Change Happens

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While I was spending my time sailing, sunning, and writing pages and pages of thesis proposals that would get rejected and repurposed EVERY OTHER MINUTE in California this June, our front yard got a makeover.

Out with the Old

We called the city because one of the venerable old elm trees in the front yard looked ready to tumble onto our also old (if not equally venerable) house. The trees are technically on city property.

They came. They saw. They said that all three trees were bad and would be meeting the saw blade. (Insert sob emoji here.) A fourth elm sat just inside the property line, and it was in worse shape, so we struck a deal with the contractor to take it down for cheap while he was there.

Upshot—the entire front yard went from shade to full sun in a few hours. I returned home to a driveway I didn’t even recognize.

In with the . . . What?

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I do love light, but unfortunately, my front garden does not. We had planted it as a shade garden and filled it with hostas, coral bells, ferns, and the like. Now, they are baking. Turning yellow and crusty. They are not happy. It’s too hot out there to move them, and so they sit in the sun, as I hope and pray they survive long enough to be set somewhere  more understanding of their needs.

Meanwhile, an interesting thing is occurring in the back yard. There, the trees are growing. The spruce that was as tall as I am (and that’s not very tall) when we moved in now towers over its surroundings. If I wanted to get all mathematical, I’d go out there and measure the hypotenuse and the shadow and tell you exactly how tall it is. But, did I mention it’s hot? And I am not all mathematical as a general rule.

The ornamental pear tree we planted that was supposed to be remain small isn’t. Upshot—things that were planted in full sun, like our rose garden, no longer are. They’re also unhappy about the turn of events.

 

What is my point in all this?

My own back yard tells me that seasons change. Things never remain as planned. What we once thought would be forever isn’t, and what we thought would never be sometimes is. What worked once for us doesn’t work anymore. Usually, we keep trying it anyway, desperately hoping that we will not have to adjust to a new reality.

New Normals

  • Our bodies change or get injured. What was once easy isn’t.
  • Our kids leave home and our marriages turn in toward themselves and find hollow cores where communication and commitment once filled the space.
  • Our kids leave home period, and that’s enough change for any of us who love having their laughter and surprise and support floating through our days.
  • We move from single to two people, from two kids to three, and every addition is a glorious gift but still one we have to adjust to and whose learning curve may be steeper than we think we can climb.
  • We move to a new home, and its exciting and terrifying, adventurous and lonely, all at once.
  • Our faith turns into doubt nibbling away at the corners of our hearts and minds. What were once easy answers don’t come quite so quickly anymore.

Change doesn’t have to be bad to discombobulate our lives. (I love that word.) It just has to be what it is.

Different. New. Unknown.

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It can scorch our days like a July sun or it can shade our nights with extra darkness. It doesn’t matter. It just messes with what we thought we had stable and safe.

If I refuse to adjust to the new normal of our yard, the plants out front will die. They will shrivel and thirst and scorch and wither. They weren’t made for the sun. The plants out back will languish without the light they crave. They, too, will die. They weren’t made for the shade.

If I accept that normal isn’t coming back and I move them? I can create an entire new design out there. I have a chance to start over. I can make beautiful out of a new situation.

Create Beautiful

We can spend our time resisting whatever our new normal is, or we can embrace it. Now, I’m not advocating giving up on something that matters. I wouldn’t hang up my marriage if it changed. I can ( and might) plant a new tree in the front yard. I can opt to fight for those plants and that arrangement, because they’re important. Fighting is an option. It’s one I’d always take if change threatened something that truly mattered.

But, some things have just run their season. It’s time for a new one. Some things are better off for a new season.

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What if, for instance, I embrace this new empty nest that threatens? What if I stop seeing it as a threat? I can sit in my home and mourn the emptiness. (I will, some days.) I can guilt them into not ever moving farther than five miles away. (I have tried.) I can Snapchat my children incessantly until they block me. (I don’t recommend this.)

I can learn new ways to love them like crazy from a distance, pour my heart into other young people here who need someone, and renew career aspirations that have been put aside. I think that may be the better option.

On a larger scale, what if we accepted that “A Christian America” isn’t going to happen? The season of churchgoing as normal is over, and we pastors (and all Christians) have an uphill climb to be relevant or wanted. People aren’t going to beat the door down of my church.

I could demand things go back to the way they were. I could throw up my hands and gnash my teeth about the current state. I could toss blame all over the place and find scapegoats to label and denounce.

