“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-7
I call this blog Words to Spare because I usually have lots to say. Right now, I’m finding it very important to speak up. I’m engaging in lots of conversations with fellow white folks, doing my best to share what I’ve learned and help lighten the emotional labor of my Black friends who don’t necessarily want to be answering every question from every acquaintance who is suddenly paying attention. I’ve been to a prayer rally in my town and have plans to attend an NAACP gathering tonight and another prayer rally next week. I’ve been talking about justice for a long time around here, but the whole world feels different right now, and I don’t think it needs more of my words.
This week, I’m finding it very important to also be silent. On Instagram, I’m trying to amplify Black voices, and pause my own photos and words so that others can be better heard. And I think that’s what I need to do here, too.
I stand with my Black brothers and sisters against injustice. I honor them as fellow image bearers of God. I’m anti-racist, and I will give my time, votes, dollars, and words to dismantle the systems that have harmed so many of them for so long.
Please take a few minutes to read these perspectives, and pray with me for humility in our own hearts and for justice in our nation.
Bible study in the time of corona… looks a lot like web-based conference calling. Like so many other folks, I’ve taken to using Zoom and FaceTime for most of the meetings and gatherings that used to fill my days, and Bible study is no exception! I miss opening up my door and welcoming ladies in to sit in the living room and open God’s Word, but I suppose one advantage to moving our meetings to an online format is that some folks who couldn’t make it to my midday gatherings are able to log in and join us now.
Last night, our Bible study conversation turned to fear. We’ve been reading in the Psalms, and we observed that even when David or the other psalmists cry out to God in fear, worry, or anxiety they always come to a posture of faith and worship by the end of the song. It’s a really beautiful reminder to us that we can bring all of our messy emotions to the Lord, and that the right way to process our emotions with Him is to end up in praise and thankfulness. Nevertheless — most of us have some types of fear assailing us right now.
Some are worried about the virus, if not for themselves then for vulnerable family members or friends. Some are worried about their livelihoods, the businesses they’ve built. Some are worried about the students they teach, the clients they serve, the people they help at ministries which are now closed or out of contact.
And there are the year ’round worries: our children’s growth and development, relationship issues, finances, educational or career decisions. There’s nothing new under the sun, we are reminded in Ecclesiastes. People have had things to fear since the dawn of time. The thing is, God’s people have had the antidote to fear for just as long.
I promised my Bible study friends that I would compile a list of Scriptures we can use to actively combat fear. One of the best ways to ensure fear doesn’t take root in your heart is to speak the truth of God’s Word. In Ephesians 6:10-18, when Paul writes about the armor of God, he first describes the defensive pieces. The only offensive weapon for believers is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Once that was done, I felt like it was something worth sharing. So I’ve made it a PDF that you can get right here. I pray that these verses and sample prayers will encourage you and strengthen you in your fight against fear. We are more than conquerors through Christ, my dear friends!
Click image to download your copy of the Praying Scripture PDF!
By the way: I’ve written before about my personal struggles with anxiety here & here. If you are battling clinical anxiety, I am here for you and I am on your side, sister. I take anxiety medication and I’ve seen therapists on and off for years. I am not insinuating that you can just pray that away, or that if your anxiety remains after praying Scripture that you’ve somehow lacked faith. I wish I could pour you a cup of coffee and give you a hug! You can be a faithful Christian, and still have a physical body that battles this ailment — just like we can have godly brothers & sisters who battle any other chronic medical condition. I believe that God sees you and loves you, on the good days when your head is above water AND on the bad days when you struggle with it all. Rest in the truth that His grace is sufficient for you, and that His power is made perfect in our weakness. Grace and peace to you.
We’ve always been big fans of Disney animation (and Disney parks, and Disney pins, etc etc) and recently, I shared some of the faith lessons I see on display in Disney’s The Rescuers over at my friend Laura’s great blog.
I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on how the shutdowns in Kentucky were impacting our family and a few tips for parents who are trying to make the best of the situation alongside the Children’s Director at our church.
What’s working for you? What’s been your biggest challenge?
I’ve baked 216 cookies so far this month. The recipes and ingredients are lined up for another 276 by the end of this week. A few nights ago, my darling husband had the Unmitigated Confidence, the Unabashed Audacity, to ask, “Hey, you know these cookies? [flashes a photo of peanut butter blossoms on his phone] Could you make a batch for Christmas? I just really like them.”
I mean. Y’all. I’ve already prepared “Santa’s Whiskers,” and peppermint-cocoa cookies, peppermint meringues, and up next are M&M cookies, chocolate-covered cherry cookies, gingerbread, and another batch of meringues. AND HE ASKS FOR MORE? Just because he likes them?!
Dear reader, I told him I would bake them, if he picks up the bag of Hershey’s Kisses from the store.
The evening of the cookie conversation, I tweeted: “I need to start asking for things I want, just because I like them, with that level of boldness.” (I was really only thinking about asking Chris. For stuff and nonsense. But then…)
“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your SHAMELESS AUDACITY he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!””
Luke 11:5-13 (NIV) emphasis mine
It reminded me of how I’d felt when Chris asked for cookies. Even though I am already busy (like the man in the parable who’s already resting with his family), something about the sheer chutzpah of the request made me acquiesce. Look at that passage again.
