Two Absolutes That Our Kiddos Can Cling To

Our kiddos often find themselves standing on shifting sand.

Friends disappoint, school disappoints, glitzy cultural promises disappoint. Then there’s the double whammy when our kiddos disappoint themselves.

These kids need something absolute on which to stand. That’s fine because we’re just the parents to give it to them (otherwise known as: we’re the only parents they’ve got, therefore, ready or not, we’re on).

The problem is, we have lived.

We know that many promised “absolutes” absolutely fail us. Wherein, we the parents bestow what wisdom we have, first on the ugly and then on the beautiful of two absolutes: that which hurts and that which heals.

Absolute #1 – There is no need to pretend that hurt doesn’t hurt.

Hurt hurts? Who wants to cling to that?

Kiddos in a world of pain, that’s who.

Current culture pressures our kids to meditate away or medicate away what hurts. Celebrities encourage them to chant niceties like, “I don’t believe in mistakes, only lessons!”

Sure. Fine. By all means, learn. A lesson may very well be step two in processing pain, but step one starts with a wound that’s bleeding and cannot be attended to without facing a fact about hurt.

It hurts. Pretending otherwise makes things worse.

This is nothing new. From present to past, from small personal conflict to enormous wars played out on the world stage, people have tried to handle hurt by hiding from it.

Just ask Corrie ten Boom.

Back in the days of World War II, Corrie ten Boom and her family hid their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis. However, before that, Corrie dreamed that she saw God, and she also saw herself and her family pulled slowly down a street on a flatbed wagon.

Corrie’s sister said the dream meant scary times ahead, but that it also testified to a soothing message: God knows.

God knows? It’s hard to understand how that was soothing to Corrie, since we, too, know what awaited Holland residents in 1939.

1940.

Then 1941.

Then another four horrifying years after that.

Their Prime Minister had told Holland residents that there was no need to fight. Corrie’s political leader asked them all to pretend that Hitler was not going to hurt.

Corrie’s God did not.

The fact that God could have plucked them right up and out of that horror was not lost on Corrie. That He did not do that was as confusing to her as anyone. If God so loved the world, then one would assume His children suffering in pain must be utterly unbearable for Him.

Which speaks to the concept of love.

Corrie’s father had once said to her, “Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love,” he said. “Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked, that means pain.”

Learning lessons from that kind of struggle can be healthy. However, we must tread carefully, or more precisely, we must tread personally. Corrie’s God did.
Because some struggles just…hurt. The God who did not explain all to Corrie, still saw all and committed to all of three words: I. Am. Here.

To which our indulged little cherubs, in their most honest moments, wonder, what good is “God is here” if that still means nobody wants to sit with me at lunch?
That brings us to absolute number two.

Absolute #2 – Healing is possible, when healing gets personal.

A God who knows our kiddos’ personal pain also knows our kiddos’ something else – their personal balm.

He once preached through a man named Isaiah that He would bind up the brokenhearted and bestow beauty for pain. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

It is a beauty that is exacting, supernatural, personal. That, and it often looks weird.

That’ll be a problem for our kiddos. It was a problem for God’s kiddos in pretty much every plotline in the Bible. God came to their rescue in ways that were extraordinarily unique to the character at hand – He showed up in bushes and thickets and found people where they sat down and cried. However, it didn’t necessarily mitigate their immediate circumstances.

That’s a hard thing for kiddos to get behind. They think they know what will heal them: an embarrassment erased or a family restored or acceptance, merciful acceptance, by a friend or a class or a college.

If God’s not going down that exact route and instead promises “beauty,” then beauty better be good. Beauty would have to bear witness to pain, and then have the muscle to decisively trump it anyway.

Corrie experienced that beauty. Precise words popped out of her mouth unexpectedly, once saving one hundred victims rather than five. A kind woman came to Corrie’s rescue when she was delusional and dehydrated.

Beauty was specific. Beauty was personal. Step by step, beauty showed itself to be stronger than hurt.

Most personal to Corrie, beauty meant change. During long stretches when bad things around her did not change, Corrie still absolutely knew: they should.

That fortified Corrie to carry on until they did. Which our kiddos can take to heart. First, hurt absolutely hurts. Got it. Acknowledged. Second, healing absolutely begins with beauty from a God who personally knows our kiddos by name. Okay. We get that.

And then…change. Where there’s hurt and healing – that’s a place where things can change.

This is where we the parents do ordain and establish the role of “parent” to be the most impossible love! Watching these kiddos hurt, then heal, then change in all the ways they did not know they needed most – we can hardly take it.

