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One day recently, during a devotional, I was praying about why every time I came closer to God, I pulled away. The next day during my devotional, and by the way I am not consistent with daily devotionals, I was led to Thomas Moore’s book, Care of the Soul, which had been sitting on my shelf unread. I flipped open the pages and the ones I landed on were about narcissism and the story of Narcissus.

I thought what does that have to do with me? I don’t see myself as a narcissist. Moore’s explanation of narcissism includes:

  • Holding back from truly loving another.
  • The need to hold on to personal power.
  • The lack of self-confidence: “Am I doing all right?”
  • The display of self-love as the sign of a lack of love for one’s self.

He presents an image of narcissism that has not yet found its mystery. Here we see the symptom: a self-absorption and containment that allows no connections of the heart. It is hard as a rock and repels all approaches of love. Obsessive, but not genuine, self-love leaves no room for intimacy with another. The echoing aspect of narcissism—the feeling that everything in the world is only a reflection of oneself—doesn’t want to give away power. To respond to another or to an object in the outside world would endanger the fragile sense of power which that tight, defensive insistence on oneself maintains. Like all symptomatic behavior, narcissism reveals, in the very things it insists on, exactly what it lacks. The narcissistic person asks over and over, “Am I doing all right?” The message is, “No matter what I do or how much I try to force it, I can’t get to the place where I feel that I’m doing okay.” In other words, the narcissist’s display of self-love is in itself a sign that he can’t find a way adequately to love himself.[1]

It made me think of these verses:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40

If we do not care about ourselves, then how do we care about others and their well-being.

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3

We should care enough about ourselves to have good judgment about life, but we should not be consumed with ourselves.

Pride goes before destruction,

And a haughty spirit before stumbling. Proverbs 16:18

There is an order and a place for us: to love ourselves enough so that we can love others and be confident in serving God, but not allow pride to consider ourselves on a higher priority than where God has placed us.

“So the last shall be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16[2]

[1] Moore, Thomas. (1992). Care of the Soul. (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, pg 58.)

[2] Verses are from New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

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A couple of Sundays ago a group of missionaries were speaking during our Sunday service. One of them said that on the hour he had a bell ring to remind him to ask God how He wanted him to serve Him over the next hour. Then he went on to tell some of the stories of things that happened during that time.

So for the next week, I decided to try setting an hourly alarm during my awake hours. I don’t know that I felt God sent me a specific task to do. However, I discovered that I was more aware of serving God, and trying to keep more constantly in touch with Him. I also started looking at the work He had blessed me with and thinking about how to do it better.

The second week hasn’t gone as easily. I’m struggling with what feels like repetitiveness and my own time wasters keep getting in the way. However, I like the idea of saying a little prayer at the top of the hour and being reminded that I have a purpose here and if I ask, God will lead me to fulfill it.

So, I’m always praying about my writing and wondering whether this is what God is calling me to do. I have a new agent who has one book proposal out and is waiting for me to complete a young adult novel. In spite of that, I was really struggling with my writing and of course praying about it.

On this particular day I had a lunch meeting with one of the top administrators over faculty at the University. We were discussing an idea I had. During the discussion and lunch he changed the subject to a book he had been reading, then said that he was telling me about the book to make a point. His point was that I am a good teacher and a good writer, and that’s what I should be doing.

Later that day I had an afternoon meeting with a good friend to discuss plans we have for a workshop. During that meeting she said, “You really need to be focussing on your writing.” When I told her the struggle I was having getting started, she told me to go back and reread the material I’d written so that I could get back the rhythm, tone, and direction of the work. DUH! I knew that, why hadn’t I done it.

That evening I had a dissertation committee meeting for one of my students. I didn’t know one of the committee members except through emails discussing the student’s work. We struck up a conversation and he told me that it was clear I knew what I was talking about and that I really needed to be writing.

On the way home, as I thought about the day, I realized that God had opened a door for me with the new agent, even suggesting which project to work on, and three people had told me what I should be doing, how could I keep doubting what God was calling me to do.

