Who Else?

I’ve spent a lot of time in school. Like most people, I was required to assimilate and regurgitate  information. I’ve learned arithmetic, the parts of speech, capitals, countries, continents, and species of flora. Buried in my brain is The Periodic Table, multiplication tables, and the chemical formula for table salt. I can still recite the first few lines of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English: “Whan that aprill with his shoures soote, the droghte of march hath perced to the roote…” Oh, the trauma!

I’m naturally curious so learning is enjoyable. Even though I’m an anxious student when it comes to grades, I do find pleasure in exploring new ideas and perspectives. The human experience is broad and varied, and I want to understand it more fully.

Getting more personal, I want to know why I do what I do (and don’t do). Where I come from and why I am the way I am. My DNA says I’m a blend of Dutch, English, German, Scottish, and Norse (in that order). I’m Enneagram Type 5, wing 6. Myers-Briggs pegs me as INTJ. My top five Strengthsfinder characteristics are Input, Intellection, Learner, Achiever, and Responsibility. More than one spiritual gift assessment has suggested I have the gifts of teaching, administration, and pastoral care. And for the rest of my life, I think I’ll struggle with perfectionism, anger, and remembering names.

All these things are data offering insight into me. Anecdotal evidence generally confirms my assessed proclivities, propensities, priorities, and personality. Much of it has been helpful in my development. I have matured, even though at times I don’t feel any different than my 16-year old self. Now 51, I’m taking stock and finding there are times when I’m a bit too smug about the categories and lists and mantras I’ve collected to neatly define my identity, clarify my “issues,” and predict my behavioral response.

Frankly, I feel squashed beneath all the charts, graphs, types, and profiles. While such things have been quite helpful, my heart is yearning for more mystery. Rather than settle into pathways prescribed by what I think I know about me, I’m drawn to release myself more fully to God. Over the past few months, I’ve been inviting His presence to help me listen, discern, embrace, and respond to my experience of Him. I’m asking for a deeper trust that fuels a desire to risk moving beyond the false comfort of self-knowledge to submitting myself to the One who knew me before I saw light.

Thomas Merton said, “What is the use of knowing our weakness if we do not implore God to sustain us with His power?” (Thoughts in Solitude, p.48) I know a lot about me. And for too long I’ve focused on what’s broken. Paid too much attention to the “lies” of my shadow self, trying to correct through self-diagnosis. At times I found it easier to commiserate over failures than to lament and repent. 

I want a deeper faith. A greater love. More trust that Jesus can direct my life better than I can. To slow my chase after knowledge and respond to God’s invitation to dwell with Him in those places that confuse, confound, frustrate, and irritate me. Places that defy analysis, categories, and predictable outcomes.

As I pray for fortitude and courage to that end, I’m remembering the Apostle Peter. In a moment when many of those following Jesus were turning away, the Lord asked Peter if he, too, was going to leave. Peter replied (I imagine with passion): “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68, ESV)

Indeed, who else but Jesus.

Perfectly Scripted

For one hour each week, everyone in the room had to acknowledge my amazingness. For sixty minutes I lived in celebrity. Elevated and set apart from every other classmate. I was a fourth-grade prodigy. Not of math or music or English, but penmanship.

I was the King of Curves. The Sultan of Script. A veritable Michelangelo of the big fat pencil.

My mastery bought me exemption from those monotonous, mind-numbing exercises of tracing-out row upon row of alphabet soup. While my buddies toiled, their hands cramping from the perplexities of capital ‘Q’ and lower case ‘b’, I sat aloof. Distanced by my special skill, I contentedly surveyed the hoard of scribblers, peacefully counting the minutes until recess.

I remember those moments with satisfaction. An appropriate pride in something I could do well. I felt special, distinct, unique. And those feelings were legitimized through peer review and an authoritative declaration from Mr. Olthoff. I had achieved success!

Now here I sit, thirty-five years later, reliving tales from fourth grade that mean…nothing? The spotlight is gone. My calligraphic skill has atrophied. And the memory of my triumph lives only in the annals of my mind. But those elementary school experiences affect me still. Through those recollected scenes I interact with what’s true and good about me.

I’d like to dwell there.