But they have a Father who can and He would like to show us just how much if we give Him the chance.

He absolutely wishes we would.

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Brave and Bawling

(Hey gang. This is a TBT article on Amy Poehler and how the Bible does NOT showcase the moral elite…)

A few years ago, Saturday Night Live alum Amy Poehler delivered Harvard University’s Class Day speech. In a fake Bostonian dialect, she joked, “Just because yah wicked smaht doesn’t mean yah beddah than me.”

Then she got serious.

“All I can tell you today is what I’ve learned, what I have discovered as a person in this world, and that is this: You can’t do it alone. Be open to collaboration…it will change your life.”

“We all grow up afraid of something,” she said. Letting others in “should make you feel less alone, less scared.”

A beautiful sentiment. Which is fine, until somebody ticks us off.

As was the case for Joseph.

Joseph was the tenth son of Jacob. He had a Technicolor coat that annoyed his nine older brothers and dreams that bugged them even more.

So they shoved him in a well and left him for dead.

Wherein, a reader registers once and for all that the Bible is not a book showcasing the moral elite. Joseph’s narrative painfully highlights jealous siblings who were jerks, a sexually frustrated woman who was a jerk, and a chief cupbearer who really did not keep his promise to Joseph for a long, long time.

Jerk.

Eventually, finally, the tides turned for Joseph. The chief cupbearer ultimately introduced Joseph to Pharaoh, and after some dream-interpreting, Pharaoh gave Joseph his signet ring and a nice gold chain and said, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:41).

That was Joseph’s condition—he was practically a king—when his life’s initial heartbreak came full circle and he wound up face-to-face, once again, with his nemesis brothers.

They needed his help.

And Joseph needed Poehler’s speech. Not the yah-not-beddah-than-me, part, although that did seem to be Joseph’s go-to solution, at first. Joseph threw the whole crew in jail, then yanked them back out, kidnapped one of the brothers, and sent the rest home with plunder in their packs that made them look like thieves.

Bible readers react to these castigating brotherly reprimands by picking sides. Was Joseph humiliating the brothers or invoking humility in them?

Humility and humiliation are not the same thing. One tell-tale differentiator? Humiliation is diminishing. Humility, however, is a tool that, at least in classic literature, tends to actually strengthen a character to fight harder for what is right & good.

Joseph’s brother Judah had just had this flavor of comeuppance a few pages earlier when his daughter-in-law, Tamar, was very brave and shoved it in his face that he’d been a narcissistic hypocrite and that she wasn’t going to take it lying down.

Judah’s response?

He acknowledged his wrongdoing. He acknowledged that Tamar was telling it like it should be told. “She is more righteous than I am,” he said (Genesis 38:26).

Poehler was right about people changing our lives. Tamar’s challenge to Judah changed him for the better. Way better (Genesis 43:9, 44:33).

Three pages earlier, pre-Tamar, Judah had been shoving Joseph in a well.

Sometimes people do in fact go from bad to better. Sometimes they go all the way from better to changed.

Tamar was brave, which helped Judah be brave. That takes a lot of strength.

Joseph, meanwhile, had all the strength of the strongest nation in all the world at that historic moment, and it wasn’t enough. Even if Joseph brought all his power to bear on his family, eliciting their mea culpas, what piteous human remorse could possibly compensate for the havoc they’d wrought on Joseph’s life?

Then, in true the-Bible-is-often-just-a-little-bit-different-than-we-thought-it-would-be fashion, strong boss-man Joseph started to cry (Genesis 42:24).

Over. (Genesis 43:30)

And over. (Genesis 45:2)

Avenging the situation seemed hopeless.

What was a guy like Joseph to do?

What are any of us to do?

After we cry?

Through all of Joseph’s journey, he had a relationship going with God. That relationship did not rescue him from his trials, “But the Lord was with Joseph…and showed him his faithful love” (Genesis 39:21).

It was a relationship that gave Joseph the power to see things about others (Genesis 41:39). And now it gave Joseph the power to see something about himself.

Joseph could see that God used his brothers’ betrayal to grow and groom Joseph, to ultimately save a nation through Joseph’s leadership. Joseph became stronger. More secure.

More himself.

That brought tears of another kind. He told his brothers, “So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt” (Genesis 45:8).

Then, “weeping with joy, he embraced Benjamin, and Benjamin did the same. Then Joseph kissed each of his brothers and wept over them, and after that they began talking freely with him” (Genesis 45:14-15).

