Little Things

 

coffee-break-1454539196eJw

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring ―

Tiny choices. Normal conversations. Daily routines. A few seconds spent here and there.

These little things are not occasional time-outs from the epic, world-shattering, defining moments of my life.

They are my life.

You see, life isn’t often reshaped by an earthquake. More often, the slow erosion of wind and time and age does the shaping.

Change creeps up on us. Growth comes so slowly sometimes that we wonder if we are growing at all. Our faces never look different from day to day, but we watch the mirror and they somehow morph from childhood to maturity to old age, transforming unnoticed in front of our eyes. We set the course of our lives and one day look around to see that this is not the place we thought we were headed, for better or for worse.

This is the power of a moment.

Today, I woke up with 16 hours to spend. 960 minutes. 57, 600 seconds. I won’t save the world today. I will spend most, if not all, of this day in what people call “ordinary life.” I will clock in at work, write a blog post, unload the dishwasher, paint with watercolors, read a book, take a walk.

I won’t reach perfection today. Instead, I will try to love in the moment, choosing to focus on the person in front of me instead of the project in front of me. I will pray to speak the right things and have the right attitudes. I will strive, fall, get up again, and dust off my scraped knees.

These moments that people call ordinary is where almost all of life really happens. These little things are the things that reshape my soul and reorient my life’s direction.

My glorious resolutions have to have feet–and their “feet” are today’s choices. How I choose to think, how I choose to spend my 960 minutes, how I complete the most basic tasks are the real me. My best and worst moments do not define me as much as all the in-between choices do.

My life is a process of being transformed and renewed.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

– Romans 12:2, NASB –

Jesus doesn’t generally call us to a life of non-stop action. He calls us to everyday faithfulness. I don’t have to hunt for a new adventure, a “more-important” adventure.

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people—and this is not learned in five minutes.”
 – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest –

And little things are not just about choices and change.

Little things are also about meaning and beauty and wonder.

Wouldn’t it be tragic if we could count all the beautiful moments of life on just our fingers?   A handful of exciting travels and life-changing events are just a tiny portion of the beauty of an entire life.

I don’t want to be able to number my treasures on one hand. I want to open my eyes and see the surprises and tiny gifts. I want to number every day’s gifts on a thousand fingers. I want to fall in love with the ordinary moments that God has granted to me. If He ordained for most of my life to spent in this way, how can I doubt the value of the small and ordinary?

“There is a daily-ness to my work, a small-moment perspective that whispers for me to connect with the work in my right-now hands, not because it’s going to become something Big and Important, but because Someone who is Big and Important is here, with me, in me, today.” 
 – Emily Freeman, Simply Tuesday
This past week, I’ve noticed some of these precious little things:

The hilarious quips of my ten-year-old movie buddy.
How children understand deep things.
How faces light up when people are encouraged.
Watching a boy grow into a man.
Finding insights in a Bible verse that I’ve never noticed before.
How beautiful people are when they are doing what they’re good at.
The way the light twinkles in the morning.
Problems that are leading to something good.
Growth even when I can’t see.

There is too much goodness around me to ignore, whether today is an easy day or a hard day. Whether the sun comes out or the rain falls. Whether I can see God’s hand in my circumstances or not.

The little things matter.

They change me, teach me, and grow me into who I am becoming. They teach me about a patient God who cares about the details.
And in their everyday ordinariness, the details of my life are spectacular.
“But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more [in love], and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you….”
 – 1 Thessalonians 4:1ob-11, NASB –

 

The Courtroom

corte-di-cassazione-2
Hope is very important to me, which is why I always try to point back to the hope of the gospel in every blog post. This post dives into the discouragement we can face as Christians when we daily deal with our sinful selves and a confusing, sin-infused world. If you identify with my struggle below, I pray you will also identify with my powerful, joy-giving hope. It is an anchor for our souls.

