he is a committed husband and father – a family man. He described his relationship with our mutual friends as the best type of neighbours you could have – sharing meals together, shovelling snow from each others’ driveways, or helping move heavy furniture followed by a beer or two afterwards. He was such a fascinating guy that he became the springboard for an interesting conversation the following weekend with our friends about self-identity.
During our meal, the four of us all agreed that as vulgar as he is, people still like him. My extroverted friend (the only one at the table) passionately said that when we aren’t comfortable with our identity we are just filling in the spaces of someone else’s expectation of us. We are ‘space-fillers.’ With my cocktail close to being finished and my belly satisfied with delicious food, I was far from leaving this profound metaphor at the restaurant. This image of filling the space of someone else’s expectations was sparking so much intrigue that I had to give it more time to expand.
Soaked with nature’s perfume, our day was coming to a close. After a day spent lake-diving, boating to a patio-restaurant for lunch and doing yoga by the water at dusk, we finally settled in for the evening. Our cottage playlist set the mood nicely. It was mostly background music playing off the stunning views of water, rock, lake and trees. Once the sun was put to rest, the dark sky drew us inside where the background music became our evening soundtrack. A joke earlier about the perfect fishing song was cued up. It was a fierce song with build and vibe and attitude. A song that could not be passively listened to – it demanded we move! With a relaxed courage, I stood up and started dancing. In no way ‘cool’ but fully committed, I summoned the courage of two more. Together we danced. One song turned into two, and two turned into more. We laughed and moved, and were as free as could be. In the comfort of a cottage on a private island where no one could peek in and say “Look at those weirdos!” we were free of judgement. My dance was silly and full of laughter with a bit of attitude. It was the culmination of a happy heart and soul. It was freedom!
The freedom I experienced came from a level of trust I had developed with my friends and myself. Uninhibited by the fear of judgment, I was able to be my ‘silly-self.’ Late night cottage dancing was the peak high after experiencing some very difficult lows a year earlier.
A friend of mine spent a full day at a silent retreat in hopes to discover more about herself. I on the other hand spent two and a half weeks alone while my husband toured the countrywith a band. Whether silent for a day or alone for weeks, I know that spending time alone in quietness allows time for reflection and makes you vulnerable.
Underneath a poised posture, I feel alone.
Day-after-day I live out my routine. I engage in self-talk, “You’re okay! You’re fine!” All the while I bear heaviness like a weighted balloon, expanded from belly to heart. It reminds me that I am sad and alone, and, I’m afraid to say, even a little jealous and upset. My conscience tells me these emotions are not to be shown or felt. I know for certain they are not productive and will not get me through the day.
During an insightful conversation about relationships I caught myself whispering the possibly overused words, “God is enough.” The main topic of the conversation was the idea that we all have ‘holes’ (a.k.a. brokenness) and we can’t expect someone else to fix us. How can one broken person fix another broken person? Two halves do make a whole, but two ‘whole’ people make for a healthier relationship. I couldn’t help but comment, “…well faith can help fill the holes.” And to that my friend said, “…but even that isn’t enough.” Wait! I’ve been told that, “God is enough! He is all you need!” How is faith not enough?
When you think about it the words “God is enough!” seems to imply that we don’t need anything or anyone else to fulfill our desires and fix our pain. In my opinion, this is an isolating way to approach fulfillment and healing.
Dare I say that if you’re human, you bear the scars of life. We all carry hurt, unfulfilled dreams and fear caused by the choices we’ve made, as well as non-choices made on our behalf. Our ‘holes’ or brokenness propel us into one of two directions. First, brokenness invades our self-worth causing us to make poor choices in our relationships and prevents us from believing we can accomplish our dreams. Second, brokenness makes us aware of our fragile need for repair.
We may know people or be that broken person who either is or has been in unhealthy relationships. If God is enough, he can heal our brokenness alone. Right? This seems to be true with a story of the Samaritan woman with five ex-husbands and a current partner. I’ll be the first to make the assumption that anyone with five ex-husbands has a bad track record with men and I’m certain she’d be nursing wounds (John 4).
