Why you shouldn’t pray like I did

“Oh! I have a house to sell, too! I’ll pray for the woman who’s going to buy it, just like you did! And then it will sell!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. While I hope that my “praying upside down” story inspires others, this kind of conversation makes me squirm. When I ...

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“Oh! I have a house to sell, too! I’ll pray for the woman who’s going to buy it, just like you did! And then it will sell!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. While I hope that my “praying upside down” story inspires others, this kind of conversation makes me squirm.

When I started praying that way, it didn’t feel like my idea. I believe God placed the idea into my mind. It happened during a time of prayer—I told God I was scared and didn’t know what I’d do if this went on much longer, and I got an instant thought-reply: Pray for the woman who will buy this house.

Like so often when God seems to speak, it was simple, direct, and not exactly logical. Over time, I discovered layer after layer to it. That I was to pray for her, not them. That things in her life had to line up before she’d be ready. I slowly discovered that praying this way helped me to understand that I was part of something else. That it took the focus off of my needs and made me more like Christ (although still far, far from coming close to Him). That praying this way and learning to care about her made it possible for Tim and I to be more generous when in the end we lost money in order to close the deal. After the house sold and I met Rosanne, the buyer formerly known as “that woman,” I learned that there were so many things that God did during that time.

Layer upon layer. God was faithful in the way He worked out the situation. He answered my prayers, and He answered Rosanne’s prayers, too. I love telling this story. (A side note: Having the story published in my first book answered yet another prayer.)

But here’s the problem with it all. I can’t promise God will answer you the same way He answered me.

I am sure He will answer. I am not sure when (it might be a very long time, or it might happen before I finish typing this sentence). I am not sure how He will answer (yes, no, maybe, not now). I am not sure what lessons He might want you to learn in the process, what people He wants to become part of your life, what decisions you will have to make, what sacrifices you will feel the need to offer. Although I believe God will be right there with you, I can’t even promise that you will see, hear, or feel Him.

So by all means, yes, pray for the woman who might someday buy your house. But, also, go to God with honesty. Be real. And spend some time listening. Maybe this is exactly what God wants you to pray, but maybe He has something else in mind for you. Something different—and yet better, because it is perfectly meant for you.

That’s why I get uncomfortable. It’s not wrong to see my story as a lesson and pray the way I did. But I am just afraid that people will see it as a magical answer, a formula. If I do this, then God will do that. But it really doesn’t work that way at all.

He is the reason this all worked. He is the reason I prayed the way I did.

The only credit I’ll take for everything that happened is this: I listened.

I don’t want to discourage you; instead, what I hope this post will do is encourage you to go back to God. To ask for your own, personal answer. To seek His direction. To ask Him what He wants you to do.

And then? Do it. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t apologize or make up excuses. Don’t wonder if you’re crazy for thinking you heard God. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hear from Him.

Pray, and listen.

Pray, and put one foot in front of the other.

Pray, and ask God how to please Him.

Pray, and thank Him for His goodness.

Pray, and ask God to strengthen your faith.

Pray. And wait. Trust Him, and believe Him when He responds.

And know that, whatever comes, God is in it. Know that, however large the obstacle, God can overcome it. Know that, however long you have to wait, God knows what He is doing.

Allow yourself to believe that He has something in store for you.Perfectly tailored to fit your needs. The right size, the right solution, the right timing.

And allow Him to do His thing. Whatever it looks like, however it sounds.

Because God is the one who turned my prayers upside down. And the One who made everything right. He is the One who came up with the crazy solution, and He is the one who enacted it. He gave me hope, and He provided the hope.

And He is the One who will do the exact same thing for you.

Only thing is, it may look completely different.


Tell me—What are you struggling with right now? Leave a comment and rest assured that I will pray for you.

In the boat with Jesus—and a giveaway!

Ever since I started genuinely following Jesus, I’ve felt an almost desperate longing for more of Him. For revelations that can only come from God. For a deeply passionate and intimate faith. But I can only go so far in that direction before I falter. My heart longs for more of God, it really does. ...

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Ever since I started genuinely following Jesus, I’ve felt an almost desperate longing for more of Him. For revelations that can only come from God. For a deeply passionate and intimate faith.