I could embrace a different culture and find my way to create God’s image of beauty within it. I know which is the ultimately more productive choice.

What if a new normal has brought something into your life that also brings worry, fear, anxiety, or sadness? How can you grow into that today? How can you look at your new season and find the beauty in it? What do you need to embrace in order to grow in this season rather than wither?

I hope and pray you find it. If I can help, let me know.

In the Weeds

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Weeds are the supreme challenge for an enneagram 5.

You simply cannot accomplish the elimination of weeds. You can’t feel capable when surrounded by waist-high thistle. You cannot prove your worth by becoming the master of every errant dandelion.

I have a problem with this.

Back to Work

Mornings around here have evolved into their common summer patterns. First thing, I go out into the yard to spend an hour or so working in the yard, before the sun has had its chance to turn this acre into a sauna and me into a sweaty, dirty sauna-ee.

Usually, it means pulling weeds. Giant weeds. Weeds that are taller than I am, if they’ve been left too long.

I don’t mind the work. The bigger issue is what it does to my mind. It’s created a problem with the way I see things. I can’t go out into my yard without seeing the weeds. There my be lilies and roses and coneflowers flashing and dancing all over the yard, but what do I see?

The weeds.

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No matter how much good overflows my yard, I am conditioned to look around and see all the work that needs to be done. Unless I make the conscious effort, I can’t enjoy the beauty because I’m focused on what isn’t perfect.

I know how long that to-do list is, and I know I haven’t reached the bottom of it. I don’t know why I’m convinced there is a bottom to it—we rationally know there never is. Yet we still believe there will one day magically be a moment when we look around and rejoice that everything is accomplished.

(I think that day is the one we die, so why are we do eager for it anyway?)

Meanwhile, weeds.

This might sound familiar to some of you.

Grace

I don’t do this in other peoples’ yards. When I go to their gardens or their homes, I see gorgeous flowers, delicious dinners, a house that looks welcoming or a garden that invites me into relaxation.

I don’t see their weeds first. (OK, I do see weeds—I have a tendency to almost start pulling them. Occupational hazard. But I don’t think they’re terrible people for having weeds.) I see what they’ve managed to do, not what they haven’t done.

Why am I so quick to see the flaws in my own world and not the beautiful pieces?

Why do I only notice what needs doing instead of relish what has been accomplished?

Why do I offer grace to everyone but me?

Take Time To See

I’ve been taking some time this summer to do that. To intentionally look around and see the wonderful places my hands have created. I’m looking first at the flowers, the patchwork of foliage and the different textures playing together in dappled light. The hues I placed next to one another on purpose—a purple-leaved heuchera here to catch the purple vein in a fern there. There is artistry. There is accomplishment. There is an unfinished canvas, to be sure, but there are corners of triumph.

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What’s required in my garden might be needed in my life, too. After so much time recovery from last winter’s injury, I began to learn this lesson, too. Look at the wins. The losses are hard, and they are to be grieved. But they do not define who we are.

There are corners of triumph.

Even in my date book, there are spaces for writing down “this week’s wins.” How wise is that? What would change in our joy if we habitually wrote down this weeks’ wins and focused on them, rather than this week’s items that did not get checked off the interminable to-do list?

I wonder.

So I’ve begin that practice, too. I’ve started looking at the list of tasks for church, writing, family, and life and started telling myself the truth.

What doesn’t get done doesn’t change my value.

What does get done is cause for celebration.

Whatever is left over can be done another time, or never at all, and the world will still turn, and I will still be beloved.

These are hard truths for an Enneagram 5 to believe, wrapped up in our need to feel capable. So I’m learning to turn over that need and focus instead on a more necessary one—the need to know who and whose I am. The need to offer and receive grace.

The need to accept weeds. But not see them.

It’s Whatever

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I just walked a mile around he lake in our nearby forest preserve. That might not sound like much. It isn’t compared to a mere six months ago. Six months ago on vacation, I routinely walked 8 miles a day. Every day. For two weeks.

When you stack up today next to six months ago, today appears to fall pretty far short.

But that wouldn’t be telling the whole story.

Almost four months ago, I injured my back. In ways known only to witch doctors somewhere in deepest darkest Africa, I managed to get a herniated disc just getting into the car. Pray you never experience this. The level of pain is off the charts, and recovery has been ponderous.