The day the Samaritan woman met Jesus at Jacob’s well she got more than just water. In and out of relationships, the Samaritan woman lacked wholeness. However, the day she encountered Jesus, who was well aware of her brokenness and knew her every need before she made mention of it, gave her the gift of ‘living water’ welling up to eternal life. To me, this story seems to confirm that ‘God is enough’ to heal brokenness…but I’m still feeling challenged by friend’s comment that “even faith isn’t enough.”
God in His nature is three-in-one (God, Jesus & the Holy Spirit). He does nothing in isolation but consistently in partnership. Our very nature is the reflection of partnership – “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26).
Formed from dust and given life through God’s own breath, Adam becomes God’s partner to help work and care for the Earth. You’d think that if ‘God is enough’ than there would be no need for anyone else to be apart of Adam’s life. With God, Adam had all that he needed…or so it seemed. If God were enough for Adam than why did God say, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). Let’s not forget Adam wasn’t alone at the time when God said this. Adam had every living creature on Earth to keep Him company and not to mention God Himself. Yet God points out the fact that, he is alone. So instead of using the ‘dust and breath method’ to create a suitable partner for Adam, God causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep and then takes one of his ribs to form Eve. “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). A simple surgery couldn’t replace nor repair Adam’s missing rib instead that ‘missing part’ takes on a different form – a partner named Eve.
If God were enough then Adam would have been fit to be alone. This was not the case. God saw that it was necessary for him to have a partner. Honestly, this would lead us to believe that God is not enough and we need human relationships to have a sense of wholeness and belonging. Although I’m still uncertain of drawing the conclusion that ‘God is not enough’ because it sounds incredibly contrary to everything I’ve been taught.
Whenever I hear the words ‘God is enough’ what I really hear is you shouldn’t rely on friendships, family or romantic relationships; forget relying on pastors, fellow Christians or anyone else for that matter. Not a single person in this world can fill your holes or repair your brokenness, no one but God. This is an isolating way to approach wholeness. God does nothing alone yet we are expected to rely on God alone to repair us and make us whole. Personally, I think it’s a dual effort of us relying on God in addition to relying on each other.
You see Adam had God and needed human relationships. The Samaritan woman had human relationships but didn’t know God personally. If love is what we need, than God is love and He is all we need…yet His love alone is not what makes us complete. Loving one another completes God’s love in us (1 John 4). Within the statement ‘God is enough’ we find the triune God at the centre of our fulfillment and the overflow or connecting point that closes the gap is human relationships.
The possibly overused words ‘God is enough’ doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t rely on human relationships. It implies that God will satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst in life and will overflow our lives with relationships where we will see His reflection and where His love is completing us (John 6:35).
At different stages in life we ask ourselves this question. It’s usually a question we ask ourselves when we feel we’ve somehow lost a part of who we are. This tends to happen when we experience change in our lives. Our relationship status changes from ‘Single’ to ‘In a Relationship’ or visa-versa, our family grows or shrinks, our career changes or our spiritual journey takes a few turns in a direction we didn’t think it would ever go.
I feel like I’ve asked myself this question several times in my life. I can remember feeling like, “Okay, who am I now that I’ve switched careers? Is this a forever switch or stage in my working life?” I’ve also asked myself, “Okay, who am I now that I am married and living in a different city away from every social safety net?” I really lost a sense of self when I didn’t have family or childhood friends close by. It’s funny how much of whom we surround ourselves with shapes our sense of identity.
What gives us our sense of identity?
Obviously our gender, nationality, family, geographic location, spiritual beliefs, personality traits, passions and relationships all play important roles in shaping who we are. I don’t believe just one ‘thing’ defines us or gives us our identity. Although all these pieces can shape our identity, some play a more prominent role in shaping us than others. While faith and gender may be stronger forces that shape my identity, it may not be the case for someone else. A student may have his/her identity shaped by a diverse group of university friends, the high pace of a big city and have his/her beliefs shaped and challenged by scholars. A woman on the other hand may be strongly defined by her role as a mother. Her sense of identity comes from the love and care she gives to her children as well as the community of moms she surrounds herself with. Our sense of who we are is constantly being questioned (and might I say refined) as we get older and experience change.