But I can only go so far in that direction before I falter.

My heart longs for more of God, it really does. Even in my lesser moments. But, inevitably there comes a time when it gets hard to keep living out my faith. Really hard. (Or I get bored. Or busy. Or discouraged. Or I feel like He’s not listening—or maybe that I have nothing to say.)

At those times, I’m not sure I have what it takes to stick with it. There’s a verse in James chapter 4 that says, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In context, it’s talking about not knowing what will happen tomorrow, about the insignificance of our lifetimes in the span of eternity.

But every time I read it, I’m haunted by the certainty that it’s Jesus speaking to me.

I am like a mist… I’m here now, but before long—tomorrow? next week? an hour from now?—I’ll vanish. I’m a vapor. Not solid. Impermanent. Uncertain. Fickle. Not dedicated enough. Weak and weary. All too aware of my lack of discipline, my inability to stay focused on one thing for the long term. I know that I can do all things through Christ. I know that He has called me, and that when I let myself abide in that holy place with Him, my abilities (or lack thereof) fall away and His take over.

And yet, some days the responsibility that comes from wholly committing to this life weighs heavy on me. The knowledge of my weaknesses immobilizes me.

51svFT1o0FL._SX321_BO1204203200_I recently read an Advance Copy of Suzie Eller’s new book, Come with Me: Discovering the Beauty of Following Where He Leads. There are so many things I would like to share with you, but I’ll stick to the one that truly stopped me in my tracks.

Remember in Matthew 4 and Mark 1 when Jesus asked Simon Peter and his brother to leave their nets behind and follow Him? They did.

And yet, we see in Luke chapter 5 that Jesus sees two boats, left there by fisherman who were washing their nets at the end of a discouraging night. He gets in the boat belonging to Simon and asks him to put out from the shore.

Here’s what I never noticed: At some point, Simon went back to fishing.

He was weary and wasn’t catching anything. Jesus had him try one more time, and this time the results were spectacular—but what came before that is the bigger point: Jesus waited in the boat for Simon to come to him. No shame, no beating him up for disappearing again. Jesus knew just where Simon Peter would be, so He went to him.

And Jesus knew just where He would find me—returning again and again to my old ways. He knew that, just as Simon was having no luck at all, catching no fish, feeling tired and discouraged, so was I. When I hurt my arm, I got weeks of much-needed time off work. A dear friend commented one day that I was given this gift of time, so why would I fill it up with the same ol’, same ol’? Why not do things differently this time?

Indeed. Because clearly my old way of doing things wasn’t working so well. No fish in my nets—no margins. I didn’t have time for the people who matter the most. I didn’t have the energy to reach out and do things for people, to be God’s hands extended. I didn’t have the kind of prayer life I want to have.

So I’ve pondered and prayed. I’ve let my crowded mind slow to a leisurely pace, accepting the fact that I need help and cannot do it all myself. I’m evaluating the way I work, the tasks that fill my days, and who I think God made me to be.

And what I’ve discovered during these weeks of figuring out who I am when I’m not being defined by my work is that I’m not doing it alone. All along, Jesus has been sitting in my boat.

I don’t want to meet Him and follow Him temporarily. I don’t want it to be a phase I move in and out of. I want to commit. To follow Him—truly follow Him—without limits.

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Jesus is waiting in my boat for me to push out from the shore of who I’ve been and row towards who He wants me to be. I’m not having to do it alone. I’m moving forward with the One who knows where we’re going. The One who knows what I need to do. The One who sees me, understands me, and inspires me.

But the biggest miracle, as Suzie Eller pointed out at a retreat I attended, is this: when I cast out into deeper waters, even if I never have any fish—the miracle is that I am experiencing a deeper walk with God. As she wrote, “Where we go is not nearly as important as who we go with.”

So I am going, with no hesitation whatsoever. Facing forward eagerly and happily. No looking back. Because as long as I’m in the boat with Jesus, there’s no place I’d rather be.

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I’m giving away a copy of Come with Me. To enter, leave a comment below before midnight on May 2, and share where you think God is leading you. Or what He’s asking you to say yes to. If you don’t win, you can order the book here or from your favorite retailer. It releases on May 3. #livefree #comewithme

When you don’t deserve God’s grace

One Sunday morning when our son, Bobby, was six, he left our pew and walked straight to the front of the church, up the steps onto the platform, right in the middle of our worship. Pastor Nathan was sitting in a chair off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his sermon notes. Bobby ...