I don’t like slow. I yell at slow drivers, give side eyes to dawdlers in the grocery store, and have zero patience with organizers of anything who aren’t properly organized. It’s the curse of the high-strategy person. (Fortunately, Jesus holds his hand over my mouth and puts my heart in the place it needs to be. This, in itself, is enough reason to believe he’s real.)

So extremely slow physical recovery isn’t my best game. I want to be able to get back to 6-8 miles within weeks, not a year. I dreamed of a sixteen-mile hike in the Channel Islands this summer. That dream just isn’t going to happen. It’s going to be slow, careful, one mile by one mile.

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Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. (Colossians 3.23)

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10.31)

I’ve heard these verses a lot. They’re good words. I think, though, I’ve let these well-known verses bully me, in a way neither God nor Paul ever intended. It all depends on where we put the emphasis. (It also, always, depends on context.)

I’m used to looking at these verses and seeing the words “heartily,” “”work,” and “all” first. Like, we have to do everything. A few things won’t do. And how we do that everything? With all we’ve got. All the effort. All the perfection. As all coaches’ favorite woefully unmathematical motivational platitude goes—give it 110%.

Go big or go home.

But sometimes, big is more than we have. It leaves us feeling like we should be making those 8-mile hikes every single day, signing hymns all the way, and if we’re not, we’re just not enough.

I think maybe I’ve been seeing the wrong words first.

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That’s not the way Brother Lawrence read the verse when he chose to have a joyful life working in the kitchen slicing carrots and stirring stew.

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

As long as he did it with gratitude, he considered washing dishes glorifying to God. It wasn’t everything. It wasn’t perfect. It was enough.

Why do we hear these verses and think that one lousy mile for God isn’t enough? Small things aren’t sufficient. We ought to be doing grand things, big things, amazing things, if we’re really doing our best for God.

Shouldn’t we be going 6-8 miles, or 16 miles, like others? Or even like ourselves, six months ago?

Whatever

I know all about the illls of comparing myself to others. But I hadn’t thought too much of the illls of comparing myself to . . . myself. So what if I could do more this time last year? Does that negate the mile today? Is it any less significant an accomplishment because a previous me could do better? Why is the me of today less than the me of yesterday because of some arbitrary mile marker I use to determine my worth?

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Our yesterdays don’t determine what we are today. Or tomorrow. Today, it’s enough to do whatever I can do to God’s glory. To take the focus off the “all” and the “heartily” and put it on the “whatever.” It’s the first word, after all. Whatever we are able to do. It doesn’t matter at all if that’s different than it once was or from what it will be someday. “Whatever” is the word I want to concentrate on.

It’s a mile. A good mile. One enjoyed on a warm April day, a rarity this year. To have enjoyed it, to have been grateful for it, to have raised a fist in victory after it—those are the things that bring God joy and glory. They do so no less than to have run a marathon and bested the field.

Whatever you do.

*By the end of this month, I hope to be at two miles. I’ve signed up for the Human Race again, raising money for World Relief and refugee resettlement. With God’s help, I’m going to get there! If you’d like to donate to my walk, please follow the link. I and the amazing refugee population I know and love would appreciate it greatly!

Is Friendly Enough?

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Welcoming isn’t the same as “you belong here.”

Everyone welcomes you when you’re the new one in the group exercise room. Are they friendly, or are they just grateful that someone in the room is going to look dorkier than they do now? Time will tell, especially when they all politely turn aside when you lose your balance doing side kicks.

Whatever the reason, people welcomed me to the three exercise classes I started attending a couple weeks ago. They smiled, pushed mats over the accommodate me, and asked about my morning. I was going to fit in with this group, despite the fact that they all have grey hair and talk about their grandkids. Who cares? We’re all nice people enjoying our morning together.

But Really . . .

Halfway through the class, we walked out onto the track, and I noticed right away that my celebration had been premature. People paired up. They walked together in twos or threes, talking about whatever concerns life had brought them that day. I’m sure they knew one another’s concerns. I’m certain they walked with the people they were accustomed to pairing with—people who had spent time with them and knew them enough to be used to one another.

No one hung back to walk with me. No one chatted with me about silly nothings or major somethings, either one. I walked alone, while the other twelve enjoyed one another’s company.

Is Our Church “Friendly?”

