lent (and questioning our feelings)

I recently saw a clip featuring Judah Smith and his discussion of the often-embraced idea that our feelings are truth. This idea is so engrained in our culture (especially Western, 21st century culture) that questioning it can seem odd. Basically, Judah Smith insinuates, what we feel – often intertwined with our desires, dreams, and thoughts – can be wrong and/or harmful to our physical, mental, or spiritual health.  

In light of the start of Lent, I choose to meditate on the counterintuitive idea that my feelings are not truth. This season, I am giving up processed/refined sugar. It is only day one but I am already feeling mild withdrawal symptoms – lightheadedness, stomach weirdness, all that jazz. True to my sugar addict tendencies, my desires and thoughts pull me towards sugar. But what this time of starving my flesh has already taught me is that desires and feelings can lead us towards unhealthy things (aka sin). Like addicts, our lifestyle patterns are often reinforced by our feelings. If we are addicted to sugar, we eat more of it and we want more of it. If we lie, we grow desensitized to lies and lie more. So on and so forth. 

Cutting off these negative desires and feelings at their source 1) reminds us that they are not truth and 2) reveals the strong grip they may have on our life. But cutting them off also begins to change the way our flesh and minds think. This interesting article on sugar and Lent talks about several tests that were done on rats’ and actions in relation to their sugar consumption. The article says: “Rats in sugar withdrawal are more likely to show passive behaviors (like floating) than active behaviors (like trying to escape) when placed in water, suggesting feelings of helplessness.” Essentially, sugar dependency caused these rats to be more passive, impulsive, and prone to anxiety and depression. 

To carry this forward into our lives: our feelings towards sin are of  n like those of the rats towards sugar. This is not to say that we are literal addicts (although we can be). But when we live by our feelings, we can become passive and impulsive (or even anxious and depressed). The end irony is that those feelings that we thought would set us free if followed are what end up trapping us in a cycle of perpetual sin and unhealthy behavior. 

overflowing peace 

Because I am generally an anxious person/someone who struggles with worrying too much, I can go through periods of time during which I do not truly feel God’s peace. Most of the time, it is my own doing; I get so easily caught up in my thoughts about situations, especially when these thoughts race a hundred miles a minute, that I forget about the bigger picture and lose perspective. I am sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. 

While this can be frustrating (and while I want to remain at peace instead of going in and out of it), I have learned to savor even more the peace and serenity that Christ and His love offer me. It is the moments of being so abundantly filled with His love and just basking in the knowledge that there is nothing that can separate me from Him, these moments, that carry me through. These moments of being Spirit-filled inspire me to overflow and pour out onto others. 

I am so thankful for these moments.  

adultery

I recently heard the most interesting message about adultery – not literal (aka cheating on your spouse with another person) adultery with others, but adultery against God.

The passage of focus was 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. The messenger that day started by talking about the movement of different ideas and thoughts through us – how something first sits with us and where it ends up as we get closer to and more intimate with it. This journey, he highlighted, is as follows: 1) the mind (“a stranger”), 2) the heart (“a friend”), and 3) the belly (“a spouse”).

Proverbs 20:27 says, “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly” (KJV).

So basically, where the Spirit resides, where ideas and thoughts are the most intimate are in the belly. Idols come into play, then, when we allow those things of the world – entertainment, people, ideas – come through our mind, through our heart, and into our spirit. We go from treating these idols as strangers, then as friends, and then finally as spouses. And that’s when we enter the realm of adultery against God.

Today, I ask myself the following questions: am I being adulterous with God? Am I allowing intimacy with idols instead of intimacy with the Spirit? Am I being intimate with the world? The answer to all of these is yes. But I cannot fix this on my own. Psalm 119:9 says,  “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.”

God’s word, not our own will, sanctified us. It redeems us from adultery.

God does not give us these warnings against sexual immorality, against adultery, lightly. The sobering reality can be seen in the story of David. After David sleeps with Bathsheba, one of his advisors, Nathan, confronts him. David repents, and Nathan tells him he is forgiven. He says, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” However, he goes on to say, “But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

The reality is that showing contempt for the Lord, being intimate with this world, has its consequences. The Lord is merciful and takes away our sin and saves us from death. But sometimes there are consequences that we have to face in the aftermath.

I pray today that I can understand the grave nature of adultery against God. I pray that He gives me the strength to live according to His word – because I cannot do it on my own.

living in the middle

I recently read a fantastic New York Times piece written by Trevor Noah following this year’s election.

Noah discussed his unique position growing up during the apartheid in South Africa as a person of mixed ethnicity. His mother black, his father white, he was forced to live between lines clearly drawn between races, clearly enforced by guns.

Several ideas in this article struck me as interesting:

  • America’s (can I say, humanity’s?) dislike of nuance: For example, even something like comedy divides our nation, an idea so  foreign to Noah. Even in the midst of a 1980s South Africa, in the midst of racial oppression and division, he found that comedy crossed lines and brought people together.
  • Divided people are easier to rule: This one is pretty obvious, and is the whole point of apartheid.
  • The importance of dialogue and nuance: The only reason Noah says he survived was because he had to “learn how to approach people, and problems, with nuance.”
  • If we stick to the sides, we will never reach the middle. Noah concludes that life and people are more often in the middle than they are on the sides.
I can’t help but think of how difficult it is for Christians to live between lines drawn by the world and by the church. We often have an inability to live between the lines of different sides of issues, perhaps because of the way we saw faith manifested around us or maybe just because of innate confusion around defining “the middle space.” When I was first thinking about this idea of the middle, I even questioned its veracity. Doesn’t the Bible tell us not to compromise and to separate ourselves? But doesn’t it also tell us to be in the world, to be inclusive, to reach out and love our fallen world and fellow human beings? How do we practically reconcile these?

Noah makes an interesting and perhaps convicting argument in his article: that we can still be steadfast to our commitments and beliefs while breaking bread with others and reaching out to reason. He knows it can be done because he had to do it, and doing it is the reason he is where is he today.

So my only conclusion and answer to these questions is that is the church’s lifelong journey is to figure out, using Jesus as an example, how to live between the lines while still maintaining our identity. And sadly, if we do not try, we may be so boxed in by lines and issues that we fail to reach the people and brokenness in the middle.