Category Archives: For All She’s Worth

Helping Women Discover Their Value

Poof! Just like that.

All people are like grass
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
(Isaiah 40: 6)

Not our actual tree

Did I mention that I love fall? I really do. The colors, the crisp air, even the pouty overcast days are wonderful in my opinion.

Last week, my husband and I were on our back porch watching the sunset. We do that almost every evening. There is a tree just behind our house, a sugar maple I think, whose leaves were bursting with versions of red. Crimson, scarlet, coral, and garnet—all on one tree. It was breathtaking.

Not our actual tree

The very next day we went out to watch the sunset again and every leaf on the tree was gone. Every. Leaf. Gone. Not even a remnant. Perhaps in the night there had been a wind that blew just right and it took with it my beautiful red leaves. I say that they are mine, but truly they are not. They belong to a tree that sits on property that we own, but I can hardly claim that tree. I didn’t even plant it. Someone who lived here before us had the forethought to put it on our land. However, I feel a sense of loss and betrayal with the leaves’ departure.

Isaiah, my favorite Old Testament prophet, knew just how to put things—metaphors, similes, personifications, and such—to make God’s words, through him, burst with relevance. In that passage, in the 40th chapter of Isaiah, he puts the nature of life in perspective.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

     (Isaiah 40: 7)

The prophet uses metaphors—grass and flowers—to illustrate the fragility of humanity. We are here today and gone tomorrow—like the leaves on the tree. Notice, too, Who is in control of this: the Lord. His breath is all it takes to wipe us all out.

A few months ago, our phone rang late at night. It was our youngest son who, at the time, lived 250 miles away. Generally he doesn’t call unless there’s something new and exciting going on in his life: a new grandchild on the way, a new job opportunity, a new vista. But this time his news was devastating. In fact, it shook me to the core. His beautiful wife, 38 years old and the picture of health, had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. I couldn’t believe my ears. I kept trying to wrap my mind around what I’d just heard. Denial was my first response. Surely not. This is a mistake. Anger was my second. How could this happen to my precious daughter-in-law, the mother of my beloved grandchildren? I couldn’t even pray at that point.

As we drove into the wee hours of the morning to be with our family, this thought came to mind: how quickly things can change! One doctor’s report, one phone call, one errant step—makes dreams and confidence disappear like mist. This Isaiah 40 scripture came to mind. 

The prophet, however, turns disconcerting news to hopes in verse 11.

[God] tends his flock like a shepherd:  He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart…

The Good Shepherd heard our cry and scooped us all up into His arms, and He gave our Michelle a hopeful prognosis. A new drug that is useful in her particular form of cancer is available and it has begun to start fighting that horrible disease. We praise God for His mercy and for His provision, but we’re always reminded that one contrary wind can change normal into chaos.

Please continue to pray for Michelle. We do not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.

 [We] will have no fear of bad news; [our] hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. (Psalm 112:7)

Like A Robert Redford Double Take

Even a child is known by his doings… Proverbs 20:11

Everyone is known for something. A physical attribute. A personality trait. A character element. A power. A weakness. A quirkiness. A good or bad deed. When someone you know is mentioned in conversation, you might think or say, “Oh, he’s that guy/girl who…”

Well, I notice quirkiness, repeated behavior and verbal recurrences. And I tend to label others by this trait or behavior. For instance, every time I see the actor Robert Redford on the screen, I already know that he is going to do a “double take”—or several. (Double take means a “delayed reaction to a surprising or significant situation after an initial failure to notice anything unusual.”)

Redford is notorious, at least in my book, for his repeated, but endearing, reaction to a character or line of dialogue. In his movie Sneakers—my all-time favorite film—I’ve counted eleven double takes. There may be more, but no matter. That’s what I think of when I see him.

Have you ever wondered what you’re known for?

Some of our Bible heroes were known for what they did, not necessarily for who they were. For instance, Moses had a temper. It drove him to kill an Egyptian soldier and then hide his body in the sand. Later, Moses was angry with the nomadic Israelites when they complained (which was often) about their lack of water. God had given Moses the command to speak to a rock and water would come out. Once before, Moses had struck a rock for water, but this time the instructions were different. He was to speak to the rock. Moses, in a rage, struck the rock. Yes, water did come out, but God held that against him for the rest of his life.

Moses isn’t known for his displays of temper, however. He’s best known for receiving the Ten Commandments and leading his people out of Egyptian slavery. Known not for his flaws, but for his moments of obedience.

