Grateful and (a little) Stressed

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May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  Romans 15:13

This morning barking dogs disturbed my semi-peaceful slumber…at 4:15 am. 

Sometimes I wonder why sleep remains so elusive for me. I found myself asking God, “Really Father? 4:15?”

I know God created me to need sleep so why can’t I have some? 

This morning after trying to ignore the noise, I decided to just get up, take a shower, make some coffee, and have my quiet time. 

I grabbed my journal and unfortunately my first thought was to begin to list my complaints, and just a few in I felt this overwhelming sense of God saying, “Trust me.”  

I stopped writing, looked up, and thought, “God, do I trust you even in this? Not getting sleep? Feeling unhealthy, exhausted, and overworked?”  

I had to say, “Oh Father, I’m so sorry…not completely.”

I trust God with a lot, but there is a fair amount I keep in the “really God?!?” pile. It’s full of the things that seem so unfair, so frustrating, so out-of-my control, so relentlessly difficult and complicated…does anyone else have this pile? And I think maybe I’ve given up a bit on that pile..resigned myself.

On top of the difficulties and struggles is this knowledge that God could easily make everything better. It would take nothing for the Creator of the world to let me sleep all night, to bless my children in all the ways I desperately want them to be blessed,  to let my house not have one more issue, to let life calm down ever so slightly so I could take a breath and get healthy…I have so many “I just don’t understand why, God” moments.

Years ago while discussing challenges in life and the questions that come with them, one of my friends asked, “Why not us? Why do we deserve a life of no difficulties?”

I get it. I even agree. But ugh. It doesn’t seem to help in the thick of things to recognize  that I don’t deserve anything or that I am blessed so much or I should be thankful for where I am, not always longing for where I want to be…I truly do believe that, but I have to live this life…survive this life. And sometimes those truths are just hard.

Recently while discussing the stress in my life, I was challenged to list what I am thankful for…it’s a challenge I’ve accepted many times, but this time I wanted to say, “That isn’t the same thing!” Having stress and being thankful for blessings are not two opposing teams. I can be grateful for many things and still stressed by my circumstances. Can’t they exist together?…if I don’t allow my stress to overwhelm my thankfulness?

I guess in truth it is easy to get overwhelmed right out of thankfulness…particularly at 4:30 a.m. I’m tired, but part of the reason I’m tired this morning is because, just as I was going to sleep last night, my 17 year old son came up to chat. We stayed up having a great conversation for over an hour. I am so very thankful for that…blessed and grateful…and also sleepy.

Do I trust that God has a plan even when I’m beyond tired? Do I trust God when things just refuse to go smoothly? Do I trust God when my children are hurting? Do I trust God when I know He could alleviate the stress, hurts, fears, and challenges, but He doesn’t? I’m asking myself again…Do I trust Him?

Honestly, it’s too easy to say yes. After all, I know it is the correct answer.

I’m just not sure.

But oh how I want to say yes. Yes, Father, I trust you! I do. I do. I do.

In my head I do trust. I trust He loves me. I trust He will do what is best.

Maybe where I’m struggling is I know that trusting Him doesn’t mean that my prayers for rest will be answered. That things might not get better even though I know He could very easily make them so.

That old standby – Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious…couldn’t it be rephrased, “Do not be stressed”? Anxious means “to be troubled with cares” – sounds like stressed to me, but lack of sleep and difficult challenges add an element of stress that isn’t necessarily anxiety…it’s just stress. Nevertheless, I know that the answer lies in this verse…because the answer is always to involve God.

God’s advice – pray, ask, be grateful – lay it all before Him and let Him give you peace that you can’t even understand. I know most of you probably already realized this, but it doesn’t say that He will fix the situation that made you anxious. It says that He will give you peace that you can’t comprehend. That kind of infers that your peace will be despite your circumstances and struggles. So I can further infer that I’m supposed to pray, ask God for what I need, be grateful for what I have, and trust Him that He will do what is best…hard truth.

There are a few other things in Philippians that speak to this…right after this exhortation, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8) And if that wasn’t enough, Paul shares this, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Two things I take from that…

  1. What I think about makes a difference.
  2. A peaceful life comes from trusting God to give me strength to be content in my circumstances.