The human condition begs this question: If we give God a chance to use our relationships to change us, what exactly will he do?

Even these Bible elites received little more than “You’re about to find out.” Sometimes the abyss of the unknown made them cry.

In the end, however, the results, to a person, were very much the same.

The results were personal.

In the case of Tamar, she was the first woman named in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

In the case of Joseph, for the rest of his life, he had an ironclad perspective on his life’s calling—to lead a nation with the guidance and comfort of a God who loved him very much.

In the case of all of us? Or, as Poehler said mid-speech, “But more about me…”

Yes, more about us. God wants to be as close with us today as at any time throughout the ages. “I am the Lord, and I do not change…return to me, and I will return to you” (Malachi 3:6-7).

Anyone wondering if that means you? Too?

Try him. And you’re about to find out.

He wishes you would.

(Originally published: Christianity Today’s Gifted For Leadership)

Two “Selfie’s” God Wants Our Kids to Take

Our culture’s over-attention on the self is a problem.

We get it. We parents fight the “Me, me, me, ME!” mantra chanted by our cherubs all the time and everywhere.

We do our part to combat it by pouring into our kiddos, “It’s not about you, it’s about God,” themed Bible stories over and over.

However, the Bible is a nuanced book. Just when we think we’ve got the it’s-all-about-God messaging down, the Author of the Bible diverts our attention back to His favorite topic: us. People. His beloved creation. You and me. And certainly our kids.

Case in point is a least likely spot of dry-reading genealogies (Chronicles), where what to our wondering eyes should appear but David going off on one “selfie” that God would like our kiddos to take to heart.

SELFIE #1: You are loved.

A lot. Like, more than you think and probably more than you can wrap your head around.

In fact, before our kids can declare I-love-God in a deeper experience than churchy jingle ways, they’ll need to catch on to the inordinate, overwhelming insistence from this God that first comes love not for God, but for them.

That’s what happened to David.

He loved God and wanted to build a temple for God. Then God turned it back around on David with a “don’t build for me, I’ll build for you,” kind of response.

David was amazed. “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men, O Lord God.” (1 Chron 17:16-17).

The most exalted of men? Sound like David’s getting the big head here?

He’s not. Not by God’s standards.

This is a distinction we have to teach our shorties. David could not diminish himself with, “I’m insignificant,” nor could David aggrandize himself with, “I’m a baller.”

It’s not an easy balance to strike. The Author of the Bible didn’t think so either, given the whole thing is outlined a few hundred pages prior in 2 Samuel. Just in case the audience at home is slow on the uptake, the Author runs through it twice.

Parents have to find a way to convey this to our kiddos: what are you to the Lord?

A lot. You are a lot. Just as you are, you are loved, and as you grow in confidence of that love, you can both let go and hang on and grow grow grow in every way that matters most.

God doesn’t need our kiddos’ praise or good behavior or validation or even faith – though all of that is good, very good. God needs our kiddos first and foremost to receive His love, and then everything is borne from that.

Which segues nicely to another “selfie” God wants our kiddos to claim.

SELFIE #2: You are worth dying for.

What started with a covenant with Abraham, when God promised to cut Himself into pieces to cover for promises broken, and then climaxed with Jesus doing just that, and then peaked even more dramatically with a resurrection that we will one day see on earth as it is in heaven…well, it was for you.

You are worth dying for.

“But I’m whiny, I’m failing, I’ve lied, I’ve stolen, I love the wrong things, I hate the wrong things, I do the wrong things, I don’t understand it all at all!”

He knows. Still, you are worth dying for.

Parents must spend months and years and late summer night chats and early morning tears and after school snacks and conversations over and over that get kiddos to see this when they see themselves.

If that sounds like a monumental assignment for parents, it is. If that rattles your nerves, join the club. Every parent since the beginning of time has had to resist panic and tackle this in the same way: one step at a time.

We can take fair warning from the past. We’ve seen the carnage of some generations that blew off children’s emotions or failed to consider a child’s self-worth in ways that did not glorify God. How could it? These are His kids whom He loves.

On the other hand, the gratuitous ME-trumps-all love fest happening in our present generation is no prize either. Love with no boundaries is not love. It’s freefalling. That’s a misleading word because it sounds so fun! But it is notably light on the free and heavy on the falling.

