Lenten Reflections: Letting Go of Expectations, Making Room for Contentment

I promise I didn’t sneak a peek at today’s devotion before I wrote yesterday’s thoughts.

But maybe it’s because I have a very, very close relationship with the potential for comparison and discontent that I linked the two even before reading Chole’s reflection.

See, it’s really, really easy to look at others whose lives are bigger, better and more beautiful and become bitter that mine isn’t.

And even when I am successful at taking material or spiritual blessings off the table of comparison, I’m left with rating suffering others are spared against the suffering I’ve been called to carry.

But like Judas-who was one of the Twelve, trusted disciple and invited guest to the Last Supper-if I allow discontent to gain a foothold I’m an easy target for the enemy.

“He doesn’t love you.” “He doesn’t care what happens to you.” He doesn’t even SEE you.” can lead my heart down a dark trail of despair where I’m not only acting against my own best interest but defaming the Name of my Shepherd King.

I work very hard at not letting the devil rent space in my head.

Sometimes it takes a practical turn and means walking away from social media or media in general. Sometimes it means wrestling “what ifs” and “whys” to the ground.

It ALWAYS means active effort on my part.

One of the fiercest allies of not-enough-ness is our imaginations. Today, fast daydreaming of “more”. Refuse to allow discontentment brain space. Each time you are tempted to picture your life with something else or something new or something different, stop. (Yes, I just said STOP.) And redirect your mental energy to thank God for anything in your current reality for which you can be grateful.

Alicia Britt Chole

**As promised, I am sharing thoughts on 40 DAYS OF DECREASE (a Lenten journal/devotional). If you choose to get and use the book yourself, I’ll be a day behind in sharing so as not to influence anyone else’s experience**

Lenten Reflections: Letting Go of Bitterness, Embracing Servanthood

I’ll be honest-it’s not that often that after three plus decades of in-depth Bible study that I hear or read a unique insight into familiar passages.

But today’s devotion and reflection helped me think of Jesus’ service to His disciples in a new way.

Jesus washed the feet of a betrayer, a denier, and ten deserters….Think of someone who has betrayed you, denied your love, or run away in your time of need. What would it take, what would it mean, for you to wash their feet?

Alicia Britt Chole

Chole’s words made me think back to moments where I’ve made an intentional choice to serve someone who had wounded or disappointed me.

Inevitably, loving action led to loving feelings.

One of the things that has become abundantly evident to me in the years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven is this: carrying unforgiveness and bitterness is simply too hard a task.

If Jesus could (and did!) forgive His betrayer, His disciples for abandoning Him and even those who ultimately crucified Him, then I can (and should!) forgive those who have disappointed, abandoned or somehow been “less than” I needed them to be.

So for today, let’s fast “Armchair Jesus”-the Jesus who is all God and not very human. Jesus felt it all.

He experienced it all.

And He is more than capable and willing to strengthen me to stand up under any temptation, assault of the evil one or tendency of my flesh.

**As promised, I am sharing thoughts on 40 DAYS OF DECREASE (a Lenten journal/devotional). If you choose to get and use the book yourself, I’ll be a day behind in sharing so as not to influence anyone else’s experience.**

Bitterness: A Terrible Legacy

Oh, how easy it would be to become bitter!  

If I’m honest, part of me just wants to tell the world to “Get lost!”. 

But the wiser part of me knows that’s neither a helpful nor healthy response to even this most awful burden of child loss.  

Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God. Without lament, we won’t know how to process pain. Silence, bitterness, and even anger can dominate our spiritual lives instead.

~Mark Vroegop – Dark Clouds Deep Mercy

Because my bitter spirit wouldn’t stop with me.

Read the rest here: Bitterness Is A Terrible Legacy

It’s A Daily Struggle


I despise the platitude plastered across social media memes:  “Hard times either make you bitter or better”.

It makes it sound so simple.

As if all I have to do is make a single choice between two equally available paths.

Enduring deep pain and unchangeable circumstances requires continued commitment to face the fork in the road over and over, and to choose well each time.

Read the rest here: A Daily Struggle

I Won’t Let Bitterness Be My Legacy

Oh, how easy it would be to become bitter!  

If I’m honest, part of me just wants to tell the world to “Get lost!”. 

But the wiser part of me knows that’s neither a helpful nor healthy response to even this most awful burden of child loss.  

Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God. Without lament, we won’t know how to process pain. Silence, bitterness, and even anger can dominate our spiritual lives instead.

~Mark Vroegop – Dark Clouds Deep Mercy

Because my bitter spirit wouldn’t stop with me.  It would spread like kudzu on an Alabama roadside.  

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/04/14/bitterness-is-a-terrible-legacy/

This Is What It Means To Be Held

Music has been an important part of my healing.

Not always, or even often, because it makes me feel better.

Rather, like poetry, music distills deep emotions into few words that resonate in my soul.

This isn’t a new song and I have heard it many times. But just the other day someone posted it in a group where we were praying desperately for a baby with profound health issues. Barring a touch from the Father’s hand, there was little hope.

The precious little warrior went home to rest, healed and whole, in the arms of Jesus.

So I listened again. And I realized how unbearably true the lyrics are.

Two months is too little

They let him go

They had no sudden healing

To think that providence would

Take a child from his mother while she prays

Is appalling

Who told us we’d be rescued?

What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?

We’re asking why this happens

To us who have died to live?

It’s unfair

Natalie Grant, This is What it Means to be Held

Appalling, unfair, why did this happen?

Oh, how those questions still rattle around in my heart and mind on some days. When Dominic first left for Heaven they were my constant companion.

“Who told us we’d be rescued?”

Who indeed.

Certainly not Jesus.

He said we’d have trouble in this world. He never sugar coated how hard life could be.

But He left us with the promise that He would be with us no matter what. We would never be alone in the flood or the fire or the deep, deep pit of child loss.

This is what it means to be held

How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life

And you survive

This is what it is to be loved

And to know that the promise was

When everything fell we’d be held

Natalie Grant

Child loss shattered everything-my heart, my world and my understanding of how God works in it. The sacred was most certainly “torn from my life”.

My struggle with the God I thought I knew was as painful as the devastation of burying my son.

This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow
The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow

Natalie Grant

It’s so tempting to swallow bitterness when unending despair seems like the only alternative.

But it doesn’t numb the sorrow. Bitterness turns a heart so hard it can’t feel anything-not even love.

The wise hand does open slowly-oh, so slowly-to the beauty and promise of tomorrow.

This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held

Natalie Grant

When we received the news that Dominic left us that early, still-dark morning, I looked over to a sculpture of upturned hands on my living room table and said, “I can’t open my hands to receive blessings if I don’t also leave them open for the bruisings.”

It’s true.

God is holding me still. He is blessing me still.

I will, undoubtedly, be bruised again in some way.

I know His faithful love will see me through.

Scripture Journal Challenge: In The Very Presence of God

It’s kind of counterintuitive really-that my initial response to Dominic’s death would be affirmation of my faith and my response weeks later would be doubt.

But it makes a lot of sense really.

When the unthinkable happens, if your heart is already turned in a particular direction the path of least resistance is to keep flowing downhill.

A bit later, when shock has worn off and your brain wakes up and you begin to do the “math” suddenly it’s not so easy to believe that God is good, He is sovereign and He has a perfect plan.

I wanted explanations!

Like Job I had a list of questions for the Almighty. And also like Job, I found that when He showed up (not in person but through His word) I could only cover my mouth in shame.

When I was beleaguered and bitter,
    totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
    in your very presence.
I’m still in your presence,
    but you’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
    and then you bless me.
25-28 You’re all I want in heaven!
    You’re all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
    God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
    Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.
But I’m in the very presence of God—
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

Psalm 73:21-28 MSG (paraphrase)

Here’s the good, good, good news: God isn’t surprised at my anger, disappointment or lack of understanding.

He- like every good parent who recognizes a child is reacting out of ignorance-takes my hand, holds me close and waits until the energy of rebellion and frustration spends itself, and says, “There, there, dear one. I’m here.”

I can’t scare God away. He’s the Perfect Father.

So if you are struggling with questions and struggling whether or not to take them to God (as if He doesn’t know)-go ahead. Hand them over.

He is neither afraid of nor offended by our weakness, our impertinence nor our honest questions. He wants us to let them go. He wants us to speak them aloud, admit to our own hearts we have them and then release them.

Because in the space created in surrender, He can work.

In the gap between our own strength and the awful struggle ahead, He will pour grace, mercy, endurance and hope.

He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

My parents would argue I am young.

