The Puzzling Pursuit of Perseverance

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

I was boiling with anger. I felt paralyzed, helpless against the ever-changing tide of circumstance and self. I tried to keep my body language open. The usual practice of hugging my arms tightly around the blessed pillow (which doubles as a barricade for my heart) too often suppressed the unruly tornado swirling inside me.

“Ok, I can’t believe I’m asking this, but . . . how do I lose my conscience?” I asked awkwardly. I laughed, and my therapist chuckled. “I know that’s terrible . . . I mean, who asks their counselor that?” I added, my tone shifting quickly into incredulous despair.

“No . . . no, its not terrible at all. It just shows me how much you’re in pain. I can hear it,” she responded gently.

Apparently God has graced me with a remarkably strong conscience and a resolve to pursue truth no matter what it costs me.

I get angry about that a lot.

I observe the cultural stream of self-actualization and self-fulfillment with wonder and longing. I see the happiness of my friends who value the enigmatic phrase “be yourself” above all. In contrast, I step into the truth over and over again, to be met with disappointment (let me be clear – I do “go my own way” a lot, but there’s a boundary that I just can’t seem to cross that some people seem to be able to do a little easier).

What’s the point? To hell with suffering for Christ… I want to live!

In my darkest moments, that is my anthem.

Still, I’m grateful for the Holy Spirit’s unrelenting pursuit of my heart. Somehow, deep down I know that perseverance in pursuing what I know to be ultimately good and true is nurturing a maturity in me that will far supersede the temporary happiness of self-actualization. I have even been able to experience glimpses of this truth in my life now.

If it was just about maturity and growing into Christlikeness, I don’t think I would be able to resist rebelling. But its not just that. Through my suffering and my shaky trust in God’s goodness, I am being made complete.

Complete.

What a gloriously attractive word! If I were to marry a word, “complete” would be the one for me.

There is so much that is incomplete in this world. Whatever perspective you look from, the 107 billion¹ puzzle pieces (and counting²) of humanity scatter the earth in chaos. God the great puzzler sees everything that has been, is now, will be, and could have been. Keeping all this in mind, he is in process of shaping each of us to contribute to the whole picture in the most beautiful way we can. Some of us are side pieces, bordering the edges of this fraying world. Others burst in with color and focus in the center.

Each one He has made and chosen are essential.

Imagine for a moment scrolling through Amazon and seeing an advertisement.

700-billion-piece puzzle (2)

Intrigued, you click the ad, but all it reveals is a short description:

Box not included.

Such is the way of humanity.

We buy the puzzle and try to create meaning of a 700 billion piece puzzle with no box.

Only God has the picture on the box, but in His great mercy He allows us the freedom to choose… will we try to fit ourselves in our own way into a massive puzzle which we can only begin to imagine…or will we trust that the God who made us also created the box we came in and will fit us in such a way that we will be rendered eternally complete?

Perseverance must finish its work.

And what is that work?

It is the work of allowing God in His sovereignty to shape us into the puzzle pieces that will reveal us as the glorious, complex, integrated, communal, creative, complete human beings that we are.

It is the work of realizing that in the waiting for Him to finish the puzzle, God knows how we best fit better than we do.

And when that last piece is lovingly placed, we will experience that wondrous eternity where we will truly “lack no good thing.”

But for now, by the grace of a suffering Savior, I’ll try to continue on in the puzzling pursuit of perseverance.

¹the estimated number of people who have ever lived

²remember that show 19 (20? 21?) Kids and Counting? If you thought that was a nightmare, imagine having 107 billion kids! Its all about perspective, right?

 

My Response to The Nashville Statement

Earlier this week, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a document entitled “The Nashville Statement.

Because I am passionate about loving LGBT people well due to some very personal ties, I feel compelled to express with utmost clarity my own convictions regarding sexuality.

Though I am an Evangelical Christian and though I live in Nashville and though I incompletely agree with parts of “The Nashville Statement,” I believe it is an extremely poor and untimely expression of beliefs in numerous ways, and one about which I am sad and angry.

And so, I’ve come up with some statements of my own.



Article 1

I AFFIRM that sexuality is complicated, confusing, and ultimately a gray area in a world that insists on being black and white.

I DENY 
that sexuality is merely the sum of our biological parts and AFFIRM that the characteristics of gender difference are mostly shrouded in mystery and therefore cannot be described in ultimatums.

Article 2
I AFFIRM that God has boundless compassion for individuals questioning their sexuality, and that He will love people through their own particular journeys.

I DENY that LGBT people are going to hell based on how they identify themselves.

Article 3
I AFFIRM that the Church is called to be a place where sexuality can be discussed openly, freely, and without fear of judgment.

I DENY that the Church has any right to condemn God’s children based on their gender identity.