David knew all about that, from his (many, many) regrettably undisciplined times, like when he was a neglectful father (1 Kings:6) or an overly big-headed leader (1 Chronicles 21:1). Our kiddos’ faith walks will likewise look bad, sad and make us mad, but we must equip them to soldier onward looking at the mirror, mirror on the wall and knowing who is worthy of the greatest love of all?

In God’s eyes, you are.

It has always been a complicated balance to reinforce kiddos’ self worth without growing up self-absorbed kids. We can start with the basics that God used on His Bible characters over and over, no matter their age. We can instruct our kiddos that the two most important self-tidbits to know are: you are loved and you are worth dying for.

That, and also Snapchat streaks are stupid. Just saying.

Big Boys Do Cry (The Bible Tells Us So)

Parents today are at an impasse.

We want to help our boys- our sons- to express themselves without rising up a crew of feeble cherubs who bawl indiscriminately.

That’s not easy. However, parents should face it that growing the human race up strong and straight includes tears. It always has.

Case in point: Joseph.

Joseph is renown for a lot of things. There’s his Technicolor coat that inspired a Broadway musical. There’s his super famous, “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good” line that’s run its course on the sermon circuit ever since.

There’s the fact that he cried. A lot.

Hadn’t you heard that before?

Joseph was an Old Testament character with a sound mind and more fortitude, tenacity, and strength of character than most people of the Bible. Still, the author made Joseph’s tears a healthy, maturing piece of Joseph’s story.

Here’s how we can make it the same for our sons’ journeys as well.

*for more, see this post featured at http://worshipfulliving.com/2016/08/11/big-boys-cry-bible-tells-us/

Two Things We Pass On To Our Kids Without Knowing It…

There are two things we pass on to our kiddos. One we didn’t know. One we hardly believe.

First, we pass on our faith. Second, we pass on our doubts.

However, we who are smart, savvy, modern believers know that we can neutralize doubts with a faith in something real.

No problem! God is real. We believe Him. Done!

Except.

We believe Him, except.

Except when we’re not sure that His promptings are the actual way to go. Except when we know how to call on His name, but don’t know how to call on His action. Except when we trust His love, but doubt how that translates into practicality.

Our faith in Him is real. Our doubts about Him are real as well.

As a result, we wrench back control over our lives, usually in imperceptible, quiet ways. We keep it secret, often even from ourselves.

Until, what to our wondering eyes should appear but our kiddos acting out the I-believe-God-but-I-kinda-doubt-Him-too, just like us.

Just like us? We thought we kept our doubts about God a secret.

We’re not alone.

Case in point? Abraham.

Alas, then his son Isaac right along after him…

continue reading here: http://www.ibelieve.com/motherhood/two-things-we-pass-on-to-our-kids-without-knowing-it.html

3 Tips to Help Your Kid Know How to Pray (…since we kinda don’t know ourselves)

Parents today are at an impasse.

We are less inclined than ever to tell our children trite, “Because I said so,” answers to major questions, especially related to faith. This leaves us in a bind, since our own questions of faith remain largely…unanswered.

Like prayer.

We are fully aware of some bits about prayer that are crystal clear.

Will I get everything I ask for? No.
Will I get anything I ask for? Sometimes.
Why, then, should I bother?

This is where things fall apart, and we’re only on question three. Plus the first two answers stink and are wholly insufficient for the shorties in our homes who are crying with no friends to sit with at lunch or who have debilitating self esteem issues and want to know what? Why? How come? Usually at bedtime and usually when a track uniform still needs laundering or a work presentation needs last minute changes.

In other words, usually when we could use prayer ourselves.

There are plenty of things we cannot know for sure about prayer. Let’s start with the parts that we can.

Tip #1: PRAYER ENGAGES SOMEONE WHO IS ALREADY WITH YOU.

Tell this to your kiddo over and over. God is already with them. Then tell yourself.

This presents a problem, because we have lived life, and it isn’t pretty. We know what it feels like when someone is with us, and a lot of the time God’s involvement in our lives can feel…unpredictable.

Wherein we resort to that Book with all the stories that we once thought were unrelatable, but desperate times call for: Gideon.

Gideon hit the Bible scene after the Israelites had been sprung from Egypt (with the help of God), survived a stiff-necked wandering in the desert (with the help of God), dispossessed the bad guys and finally scored the Promised Land (with the help of God), and enjoyed peace, glorious peace (thanks to God)!

Then they blew off God.

Their world came crashing in, and into a crushingly oppressed and lonely time, God visited Gideon.

And Gideon, in one of the most under-excited-to-see-God moments in Bible history, wondered aloud: God? Where have you been?

