Smallville

Adult life is not what I expected. I can’t define what it was I was looking for, but now that I’m here, I’ve been a bit surprised. For one, being an adult does not imply adult-like behavior. Next, no matter how great your eyesight was at 20, it will be worse at 40. Finally, the self image issues faced as a child haven’t really gone away.
My disillusionment with adult life was reenergized this week. In the course of conversation with a friend we each expressed a recent rough go of it. We were both wrestling the demons of fear, inadequacy, inability and smallness. The struggle was familiar. We’d been in this wrestling match before. Many times have we heard the sub-conscious shouts to give-up, tuck-tail and go home. This latest round of shouting was making us unsure, tentative, anxious and wobbly. As I wobbled, my thoughts drifted back to my growing-up years. Years of shyness and insecurity. Years of feeling…small.
Even though I’m all grown-up, at times I still feel small. Boyish, not man-ish. It’s a chronic syndrome that can be debilitating. Small feelings are like weeds in my thought life. A cold shadow on my demeanor. A fog over my marriage. An extinguisher of good parenting moments. Smallness shortens my temper while feeding emotional tiredness.
So what’s to be done when I tip toward thinking I’m small, second-rate and incapable – a little boy in a man’s body? Can I just fill my chest with air, cinch-up the boot straps and feign a John Wayne persona? Is looking big and manly the cure for small? Not really.
What I need is perspective. A reorientation that brings strength to my fragile moments. I need Someone who relates to my small with their big.
That big is God’s big. A big that engulfs, but doesn’t devour. A big that isn’t aloof or put-off by my self-centered fears. A big that is gentle, caring, comforting and available. A big that enters my small with understanding. A big that is personal, pursuing and gracious.
Here’s God, in all His bigness, entering our small.


Psalm 56:8-11
 (ESV)

 8You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
9Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
   This I know, that God is for me.
10In God, whose word I praise,
   in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
   What can man do to me?
So much for feeling small. When I toss, turn, fret and fear God settles, holds, calms and protects. He gives me safe shelter to stand, expand and face the lies. To embrace truth. To be a man. God makes me big – not so I look big, but so He does.
I’m grateful that God is big for me. That He patiently coaxes me out of my miserable corner thinking small thoughts. That He empowers me to be bold and risky for Him. After all, when my big Father cares enough to know the stories of each tear and the angst of sleepless nights, who or what can ever tell me I’m small?

Looney Tunes

I’m a Looney Tunes product. As a child I received moderate doses of Bugs, Daffy, Elmer, Foghorn and the gang. My introduction to slapstick comedy, teasing and harmless explosions came through such animated friends. To balance things out (and comfort my parents) I must add that I received my introduction to classical music through Bugs Bunny’s marvelous rendition of “The Barber of Seville”. Epic!

One cartoon I did not enjoy was Road Runner. I didn’t get it. A bird. A coyote. A chase. Same plot. Same conclusion. Insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. That would make Wile E. Coyote the poster toon for insane behavior.

As an overachiever, I stressed watching Wile E. I admired his perseverance, but cringed at his ineptitude. The non-stop scenes of failure weren’t funny – they were depressing. At some point the poor critter needed to taste success (and some Road Runner).

Despite my animation frustration, I’ve had a curious reminiscing of Wile E. this week. No, I haven’t developed an affinity for desert fowl or crafting clever traps loaded with birdseed. The helpless Wile E. is stirring reflection on my own frustration and helplessness.

Reflection came through the replaying of scenes where Wile E. was suspended, mid-air, a thousand feet above the canyon floor. Floating in no man’s land, contemplating yet another failure. As Road Runner sticks out his tongue and “beep-beeps” away, Wile E. is left dangling. Blinking. Questioning. Pleading. Then plummeting.

Recently, I’ve felt a bit like Wile E. I’ve had an anxious, suspended-out-over-the-canyon type of feeling. Like Wile E., I poke my toes below me hoping to find more than air. My mind races through a dozen scenarios as I hover. My stomach churns with fret, regret and presumption. My eyes blink with muted expectation. I drift. I wonder. I swallow hard. I sigh.

That suspended state engenders emotional fragility. Vulnerability. I teeter precariously on the brink of free falling – and not the kind of “free fallin’” Tom Petty sings about. Like Wile E., I often resign to holding-up a pitiful sign that says, “Help?”

As I reached for a pencil to scrawl another “Help?” placard this week, I’ve was nudged away from resignation to conversation. I’ve had this conversation before, but this time it was fuller and slower. It was a dialogue that fostered a richer relating. It carried me beyond a short-sighted distress call as God has presented Himself steady, strong and available.

As God and I conversed, He revealed (again) that in the midst of my thinking, dreaming, scheming and worrying I must talk with Him. I need to pray. When I experience the butter-flied stomach of mid-air suspension, I must stop. Drop the “Help?” sign, and grab His hand. He suspends me to get my attention. Then He holds me so I know He’s there. Then we talk so that I might learn, trust and love.

As I’ve gingerly settled into God’s grasp afresh, my desire for divine conversing has rejuvenated. E.M. Bounds said, “No amount of praying, done today, will suffice for tomorrow’s praying.” Today is today. Today is not tomorrow. Profoundly simple. But this simplicity arrests my cycle of fruitless effort. It conserves energy spent on worry and selfish maneuvering. Prayer today – for today – opens the door to peaceful rest. It steadies the chaos. It brings clarity through a wider view of life. It sharpens perspective on the supposed urgency of this moment.