Noah, that guy who built an ark, was a heavy drinker. Jacob, the one who started the Israelite nation with his 12 sons, was a deceiver. David, the man after God’s own heart, was an adulterer and a murderer. Elijah was a pouter, but he kept his people from being corrupted by false gods.

Maybe I’m pushing it too much to mention Robert Redford and Moses on the same page, but still it brings up the question—what are you known for—your physical quirks, your failures and weaknesses, or your moments of obedience? It’s something to think about and something you may not know for sure. Others may perceive you differently than you see yourself. You may evaluate who you are by what you’ve done in the past. Others may revere you for overcoming a checkered past. You may see yourself as a hero for something you’ve done, but others may see you as being arrogant and boastful about one action.

It’s interesting that Jesus asked His disciples what others were saying about Him, like He didn’t already know. Their response was that some of the people thought Jesus was the reappearance of a dead prophet or matriarch. Then surprisingly, He asked them what they thought of Him. Peter answered “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Well, the disciple’s answer was correct, but it didn’t keep him or the others from distancing themselves from Him when times got tough. Peter denied. Thomas doubted. Judas betrayed.

Now three things come to mind:

1) Be careful that your actions reflect who you truly are.

2) Don’t judge someone else by one isolated deed. Remember Paul persecuted Christians and then became one of the most dedicated and revered believers in history.

3) Don’t let someone else’s opinion become your reality. Remember God sees you differently.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12)”…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…(Romans 8:17).

The Apple of His Eye

Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
Hide me in the shadow of Your wings… (Psalms 17: 8)

It’s fall—and it’s also my favorite time of year. The crisp air makes it perfect for viewing the changing leaves and sitting by the fire—and buying freshly harvested apples. I love apples. My favorites are Arkansas Blacks and Stayman Winesap. Tart. Crisp. Delicious. I can eat them raw, or stewed, or baked, pied, cobblered, candied, juiced, or dipped in caramel. Anyway is fine.

Every time I go to an apple house (there are many in the mountainous regions near us) I think of this scripture. I’ve heard this idiom (…the apple of my eye…) all of my life. I’ve always believed that saying refers to someone who is the object of great affection—one cherished above all others—like a child or grandchild. And it does mean that. But in looking up the origins of this saying (like us word geeks do) I found that in the Hebrew (Old Testament language) it literally means “the little man of the eye.”

It appears several places in the Bible. David said it. (Psalms 17:8) Moses said it. (Deuteronomy 32:10). Zechariah said it. (Zechariah 2:8.) But what does it mean? Does it imply that God plays favorites?

This passages here refers to one looking into the center of the eye of another (the pupil) and seeing his/her own reflection—but a much smaller version of it.  A miniature. And I think that’s what the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs meant when they asked to be the apple of God’s eyes. To see their own images when looking directly at God.

Imagine, as a Child of God, being reflected in His eyes! Think of being His focus. In the Deuteronomy passage mentioned earlier, the blessed thought continues. Moses says in his final words of the Israelites, “God protected them in the howling wilderness. As though they were the apple of his eye. He spreads his wings over them, even as an eagle overspreads her young.” (Deut. 32: 10-11) Even though this was written to an ancient people, I believe that it is a promise for us. We are each uniquely made, each can see himself reflected in the Creator’s eye, and each can enjoy His protection.  

Go eat an apple and ponder this thought.

Know It All

“Don’t fool yourself. Don’t think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God’s fool—that’s the path to true wisdom. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid.”

(1 Cor. 1:18-21 The Message)

I overheard a conversation recently between a mother and her (approximately ) 8-year-old son.

SON: Mom, do you know everything?

MOM: Oh, no. Not everything—just a little something about a lot of things.

SON: Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I wanted to say to that mom, “Cherish this moment because your son won’t always think that highly of you or your knowledge.”

Perhaps the young boy wasn’t asking about his mom’s knowledge, but about her wisdom. There’s a difference, you know.

Knowledge is acquired through experience or education. In other words, we can study enough and travel enough and experience enough to gain knowledge. That’s impressive!

Wisdom, however, goes beyond knowledge. A wise person has perspective and discernment. He/she knows how to use the information he has to make good decisions. The only way to gain wisdom is through a gift from God. Someone once said: “Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing when to say it.” 