Tip #2: DO NOT GUSSY UP YOUR PRAYERS FOR GOD – BE HONEST.

Gideon takes some hits in church circles for this seemingly whiny response. I mean, God’s here! Buck up and be glad! Who wouldn’t respond that way?

Um, God.

God did not treat Gideon that way at all. Here was a man who had heard stories about God’s benevolent leadership and love, but where had God been all this time when Gideon needed him?

Absent.

If you have read the backstory, you know it was not that God left the Israelites, but the Israelites who had left God. After all God had done to build a relationship with these foks, the people had turned away from God. God said, “You have not listened to me” (Judges 6:10).

Leaders like it when you listen to them. And really, we should, if we want to win.

In Gideon’s case, he didn’t know how to win. He had heard about God; now he was seeing something he thought might be God. But life had been rough. He did not trust what was right in front of him.

God could have justifiably gotten smoking mad at Gideon with an accusing “You’re not listening to me!” However, it’s one thing to be obstinate, but another thing altogether to be unsure.

This is a God who cares about that difference.

Gideon was hearing God say great things, but Gideon did not know if God would actually do the greatest thing of all.

Stay.

Tip #3: ASK FOR GOD TO OPEN YOUR EYES TO HIM.

The God of this Bible has a much greater mission than demonstrating his greatness. His mission is demonstrating his love (which, P.S., is GREAT). His greatest challenge was getting the people of the Bible to receive that from him.

In Gideon’s case, that was about to change.

“Don’t go away…” Gideon said to God. God did not go away.

And then He did a lot more than that.

So commenced a bit of fire that lit up a little meat and unleavened bread. There was later fleece and then later still, a big barley loaf in the middle of someone else’s dream – all of which were powerfully and precisely meaningful to Gideon.

Over and over, God reinforced Gideon’s confidence in the predictability of God’s love. His leadership. His commitment. His plans to stay. His personal affection for Gideon as a person and for people as a whole.

For a God who had already demonstrated his character all the way over to owing not one more kind gesture, he…did a lot of them anyway.

So Gideon could see how great God was? So Gideon could see how trustworthy God was.

If the Israelites hadn’t listened before, Gideon was listening now. Intently. What transpired was a monumentally triumphant turn of events for Gideon and his people. And Gideon came to believe that the hiding place of God’s word was a place he could trust.

Prayer is based on trust, which is a funny thing. It is a fleeting thing. It is fragile, unimaginably personal, and the constant rebirthing of its integrity is a reinforcing joist on which a relationship is borne. You want predictable?

Pray.

Expect that God is already waiting for you to spend time with Him. Be honest. Ask that your eyes be open to what God is trying to show you and remind your kiddo (are we really talking about the kids still?) that you are engaging a God who made you, longs for you, loves you and has told people from page one to page 700 plus in the Bible not to fear for one reason: I am with you.

Revisit the Gideon story and others like it. Your experiences may not be the same, your feelings may not be the same, but this God does not promise that sameness.

He promises: personal.

**for more “How to” faith tips, follow janellealberts.wordpress.com. Next week’s post: “3 Tips to Help Your Kid Say I’m Sorry – And Mean It”

How Did God Define Leadership?

This month’s “Vanity Fair” featured a story about Hollywood icon Meryl Streep, and noted a time when feminists thought she was bringing women down a wrong path.

It was Academy Awards season, 1980. Streep had just earned an Oscar for her performance in “Kramer vs. Kramer”, which one columnist accusingly said was a slap in the face to women.

“I don’t feel that’s true at all,” Streep told press at the time. “I feel that the basis of feminism is … liberating men AND women from prescribed roles.”

The idea of liberation from prescribed roles is not new. It is a precursor to strong leadership, which has been defined and redefined for centuries by philosophers and artists and authors.

Like the Author of the Bible.

Throughout the Bible, the Author picked an inordinately motley crew to showcase His criteria for leadership. They needed guts, critical thinking, humility and a keen understanding of culture at that time.

Oh, and one crucial silver bullet – loyalty to God. That plus a willingness to act landed a lot of characters into leadership roles that looked rather…unprescribed.

Case in point: Rahab.

Rahab’s storyline begins just as Moses’ ends. The Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness for years and years and years and finally, (finally!) they were standing before the land that the Lord their God had promised them.

It was a crucial juncture. They’d faced the Promise Land before, but had been too scared to go. Cue the music for forty long, wandering years only to arrive where? The same place – standing before the Promised Land, deciding how to proceed.