That’s when i realized the difference that many churches never recognize. There is friendly, and there is welcoming someone into belonging. You can welcome someone to church, but are you welcoming them into the life of the church?

It’s so easy to smile and welcome a person but then turn to those we are used to, the ones who know us, and spend our actual interaction time there. A new person is genuinely greeted with friendliness. We sincerely want him or her there. But then we turn to our accustomed habits. We talk to our comfortable friends. We leave the welcomed person to feel on the outside, finding a friendly people but not finding access to their circle of friendship. 

Being Access Givers

A lot of churches need to work on being access-givers. Often we’ve put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that new people find the process of coming to church seamless and simple, but how much work have we put into making sure they feel like they’ve been to a community rather than an IKEA? How often do we open our small circles and invite someone in who’s standing on the outside?

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Photo courtesy of Emptyplatefullheart

I’ve been that person on the outside more times than I like to remember. I can tell you—that person is dying for more than a smile and directions to children’s ministry. Here are five ways to make someone feel like she belongs, not like she’s just welcomed.

  • Open the circle. Literally. Look away from your group of friends and find someone who needs to be pulled in. Go to her. She won’t come to you.
  • Ask questions. She isn’t likely to offer a lot of information. She’s nervous. So make her feel you care by asking about her life. What brought you here? What’s your family look like? How long have you lived here?
  • Find a common denominator. Do you have the same age kids, the same work field, equally annoying relatives? Hobbies/ TV shows? You’ll have to talk a while to find out. There is likely to be something you share that forms a bond.
  • Introduce her to someone. Does she crochet? Introduce her to someone else who does. Is she a mechanical engineer? You might know someone with whom she can talk about those things (I would not be that person. Introduce me to the person who can quote Shakespeare or Dr. Who. Doesn’t matter which.)
  • If it seems right and not pushy, invite her to something else. Lunch after church would be marvelous. A MOPS group. Your Bible study or your planned night out for Margaritas. Whatever. 
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Going for coffee is always good.

Being friendly is something you can get from a Walmart greeter. Making someone feel they belong is the art and the work of Christian community. Let’s do it to his glory.

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” — Romans 15.5-7

Level One

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I look just like this in class. Exactly this.

The class is called Strictly Strength. The title and description intimidated me right off. I am not strong, strictly or otherwise.I imagined kettle bells and giant weights and me, collapsed on the floor, begging for the water bottle I inevitably forgot to bring.  Being sick a couple years back took all the muscle I had away, and strength has been a bit elusive since that point.

So while the sound of it was terrifying, the promise was worth the risk. I jumped in as the class newbie.

Level Up?

Surprise—there are levels to being strong. For just about any move the instructor taught us, she explained that there was a level one and a level two—or even three. There are options! There are large weights, and there are small ones. There are heavier bars and lighter bars. (And now I know I have to get there earlier if I want a lighter bar.) There are moves that test your further than other, easier possibilities. I did not have to walk in the room and lift a kettle bell above my head on the first day. Thank you, sweet eight-pound baby Jesus. That would have been ugly.

The most important thing I learned right away though—

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

Oh, I want to be at Level Two. I want to do the harder twists, the longer planks, the tighter crunches. But the part of me that is tired of injury remembers that is why I am doing this—to avoid hurting those parts of me that have gotten bruised, pulled, and pained by doing too much.

So I keep it slow. And steady.

Other people can do the full planks. I stick to the hands and knees ones. Someone else may be able to do double leg lifts. I will happily do them one at a time. Maybe one day I will do those harder things, but right now, I’m at Level One. And that’s an OK place to be.

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Church Has Levels, Too

Some of us show up to church at Level One. We don’t know the songs. We aren’t comfortable singing in public, anyway. We get part of what the pastor’s talking about, but some of the things are fuzzy, and we’re not sure how they apply to our situation. We don’t want to volunteer, because we’ve been burned out, and we’ve been called out by the person who felt we just couldn’t get it right. We don’t understand the unspoken cadence of the service that informs everyone else to stand up, sit down, or dip the bread in that cup rather than drink the juice.

Everyone else seems to be at Level Three, at least.

We want to be. We want to pretend we know the lingo, act like we’ve got our life together. But then we remember why we’re there—because we want to stop the hurt that happens when we are fake. We hate the bruises, pains, and sprains in our hearts over trying to be what we’re not.