So, when I’m feeling a “Wile E.” moment, I’m learning to trust that I’m not left to free-fall. I don’t need to surrender to scribbling hopeless “Help?” signs. God is there. Watching. Waiting. Ready – to talk. To not enter the conversation would be looney.

Shhh…it’s a Secret

Secrets. Everyone’s got at least one. Some secrets are fun, like a surprise party. Others exciting, like a pregnancy. Secrets can also be heavy as they weigh on our conscience, monopolize our thoughts and blur our focus.

This week one of my children told me a secret. It was a secret held close for quite some time. It wasn’t the fun, surprise party kind of secret. It was big. Burdening. Volatile. It was festering in a cloak of darkness. A secret that had secrets of its own, which it whispered into my child’s self talk. Lies, actually. Words from the pit. Poisonous arguments meant to bind my child in silence – a silence that sustained the secret and kept it safe.

But here’s a truth about secrets: a secret revealed has no power. That’s great encouragement, especially for those secrets we want hidden forever. Secrets that we fear, once known, will make us unlovable. I saw that fear in my child as they voiced their secret with a nervous courage. As the secret found expression, wonderful moments of victory erupted. A tightly closed door opened and light raced in to chase away darkness, deception and guilt. In the telling of what was hidden, my child was freed from a silent prison. Physical and emotional expressions of relief ensued. A celebration started as the power drained from a secret held painfully tight for too long.

And then we received an unexpected gift of grace. A gift born out of our interaction. My child expected me to respond to their revelation with some level of disappointment, anger, or even a lecture. That’s Ok. I’ve earned that presupposition. But by His grace, God blessed me with a calm spirit to receive the secret the way I would want my secrets received – carefully, gently, lovingly, gracefully.

How I listened and interacted with my child in a moment of intense vulnerability resulted in a memorable moment in our relationship. A small, but wonderful victory. The type of victory I yearn for. John Piper said, “God often disapproves of his children’s behavior. But he never treats us with contempt. Imitate him in your disapproving.” Too often my disapproval has tilted toward contempt – sometimes subtle, other times overt and judgmental. When really upset, I’ve been known to launch into a rehash of a tired 3-point sermon. Those are not my best moments. And that’s not how I would want to be treated. Nor it is how God treats me.

Jesus gives me blood-washed, bottomless grace for all my nastiness. He picks me up after all my stumbles. He knows about the secrets I’ve shared, and those I still keep. He receives me, not because of what I do, but because of who He is (Titus 3:5). That kind of treatment makes me want to do the hard work of growing a greater affection for Him and His kingdom. To be a better husband, father and friend. To be a better listener to my children’s joys, hurts, questions…and secrets.

Juice and Joy

I spent 24 hours last weekend with 11 other men. There was food, laughter, games and great spiritual conversation. It was a step out of the routine to take a step forward in our growth as Biblically Authentic Men (B.A.M!).

As part of our interaction, this question was posed: “What do you think God would say about you?” As I listened to the answers and pondered my own, I was struck by the significance this simple question has in each of our lives.

I asked that same question to my daughter last night. We were talking about the day, which included a series of poor choices on her part. I eased into the question from my weekend by asking a related question: “Tell me the first word that comes to mind when I mention ‘God’.” There was silence. Total brain freeze. All I got was the non-verbal of big, brown, questioning (yet hopeful) eyes.

I went into defrost mode with a redirection: “What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about Nacho?” (Nacho is our much-loved dog with bladder control issues).

“He’s Cute?” she said.
“Great!” I returned.
“And cuddly!”
“Yep. Is he soft or scratchy?”
“Soft – sort of.”
“Big, or small?”
“Small, but kinda medium sized.”

Alright, now we’re rolling. Let’s sneak-in the Final Jeopardy question: “So…what do you think about God?”

“He doesn’t lie.”
“Okay. What else?
“He is Holy. Trustworthy.”
“Mmmmhhmm.”
“He’s Faithful. And Merciful.”
I wanted something specific, so I probed. “Anything else?”
I waited.
She gave a coy smile, “Mmmmmm…nope.”

A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” As we continued to talk, my daughter gave me the gift of an unobstructed view into how she sees God, and herself. As she did, I was grieved – for two reasons. First, because she’s a lot like me: a perfectionist who wrestles with anger. Second, she doesn’t naturally connect with the loving side of God. This is not to say she misunderstands who God is. What she does understand is amazing and wonderful. It’s the start of a timeless journey of ever new discovery. But the present limits of her understanding strongly influence her self-image and behavior. It colors how she views her actions, resulting consequences and the importance of trust. Even more, what she thinks about God is directly related to what she thinks He thinks about her (you might have to read that sentence again).

Again, I go to Tozer for help with engaging the loving side of God. He said, “The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly.  By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes total pleasure in the happiness of His people.”

As a dad, I’m excited about walking with my daughter in search of a greater taste of God’s love. It’s work to develop right thinking that balances truth and love without abusing God’s mercy or snubbing his holiness. From the truth of God’s character flows the restful, restorative, redemptive and purifying currents of His love. Richard Rohr said, “If your truth does not set you free, it is not truth at all. If God cannot be rested in, He must not be much of a God. If God is not juice and joy, then what has created all these lilacs and lilies?” More juice. More joy. I long for a deeper enjoyment of a God who sees me as enjoyable – to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep” His love is for me. (Ephesians 3:16-19) A God who invites us all to dwell under His friendly sky.

P.S. This song from David Crowder Band has been a powerful tool to enlarge my soul and receive the love of God.