This time there was a new leader in Joshua and a new population of Israelites.

And? Rahab.

Rahab was a prostitute whose house was in the wall surrounding a town called Jericho.

Joshua was tasked to lead the Israelites into Jericho, but he wanted to know the landscape inside Jericho first. He sent two spies to check it out.

The spies headed to town and decided to rest their weary heads at Motel Rahab.

Several tidbits about this story make it a page-turner. Rahab was a prostitute (yikes). The spies went to her “house” (curious).

The biggest bombshell of all? This prostitute believed in God.

In Jericho, everyone who heard about the God of Israel was terrified and avoided Him (Joshua 2:9). Rahab was terrified too, so she … believed Him.

Meanwhile, the king of Jericho got word that the spies were in town, so Rahab got busy. First, she hid the spies on her roof.

Then, she lied. She said to the king’s men who came looking for the spies, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from.”

Then she lied again. “They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went.”

Then she pushed it one step more by saying, “If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.”

Rahab believed in “the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.” She chose to act on behalf of that God.

And the Author included it all.

What does that say about the Author of the Bible’s view of capable leadership?

To be precise, we can only comment on what the Author deemed capable about Rahab’s leadership.

First, Rahab was convinced that what she had seen and heard about the God of Israel was something she had the right and wits to form an opinion about herself.

The noise of life competes for our loyalty as much today as it did then. That Rahab could drown out falsehood and swear her loyalty to truth is a monumental achievement the Author of the Bible found worth noting.

Rahab was also skilled at influencing higher-ranking officials that neither valued her nor respected her. Her actions were precise, her delivery steady and her results were a well-executed solution to a murky problem.

That was not a feminine quality, or a prostitute’s quality. That was a leadership quality. Think otherwise? Tell that to the two spies whose lives were at stake up on her roof.

All of this might be overstating things a bit, we might say. Hers was a mere sidebar story! One that helped as far as that goes, but would not rank Rahab with Bible leader elites like Abraham, Noah, David, Gideon and more.

Of course we would say this. Who wouldn’t?

The writer of James (James 2:25).

The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:31).

The Author of the whole Bible. Hundreds of pages later, when superstar-of-the-whole-show, Jesus, presents Himself in human form, the Author outlines Jesus’ lineage and guess who makes the exclusive list?

Rahab.

It is hard to wrap our heads around the overwhelming “unprescribing” God orchestrated around Rahab’s prescribed role. Perhaps not as hard for Rahab, who, once Joshua’s trumpets sounded and he entered the city gates, Rahab was rescued from her prescribed life and invited to live with God’s people.

Leading is hard. Walking out a purpose that brings us to places where we’ve never been before can shake us up. That’s a human condition that rings true no matter the time in history, for both believers and unbelievers alike.

This month’s Vanity Fair story illustrates that that was true for Streep as well.

Amid the glitz and glamour of a first Oscar win, Streep appeared cool when facing that columnist. However, before that? She had excused herself to clear her head. Having collected herself in a nearby restroom, she walked out, still a little rattled, evidenced by the fact that she forgot her Oscar on the bathroom floor.

If Rahab felt rattled, those bits didn’t make the editing cuts of her storyline.

However, neither “rattled” nor prescribed roles would knock Rahab out of contention as a leader upon whom the onward momentum of the entire nation of Israel hinged. Capable leadership rejects prescribed roles when the stakes are high and the storylines are personal.

With the Author of the Bible, that’s just how the story goes.

How to Survive a Crisis of Confidence

Confidence. Get some, and you’re golden.

It is a promise we are fed by our teachers when we are young, then our mentors when we are grown. Cultivating confidence is the professed fail-safe catapult to success.

Which sounds well and good, except that it’s not true.

Confidence has its place, but it’s not a silver bullet to success, unless one is benchmarking success as just shy of actually feeling successful.

Take edgy, funny, super cool Hollywood golden boy Judd Apatow. He directed Trainwreck and produced Bridesmaids, which boosted him into out-of-this-stratosphere mega success.

“I mean, obviously, I’m confident that I know what I’m doing,” Apatow was quoted saying to Rolling Stone, “but there’s a little corner of me that returns to a low place, which never goes away.”

Since times of yore, this tension between confidence and its resulting success has confounded great leaders and left them blinking in the bright, blinding light of this-is-not-what-I-thought-it-would-be.

Case in point: Esther.

