Trying to punch my pillow into submission, I tossed and turned in the unfamiliar bed, hoping to get some much needed sleep before I spoke at a women’s event the next morning. I never rest well in a hotel bed. I doubt I’m alone.
However, it wasn’t just the strange surroundings leading to my insomnia. I was emotionally, mentally and physically drained. Not only had I been in preparation for the speech I would give the next day, I was also preparing for an upcoming week-long event in Colorado, where I would be speaking twice at a writer’s conference.
In addition, I was trying to juggle my own writing and marketing schedule and keep up with life—the responsibilities and commitments of everyday living. As I lay in the hotel bed, I not only wrestled with my pillow, I found myself, like Jacob, wrestling with God. It wasn’t the first time.
Even before we say a word, God knows what we need.
After almost 13 years of writing this weekly column, I was struggling with my calling—the one God had led me to after I left my 30-year teaching career. I’ve not missed a week, nor have I reused one of my over 600 plus columns. My calling was not part of my post-teaching plans but God’s redirection. How much longer would He ask me to continue?
As I spent countless hours that night praying for sleep to come, my frustration led to crying out to God. I wanted to give up. I needed a fresh vision for my life. I needed to know if He wanted me to continue on this path. Did He have something else in mind? I begged God for clarity because I know He is the author of peace, not confusion.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms”— 1 Peter 4:19 (NIV).
When I was a teacher, one of the questions many of my high school seniors struggled with was what to do after graduation. Some were focused, knowing they were on track for college, higher vocational training or military service. Others planned to go immediately to work after school ended, while some struggled with their future choices. Even some of those on a chosen path were often uncertain about choosing a major field of study, basing their decision not on a passion for the career, but on the rewards of a lucrative paycheck.
In later years, when I had an opportunity to visit with some of these graduates, I discovered some were disillusioned with the path they had chosen for the sake of monetary gain. Their career choice left them with an emptiness they couldn’t understand.
In an article titled “Frederick Buechner on Calling: Your Deep Gladness & The World’s Deep Hunger” by Ryan Pemberton, the author writes the following: “In his refreshingly witty spiritual lexicon, ‘Wishful Thinking,’ Buechner points out that the English word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word vocare, ‘to call,’ which ‘means the work a person is called to by God.’”
Additionally, says Pemberton, “‘Calling’ assumes a caller. As Buechner notes, for the Christian, this Caller is the living God.”
Concerning vocations, Buechner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Telemarketers are annoying. If the salesperson is the persistent kind, he usually won’t take “no” for an answer easily. Even the nicer ones can grate on the nerves, especially if the promises seem too good to be true.
Since I signed up for the Do Not Call list over two decades ago, the number of phone calls I receive from telemarketers has declined. Another reason could be attributed to my lack of a home phone. I finally cut the cord about six years ago, depending on my cell phone—which is also on the list—for verbal communication. However, I occasionally still receive unwanted calls, including those I know are scams.
I’m always amazed at the proliferation of different scams as well as those who fall for them. In spite of repeated warnings from different news sources, people hang onto hope that they’ve won large amounts of money, vacations or other goods.
Criminals will go to any lengths to steal our money and identity. It never seems to end. While the elderly are the most vulnerable, I’ve read of those who’ve been scammed out of money through dating websites.
Listening to a radio program recently, I was amazed to learn that the number one Internet google search is “What is love?” As the commentator and his guest discussed this trend, I thought about the lyrics to a 1980 country song, “Lookin’ for Love.” Part of the lyrics follow: “Searching for love in all the wrong places.”
Writing this, I’m distracted by the view outside my office window. A cardinal is enjoying my bird bath while a red-headed woodpecker is gorging at the suet feeder. The difference in these two is a reminder of God’s amazing grace. He didn’t have to create such diverse beauty. But He did.
As we enter Holy Week, I’m reminded of another thing God didn’t have to do. But He did. He sent His only Son to die for our sins. How amazing is His grace!
In an article by writer Cheryl Magness, she offers eight simple Holy Week observances to prepare us for Easter. She says, “Easter is about more than bunnies and baskets. Here’s how you can transcend the commercial, and spend more time reverently preparing for Easter Sunday.”