Maybe church is a place where it’s OK to be at Level One. At least, we hope so. We long for grace for those who aren’t quite ready for the heavier lifting. We pray there is kindness for the ones who need the lighter weights, and we wish for others who can bear more to offer us their shoulders and their lighter burdens. We hope that, if anyone notices we can’t do what the seasoned attenders can do, they will not point that out but treat us as if there were no differences at all.

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

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Searching for Sunday

Church should always welcome the Level One folks. Partly, because Jesus told us to. Partly, because we were all Level One at some point. Party, because they have something to teach us.

If you’re trying church for the first time, or if you’re back for the first time since something there hurt you immeasurably, don’t push it. Don’t expect to be lifting the 25-pounders your second day. Don’t think you have to know all the moves in order to fit in. Embrace awkward. Know that you don’t know and that it’s OK. Know that sometimes you can’t manage whatever task it seems everyone else is taking on, and that’s OK, too.

Level Two will come.

It doesn’t really matter how long it takes. I makes not one bit of difference how long you have to keep doing one leg lifts. You’ll get there. You’ll grow stronger. Maybe one day you’ll see that person who doesn’t seem to know the steps and you’ll say to yourself, “Oh—I remember that. I’m stronger than I thought. I think I can be a shoulder for her.” That day, you’ll be the grace someone else needs to poke her head in the door and say, “Maybe I’ll try this. It’s scary, but maybe it’s just what I need.”

Dance Like We Just Don’t Care

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I went to three exercise classes last week. You might think that is normal. You are just not me. Three exercise classes is more than I have gone to in approximately three hundred years. I don’t do group classes. I don’t like them. I am not peppy or muscle-y, and I am barely scraping the edge of social. I went anyway, because a body that works when I want it to is becoming more important to me than my preference for private exercise. (By which I mean, no exercise at all more often than not.)

And wouldn’t you know, it occurred to me during the course of the hour, that exercise class is a lot like church. How, you ask? Well, let me tell you. 

Observations on a morning of exercise class:

Observation One: I love exercise classes where I am the youngest member.

Because I work at home, I am able to go to classes in the morning, after the overflow of committed enthusiasts who go before they get behind the wheel for their commute. Those people are scary. I have been at the gym at 6:00 am and seen their classes with accompanying blaring rock music. How can anyone endure that eardrum assault so early? I have watched them race onto the track and actually run, putting feet together in a coordinated, fast motion at that hour.

This is not possible for normal people. They are clearly the spawn of aliens.

But the 10:00 am classes? Filled with retired folk. Do you know what is glorious about an exercise class filled with people over 65?

They Do. Not. Care.

They don’t care how they look. They don’t care if they get every move right. They don’t care if they can’t stretch as far as that girl next to them in the designer purple yoga pants. They do not care the tiniest bit. They dance like they don’t care.

I love it.

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Church people care.

They care if your kids are crazier than theirs. They care if you volunteer as often as they do. They care if your opinions line up with theirs. They care if your clothes are nicer/not nicer/less modest/less expensive/more expensive/more outlandish/more casual than theirs. They. Care.

Not everywhere. Definitely not at our church. But at many.

So the lesson from exercise class? Find a place that doesn’t care or, better still, make a place that doesn’t care. Go to church and pretend you’re a 70-year-old woman doing yoga.

  • That other mom’s kid can’t seem to stop running through the hallway? High five her and tell her she’s doing great at a tough job. I mean, motherhood is kind of like trying to stretch your foot behind your ear while breathing properly (or breathing at all). Those kids’ souls are what matters—not any mess or noise they make. Old ladies doing yoga just don’t care about what doesn’t matter.

 

  • Go talk to that teenager wearing pajama pants to church. Welcome her. Ask her about her day, year, life. High five her for surviving being sixteen. That’s like me managing an hour of swing dancing when I’ve barely got the endurance level of a three-toed sloth. I bet she’s got a lot to share.

 

  • Find the single guy who only shows up every month or so. Ask him what his dreams are. Find out what he’s good at. High five him for wanting something deeper in his life enough to get there when he does. Kind of like showing up for strength training class when currently you’ve got the muscle mass of a hummingbird.

There are dreams and wishes and hurts and yearnings we know nothing about swirling in the hearts of the people right next to us.

It’s freeing to be among a bunch of people doing aerobic foxtrotting with glee and no shame at all. It makes it OK to make mistakes. It allows for someone to not know what comes next. It forgives. It offers a chance to dance with glee yourself.