The things that make me different are the things that make me. – Winnie the Pooh
“Don’t call me Naomi!” Do you think Naomi ever questioned her identity? From the statement above, I think she may have. Here’s her story:
Naomi is a wife and mother of two and an Israelite from Bethlehem, Judah, who leaves her home during a famine and settles in Moab. While in Moab she loses her husband, gains two daughter-in-laws and then loses her two sons. Naomi’s identity profile at the beginning of the story is an Israelite, a wife and mother from Bethlehem, Judah. Her identity profile quickly changes to widow, childless, living in Moab with two daughter-in-laws. Without a doubt, she must have questioned her identity – “Who am I now that I have lost both my husband and my two sons and I’m living in a place different from my hometown?” After having gone through such a drastic change, Naomi feels the Lord’s hand is against her (Ruth 1:13b). What an awful feeling! Her daughter-in-law Ruth encourages her by saying, “Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16b-17). Talk about someone being there for you when you really need it!
Together Naomi and Ruth head back to Bethlehem – a place familiar to Naomi. The town recognizes Naomi and exclaims, “Can this be Naomi?” Not feeling anything like the woman she was before she left Bethlehem (a married woman with 2 sons) Naomi replies with, “Don’t call me Naomi,” “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi?” (Ruth 1:19b-21a). Have you ever felt like the life you built and the person you thought you were changed drastically and just like Naomi you felt like saying to others, “I AM NOT…! WHY CALL ME…?”
If we’ve ever sensed a lost of identity, I’m sure we can all relate to Naomi in someway.
Who am I now that cancer has changed my body? Who am I after pregnancy? Who am I now that I am single, married, divorced, a widow, mother or grandmother? Who am I now that am unemployed, a stay at home mom, in charge of the company or entrepreneur? Drastic change and even the littlest change in our life can make us question who we are. …and it’s okay to question our identity. While some things in our life don’t change, others do. Even the consistent day-to-day can leave us longing for something more and questioning who we are. Either way, when the question surfaces don’t shy way. Engage with your thoughts and emotions. Take inventory – Who are you now?
Ask yourself the question once again – “Who am I?” or “Who am I now?” What words would you use to describe yourself?
When I answered this question I noticed that I answered it in categories – Adjectives, Relational Connections, Faith and Role in Society. I would describe myself as:
Role in Society: communicator, teacher, writer & role-model
When taking inventory of your identity remember the truth of God in your life:
You are made in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27)
You are designed for God’s purpose (You are called to a holy life of obedience and to bear fruit). (Matthew 16:24 & Galatians 5:22-23)
You are his child and a part of a larger spiritual family. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
You are forgiven and loved passionately. (John 3:16)
The story doesn’t end with Naomi feeling nothing like the person she once was -“Don’t call me Naomi” (Ruth 1:20). Through her dedication to Naomi’s care and instruction, Ruth marries Boaz, the ‘guardian-redeemer’ and Naomi receives the land that would have been hers if her husband and two sons had lived.Who are you now Naomi? A widow with a faithful and loving daughter-in-law who marries the ‘guardian-redeemer’ Boaz and becomes grandmother to Obed, and who’s great great grandson would be King David.
You are not forgotten, empty and without family, you are loved and your life has purpose.
What childhood dream did you have growing up? You may have to do a bit of memory recovery, and just like digging for a blue shirt in a mound of laundry retrieve your long lost childhood dream…take a few minutes to recover it.
…now why aren’t you doing what you dreamed of? Either you wanted to be a doctor but couldn’t stomach the sight of blood, or reality hit when you pursued your dream but ended up having to take a 9-5 job to pay the bills.
I too had a childhood dream. At a young age I truly felt a calling to ministry. A middle school friend invited me to a local church youth program where I was introduced to Christ. As I grew older I began to pursue my ‘calling’ to serve the church. I attended Bible College and 5 years later received my Bachelor of Theology degree. During my last year of schooling I got married and worked as a youth pastor at a church plant. Unfortunately after just a few years my husband and I decided we needed to move on. It was the most defining moment in our faith journeys. We were burnt out and disillusioned with the nature and structure of the church.
For years we struggled to find a church to call home but we simply could not settle anywhere for an extended time. We attended regular services at a few churches where I occasionally helped with children’s ministry and would speak at different youth events. I also spent my time writing youth small group curriculum.