When thinking of wisdom, we often think of good King Solomon from the Bible. He was the son of David and Bathsheba who inherited the throne of Israel when his father died. God appeared to  Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” Solomon, who had a whole kingdom at his disposal, asked for a “discerning heart” to judge the people of the kingdom. God told the king, because you haven’t asked for riches or health or long life, I’ll give you wisdom. And with the wisdom would come all of the other things that usually follow success. Find this story in 1 Kings 3 and  2 Chronicles 1.

Of course, the rest of the story isn’t so good. Solomon had it all, but he allowed his possessions and successes to go to his head. That’s where we get the term “Pride goes before the fall.” His pride was his undoing, not his knowledge or his wisdom.

There is something about getting older that awakens us to new things, new ideas, new knowledge. Trial and error. Adventure and experimentation. Voracity. These teach us a little something about a lot of things. But wisdom comes from a heavenly source. My favorite verse about this is in James 1:5 “ …if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (NASB)

As a mom, I called on this promise often—everyday sometimes. The child rearing books were everywhere and I read many of them. I had a lot of knowledge, you might say, but what I needed was wisdom on how to bring up my boys in a way that was pleasing to God. And when I asked, He provided.

These days we’re getting a lot of information—some of it tainted with opinion and some of it sound with truth. However, none of this is valuable without first asking, “Give me wisdom, Lord.”

Romans 12 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Emphasis mine.)(NASB) The first part of the verse is a great word about gaining new ideas and insights, but the last part is the promise to which I cling. If I test the information I receive against Truth, wisdom will guide me to finding what is the right action.

Like the old hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory”  says, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour..”

No matter what we face, wisdom is the first thing to ask for and then courage to act upon it.

Ties That Bind

First, forgive me for my silence on this blog. I haven’t forgotten my readers or my mission. I just took a little break to teach some of what I know about creative writing to college students. Although Dennis and I are retired from our full-time jobs, we’re still teaching online. Now I have more mental and emotional energy to devote to my writing. So, here we go—again!

“…Lay aside every encumbrance…which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1 NASB)

Recently I felt encumbered. My jeans were digging into my waistline, my shoes were pinching my toes, and my face mask got tangled up in my reading glasses. And those are only the things I’m willing to share! As I was trying to disentangle myself to some level of comfort, this Bible passage came to mind. I realize, of course, that this word is not about physical comfort because that kind of encumbrance is surely to get worse as I get older. This admonition from the writer of Hebrews (who is unknown) is a mental and spiritual message. He just uses the metaphor of a physical race to make his point. 

I’m not a runner, never have been, and probably never will be, but I’ve seen many races in my time as the mother of sons who participated in sporting events. These events were often about speed and endurance and it was clear that the runner could not win if he was dressed in heavy clothing, carrying superfluous weight, or wearing shoes that were too tight. 

Some of the burdens in our lives can come from the past—failures and successes. Wearing our medals or carrying our trophies, like the winner of a race, can become a burden because it’s impossible to “rest upon” our laurels. 

Disappointments and bad decisions can anchor us to our past also. As my friend, Derric Johnson, says: “My ‘I never could,’ becomes my ‘I could never.’” In other words, just because I failed in the past doesn’t dictate my lack of success in the future.

Paul, too, used the race metaphor several times in his correspondence. In his letter to the Ephesians, he writes… “lay aside the old self…” (Eph. 4:22) “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you…” (Eph. 4:31)

That is one weight we can do without.  Bitterness toward someone who has done us harm is a huge weight to carry around, and usually, we who hold the grudge are the ones most afflicted by it. Extra baggage.

These kinds of encumbrances affect not only our spiritual and mental well-being, but it can influence our physical health as well. A University of Minnesota study on how fear and anxiety can damage our physical health declares, “Fear [and anxiety] weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated aging and even premature death.”

How do we throw off the encumbrances? Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Rick Warren, the renowned author and pastor, suggests this to help us to find peace when we feel encumbered:

R—Realize nobody’s perfect.

E—Enjoy God’s unconditional love.

L—Let God handle things.

A—Act in faith, not fear.

X—Exchange your perfectionism for God’s peace.

Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7 NIV)

Just Whistlin’

I’m a whistler. I admit it.

But I come by it honestly. My dad was a whistler, too. In fact, the family could locate him in the house or in the yard just by following the sound. Maybe he’d be rendering a Southern Gospel tune, a hymn, or a ‘40s classic, but we always knew what was in his heart by what song came from his lips.