Asking for More
Do you see what I see? Down there after Jesus says that even human fathers give good things to their kids? He says that God the Father “much more” gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
I hadn’t noticed that part before. I had recklessly applied the notion of “ask/seek/knock” to persistent prayer about nearly anything. But I think I was missing an important point. Jesus’ concluding sentence tells us that our shameless audacity should be used to ask for the Holy Spirit’s presence and working in our lives.
And that puts me in mind of Paul’s writing to the church at Corinth. Go read all of chapters 12-14. He leads off this section of his letter with, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (12:1) and goes on to tell them at least three times to “earnestly desire” the gifts. In one spot he says “desire the higher gifts” (12:31), in another “especially that you may prophesy” (14:1), and concludes this way: “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order” (14:39-40).
So, friends, take this thought with you: are you asking God, with the Unmitigated Confidence, the Unabashed Boldness, the Shameless Audacity of a man who loves peanut butter blossoms… to give you the powerful workings of the Holy Spirit, especially the higher gifts?
Be bold. God loves you even more than a wife with forty-eleven dozen cookies to bake, and He gives more graciously and abundantly, too.
Raise your hand if you hated AP Chemistry in high school.
How about Organic Chem in college? Raise your hand if that course nearly derailed your chosen major or served as a weed-out course at your school. (Confession: I actually didn’t have to take Organic Chem. I got college credit from my AP exam, and only had to take Science for Elementary School Teachers [not the actual course title] once I got to college. My husband majored in Bio and minored in Chem because he was pre-med, and the way he tells it Organic Chemistry was the class that made people decide how badly they reallllly wanted to pursue a career in medicine.)
So look: I don’t know much about chemistry. But I do know a couple of things about this little guy right here:
Serotonin. This neurotransmitter* keeps our brains happy and healthy. It plays a role in our sleep cycles, moods, social impulses, memory, appetite, and even libido.
One of the things I do remember vividly from my (single, solitary, high school) chemistry class is the visual image of how neurotransmitters work. It’s like a lock in a key: our bodies release the key –the substance (in this case, serotonin) that is designed to fit precisely into receptor cells—the lock. When you’re deficient in serotonin, you have a bunch of empty locks, and a certain set of symptoms develops that is your body’s way of warning you: “We need more serotonin.”
You can boost your serotonin in natural ways, like changing your diet & exercise routines, light exposure or talk therapy, or by taking certain medications, if your body isn’t producing enough on its own.
Now unfortunately, what happens sometimes is that people turn to other substances to fill those empty locks. Some drugs work by mimicking our natural brain chemistry, and when we are talking about medications under a doctor’s supervision that can be a good thing. But if we abuse substances that mimic serotonin (for example, LSD or the THC in cannabis) then we are filling those locks with a synthetic “key” that may do way more harm than good.
Our bodies can get the message, “we don’t need to make anymore serotonin, we have enough.” So by putting the wrong thing in the lock, we create a fault in the system — then we have too much of the real neurotransmitter in our bloodstream with no lock to attach to, or we have not enough because we’ve turned off the production. (That’s a really rough explanation of how illegal drugs work. Get a much more robust explanation here.)
Key to My Heart
I don’t know much about chemistry. But I do know just a little about the way God wired me, and I know there’s a lot in the natural world that can paint good pictures of spiritual truths.
I have a hunch that our souls were designed with similar lock-and-key mechanisms. The receptor, the hole, the empty place deep inside us is meant to drive us to God. The symptoms we feel when that place is empty are supposed to sound a warning: “we need a Savior.”
Furthermore, I think that when we fill up our locks with knockoff
keys – when we use counterfeit substances to soothe the ache and take away the
emptiness—we deaden our sensitivity to our real need.
To put a finer point on it: I think one empty space we feel is our need for community. We use counterfeit keys: obsessive love, toxic friendships, smothering familial bonds. When we operate in our own power, we ruin relationships with selfishness and pride. The problem isn’t the need, though. The need for community is real. That hole is there because we are each imago Dei, made in the image of God, who exists in perfect fellowship within the Trinity. We have a need for unity, for wholeness with another, because God perfectly embodies unity and wholeness as He has always been in relationship as Father, Son, and Spirit.
Or maybe the aching cavern you feel is for justice. That, too, I believe is a created need within every human soul. It’s not that we shouldn’t care about justice! It’s that, this far from Eden, the way we go about seeking justice usually misses the mark. We veer too heavily into one ditch or the other, and we rarely feel satisfied that the person or cause we are fighting for will achieve pure justice. We have a lock that yearns for justice because God, our Creator, is perfectly just. His key fits the lock and assures us of the already-not yet tension that in Christ’s kingdom, justice is here but it is also still coming—to be consummated perfectly upon His return.
Whatever gap you feel in your soul, examine what fills it. Where we are using temporal, finite, quick & easy numbing agents—anything that feels good in the moment — are we willing to admit what we really require is the eternal, unchanging, fully-satisfying presence of God?
*some scientists say serotonin is really a hormone, not a neurotransmitter. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus within the medical community at this point.