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One Sunday morning when our son, Bobby, was six, he left our pew and walked straight to the front of the church, up the steps onto the platform, right in the middle of our worship. Pastor Nathan was sitting in a chair off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his sermon notes. Bobby circled around the worship leader, ignored the musicians, and climbed into the seat next to Nathan.

With a sigh, he leaned back and then scooted to the edge of the chair. The big smile and hug Nathan gave him weren’t a surprise—Nathan had taught all the children that they were always welcome to come up front. That day, as I watched through tears, I finally understood the beauty of having direct access to God. Knowing that He welcomes me, and you, with joy. No matter who’s watching.

That’s what the Bible means when it says, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT)

It’s a perfect picture of how we are to approach God. Boldly, with the faith of a child. Not hesitating, not being hindered by all the reasons we—or someone else—might think we’re not worthy to be up there right next to the King. All that matters—the only thing—is that He loves us. He could be annoyed by the interruptions; He could shush us and say that he has more important things to do. But He doesn’t.

Some people have trouble coming to God because they don’t feel worthy. They quote scriptures like Psalm 22:6 (“But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!”). Their understanding of mankind’s (general) and their own (specific) sin, paired with an awareness of the holiness of God, cripples them, making them afraid to trust that He really wants them. Because they are convinced they don’t deserve to be there.

Somehow, I didn’t have that same struggle. I knew I couldn’t earn my way to a relationship with God, but like my son, I approached God with confidence. I took the Scriptures at face value: “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners … So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Romans 5:8-12)

But then.

My mom was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer and I started a three-year roller-coaster ride. I claimed to have faith, but I was as dry and parched as a desert inside. When it came time to pray, I had nothing to say. Bitterness and sorrow and pain replaced any words I might have had. After Mom died, I built the walls even higher—fortifying them, adding a moat filled with alligators, for good measure—to protect myself from being hurt again. I rolled my eyes when someone at church would stand up and testify that they had been healed. Or even that they believed in healing.

I wasn’t sure if God didn’t answer or if He gave me the wrong answer. I began to doubt whether He was able to effect change at all. I hadn’t just lost Mom. Not to sound overly dramatic, but I’d lost everything I believed in. My grief made me incapable of seeing the truth. And the fickleness of my faith filled me with shame.

I had ceased to be the child approaching God without hesitation, or even the temperamental teenager stamping her foot and refusing to look at Him—and turned into that lowly earthworm. Why would God want me back? Once I realized how much I wanted—needed—Him, I didn’t feel like I had the right to ask Him. Because I had rejected Him before.

And then one Sunday morning at church we sang a song that broke through my defenses. “Through it all, through it all… I learned to trust in Jesus, I learned to trust in God.” I felt the walls crumbling as I thought-prayed, “No I didn’t. I failed miserably. Lord, I’m so sorry.”

Immediately I felt His response. “But I got to show you grace!”

Notice, He didn’t say that He had to. Nor that He did it grudgingly. Instead, it was like our magnificent, holy God was a little child Himself, hopping from one foot to the other, giddy with excitement at the gift He was thrilled to give me.

The one I didn’t deserve.

But that didn’t matter to God. All that mattered was that He wanted me back. He allowed me to march right up to that altar and lean into Him, to scoot close to the edge of His chair. To look into His face and see the kindness in His smile.

And to take a deep breath of relief, knowing I was right where I belonged. Filled with, wrapped in, emboldened by, and surrounded by His unfathomable grace.

Jesus liked to pray upside down, too

I don’t know about you, but my favorite way to pray is upside down. I’m in good company. Jesus constantly surprised his followers—and critics—with His unexpected answers. Jesus always challenged the status quo. He looked beyond the surface and wasn’t afraid to flip things around. One Sunday morning when my son, Bobby, was six, he left ...

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I don’t know about you, but my favorite way to pray is upside down.

I’m in good company. Jesus constantly surprised his followers—and critics—with His unexpected answers. Jesus always challenged the status quo. He looked beyond the surface and wasn’t afraid to flip things around.