After years of what felt like we were just wandering and never settling we still felt like God had planted this calling to serve the church deep within our hearts. I wish I could tell you that the wandering is over and that deep sense of calling is presently being fulfilled.
What happens when God places a deep sense of calling in your life but your life looks different from what you thought it would? Was this call a misunderstanding? Did I hear God wrong? Was God using what felt like the wandering in the desert to develop something in me?
Youth promises you the world on a silver platter: You will have a successful job, a beautiful home, a loving and cute spouse and an all around fulfilled life.
Age on the other hand tests your faith and ability to endure challenges, both the petite and grandiose in kind. Whether it’s traffic, you’re out of milk and your cereal is already in the bowl, a friendship or relationship falling apart or a death in the family, the silver platter becomes a tarnished and worn out dish.
I once thought that because you have a calling on your life God would literally pave a road and line it with cheerleading angels who’d encourage and protect you all the way to your destination.
A call is always a call and God never ever walks away from us. The path is straight but not always sprinkled with the sweet smell of rose petals and sometimes is twined with thorns.
“The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are bought down by their own wickedness.” Proverbs 11:5
As I read this verse over and over again I tried to make sense of it. I always read it as God is going to make our paths straight (i.e. no bumps, curves, twists or turns) but the reality I have experienced and the reality of many Christian friends is not of this perfectly straight life path. Then I thought, “Wait! No one I know is blameless!” I’m not blameless so why should we expect straight paths? (Romans 3:20) But then I realized righteousness is partnering with God. Righteousness cannot be accomplished on our own but through dependency on God.
God can make us righteous and blameless through our humility. So I guess our paths can potentially be made perfectly straight!
My idea of a straight path is like drawing a line with a ruler. It’s straight and has no curve or angle to it.
Is it possible for the straight path of the blameless to have some bumps and curves? Because if I look at my Christian friends who love God and desire to do His will then the so-called straight path has been lined with disappointment, fear, anger, tears, joy, endurance, change, periods of waiting, frustration, success, spiritually dry periods, loneliness and challenge. This, to me doesn’t seem like a perfectly straight path.
What does it really mean that God will make our paths straight?
Reading these few verses as a young person messed with my idea of what my future should look like: a perfectly straight path. But as I reflected more on Proverbs 11:5 I came to realize that for years I was staring at my feet when I should have read these verses with my eyes. The pathway my feet travel on has ups and downs but the tunnel in which my eyes see is an unwavering straight path right to the face and heart of God. When our eyes are fixed on God the things of earth straighten out.
Your feet walk the path shaped with twists and turns but you tunnel your vision on God and He will straighten your outlook and change your perception so that whatever comes your way you will know that God is working all things out for the good.
Take for example Moses. Hebrews 11 lists many individuals that had a call and yet didn’t see complete fulfillment of that call in their lifetime.“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39-40)
Moses was special. He was no ordinary child. He had an important call on his life but despite his ‘call’ or being ‘special’ Moses allowed himself to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:25). His lifestyle choice doesn’t necessarily look like what I thought a ‘straight path’ should be. “He regards disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:26-27). The footpath he chose was rough but his sight was straight on the invisible.
When we realize that we walk with God on a roadway of ups and downs our outlook changes. *The author of “How To Walk With God” puts it this way, “…it is not about getting God into rhythm with us; it is getting ourselves into rhythm with Him. That is what it means to walk with God.”
It seems to me that even though I may have dreams and/or a sense of calling on my life God will use the bumps, curves, twists and turns to straighten my vision and help me to walk in rhythm with Him. Moses and many others, both past and present day, walk(ed) a rough road for something greater than themselves.
So back to the questions: What was your childhood dream? Was/Is this dream connected to a deep sense of calling? Now try not to focus on the specifics or have tunnel vision around the fulfillment of the calling. If your focus is on your feet (the bumps, twists, turns and curves in your life) then lift your focus to look at God who will take away your worries, fears and anxieties, and make a straight path to His face and heart. Don’t let go of that dream/calling but rather find delight in walking in rhythm with God and know that He is working all things out for good (Romans 8:28).
A straight path is not without bumps and turns but is easy to walk when our focus is on God who makes even the roughest roads straight. – MB