- Observe Palm Sunday by attending church. Palm Sunday was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry and life. Riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus was hailed as a King. His followers waved and then threw down palm branches in His path. Five days later, they deserted Him.
- During Holy Week, listen to sacred music.
- Read the narration of the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection by reading through one of the gospels. Magness suggests the gospel of Luke.
- Attend other Holy Week services. Says Magness, “Holy Week is framed by Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, but what happens between is what makes the Sundays make sense. Many churches offer other Holy Week services.” Those days include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil. While not all churches observe these, try to find one that does.
- Observe a Mini-Lenten if you didn’t get around to participating in a Lenten discipline. Magness suggests engaging in an act of sacrifice or devotion beginning Palm Sunday and carrying through Easter Sunday. Give up something for that week or commit to a daily activity, like a Bible reading plan, to help your mind focus on Holy Week.
- Participate in a mini-fast, either full or modified starting from the end of Good Friday worship through sundown on Saturday. Magness says, “You don’t have to give up all sustenance to reap the spiritual benefit of fasting.” You might simply eat less, eat more simply or even skip a meal to draw you closer to the Lord.
- Unplug your TV, shut down the computer and cell phone and sign off social media. Doing one or more could also be one of your Holy Week disciplines to stay tuned in to God’s amazing story.
- If you do decide to stay plugged in, use your social media to proclaim the week’s events through Bible passages and links to articles about God’s mercy and promises to redeem His creation.
“The list above is not meant to be a burden but a blessing,” she adds. God’s not keeping score. But don’t miss church on Easter Sunday where you’ll hear of God’s unconditional love for you.
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Trying to back out of my friend’s curved driveway, I had to make several attempts to keep from running over several bushes. Even with a dashboard back-up camera, it was a challenge to maneuver my car safely onto the street without doing any damage.
My friend, seated on the passenger side, admitted she wasn’t very good at backing up either. Her solution was to turn her vehicle around in the wide drive so she could leave the premises facing forward.
How often do we navigate life’s challenges, clinging to our mistakes, regretting our choices and failing to move forward because we haven’t released our past to the One who loves us more than life itself? God never meant for us carry that weight.
Holding onto the past
Letting go is one of the hardest things we face. It’s easier for us to hold onto regrets, mistakes, guilt, failures, hurt, fear, anger and worry than to allow God to use them for His glory.
British author C.S. Lewis once said, “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”
Are you a doubting Thomas? Maybe you’re a believer, but you doubt God could ever love someone like you. Maybe you’ve been ridiculed or bullied, struggling with your self-worth.
As a child, were you told you weren’t good enough? Did you become a performance addict with a need to prove you were likable, lovable and valuable? Do you know you’re not alone, today?
Pastor Chip Ingram says, “Many of us struggle with conceptualizing the enduring, sacrificial, infinite, and unconditional love of our heavenly Father. I think this is because we always try to put God’s love into our own human terms—and our terms always fall far short.
“Our human relationships have conditioned us to measure love by ‘ifs,’ ‘maybes,’ and ‘becauses,’” he adds. “‘I’ll love you if you do this.’ Or, ‘I love you because you did that.’”
Slipping through my fingers, the delicate dessert dish shattered as it hit the counter top. What else could go wrong? The small, stemmed dish was one of six, a set belonging to my mother.
Earlier that day, the chain of my favorite necklace broke. The next day, I was cleaning, rearranging and organizing my office when I accidentally knocked my computer printer to the floor. Broken into several pieces, I tried to reassemble it. It was beyond fixing. I had to order a new one.
When we invite Christ to be our Savior and Lord, we’re made new. However, that doesn’t mean we’re automatically perfect. It means we’ve accepted we’re imperfect sinners in need of His amazing grace.
In an imperfect world, perfection can never be achieved by human effort. But, as the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.”
While I was a believer, I wasn’t a Christ-follower until I accepted His gift of grace in my late 40s. Before then, I was a perfection addict. Striving to achieve that goal meant denial of my imperfections.