One Sunday morning when my son, Bobby, was six, he left our pew and walked straight to the front of the church, up the steps onto the platform, right in the middle of our worship. Pastor Nathan was sitting in a chair off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his sermon notes. Bobby circled around the worship leader, ignored the musicians, and climbed into the seat next to Nathan. With a sigh, he leaned back and then scooted to the edge of the chair. The big smile and hug Nathan gave him weren’t a surprise—Nathan had taught all the children that they were always welcome to come up front. That day, as I watched through tears, I finally understood the beauty of having direct access to God. Knowing that He welcomes me, and you, with joy. No matter who’s watching.

This must be what Jesus meant when He spoke to the adults who tried to shoo the children out of the way:

“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

Jesus broke with convention and offered all that He had to those who had nothing. No qualifications required. No secret handshake. All we need to approach Him is the confidence that He will not stop us.

And His upside-down answers didn’t stop there.

“Whoever is least among you is the greatest.” Luke 9:48

In God’s world, the blessings come from serving rather than being served. From loving, rather than just being loved. From being welcomed by the Master, even if no one else thinks we belong.

In the Bible, the Pharisees didn’t hide their good deeds but took pride in their public displays. Jesus chastised them.

Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1

Jesus flip-flopped public faith for private, emphasizing that what’s in a person’s heart is more important than a person’s actions, and reminding us that God’s reward system isn’t the same as this world’s.

The best way to follow Jesus is by embracing the unexpected. By opening our minds to surprising new ways to see Him.

But it’s not always easy. God is the Master of Creativity, the original Artist, and He rarely responds in the ways we expect. He may ask you to forgive, even if you are the one who is wronged. He may ask you to become the wife your husband needs, rather than turning your husband into the man you always dreamed of. He may not save your job, but He might give you the time you’ve always needed to learn more about Him, or free your schedule to finish the renovations on your kitchen. He might not deliver you from poverty but instead teach you how to budget, balance, and take care of what He’s provided. Or He may show you that even if you have very little, when you can find ways to give what you do have, you will feel wealthy.

Praying upside down can be a literal flip-flop of your prayer (like when I prayed for the unknown woman who would eventually buy my house, rather than praying that I would sell the house) or any type of prayer that is unconventional, unexpected, or unusual. The power isn’t in the asking or dependent on your ability to find a creative way to ask—it’s in the creative and surprising ways in which God answers.

In Luke 22:42, Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (KJV). Nevertheless is a powerful word you rarely hear these days. When included in prayer it means that even if nothing make sense to us yet, even if we don’t know what to expect, we want the best that God has. We’re acknowledging that, even 2,000 years later, Jesus continues to provide a fresh approach. When we pray upside down, we’re looking at our situations from a different point of view—His—and saying, “I may not always understand—nevertheless, I’m willing. Turn me upside down, if that’s what You want.”

Because if that’s His point of view—oh, what a view that must be.

Prayer for the restless

Lord, my life is pretty good. Things are where they’re supposed to be. I have my family and friends. Good relationships. Steady work. I know—more or less—who I am and what you made me to do. Don’t think I’m not grateful, because I am. But there’s a part of me that feels restless. Dissatisfied. I ...

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Lord, my life is pretty good. Things are where they’re supposed to be. I have my family and friends. Good relationships. Steady work. I know—more or less—who I am and what you made me to do.

Don’t think I’m not grateful, because I am. But there’s a part of me that feels restless. Dissatisfied. I long for more. I want something else. I don’t want to make drastic changes. And I feel like I should be happy. I want to feel contentment, to rest in this place you’ve placed me.

I want to serve You better. Serve You differently.

Love You more whole-heartedly.

Know You more intimately.

Believe in You more strongly.

Trust in You more completely.

I’m longing for something more, but I don’t know what it is. I’m feeling restless.

I don’t think this is me being whiny, nor is it envy for what someone else has. I think maybe it’s hunger for something deeper.

If that’s what it is, Lord, then keep stirring me up. Let me be ready, always ready. Allow me to embrace what You place before me. Enable me to see when You reveal, feel when You reach out, hear when You speak. And act when You call me. Help me to never settle for less than all You have to offer.