Maybe it’s genetic because I often find myself whistling (at ultra-low volume most of the time) from my mental repertoire, which is quite wide: from “Auld Lang Syne”, to my high school fight song, or to something we sang at church last Sunday.

Recently, after many decades of surrendering to this habit, I decided to actually analyze my playlist, making notes and tracing the tune from whence it came. Sometimes it’s produced from a line in a movie or TV show that I’ve just watched. The “Theme from Jurassic Park” or “Darth Vader’s Theme” are personal favorites. So is “Gone Fishin’,” the theme song from The Andy Griffith Show. I don’t have the tunes fully categorized according to popularity, but I do know that at least somewhere in the top five is the old chorus “God Is So Good.” It’s not hard to trace this subliminal message that I often produce in tune form.

You’ve heard the saying, “God is good—all the time and all the time—God is good.” If I turn on the TV or look at the effects of evil, I admit that I begin to question this train of thought. How can God be good when so many are hungry, oppressed, and dying?

In Dr. James Dobson’s book When God Doesn’t Make Sense, one of the first points the author makes is that God isn’t obliged to explain Himself or His ways to us. In fact, Dobson writes that God chooses to hide Himself from us—even for reasons we cannot know. The word why falls from our lips all too often, and yet God will not reveal some answers no matter how fervently we beg. Isaiah reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, or His ways our ways. I take that to mean that God knows we can’t possibly comprehend the grand design of life; only bits and pieces, and small ones at that. I believe that the jigsaw puzzle picture doesn’t come clear on this side of eternity. I don’t like to admit that. I want to have His plan all mapped out (or GPSed), especially when I’m reminded of human suffering and mortality. Sometimes it seems as though God has lost control or, worse, has abandoned me.

In the biblical account of Job, God attempts to explain why bad things happen to good people. But even that story puzzles me because I can’t imagine God and Satan having a conversation, much less challenging each other when it came to the faithfulness of His servant. Read the Book of Job and explain it to me if you will. I’m all ears. The only takeaways I have to that story are Job’s takeaways from his experience. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (NJKV Job 1:21) “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God…”(NJKV Job 19:24-26).

So, when anyone asks me, “How’s life?” I say, “Life is life, but God is good.” I have to believe that or NOTHING makes sense. And I’ll whistle my tunes, especially the one favoring this simple message about God’s goodness.

P.S. If my sons pick up this habit, does that make me Whistler’s Mother?

Everything I Learned About Friendship…

…I learned from the Ya-Yas. Not from the Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, although that’s a fine read. I’m referring to my own self-named group of oldest and dearest friends.

See, when I was 4 years old, our family moved from one small South Alabama town to another 40 miles away. I don’t remember much about the move itself except the frustration I heard from my mother about our having to make new friends. I didn’t share the frustration. Within a week, I had my first visit to Sunday School at the “new” Baptist church where I met Jana and Pattie, and I automatically bonded with those two dark-haired cuties. We three probably played that first Sunday with the child-sized play kitchen that sat in the corner of the room. We likely colored pictures of Jesus holding children in His lap. And almost certainly sang songs taught to us by our teacher, Mrs. McGowan, like:

My best friend is Jesus /Love Him, love Him.

My best friend is Jesus /I love Him.

 

It was the start of lifelong relationships solidified in sound theology and sweet song.

In elementary school, I discovered Methodists. They were a lot like us Baptists, except that they were allowed to dance and we weren’t…or we weren’t supposed to. One block separated our churches, so sometimes when the Methodists would have square dancing in their fellowship hall, we Baptists would slip away and join in the fun.  Then we’d sneak back into our church in time to hear the last “amen” in our service. That didn’t sit well with our parents as I recall.

Anyway, Methodists Sharon, Carol, and Karie joined my world in those early grade school days.

Then, in eighth grade Delora joined us. She was Methodist, too, but I didn’t hold it against her, although it made our circle of friends now uneven. Four Methodists to three Baptists. We were a circle of seven, but not a closed circle. We had other friends, too. It was a small town, after all, and everybody knew and loved everybody else.

We started to drift apart after high school, although we divided up between only three colleges. Then marriages, and children, and jobs pulled us across the country and around the world, and for a long time we might just trade Christmas cards, but only if we had each other’s current addresses. For many years, though, we were “lost” to each other. But then our kids grew up, our grandkids started coming, and our jobs began to wind down. A few years ago, we felt the need to reach back and re-draw that circle.