But juxtaposed against my scripting finesse is a string of disappointments and embarrassments. Frustrations and regrets. Moments of remorse and shame. And a collection of caustic words that cling to me like hot tar.

Is there sense to be made of life’s dichotomy?

In his Institutes, John Calvin said, “…we are impelled by our miseries to reflect on the Lord’s good gifts, and we cannot sincerely yearn for him until we have first begun to cease being pleased with ourselves.”* I would enjoy walking around this day, acknowledged repeatedly for my neat handwriting. To hear from random strangers, “Hey! I’ve heard you can craft a sweet lower case ‘z’!” Instead, reality is a blend of good coffee and dirty diapers. Sunset walks and orthodontics. Birthday parties and chemotherapy.

Why? Because both grace and misery lead us to majesty.

Calvin reminds us that we were made to live for more than accomplishments or accolades. Certainly, it is right to celebrate beautiful handwriting. But such things should be not an end, but touch points that propel us higher, and farther, and deeper into our desire for God. After all, what’s pleasurable about my penmanship is sourced from Who is truly pleasurable. And through enjoyment of Him and his generous gifting we learn to love Him. To trust Him. To give back to Him as we persevere through frustration and sickness, discouragement and tragedy, name-calling and lies.

I’ve never learned so much by not doing schoolwork. Don’t tell my kids…

*John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translation by Robert White, p.1

Shoo, Lie – Don’t Bother Me!

I never mow alone.

But I wish I could.

Mowing isn’t work for me – it’s solitude. The ear-muffled drone of the mower’s engine while traversing a patterned course around my property is peaceful. With the precision of a figure skater I glide along the terrain, restoring a sense of order. Slowly. Carefully. Methodically. It’s wonderful.

But such tranquility can be destroyed – by them.


They perch in my apples trees, glaring with iridescent eyes while crafting their aerial torment. They flit around in the tall field grass, pausing to preen their monster-like leg barbs. Inaudible insect communications cascade around me as a platoon of winged warriors coordinate their assault upon my peace-filled mowing.

But I’m a fighter. I’ve strategized a defense that has required me to become an excellent one-armed driver. With one hand, I can deftly turn the tightest radius while engaging safety switches and gear selectors. This technique frees my other arm for maniacal waving to ward off those fiendish intruders. Still, those little devils kindle my rage as I flail intensely, hoping to thwart their space invasion.

Whether mowing or picnicking or even sitting indoors, badgering flies are a picture of a deeper torment. A tension strung deep in the soul. A clash between what’s true, and what’s not. Like a fly that won’t leave me alone are the lies I believe about myself.

My lies plague me. Every day. They buzz about my thought life, whispering that I’m a runner-up, not a winner. That I’m not good enough. I don’t measure up. I have nothing to offer. These lies of inadequacy pester and plague. They seek to preoccupy my activities with thoughts of disappointment and pain – pain that tempts me toward a silent withdrawal or prods me to anger while eroding my joy.

Lies mar our self-image and steal opportunities for us to flourish. When we’re absorbed with the nuisance of deception, it’s difficult to be an engaged, faithful spouse. A sensitive, patient parent. A trusted, available friend. It’s like driving a lawn mower with one hand. Our relationships are worthy of a diligent care that one-handed driving can’t provide.

The strategy for lie-swatting? God’s Word, His Spirit, and His people.

A consistent feasting on the truth of God’s Word is excellent lie repellent. Praying and listening in the Spirit is a sure way to crowd-out whispers of inadequacy. Trusted, God-centered, deeply honest relationships bolster spiritual resilience and help with embracing life whole-heartedly – both hands on the wheel. The lies may still stir exasperation, but the buzz lessens as we tune into the One who rejoices over His children with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

If I were Lord of the Flies, my kingdom would be fly-free. Alas, I must accept the accompaniment of my mowing buddies. Even more, I must face the reality of the enemy’s lies that perturb me with tireless persistence and tempt me toward disbelief in the goodness of God. But thanks be to Jesus, who is Truth and offers grace sufficient for every moment of struggle.
So, in the name of Jesus, “Shoo lies – don’t bother me!”

For more on the real-life struggle of truth and lies watch this panel discussion recorded at Blythefield Hills Baptist Church, Rockford, MI