But if I’m using these feelings as an excuse not to commit, then change me. I don’t want excuses. I want You. I don’t want to fall short. I want to soar higher.

Whatever that looks like. However it happens. No more floundering, no more aimlessness.

Use these feelings to transform me into the me You made me to be. The one You want me to become. The version of me that is better, more grounded in my faith, more generous in my kindness, more genuine in my love.

The version of me that is more like You. Oh, how I long to be transformed. And oh, how I thank You for each step You walk beside me along the way.

My holy and gentle Lord, I am amazed by You.

Amen.

Finding Peace & Purpose in a World of Crazy

The irony is not lost on me. I have post-it notes all around my computer monitor, lists of deadlines and checklists to keep me on task. I eat at my desk. I stay in my office until late at night, trying to squeeze in one more project, one more email, one more blog post, one ...

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The irony is not lost on me.

I have post-it notes all around my computer monitor, lists of deadlines and checklists to keep me on task. I eat at my desk. I stay in my office until late at night, trying to squeeze in one more project, one more email, one more blog post, one more cog in my social media platform. Then I get an email asking for help—can I read this book and post a review THIS WEEK in exchange for some free books? Of course, I say. Because, if you know me at all, you know I always think I can do one more thing. On Monday, I was a superhero designer, accomplishing massive, voluminous feats without breaking a sweat.

Tuesday was a whole other thing. A crappy day. Dreary, dark, blustery weather to match my mood. Work was making me crazy. Such a huge list of deadlines and not enough information. I sat at my desk and cried, but only for a sec, because who has time for this? I had piles of things to put away, galleys of my own second book to proof and return, and a son to pick up from school. I sent emails, checked the proofs, ran to the store, answered the phone, begged my husband to drive through someplace and bring back dinner because I had so much to do. Finished proofing while watching Downton Abbey. Power-watched two episodes of a brainless Netflix series (to escape reality and relax), and then I realized it was only 10:15. I could squeeze in a few chapters of my new book (the one whose review is due in three days) before bed.

I’ll be honest. I planned to skim it and get the review done quickly. But I immediately discovered that would not be possible. I underlined something on nearly every page. Marked almost every word on others. Drew clouds and thunderbolts and stars and boxes around things.

Breaking Busy Book. Alli Worthington. If it doesn't add to your life, it doesn't belong in your lifeAnd all the while, everything that I’ve been so frantically juggling decided to crash down around me.

I already knew my life was out of control, unbalanced. I knew I wasn’t handling things well. I’ve felt God nudging me, whispering to me, suggesting changes. But this wasn’t a still, small voice anymore. God was shouting. Not in anger, but it had to be loud to make me sit up and take notice. It had to be strong to get me to respond.

Earlier that same day, God spoke into my soul—hours and hours before I opened the pages of this little turquoise book—and said I need to make changes. I need to trust Him. I need to stick up for myself. Live the way I know I need to. Quit setting myself up for spiritual failure—spiritual, emotional, physical overload.

It needs to stop.

But it’s never quite as easy as that, is it? Because I feel like I have some kind of responsibility to do more, to do everything I’m capable of doing. Because I evaluate myself with such twisted measures of success. Because I need to earn money. That’s often what it comes down to for me. Quality of life I want schedule-wise, or quality of living money-wise?

Breaking Busy spells out the havoc of a life lived the way I have been living mine. It shows why we can’t and shouldn’t try to define ourselves by how busy we are. It spells out the dangers. Asks the right questions. Discusses warning signs and danger zones. And kindly, gently, with a good sense of humor, the author prodded me until I could see—no, admit—the problems I’ve avoided.

unspecifiedYou probably wish I’d talk more about the book and less about myself. But like all the best books, Breaking Busy spoke to me deeply. Books like this spark inner debate, stir up passions, and inspire—to such an extent that the change seems disproportionate to the actual words that started the spark and in a way that makes it impossible to separate the resultant change in me from the content of the book itself. But after sleeping on it, and getting up and reading more, I’ve prayed and prayed, talked to friends, and already taken some steps towards the changes God is showing me. I don’t know what it will all look like in the end because I’m still processing, still trying to ask for and hear what God is telling me. All I can say for sure is that this book has changed me, and I absolutely believe I will come out better in the long run, even if the process is hard.