That’s when we became the Ya-Yas. We dubbed ourselves that name when we got together at the Panama City Beach for the first time in 30+ years. What a reunion! Every other year or so since, we’ve stolen away for long weekends. Just us. No husbands. No children.

Last week, however, we changed it up a bit. Pattie and her husband, Mike, now live in Montana and she suggested that we all come out there for a Ya-Ya party. I don’t think she thought we’d take her up on it, but before the email invite was cold, we had all booked our flights and cleared our calendars. I just got back on Tuesday of this week. What a magnificent place to be and time to spend together!

It took me a while to get over the late nights, the incredible day trips, and the endless girl-talks, but after the jet lag wore off, I got to thinking about what this sisterhood really means to me and what it has taught me. Here are just some of the lessons:

  • Junior high boy crushes can’t destroy longtime girl friendships. We fought over them, but then we moved on and some of us even roomed together in college!
  • Pretty is as pretty does. My mother always told me that, and now I know it’s true. The loveliness of these once-upon-a-time high school cheerleaders and beauty queens is still evident in their joy, gentleness and compassion for others. They are brilliant and funny and grounded in their faith. Neither a wrinkle nor a gray hair will ever change that. They are eternally gorgeous.
  • Not everyone remembers events the same way. Years sometimes skew our perception. Details can become hazy. When honesty fights truth, I have to decide which one wins.
  • Life isn’t always fair. Marriages dissolve, children go off the grid, and jobs disappear, but it’s up to me how I choose to deal with these heartbreaks.
  • Years and miles of separation cannot erase real love.

There are other valuable lessons that I’ve learned through 60+ years of knowing these girls, now women. Most of the lessons, though, I keep in a safe place – in my spirit. They are private, but just as precious and I now, more often than ever, pull them out and apply them to my life.

 

The Most Powerful Place in the World

Disneyland might the happiest place on earth, but the home is by far the most powerful place.

I’m working on the book version of this blog and the more I read and study on the concepts and developments of self-worth, the more I realize that this is true. The home holds great power. Here’s a “poem” which says a lot:

 

Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolt

This is no shock to anyone. We know that children are shaped all along the way by parents, teachers, and society. And we know that there is debate about nature vs. nurture. Some children are born more strong-willed while others are more compliant, but every child will become who they are within the confines of a home, be it traditional, single-parent, foster, or whatever. We know that the family dynamic stamps a child with many labels and price tags. If you don’t believe that, start recalling events in your past that left you with a label: lazy, ugly, fat—or beautiful, smart, lovable. The first three are, of course, a pack of lies. But the last ones can be delicate ground, at times too, especially if the child comes to believe that he/she can do no wrong, can depend on his/her looks or brains to impress the world. It’s important for us to come back to seeing ourselves as God sees us.

No matter the world’s view of me, I choose to believe Ephesians 2:10.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (NASB)

 

 

The Ebb and Flow of Influence

It’s hard to say which was the most traumatic—when my first son left for college or when the last son flew the nest.  Since I only have two children, I didn’t get the comparison of middle child attrition. When number one son left, I grieved for weeks. Part of the sadness was because, well, he was my son and I missed him terribly. Another part was the realization that I was old enough to have a child in college. After number two son left, I had a quiet, clean empty nest all of a sudden as I had dreamed of, but I missed the noise and the flurry of activity that accompanies life with a teenager. In both cases, though, I missed…them… their hilarious banter around the dinner table, their games and activities at school, their very presence around the house. Even now, after 20 years of having them gone, I still get sad when I recall the good times that we had together that will never come again because they’ve grown up and are on their own. Because the dynamic has changed, a part of who I was is no more. I’m guessing that many readers in my age group would echo this sentiment. The hard truth is that I’m not needed anymore. I have lost some of my influence, at least in one area of my life and that’s hard to handle.

Not long ago, I was giving my usual brilliant lecture to one of my college classes on things of great importance. I took a breath and looked out over the classroom and saw heads nodding, arms folding, and fingers texting under the table. I was mortified. I had worked hard on my lecture and Power Point presentation and these people didn’t even care! I stopped and asked, “So, am I that bad of a teacher? Am I that ignorable?” The room went silent. Cell phones went back into hiding, eyelids popped back open, and several faces blushed. Mostly there was shock. I hadn’t ever unloaded on a class like that before so I didn’t even have a reputation that this outburst would validate. Finally, I dismissed the class. One girl came up and apologized even though she wasn’t one of the main ignorers. She left me with this thought though, “Mrs. Allen, you’re not as boring as some teachers.” Thanks.