Esther is an Old Testament superstar who had to drum up inordinate confidence to faux charm her way through the ranks of a king’s concubine. She outshone the pack and landed the top spot as queen to a king who wanted his wife to have one particular inclination: submissive obedience.

Fine by Esther.

She was ready to follow the path of least resistance. Her parents had died, she’d been raised by her cousin and was then stuck in a king’s concubine until she shot to queendom. She had no say, no societal power. No one would expect Esther to do anything that would jeopardize her current sweet gig.

Except, God.

If ever a main character demanded an ongoing, engaging, confident drive from fellow cast members; it would be the main character of the entire Bible otherwise known as God Himself.
God repeatedly promised Bible characters that while He would work the heavy lifting, there were select tasks that He needed humans to step out and do. That would take confidence.

He liked bold, confident moves in the face of hopeless situations.

But. Don’t get it twisted.

There is a kind of confidence that leads to problems disguised as solutions. It leads to triumphs that are short-lived, happy feelings that are fleeting, lauded positions that lose rank with the next big thing. It is a confidence from ourselves, in ourselves, anchored to our ego.

Esther could read her own ego-confidence writing on the wall. She had been admirably scrappy, and fought her way through the king’s ranks. However, her alleged esteemed spot was actually a fragile façade, threatening to precariously fall apart on a whim.

In the midst of this delicate situation, God had a job for Esther.

He wanted Esther to confront the king. The Israelites were persona non grata among the king’s higher ups and one in particular wanted to snuff out the entire Jewish population. It was up to Esther to tell the king, “Don’t let him.”

Esther didn’t want to. She stalled. Scrappy survival tactics would not cut it in this scenario. She would need confidence in something outside herself, outside of her circumstances and outside of her ego. There is such a confidence, which anchors to the sure-footed promises of God.

Wherein we face the greatest obstacle to sure-footed confidence, which is this: it is not for sissies. Sure-footed confidence is set on a premise that the Somebody who promises to be with me in this actually is with me in this.

We are not wired to believe such a thing. We are unrelentingly inclined to believe that somebody, even God, is ultimately going to give us less good stuff than we would accumulate on our own behalf.

Such was the case with Esther. She had proven herself to herself, but sure-footed confidence in God? He is the master of asking from us what we most do not want to do, and often jeopardizes what we have scrappily gained.

However, on the other end of the pendulum swing is ego-confidence that, though it looks good at first, eventually loses its luster. Such was the case for Apatow, whose personal, professional and even extra doses of Hollywood glitz taught him, the hard way.

Success is nice, he told Rolling Stone, but “…when you get to the top of the hill, you’re like, ‘Oh, I guess now I have to really deal with my problems, because that didn’t work at all.’”

Esther similarly suspected that where she stood, though it looked solid, was itself shifting sand. After a time, Esther finally, boldly, confidently took her chances and confronted her husband.

He relented, and the entire Jewish population was saved.

It was a massive testimony to a trustworthy God, who interestingly wrote the storyline without ever mentioning Himself by name. He did, however, name the entire book after a woman. This after counter-culturally casting her as a star in His my-people-must-walk-with-sure-footed-confidence show.

Which leaves us where exactly? What is there to confidently say about confidence?

First of all, the issue of how to succeed in life is not a laugh-a-minute storyline, no matter if we are a mega-watt cultural success or a heroic prophet of yore. It requires a confident fight to live our lives to the fullest; that’s just the way the story goes. We can say that with confidence.

Also, prophets and prime time are not as far apart on the red flag of feeding the ego as we might think. Cultural icons are exposing oversimplified mantras that cycle us right back to the place we began. Going far in our outer life, but getting nowhere in our inner life is painful for anyone. We can say that with confidence.

There is also something to be said about an Author who goes to so much trouble to point out the pitfalls of ego-confidence while simultaneously promoting sure-footed confidence, in order to groom and grow relationships rather than mere results. That is a sure-footed move by an Anchor who is not driven by sales, or perceived achievement or overt control or ego.

But He is driven by something.

He longs to be our anchor, as much for our sakes as for His own glory. It is a hard message to convey, and His approach unapologetically positions the least likely cast of characters as pivotal leaders on whom entire plotlines hinge. His longing comes from a love that is hard to grasp with human sensibilities.

Yet, He would like us to try.

Through the prophets of yore and also through popular culture, He will likewise keep conveying His longing that we let Him love us as only He can. We can say that with confidence as well.

What is the Promise of Easter Anyway?

Easter.

It has become a day with little girls in pastel dresses and eggs in baskets and candy from a bunny.