Part of my struggle is that the things that give me stress are all around me…I can’t really get away from them no matter how much I try. I’m surrounded! Maybe that is why God says to pray without ceasing…just continually give it to God.

Lord, I just desperately need sleep and it seems so impossible to get…thank you for time with you in the morning and for your sustaining even when I’m exhausted. Lord, you are always with us, I know that. And Father, I know that you love my children and me. Please Lord, would you work mightily in our lives? Show us that you care. I know you do.

Maybe that’s where I start…remind myself that God cares.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

He cares about it all.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Through Christ, I am comforted. Lord, please help me understand what that looks like. Please allow me to feel comfort even in my stressed and grateful state.

 

Too Many Words

6A313982-3DC4-4ABC-901B-3B82584950FB.JPGLast Sunday I excelled at words.  They poured forth from my mouth like a fountain. Unfortunately, they were not a fountain of refreshment, but rather a fountain of refuse.  

I remember some time ago I read a parenting book that described nagging as using a lot of words to convey a point.  Good gravy!  I was an ole nag if there ever was one.

One of my children, who shall not be named, pushed, stamped and banged on every button I have.  This child is relentless in her efforts to frustrate and anger me.  I wonder sometimes if she just loves to watch me wind up into a whirlwind of weary wrath.  (Can you tell I’ve been teaching figurative language lately?)  

She makes sassy an art form…or a weapon…not sure which is a better description.  I don’t understand why though.  We were leaving church for goodness sake..shouldn’t we all be in a good place spiritually, emotionally, mentally…?  She walked to the car with the swagger of a movie star, almost started battling with her sister as they climbed into the car, flounced into her seat with some sassy comment about someone, and proceeded to annoy every one of us in any way that she could.  For the entire ride.  

I, at that point, was in a lovely place spiritually, emotionally, mentally… and tried to offer her grace with some firm warnings to settle down.  I believe she took that as a challenge to amp up.  By the time we got to lunch with Grandma, she was in full bratty mode.  All through lunch, I quietly encouraged her to be kind, be nice, be sweet, leave your sister alone, don’t make those faces.  To no avail.

By the time we were leaving Grandma’s, I was ready to spew forth my frustrations in words.  And spew I did.

I gave her “what-for” as my dad would say.  I told her all the things she had and was doing wrong, told her that her behavior was appalling, embarrassing, didn’t show who she really was, was disrespectful, rude, unkind…etc.etc.etc.

And do you know what her response was?  Sassy words!  Smiles! MORE disobedience.

Oh my!

This dear child of my heart has been my spiciest child by far.  My challenge.  My bring-me-to-my-knees child.  My twist-me-into-knots child.  My drive-me-up-a-wall child.  My “oh Father, what were you thinking?” child.  

But she is also my dear little girl who brings me joy and laughter in ways no one else can.  She blesses me with precious notes and beautiful pictures often.  She has written “I love you” to me more than any other child…possibly more than all my other children combined.  She is a sweetheart under all the sass.

That day, I lost complete sight of the sweetheart.  All I could see was the sass.  

After some room time, she came out to ask to play outside.  I asked if she was ready to apologize for her behavior.

She said, “No.”  

Alrighty then.  

“Please go back to your room.”  

“But I want to play and I really am sorry.”  

Yeah….right.

We talked some more.  Talked about what would be ways that I could help her make better choices.  She said I could be nicer.  I told her that doesn’t seem to work.  She kind of agreed.  She said I could give her time out.  I said, “I did.  And you are still not repentant.”  She said, “You could just let me sit on the stairs instead of going to my room.”  I said, “Then you’ll just be sassy on the stairs and I’ll get angry again.”  

She smiled.  

She knows.  

She knows she is pushing my buttons.

Why can’t I be the adult in this situation?  Why can’t I maintain my calm?  Why do I lose my mind and control of my tongue?  

Proverbs 10:19 keeps popping into my head (ugh):

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

The NIV version is even better for my situation:

Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.

Neither her sin nor mine will be diminished by my plethora of words.  

The other verse that hides in the back of my mind all the time is Proverbs 15:1:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I can do soft for a bit…a bit…before my harsh words can no longer be contained. Unfortunately, it truly does make things so much worse.  And I end up with an angry daughter in her room and an angry momma downstairs  who also happens to be crushed by feeling like a failure.  