If you don’t live the kind of crazy, always-striving life I do—if you do things like find quiet time for yourself, take the occasional nap, and let yourself fully engage with your family whenever you can—then this book probably won’t speak to you like it did to me. But it might, because it’s full of wisdom—new insights from scripture and old stories told in new ways. If you feel like there’s always more you should do, then grab some kleenex and a journal and sit down and know it won’t be a quick, easy read. It might, however, be just what you needed to hear. It will definitely be worth it to contain the “busy” and find the calm that comes when we live as the people God made us to be. No more, no less. But just exactly right.


Just say no to unnecessary crazy. BreakingBusy.com #BreakingBusy


I received a copy of this book plus a book bundle from Zondervan in exchange for my honest review of Breaking Busy.

Prayer for the overachiever

Lord, there is so much I want to do. So much You made me able to do. Not just in my home or professional life, but in my faith life. I want to grow deeper, learn more, and pray more. I want to find more of You. But the inherent beauty in grace lies in ...

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Lord, there is so much I want to do. So much You made me able to do. Not just in my home or professional life, but in my faith life. I want to grow deeper, learn more, and pray more. I want to find more of You.

But the inherent beauty in grace lies in this truth: I can’t do a single thing to earn any more of Your love.

I can try. I can strive, commit, persevere. Achieve, succeed, reach.

And yet You’ve already offered me all of Yourself, independent of what I will do or have done. Understanding this is freeing and frustrating all at once. Because it takes off the pressure—while forcing me to look beyond myself. To realize Your acceptance is not about my abilities, to recognize that my relationship with You cannot be forced. I can’t make it happen. Instead, I must yield. I cannot bend Your will into submission. And I cannot doggedly hold onto my own will, either.

Truly, I don’t want to. It’s a relief to know this is one thing I absolutely cannot do. And to have permission to stop trying and simply be. To be in Your presence. To be the object of Your love.

To be defined by You, not by what I do or who I am.

You’ve effectively taken the responsibility off me, and You hold it in Your capable hands. There is no better place to be than right here, right now, with You. To simply rest and stop trying. To know that You are the source. You are the way I find You. You are the way I get there, and You are also the destination.

You are all that You ever claimed to be, and more than enough.

You want me to come to You just as I am. Not when I’ve done more. Not after I’ve completed my task list. But now. With everything else stripped away. No recognition, no awards or accolades.

Just You and me.

It’s the most I could ever hope for.

Amen.

Time to stop being a control freak

Recently, on a night when I was hosting my book club, my husband walked in to the living room and started gathering our dirty dessert plates. I started off by rolling my eyes—of course he wants to take credit for being this great husband. By the time everyone left, the kitchen was clean, and I ...

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Recently, on a night when I was hosting my book club, my husband walked in to the living room and started gathering our dirty dessert plates. I started off by rolling my eyes—of course he wants to take credit for being this great husband. By the time everyone left, the kitchen was clean, and I climbed into bed, furious.

As I sat there, I started wondering why this made me so angry. Was it about him getting “credit” for what he did? Was he showing off?

No. I was mad because I could have done the dishes. I was going to. And every time Tim does something like this, I take it as a rebuke. I read into his attitude anger, disgust—the conviction that he had to step up because I didn’t fulfill my obligations.

And then I thought about Tim. And realized there was no way that’s what he meant. He was probably just trying to be helpful. Not criticizing my lack of action.

OK, so maybe hormones played into this a bit. But still, even taking that into account, I knew I was out of line. (And for the record, I apologized.)

A couple weeks later, my daughter called me, nearly in tears. She was back at college, and she needed to find her black dress, and she had seen it that day, but couldn’t find it now. She had already looked through all her clothes. She was frustrated, didn’t like any of my suggestions, and took it out on me.

There may have been some stress and hormones going on here, too (hers and mine). But I hung up the phone, upset, ranting in my mind. I wasn’t there. What was I supposed to do? And why did I feel like such a failure? How could the fact the she lost a dress make me feel as though I had personally failed her?

These two moments keep coming back to my mind. So I’ve been examining them, examining myself, wondering what they say about me.

The simple answer? That I’m a control freak.