 Every morning, I wake up up to preside over the courtroom of my soul.
I don’t mean to say that I am the Law for myself. I most certainly–first and only, body and soul— belong to my Lord and Savior.
But each day I climb up to the bench and try the cases of my heart, one by one.
I like knowing. I like certainty.
And sometimes facts and feelings plead their cases, memory and intuition wage war on the courtroom floor, prayers and fears duel on the witness stand, and I sink down behind the bench in dismay.
Because sometimes I can’t figure it all out. And when I do figure it out, often I, the judge, am implicated by the testimonies of my own courtroom.
Either way, the result is the same: my soul is left with a choice, to either despair or trust.
Despair, because I can’t figure out or fix myself.
Trust, because today I see more of my flaws than I could see yesterday—but I can also see more of my God’s goodness than I could see a day ago.

Coming Up Empty

As a child, it worked.
I could analyze all the pieces of my life and see how they fit together. Things were more black and white, people were more stereotypical, and my eyes saw through the rosy tint of childhood.
In my courtroom now, I have more evidence than ever. My storerooms are filled with interpretations, weights, measures, gauges, preconceptions.
And life takes on ever so many more shades.
Before, I could hold up the six stripes of the rainbow and match the color. Now, people and events are painted with shades I never knew existed and shadows I dared not imagine. Ever mixing tones on their own life’s palette, each person colors in their existence with shades of their own making, each creating never-before-seen hues.
The dazzling variety hurts my tender eyes. I don’t know the difference between azure and sky blue. I can’t discern between apricot, coral, and salmon pink.
I can’t even, often, decrypt the colors of my own soul.
So this judge cradles her aching head and sometimes has to leave the bench. And I’m learning that…it’s okay to lay down the gavel. Sometimes, I just have to find out how far God’s Word addresses the situation, pray for wisdom, ask questions, and–every once in a while–suspend judgment.
Sometimes swift and firm decisions are needed. I’m happy to bang the gavel on such occasions.
But others? I’ve worried my soul into a tizzy, pressing it for suitable evidence and arguments. I’ve harried my heart into tears, because I can’t split the fine hairs of my own thoughts.
In these times, I have to recognize my calling. Am I called to read my own mind and discern my own intentions, to the nth degree? Or is my utmost call the glory of God, as I rest and quiet my soul in Him?
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this [love for one another] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” 
 – 1 John 3:18-20, NASB –
It is so beautiful, so quiet, to finally lay aside my judging robes and commit my soul to “Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Coming Up Guilty 

Sometimes, I am my own worst critic.
And, many days, I am everyone else’s worst critic too.
Comparing, weighing their opinions against my own, sizing them up with my own peculiarly-developed standards—I am learning the unloving and selfish ways of my own heart when it is left to itself.
Not to say that I let it wander unchecked.
If you could step into my mind, you would hear the daily dialogue I have with myself. I raise criticisms and bash them down in a breath. I mutter and complain, following up with a “but you should really thank God for all the good things that happened today.” Then, the selfish part of me argues back.
I critique the behavior of those around me…then inform myself that I do the same things. Why should I hold them to a standard I don’t hold myself to?
And back and forth it goes.
So very often, my internal courtroom resounds with my own guilt. As I learn more and more of Christ’s worthiness and my own failures, I have to go back to the same place as I go when I cannot figure out things at all:
Quieting my soul at the foot of the cross…or, perhaps, restoring my soul at the door of the empty tomb.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.”
 – Psalm 131:1-3, NASB –
My faithful God sent His Son for the mess of me.
My resurrected Savior conquered death so I might live in His victory.
My heart is daily renovated by the Divine Comforter, the Holy Spirit that dwells in His children.
While defeat and imperfection raise their voices in my courtroom, they do not get to rule. Although confusion and mystery chase me around the bench, they are not judge over me.
I have only one Judge in the end, and He is making me new, day by day.
How I long to be new!
I believe that’s just what I’m becoming. “New, fresh, with no mistakes”—as Ann says.
One of these days, I’ll get there. One of these days.
I know it.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
 – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NKJV –

Ruts

sunrise-over-hoodoo

I don’t have to wonder how I got where I am.

Because every single day, I wake up with the memories pressing down on me with a pressure that no one else seems to feel.

Each morning, I wake up to scramble in the rut I’ve made, and I hope I can keep myself from looking around and noticing how deep in I am. 