The next morning I got to work and worked almost everyday for the next few weeks, until life suddenly through a monkey wrench into my lap. Even when we think we have it all figured out, we still have to face disruptions that turn everything in our lives upside down.

Unfortunately, that may be cause for doubt, but it’s not an adequate excuse for giving up, rather it’s a challenge to make us more committed.

This is a question I frequently ask myself. Even when I think I’ve figured out the answer, I’m never quite sure, especially when my world suddenly gets turned upside down. What is God calling me to do?

Last Sunday morning a verse came up in class and I was astounded by it. Suddenly all of my struggling to understand what God wants, all of my guilt and confusion for not following precisely what He is calling me to do, for not being clear, was put into another context.

“Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way?” Proverbs 20:24 (New American Standard)

It’s that simple, God has ordained our steps, our life, His plan for our life. How can we possibly understand what God has ordained?

The best we can do is to get up every morning and ask “Okay, God, I’m here and ready, what is Your plan for me today?” Then trust that if we listen, if we attempt to live each day according to the greatest commandment (love God with all of your heart and mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself) and follow the guidelines God has set for a better life, He will lead us to where He is calling us to go–most likely on a need to know basis.

What a relief. I thought I was failing what I was called to do. Actually, I just wasn’t trusting that God would lead me where He wants me to go.

So, I’m here, Lord. Let the adventure begin!

Luke 12:20

I once heard a story about a woman who loved to paint empty egg shells. You know, the kind where you poke a small hole in the shell and drain out the raw egg, leaving the rest of the shell whole. The woman got better and better at painting them, spending most of her time on what went from a hobby to a life’s work (sometimes known as an obsession). She put so much effort into painting the colorful miniature scenes and flowers that she grew to love each of these little creations and would not even consider parting with any of them. Her greed to own them overcame any idea of sharing them. So over the years her collection grew.

Her husband, who wanted to support her in what she loved, built shelves for her with glass fronts to display the precious pieces of art. Soon her living room walls were lined with shelves. Eventually the cabinets continued down the hallway and into the bedrooms, displaying thousands of fragile, hand painted eggs.

One night the woman died unexpectedly. A friend came to sympathize with her husband. When asked what he would do now, he sadly shook his head. His biggest concern: “What am I going to do with all these eggs?”

She had left behind what she most cherished, which now became his burden.

Is there something that you are hoarding and will be leaving behind to might become someone else’s burden?

A few weeks ago I was doing my morning devotional, when I prayed about forgiveness of sins. The thought crept in: how much easier it was to just offer sacrifices like Job did for everyone than to pray for everyone.

I quickly realized what a ridiculous thought that was. How much easier it is to pray for everyone and how meaningless my simple prayer seemed. The problem was that I wasn’t so sure I wasn’t praying by rote, rather than praying with heartfelt sincerity, and wondering if God was as bored with my prayers as I was feeling they were boring.

When I started the scripture reading part of my devotional, which involved doing a word study of the word “revile,” there was a particular verse I was trying to find. I had the correct scripture, but it didn’t have the word “revile” in it. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

I kept looking at the reference then back at the scripture knowing it must be the wrong verse, even going back to Biblegateway.com to look it up again, finally, I realized I had written down the right scripture, but I was reading the wrong verse.

Sometimes when something like that happens while I’m reading the Bible, I stop and read it again, believing that God is trying to get my attention. Then I realized how connected the verse was to my earlier line of thought:

“I, even I, Am the One Who wipes out your transgressions for My Own Sake; And I will not remember your sins.”  Isaiah 44:25

Even when I’m not very good at praying, and even when I’m not sure I’m praying hard enough for forgiveness, and even when I’m not confident God hears me and those old negative tapes start playing about my sins and God’s turning away from me—God is listening and He wants me to be secure in His Love and in His forgiveness.

Photo by Hannah Gunnell

Like everyone, as a writer I’ve faced devastating rejections in my career, often questioning whether this was God’s purpose for my life or whether I was being self-defeating in seeking what I wanted, not what God wanted for me. One morning, the day after a particularly discouraging letdown in my writing career, as I walked on the beach these words came to me. I share them here hoping they give you encouragement and inspiration as they did me.

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