In those moments, I often find myself sitting down crying out to God, “Lord, what were you thinking?  Why did you think I could do this?  I don’t like this life.  I hate this life.”  

God forgive me.  

That day, I added to my grievances.  “Lord, what were you thinking giving me 5 children and then taking away my husband?  What good could possibly come from this?  Obviously, I am not up to this task.  Obviously, I’m failing.  Look where we are today!  On Sunday no less!  Lord, I hate this.”

He is gracious to listen.  I know he understands.  I know he forgives me my rant.  But my children sometimes overhear this conversation between God and me.  You know how I know?

They say the same things sometimes.  Last night one of my other children wanted to stay up a little bit later than she should.  I said no and her response was, “I hate my life”.  

Wait, what?!?  

You hate your life because you can’t watch a show for 15 more minutes!?!  

It made me think about myself…my words to God.  

“I hate my life.”

Do I really?  

No.

So why does it feel like I need to say those words to God?  Why do I need to throw out such obvious exaggerations, such untruths about my life.  

I might hate this situation.  Hate the moment.  Hate the conflict.  But I most certainly don’t hate my life.  

I love so much about my life.  There is so much to love.  And so many to love.

But in those moments when I feel like a frustrated, fearful, furious failure…yeah, those moments…oh how I hate things.  I hate how I’m acting…how I’m not the mom I want to be…how in those times when I could choose to rise to the challenge, I instead feel like I helplessly fall into the fail pit.

Afterwards, I can think of so many better things to say and do and think…but in the heat of the moment, when my fury is fired up…I don’t think.  I just speak…spew…pour forth words…I am  faucet of frustration.  

And I wish so much I could control my tongue. And that reminds me of James 3:3-11:

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilots want to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers and sisters this should not be.  Can both freshwater and saltwater flow from the same spring?  My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?  Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

Part of that can be discouraging…”but no human being can tame the tongue”…if I can’t make my mouth stop talking or nagging or grumping or fussing…what am I to do?

One of my NIV Study Bibles says, “It is better to fight a fire than go around setting new ones!”  So, even though I will not perfectly control my tongue, it is worth the fight.  And I do not fight it alone.  The Holy Spirit is always with me to help me.  

Why do I let my tongue reign supreme in all challenging situations?  Why do I not take 10 seconds to think before I speak.?  Honestly, I’d take 3 seconds of thinking before opening my mouth…that would probably help curb the tide of crazy that comes out of my face.

I think it is because I’m selfish.  I want things to go smoothly…to be easier…would everyone just do what I say?! Would everyone just help!?  Would everyone just settle down!?  Would everyone just listen!?

Would I just settle down!?!  Would I just listen?!

When I rant I am not kind, gentle, loving, and gracious…not at all.  And usually I’m ranting about one of my children who has chosen not to be kind, gentle, loving, or gracious.

Awesome.

I’m showing them exactly what I don’t want them to do by doing it myself!!!! Good gravy! Have I learned nothing from all the parenting books I’ve read?

I don’t want to be the don’t do as I say or do parent.

I wonder how to change this dynamic in our family…in my relationship with my children.

The only thing I can think of…the only thing…is prayer.  

Recently a friend shared that praying continually has made a huge difference in perspective, decision-making, and trust.  I know that and I still don’t life that way!  

You must be tired of me sharing my conviction to pray more and my realization that prayer is the answer to the dilemma and yet….here I am AGAIN!

Sheesh.

And I wonder if God thinks to Himself, “Daughter, why won’t you just listen?  Why won’t you just do as I say?”  Thankfully, he isn’t me and always, ALWAYS, responds to my mess of emotions and words with love and grace.

Today, I am alone for a few hours.  *sigh*  And I can pray out loud without small ears listening to every word and asking questions I’m unprepared to answer.  

I will lift up my children, spicy ones first, and myself to the Lord.  I will ask that God gives us the ability to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).  I will pray that all of us will do all things without grumbling and questioning and complaining (Philippians 2:14).  And that I will model for my children Paul’s exhortation to think of only what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worth of praise.  (Philippians 4:8).