My self-esteem took a big hit right then. I brooded about it for a day or so, and then I got over it. But I realized that again I had lost, if maybe temporarily, my influence.

It happens to us all at one time or another. It can happen at work, it can happen at home, or even at church. Our leadership or our effectiveness is challenged and we become discouraged.  We ask ourselves, “Is this about me?” “Am I losing my edge?” It’s a fine line. We want to see our ideals modeled in the people who depend on us. But when children leave or apathy is displayed, we doubt our impact and, thus, our worth. At least I know I do.

In a great word from Pastor Tim Keller from one of his books The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, I’m reminded that it’s impossible to live our lives without sometimes feeling dismissed or ignored. Keller says that when he feels down on himself because someone else is apathetic to his influence that it is, “…because there is something wrong with my ego. There is something wrong with my identity. There is something wrong with my sense of self. It is never happy. It is always drawing attention to itself.”[1] Egos get bruised at times. And often, as Keller points out, can rarely be satisfied with the attention it gets.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:10

 

 

 

 

[1] Keller, Timothy. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy. 10Publishing, 2012. P. 120.

 

The Ultimate Selfie

Recently I had my college English composition students write “process” essays that describe a how-to situation. One of the topic options I gave them was “How to Take an Amazing Selfie.” From those who chose that topic, I learned a lot of valuable information on how to make myself, LIKE, look AMAZING to LIKE my smattering of LIKE social media friends. Now that I know the secret, expect some AWESOME pics of me soon!

About the same time, I was grading these essays, I was directed to a blog post written by an author named Sharon Hodde Miller. The blog referenced her book Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You. I read it in one sitting and the overall message has affected me. The author’s opening premise is that humans are naturally self-absorbed or self-focused, which, of course, is no surprise. Then she tells how her runaway “self” robbed her of her joy. “It affected my marriage,” she writes, “my calling, and even my relationship with God.” Miller states another obvious point: our self-images are “shaped by people, possessions, and profession”[1] which doesn’t surprise me either. However, her thesis goes farther than the obvious. She believes, as I do, that the tiniest voices around us speak the loudest, especially when it comes to self-worth. In her book, Miller says, “Think about how you feel when a friend receives more ‘likes’ or more comments on her photos than you. It’s easy to compare…”[2] and conclude that you are unworthy. A few little thoughts like that can be blamed for a negative total self-image. But low self-image isn’t the problem, I think. It is “self -preoccupation.” The only way to feel inferior is to focus on how we measure up to other people. The fight against self-preoccupation is continual. “There will always be more commercials identifying new flaws, more online tutorials teaching us how to improve our hair.”[3]

A book from which Miller drew some of her conclusions, is written by writer and pastor Tim Keller. In his little book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Keller follows the trend of self-preoccupation:

Up until the twentieth century, the traditional cultures (and this is still true of most cultures in the world) always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all the evil in the world. What is the reason for most of the crime and violence in the world? Why are people cruel? Why do people do the bad things they do? Traditionally, the answer was hubris – the Greek word meaning pride or too high a view of yourself…But in our modern western culture, we have developed an utterly opposite cultural consensus. [4]

Now we call it low self-esteem and so we try to make everybody feel good about themselves. That would fix the world’s problems, if we just felt worthy, right? Of course, we know this isn’t working either. Self-absorption is more rampant than ever. So, what do we do?

As Christians, we are encouraged to embrace and practice selflessness. Two gospel writers record Jesus as saying, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34 and Matthew 16:24). That, of course, is what is required of us in salvation. Surrender. But once we’ve done that, does that act of self-denial help us find our true value in everyday life? I believe it does.

Self (whether it’s disguised as hubris or inner loathing) is about focus. And focus leads to fascination, to fixation, to obsession, then to passion. And what happens when passion gets involved? We become driven and totally out of control! I want to stop this pattern in myself right now, and I’m finding that I have to do something about it every day. I’m learning to say, whenever I feel great or the opposite, “Hey, Nan, it’s not about you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]           Miller, Sharon Hodde Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You Baker EBooks 2017

[2]           Ibid

[3]           Ibid

[4] Keller, Tim The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller, 2012.