When You're Walked Over, Pushed Aside, Overlooked: Outdo

I'm one of those quiet controllers. I don't have the loudest opinion about where we go to dinner or what to have for dinner or which curtains look best. Opinions I have, but voicing them amongst those with stronger (or louder) ones than I have isn't really my thing. I'm a cheap date, I tell my husband often, mostly because I'd rather peruse a used bookstore and come out empty-handed than a fancy rooftop dinner with micro-greens and chickens who had names. I like things simple and peaceful and quiet and easy. I want to slip in and slip out, mostly unnoticed, and hold myself to a pre-determined number of what I call "good conversations" with folks at most social events (Usually two is my goal, but if I get four I feel pretty okay about that.). This is how an introvert socials so hard. 

I quietly control, though, by the seething Wish I'd Saids and growing Piles of Regrets I let build up in my heart. I allow myself to be pushed over, walked on, shifted around, and then, one day, I'm surprised at the resounding No gurgling up from the mire inside. "No more." The Wishing I'd Said and Piling of Regrets has spoken and Lore reached her limit. 

I don't believe in limits, mostly. I believe in going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving my shirt and my cloak. And I believe most preferences and opinions are the modern day cheeks and cloaks and miles, especially for the modern day American who has all the shirts she needs and probably more than she needs. What else is there to give? Oh. My preferences

Preferences are everywhere and the thing about them is they're not wrong to have. There's a God who knit us together, crafting each of us with specificity and precision. He knows our inclinations and proclivities, and also knows we are dust. He knows dust hasn't got much to say for itself and probably wants to say as much for itself as it can. This comes out as preferences. And whether we have loud opinions or silent ones, we all have a preference or two or fifty or seven hundred. 

Romans 12:10 says, "Outdo one another in honor," and this means, literally, give preference to one another. Give my preference—the unique sometimes God-given desire I have, and even my preference for having a preference—away, deferring to the preference of another. Outdo my preference with theirs. 

This is convicting to me this morning because all this week I've felt shoved about by the preferences of others. My ideas and my plans and my hopes were pushed aside by the preferences of someone else, but instead of giving those preferences to them, I felt taken from in them. I felt as though my desires were stolen and someone else's given the star place. I'm convicted this morning because, well, that's no way to live. 

What does it mean to not need to control the outcome of a situation, but also not need the tally marks of self-righteousness for keeping silent as your preferences are overlooked? What does it mean to go about outdoing one another in honor? 

I think it means holding loosely to what we think is best, even if we really, really, really think it's best. I think it means posturing ourselves as servants more than masters. I think it means letting go of what we envision and giving instead to the vision of Christ: which is to serve more than we're served. I don't know fully how to do this because I'm an American and we like our opinions with a side of opinions, but I also know the Holy Spirit lives inside of me, bearing fruit I cannot bear on my own. And he bears the fruit of self-control—not me. The Spirit within me bears the fruit of a controlled self, freeing me to not control others and outcomes and opinions aplenty. He frees me to outdo my sisters and brothers in honor, truly making it my preference to overlook my preference and give extravagantly to them.  

This is a tough word for me today because I don't want to give up or give over. I'm weary of feeling like a floor-mat, of being expected to capitulate to the expectations of others, and not speaking up for my own—however unimportant—opinion. But I also know the Spirit inside of me who compels me toward self-control, also comforts me when I feel crushed. 

I'm praying for you and me today, as our preferences and proclivities get shuffled around and overlooked. I'm praying instead of feeling stolen from, we can embrace the words of Romans 12:10 and work to give that honor away before it can even think of being stolen. I'm praying that we become obedient, as Christ was, to the painful work of the Father in regard to our sin. And I'm praying that the Spirit comforts us when we're weak. I need that prayer today for my own heart, so I'm going to share it with you in case you do too. 