When my kids or husband call me that, it makes me angry. Because someone has to make sure things get done. Someone has to pay attention to the big picture, and be sure that the details are handled, too. If not me, then who?

What I’ve discovered in the past 22 years of parenting is that it’s a whole lot harder to fix something after it’s done wrong (or too late) than it is to just do it myself.

But what has that taught my kids? To lean on me and not do it themselves.

What has that taught my husband? That he can’t win, and it’s not worth it to try to help.

What has it done for me? Raised my blood pressure, primarily. The things it has done are not good. It’s exacerbated my stress, added to my too-long to-do list, kept me from getting enough sleep, made it hard for me to relax, and strained my relationships. The people in my life have to be frustrated with me, and I’m tired of feeling like I have to pick up the slack.

So I’m done.

No, I’m not running away. But my mantra this past couple weeks has been “Don’t do it.” Forget Nike. I need to design a new logo with this much-more-catchy tagline: DON’T DO IT.

When my son had a paper due recently, I nudged him all day. And evening. And night. To keep moving. To hurry up. I drove him crazy—and justified that he needed someone to prod him because he wasn’t moving fast enough. It’s entirely possible that some steam may have escaped out of my ears. And even though I’m certain he thinks I was being controlling, I nagged much less than I wanted to, and I didn’t sit down with him and try to help.

I’ll call that a win. Even if he didn’t finish the paper until almost 1 am.

When my husband finished loading the dishwasher without me asking, I didn’t go in and say, “I was gonna do that.” Instead, I finished reading a chapter of my book as I sipped on my coffee.

The fact that these are ridiculous examples just goes to show how skewed my thinking had become.

I want control. I want to make sure things work. I want to accomplish stuff, check things off my list. I want to achieve, excel, succeed. I want to be the best. Do the most. I want to make it happen.

But I cannot control everything. I wrote a little about that last week, and I’m still trying to learn this lesson.

I have tried to do too much, and in the long run, it hasn’t helped anyone. Least of all, myself.

So I find myself saying no. Not out loud, necessarily. But just telling myself—OK, shouting loudly in my head to be heard above the chaos that reigns in there—NO. Don’t do it. Don’t volunteer. Don’t take over. Don’t worry if it’s not done just the way you want it.

Do not control everything.

Because it’s impossible, and it only leads to more frustration, more feelings of being inadequate, more failures. And because it’s not my job. It’s God’s. The Only One who can bring change. Who can impose order.

The One whose job I need to stop taking.

Branch Out with Me — 2016 Reading Challenge

It’s a new year, and I love reading challenges. Or, at least, I like the idea of them. Not sure I’ve ever completely followed through. But I’m willing to try, and hope you are, too. Things are always better when you do them together. Quite a few of you responded to my blog survey. (Thank you.) ...

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It’s a new year, and I love reading challenges. Or, at least, I like the idea of them. Not sure I’ve ever completely followed through. But I’m willing to try, and hope you are, too. Things are always better when you do them together.

Quite a few of you responded to my blog survey. (Thank you.) What I learned is what I already suspected: You don’t have a lot of time—and you are tired of the conventional. You like to face doubt, explore, and find new, practical ways to live your faith.

Clearly, so do I. And what I have learned is that it is always good for me spiritually when I am challenged. When I face new thought and ideas (even if I don’t agree with them), I grow because it forces me to figure out what I believe. To read, to study, to research.

Don’t worry, though. You’re not required to do anything extra. But what I hope you will do is let this be your excuse to try something new. To hear other voices, ones you might not have encountered on your own. To keep an open mind in the hopes that it will enrich your spiritual life. That it will deepen your faith. That you will have a newfound respect for other people’s opinions, and that you will realize that different views don’t have to be threatening.

First rule: no pressure. I want this to be helpful, not another obligation you feel you have to endure. So here’s the deal: If you hate it, you don’t have to finish it. If you love it, you can take your time with it—read it all year long if you wish, and skip the rest. If you want to check off the challenge but don’t have a lot of time, skim your books. Read the first chapter, flip through the book, and read the last chapter. Maybe you’ll want to go back and read it all, maybe you won’t, but you’ll at least have some awareness of the approach, writer, or concept presented. Or read some reviews online. Or check out the author’s website or blog. Or take a break and join us again the following month.