And I keep fighting and fighting to get out of the rut. I pray. I ask for God’s help. I read my Bible and cling to the truth. I am doing everything that I am supposed to do.

And yet, I wake up, and I am still in the rut.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep fighting if I am always going to be a mess.

Have you ever felt like that? That, no matter what you try, you are just floundering in the same mistakes that you made yesterday, and the day before…and the year before?

Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, that all your fighting has just been spinning your wheels? Maybe progress is not just slow, but nonexistent?

Let me tell you something.

You didn’t dig that rut today. 

As humans, we often respond wrongly to the events of our lives. These responses can become habits, and sinful or unwise habits can dig deep trenches in our souls. Ruts.

We all dig ruts for ourselves from time to time. Instead of training ourselves to right responses, we choose another way. We choose to solve our own problems. And that’s where ruts come from.

But if you belong to Jesus, you are a new creation.

As I wrote several weeks ago in “A New Day,” your status as a child of God means that your sins are erased as soon as you confess them. When you wake up each morning, the mercies are new, unused before, untapped, waiting for you.

But in spite of the available grace, you still wake up in yesterday’s ruts, because habits are engrained in your soul like canyons and climbing out of them is a spiritual marathon.

Some days, you can’t for the life of you see a thing that has changed. The top of the canyon of your choices seems as far away as ever.

And the guilt catches up. “I dug myself into this mess,” you remember. “Maybe nothing has changed at all. I’m still in a rut, after all this time.”

After the guilt comes the despair. If you’re following Jesus with all your heart,  you might wonder what you’re doing wrong. Or, if you’re honestly giving your whole self to Him, you might wonder where He is. Why is it so hard? Why is the climb so long?

These moments can be truly frightening. Your last source of hope–that Jesus can do something with the mess of you–seems to be failing you.

You want to believe. You want to live and climb out of the rut and be free of its walls. But sometimes, you just don’t know if that’s possible. Maybe you can’t. Maybe it’s not possible, not for you.

My friend, today’s problem isn’t the rut. The rut is there. It is part of the geology of your soul. You put it there, yes. But have you been forgiven? If you have confessed your sinful failures, that rut cannot keep you from pleasing your Savior today.

The rut is now a temptation, a deeply-trained tendency, a devilish sort of gravity pulling down on your soul.

But He doesn’t remove the rut in a day, nor does He ask for you to climb all the way out of the rut today. He only asks that you keep climbing. 

Habits are not, generally, erased by grace. But in grace, God does reorient our desires so we can make new paths–paths traveling “onward and upward and outward” instead of spiraling downward and inward.

If you look around you and doubt if you are making any headway, stop and think about the new work that our Father promises to complete in all His children:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6, ESV

I get it. Climbing is hard. Perspective is elusive. Faith is sometimes the only shred of hope that remains.

Hold on.

 

Today, you get to do something hard and hopeful.

Today, you get to keep climbing out of the rut. Every battle you win, every time you choose to make a new, holy habit, every doubt you toss away, every prayer you whisper, every truth that you cling to, gets you closer to the top. It’s a victory. Every time you run for help to the Only One who can save, you are climbing out. It’s a win, a triumph of grace. It’s sanctification.

Whether you can see it or not.

Even stillness and rest propel you closer to the top of the rut. As you put your faith in Christ and His power in you by the Holy Spirit, your striving ceases and your footsteps become surer. Your position as child of the King is not up for grabs, or dependent on your performance.

And really, your climb is not supposed to go according to your plan. Only God knows when you will reach the top. For some of us, it might be tomorrow. Some of us may have to struggle longer. Life is that way. Actually, none of us ever climb out of all our ruts until our lives are over. Running out of sinful habits to unlearn is called glorification, and it doesn’t happen this side of heaven.

But remember, what some people call ruts are what others call valleys…and climbing out just means that you are on your way to the peaks of the mountains.

Climbing, struggling, working, praying, straining to see the top…these things are signs of life. It may be slow, but your rut-climbing looks a lot like scaling the highest of mountains to me.

Don’t lose heart. You are not condemned. You are not failing.

In the power of God, you are reaching heights you’ve never seen before.

“The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!”

 – Habakkuk 3:19, AMPC –