In church circles, it represents a cross and a savior and a stone rolled away by a God who promises something specific that no one in history ever promised before.

The promise is brilliant. However, it can be hard to believe. At least for those of us who say we believe, and then live our lives like… well, like we don’t quite believe after all.

This don’t-quite-believe phenomenon is nothing new. Case in point: Abraham.

Abraham is a big name around Bible parts. His story is a lynchpin in the plotline of God getting close with His people.

Abraham was devoted to God, but that devotion proved conditional, depending on circumstances at hand. One example? Abraham pawned his wife off as his sister to get in good with an ungodly king.

Maybe cracks are inevitable in any character and start to show after a long and exhaustingly faithful life? Except that it happens on page 10. And Abraham did it twice.

Abraham defaulted to a human response that is still trending today. His penchant to act on his own overrode his belief that, with God, he could do better.

Not that “on my own” is such a bad thing. It carries with it great accomplishments like independence, grit, growth. But, it has a dark side. In the cadence of life, there comes a time where most of us are weary enough to admit: I can’t do this on my own. Or, at least, I wish I wouldn’t have to.

God promised people in the Bible that He would not leave them on their own. However, God’s “I am here!” was often met with, “I doubt it.” Some say Abraham was supposed to be different. Some say Abraham was different.

He wasn’t.

As a result, God struck a covenant with Abraham that set the stage for everything that means anything about Easter. The scene that played out was a weird but practical demonstration of what “I am here!” would mean between Abraham and God.

It was a “beriyth” or an agreement made by passing through pieces of cut up animal flesh, which was common cultural contract signing in those days. It is not as gross as it sounds.

Simply, two people agreed to something, cut animals in half, and the person with less clout walked through the pieces, signifying that if he broke the promise then he, too, would be cut to pieces.

I guess it is as gross as it sounds.

In Abraham’s case, it was an all day and into the night kind of situation. God told Abraham to set up the beriyth animal pieces which meant they were making an I-promise-to-be-your-God-and-you-promise-to-let-me kind of deal.

Cue the music for the walk-through-the-flesh contractual portion of the show, which Abraham was supposed to do. However, that is not how the deal went down. Instead, the divine presence of God appeared as a lightning bolt and passed through the pieces of flesh in Abraham’s place.

It was God saying to Abraham that yes, Abraham, you may promise me, but what trumps all is that I promise you. If someone messes up in this relationship – when someone messes up in this relationship, when you mess up in this relationship, the cut-to-pieces business is on me. When you break this promise to let me lead you as God, I will absorb that cost so you and I can still be, well, a you and I.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Easter. For God so loved Abraham that He was willing to break Himself to pieces over it. A brilliant promise! Yet, oddly, hard to believe, for we see how it changed Abraham’s behavior.

Abraham proceeded to sell his wife like his sister a second time anyway.

If that plot twist has you thinking: this is not like I thought it would be, then take a number. This is not like anybody thought it would be.

Even when Abraham resolutely promised to let God be God, he was ill-equipped to do so. Our human condition doubts that God has our back in the way He promises. When pinched, we proceed with common sense and on our own – wrenching God out of top spot and shoving ourselves into first place in our own lives.

How does God handle that? Personally.

In Abraham’s case, God handled it with a culturally relevant pieces-of-flesh contract, promising that God would stay loyal to Abraham even when Abraham behaved disloyally to God. That disloyal behavior would have been enough for anyone else to ditch Abraham, but not God, who took Abraham…personally.

In our case, what Jesus did on the day we now celebrate as Easter is the fulfillment of what God started that day with Abraham. God is willing to absorb the cost of our shortfalls over and over and over again, even if it means breaking Himself to pieces over it. He does it for a chance at a relationship with us – that we will let Him love us.

Sound simple?

Getting personal never is.

Life is confusing. Triumphs are distracting. Failures are embarrassing.

Which is why there are pastel dresses. Baskets with eggs. Candy from bunnies. These things are easier on the conscience than looking at our sell-a-wife-like-a-sister inclinations, and then, vulnerably, letting God get involved. Personally.

It isn’t easy. The God of the Bible knows His positions can be confusing, and His love is a different thing altogether than benchmarks familiar to our earthly measures.

Walking that out was hard for Abraham back then; it’s still hard for us today, even with the epic stone-rolled-away crescendo of Easter. God knows we may not give the glorious cover-your-shortfalls-for-the-sake-of-a-relationship-with-me promise of Easter a chance.

But, this Easter, He wishes we would.