Each month I’ll provide a list to help give you some ideas—but they’re just ideas. Insert your own. Let this be a reason to explore, to strengthen your beliefs, to start new discussions. To see what God will reveal, to be open to hearing from Him in a new way, to expect surprises and insights and revelation.

So won’t you join me? Please? When you do (even if it’s only periodically), I hope you’ll share your book selections in the comments. Each month, I will write something about the books I read. And if you have any “nuggets” from your book—a single quote that you’ll remember, your overall impression, or whatever—it would make me so happy to have you share those with me.

So how about it? Ready to branch out a little? I know I am.

If you’re planning to participate, please comment below with the name of the book you plan to read. And at the end of the month, when I tell you about the book I read, you can share your insights in the comments below that post. Thanks!


My pick for January: For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. Why? Because I love her but I haven’t read any of her actual books yet (only her blog and social media posts). And because my book club is reading it anyway. (That’s not cheating—it’s simplifying to give me a better chance of success :-).) I also chose this because she’s part of the team of women who are speaking on the new Women of Faith Belong Tour—which, I’d like to add, is the organization for which I wrote my next book, Designed to Pray (coming out in August for their first event).

Some other ideas to consider (note: I’ve only read a couple of these so I have no idea what they’re like… all I know is they look interesting):

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman
Color the Psalms: An Adult Coloring Book for Your Soul (Color the Bible)
I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See
by Stephanie Rische
Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey
Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul by Erika Morrison
The SuperMom Myth by Becky Kopitzke
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns
Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You through Life’s Transitions by Kristen Strong
Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty and Adventure—Right Where She Is by Sarah Mae
Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
by Rachel Held Evans
Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life by Ruth Soukup
Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way
by Amber C. Haines
Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life by Carey Scott

Prayer for the new year

Oh, Lord, You are so beautiful. You are the Lord of Light. The Giver of Life. The Lover of my soul. The Hope of all generations. And yet we are living in a day that seems dark. Bleak and without redemption. We see hatred spewed online and in newscasts. Distrust in the unknown and unfamiliar. We’re noticing the ...

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Oh, Lord, You are so beautiful. You are the Lord of Light. The Giver of Life. The Lover of my soul. The Hope of all generations.

And yet we are living in a day that seems dark. Bleak and without redemption.

We see hatred spewed online and in newscasts. Distrust in the unknown and unfamiliar. We’re noticing the ugly, the divisive, the discouraging and demeaning.

We’re not looking in the right direction.

We’ve forgotten that You are in everything. That You can be found everywhere. That there is nowhere we can go to escape You. We cannot do anything too bad to be denied Your presence.

I know this. I do. And still I find myself retreating, harboring distrust, feeling uneasy. The world is scary. There is so much hurt. Anger and pain.

But You, Lord, are good. No matter how much bad I see, that does not detract from Your goodness. You feel the sorrow and despair. Know it. Redeem it. And ease the pain of it. You will never let go. You are supremely able. Completely in control. Utterly trustworthy. Thoroughly loving.

There is nothing that we will ever experience alone.

Lord, I don’t know what to do about all the hurt and hatred. I don’t know how to break addictions, heal divisions, restore relationships, bring peace, provide homes, or retrieve the lost.

All I can do is counter it with love.

And since You are the very definition of love, help me to lean on You when I feel too weak to stand alone. When I hunger for fairness, peace, or kindness, feed my parched soul with Your Word and nurture my faith with Your presence. Let me wholeheartedly believe that the world has not spun out of Your reach but that You are perfectly aware, perfectly able, and working towards something ultimately better than anything I can imagine now. When I doubt, assure me that You know more than I do. When I can’t see beauty, remind me that You see farther, hope deeper, love better.

Let me see You, Lord. Let us all see You. Let us remember who You are, and let us go into this year surrounded by Your beauty. Revived by Your strength. Renewed by Your hope. Exultant in possibility. Emboldened by Your truth. Rejoicing in Certainty that You love us and will never leave us.

Because You are God. And somehow, miraculously, defying all logic, You love us. And You are with us.

And that makes this new year one to celebrate. No matter what.

Amen.

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