Article 4
I AFFIRM that describing oneself as gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. as a partial expression of one’s experience of life are helpful descriptors that have many nuanced layers of meaning and that each person’s story must be heard in its entirety before jumping to conclusions.

I DENY that describing oneself as any of the LGBT descriptors is a violation of God’s “natural order”.

Article 5
I AFFIRM that a continuous searching of the Scriptures combined with consulting of the Holy Spirit is required to mold our understanding of sexuality.

I DENY that the discussion should ever be “closed” on the topic of sexuality.

Article 6
I AFFIRM that I will personally love and cherish every LGBT person I have the honor of knowing.

I DENY that my own convictions will prevent me from respecting another person’s story.

Article 7
I AFFIRM that evangelical Christians have been historically hateful and phobic of LGBT people.

I DENY that hate and fear are appropriate responses to difference of any kind.

Article 8
I AFFIRM that Christians have the radical and joyful privilege to BE FAMILY to their LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ.

I DENY that same-sex attraction for a Christian equates to a lifetime of loneliness and shame.

Article 9
I AFFIRM that God is fully and uniquely at work in each of our lives and that He will mold our hearts to His will if we are willing to be open to the painful and uncomfortable processes He uses.

I DENY that I have all the answers.


I’m sure I could go on and on . . . but for now I will stop there and leave you with this beautiful song about a Christian man who experiences same-sex attraction and how a church’s all-too-common condemnation of LGBT people deeply affects him . . . and the radical love of Jesus that broke through all of the man’s shame and fear.

It Is Okay to be Happy

“Lindsey, is it okay for you to be happy?”

You’d think that would be an easy question to answer my counselor. Of course it is okay for me to be happy! I love being happy! Why’d you even ask that question? Instead, I felt my expression turn doubtful and anxious. A heaviness settled in my heart. I had been accustomed to ignoring a deep desire of my heart for 24 years, and in the past year had wrestled with God in sadness, bitterness, confusion, anger, and resignation – but never happiness. I surely must be doing something wrong. My over-analytical mind frantically searched for the problem.

“I don’t know. It feels wrong,” I finally answered.

We talked of the well-worn path of grief I had walked in for so long, how it didn’t make sense to me that the grief felt more right to me than the happiness did.

But familiarity, however painful, can feel more comfortable than happiness.

And that’s what is so dang confusing. Counter-intuitively, we are all drawn back to unhealthy habits, addictions, relationships, patterns of thinking, etc. not because it brings us joy, but because it feels like “this is just the way it is. This is reality.” We have succumbed to lives of mediocrity and pain because it is easier, safer, and less disappointing.

“You know, happiness is one of the most vulnerable emotions,” my counselor said.

At this point the trashcan was getting very blurry (during our sessions my gaze has an inexplicable tendency to wander to the trashcan instead of my counselor). I hugged a pillow closer to myself and tried not to burst into tears.

“I’m scared,” I whispered.

“Why?”

“Because the more happy I am about something, the sadder I’ll be when its gone.”

“That’s true. They’re linked, aren’t they?”

I thought of the movie Inside Out; of Joy and Sadness becoming inextricably connected by seeing each other’s incalculable worth in the final scenes.

“It’s easier to just stay sad. Then I won’t – ” I choked on a sob and took a moment to take a shaky breath, “be devastated.”

My counselor nodded in understanding. Or at least, I think she did . . . I could only see her through my peripheral vision, as my eyes were still firmly fixed on the trashcan. Finally, I let out a small chuckle.

“What is it?” asked my counselor, curious.

“I was just thinking…its kind of like waiting at the doctor’s office to get a shot.”

This was clearly not enough explanation. “Yeah? Tell me more,” said my counselor expectantly.

“I can’t spend my whole life in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, holding my breath for the next time pain and sadness comes. I’ll miss out on so much of what goes on outside the hospital.”

My therapist is used to me speaking in metaphors and caught on quickly. “So its kind of like in life there will be times when you have to go to the doctor’s office to get a shot . . . when grief and pain will hit you . . . and you’ll have to deal with it then . . . but there’s so much more for you than just anticipating the sadness.”

All my life I continually have had to remind myself that it is okay to be sad. Now, I’m slowly learning that it is also okay to be happy. Happiness is sometimes scarier than sadness, but that does not mean it is any less real.

I have a long way to go. I often run back towards the waiting room in trepidation and doubt. But I’m taking baby steps to dare to trust in the goodness of the Lord. Happiness is a gift from His hand, and I am to hold it with open hands, fully aware of the potential brevity of the emotion and the circumstance; fully aware that my enjoyment of His good gift brings absolute delight to my good God.

Its okay – its truly and blissfully okay – to be happy.