Fervor, Foolishness, and Faithfulness: Psalm 42 and Growth in Christ

His Bible is open to the Psalms this morning, left on the kitchen table beside a napkin from breakfast, the chair still pulled out, abandoned by its occupant in the still dark morning hours. I make eggs and toast, pour coffee, and sit in his chair, pull his Bible close. Mine is in the other room waiting with my morning motions, but an open Bible is a temptation of the good sort. I flick the pages a few forward until I come to Psalm 42, in which the famed deer pants.

I share the ache of this Psalmist: my tears have been my food, a despairing and disturbed soul. A melancholy ache for the days of old, when I "used to go along with the throng, leading them in the procession to the house of God." I do not camp in the hills of nostalgia often, but occasionally I will take a look behind me at what used to be and what might have been, and grow sorrowful. 

Two conversations with two friends last week: the first, a girl in her mid-twenties who mourns the fervor of her college days when she was poised to change the world with her faithfulness. She was going to be a history maker, a world changer, and now? Now she is a wife. A worker. Someone who clocks in and clocks out and goes home and makes spaghetti for her husband. She wonders, "Have I missed my chance to really be something?" The second conversation, a friend who wants to have more children but married late and is fearful the punishment for foolish twenties will be no more babies in her late thirties. 

I want to take their faces in my hands and say two things: the first is that none of us ended up where we thought we'd be, and if we did, I wonder how much of it was due to a controlled plan by us, and not a faithful following of a faithful God. The second is that God isn't punishing us for lost fervor or years of foolishness behind us. 

Sometimes I get lost in there, don't you? Lost in the regret that things aren't turning out like I thought they would, not in the order I thought best or the place I thought best. I ache for the sort of clarity and insight I had in my early twenties, the exacting nature of my mind, the black and whiteness of justice and faith and theology. I was so sure of so many things back then. I was, like the Psalmist, "leading the procession to the house of God, [part of a] multitude keeping festival." I was part of the throng of world changers and earth shakers. And now? Now I'm eating cold eggs and toast at a kitchen table listening to my dog pant at my feet and wondering if I should just mop and vacuum the floor or deep clean the whole house. This is what my life has come to? 

Did I waste my twenties with dreams and certainties and hopes and plans? Has my warm heart turned cold? Did I miss the call of God somewhere? When did I step out of the processional line, stop keeping the festivals with the multitudes? 

I rarely ask those questions anymore, though I have my bouts of them at times, because somewhere along the way I have begun learning to be more like the deer panting for water than the throngs in procession. I am learning what is required of me is faithfulness, not awesomeness; quietness, not greatness; love, not being larger than life. I need the water of life more than I need the approval of the multitudes. I need a refreshed soul more than I need to change the world. I need to know the love of a Father more than I need the love of men. 

Life is long, friends. Twenties? Thirties? God knows your days and has numbered them, but for most of us, these decades are at the beginning of a long life. And most of us will never change the world in wild ways, but may change it out of mere faithfulness to the small things. My pastor has spoken often in recent weeks of being patriarchs and matriarchs, looking behind us as all that has been sown in quiet faithfulness. "A long obedience in the same direction," Nietzsche called it (unknowingly lending a helpful phrase to the Christians he despised). One foot in front of another, one return to the water brook after another, one day of thirst after another. 

God didn't waste your teens or your twenties or your thirties and he's not wasting them right now, as you wake to the same perpetual motions of your every day. He's not stepped around your life, taken his hand off of you, ignored your pleas, or forgotten your desires. We might have forgotten the foolishness or fervency of our youth, but he is far more concerned with our faithfulness today. 

What is in your hand today? I know you were a big deal back then, but what about today? Who are you today and what has he set you to? Do that. Do it with all your heart as unto God, not man. Don't look for the approval of man, not even your own approval. There's not report card in Christianity, no medals to hang above your dresser or trophies to stand on a mantle. There's just you and a long obedience ahead. Be faithful. And then enter into the joy of your Master