It makes me want to come back.

What if we were the people who offered those things to the ones who walk through the doors of our church?

It’s OK to make mistakes.

It’s fine not to know what comes next.

It’s beautiful that you have doubts.

It’s great to see you whatever you look like.

I want you to dance here, with joy.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free. Use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5.1, 13)

Make your space a just don’t care zone. And I guarantee, from my experience, people will want to come back.

Going Backward: Getting Our Identity By Doing Instead of Being

I took up the clarinet in 5th grade. My parents probably wished I hadn’t. I did want to learn—really. But how many times can you play “I Love You Truly” in the expected half hour practice before you start to get a little . . . creative? Or a lot bored.
I don’t remember the teacher at all. I don’t even know if it was a man or a woman. Clearly, I was not inspired. As a result, I was also not very good.
Enter 6th grade and Mr. Leafblad. I don’t remember him ever telling me my playing stunk. (It did.) I don’t recall being bullied, or patronizingly cajoled, or shamed into practicing. I do remember practicing. He had such enthusiasm for leading us. (How anyone manages that in a junior high band I will never, ever comprehend.) He had endless encouragement that I could get better. And I did. In fact, I got to be the best clarinet player in junior high.
I became what I was meant to be, a much better player, because the one in charge accepted me as I was, encouraged me, and saw me as a whole human, not a kid with a clarinet I did, or did not, practice often enough. The desire to do the right thing grew out of love for the person asking it of me.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in trying to figure out our identity in God is to do things that make us acceptable. We hope beyond hope that in doing things we can figure out who we are.


We do too many things that offer us identity.

It worked in school. We figured out early where we fit in. We became the smart one, or the good one. Maybe you were the funny one, the pretty one, the social butterfly, or even the victim. Regardless, we learned that if we kept doing the things that made us whatever we were (getting straight A’s, cracking jokes in class) we had an identity. We were secure.
I spent years proving I deserved my spot in the universe by being the smart one. If I dared let it slip, if (when) I found someone smarter than I was, I would have no idea who I was. It was terrifying.
Don’t we do that in church, too? Don’t we often—usually–approach God that way?
I’ll obey God’s rules. I’ll go do that service project. I’ll come to church, take communion, even go all out and volunteer for children’s church. If I do all these good things for God, I’ll be a good person. That means I’ll know who I am. God will accept me.
You want to know something crazy? Jesus doesn’t call me or you to be a good person. Jesus calls us to be His person.  .To get our identity from belonging to him, not from doing good things. 

Mind. Blown.
We do this thing backward.
Once we know who we are because of who He is and what He already calls us, we will want to do good things out of pure love and gratitude. When we try to reverse that? Try to obey in order to force-feel acceptance? We get so messed up.
People who try to do this identity thing backward are the ones you meet who are always right. They know what is and is not “approved.” No one else can do it right. Everyone else is a little bit wrong. They are Never. Satisfied. Why? Because we only know who we are–we only feel accepted ourselves–if we’re better at doing good, being good, or toeing line of truth closer than the other guy. If we have to admit we don’t know, that the lines may be more fuzzy than we thought, then we are no longer the best at doing, thinking, and being right. We don’t know who we are.
People who try to do this identity thing backward also become addicted to approval, doing more and more and more, until they burn out. How many of those have we seen? How many have we been? I see that hand. I raised that hand.
There is another way.
Go the right direction. Take our identity from God, freely given, first. We are chosen, beloved, accepted, known, adopted, and so much more. Then, move into obedience. Let the love for the Great Encourager be the motivator to be what we were meant to be. Not the fear that we’ll let Him down.
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled everything to himself.

He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth 

by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, 
separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 
Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. 
As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, 
and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. 
But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. 
Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.” (Colossians 1.19-23)
God is not that teacher who won’t ever give the A. He’s not the boot camp sergeant. He’s the one who sees you as what you will be–without fault. Do you really want a label? Try the ones mentioned above: Blameless. Loved. Reconciled. Friend of God. (Because if you’re no longer an enemy, you’re a friend.)
I’ll never get my identity from doing things. Things are things. They can’t offer anything to my soul. Only a person can do that. The Person—the one who asks us to follow, listen, live in the identity we’ve already been given and let good things flow out of that.

What things are you putting before just knowing God? How might you have to look at those things differently?