My children would laughingly accuse me of being old. (My skin is definitely sagging!)

Some days I feel one way or the other and it has nothing to do with the years I’ve lived and everything to do with the hardships I’ve endured.

But I can say with absolute certainty that I am more sure now than I was before that God is God.

He is good.

He will redeem, restore and resurrect.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever been bitter? How do you think it might have informed your feelings about God?
  • Are you bitter now? Have you considered telling God about it?
  • Do you feel God is near you? Why or why not?
  • When the psalmist compares himself to a dumb animal he’s referring to the fact that oxen or donkeys go where their masters tell them to (or not!) and either comply or resist with no real understanding of why they may be asked to do this or that. But we are not dumb animals. We can choose to trust our Master because of past experience and the sure promises of Scripture. How does focusing your attention and heart’s affection on the Truth of Scripture help you surrender?
  • Our flesh will fail. It’s not a question of if but a question of when. Honestly,my flesh has failed many times in these 55 years. I’ve written before that I’m convinced the years of Bible study before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven were years spent preparing my heart to receive that blow. I was not spared, but I was prepared. If you haven’t made a commitment to spend daily time in Bible study and the Presence of God, would you be willing to try to do it now? Have these days of reflection given you any new nuggets to hold onto?

PRAYER:

Lord,

I know You can drag me around like a recalcitrant child or a misbehaved pet. But you don’t. You want me to bring my hurt, my anger, my bitterness, my disobedience and distrust to You.

You don’t run away. You aren’t hard to find. You don’t turn your back on me. You are always a breath away-waiting to hold my hand, wrap my heart in your love and whisper courage to my soul.

Help me run first to You. Always, always to You. You truly are my only hope. My true salvation. My Rock and my Shelter.

Keep my eyes focused on You and not on people around me. Comparison only breeds discontent. I know that one day-one glorious Day-the song I’ll sing will be to my Redeemer and tell of Your faithful goodness to me.

Amen

Bitterness Is A Terrible Legacy

Oh, how easy it would be to become bitter!  

If I’m honest, part of me just wants to tell the world to “Get lost!”. 

But the wiser part of me knows that’s neither a helpful nor healthy response to even this most awful burden of child loss.  

Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God. Without lament, we won’t know how to process pain. Silence, bitterness, and even anger can dominate our spiritual lives instead.

~Mark Vroegop – Dark Clouds Deep Mercy

Because my bitter spirit wouldn’t stop with me.  It would spread like kudzu on an Alabama roadside.  

kudzu field huff post

The writer of Hebrews warns against this very thing:  

Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace which God gives, for if he does there can very easily spring up in him a bitter spirit which is not only bad in itself but can also poison the lives of many others.

Hebrews 12:15 PHILLIPS

There is sufficient grace for even this. 

But I can refuse it.  

It’s a choice every single day. 

Do I embrace the grace God freely offers or do I turn my back and embrace bitterness?  Do I lean in to every promise of God in Christ or do I listen to the enemy of my soul who whispers, “Did God REALLY say….?” 

Woman hands praying with a bible in a dark over wooden table

Bitterness never ends with one person.  It spreads.  It grows. 

It ruins lives and relationships and generations.  

We all know families where it has taken root.  We all know old folks whose faces are frozen in frowns and who rarely speak except to pass along their spiteful comments.

I may not get many things right.  I’m pretty sure I get quite a few things wrong.  

But I don’t want to mess this one up.  

Bitterness is a terrible legacy.  

I refuse to pass it on.  

lifetime of unexplored resentments brene brown

Choosing Brokenness

From the world’s perspective there are only two potential responses to trials-better or bitter.

I can either use the struggle to strengthen my resolve to take charge of my life or I can give up and give in, wallowing in self pity.  

If I embrace popular culture as my guide, the best outcome I can hope for is that I grow as a result of sorrow, pain, conflict, tragedy and hardship.

But Scripture tells me that there is a third option:  I can choose brokenness.  

I can choose to submit my heart and my life to God and His purpose.  

I can lie prostrate, unprotected, impotent and trust that the One Who made me will ultimately remake these shattered pieces of what’s left of my life into a masterpiece, declaring His faithfulness and goodness.

“But enduring deep pain and unchangeable circumstances requires continued commitment to face the fork in the road over and over, and to choose well each time.”

It is A Daily Struggle

 

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