I have been trying to be purposeful about reading more this summer. If I am being honest reading even one book for “pleasure” or edification (i.e. not required reading for school) would be an improvement for me. Anyway, while I am not finishing out the summer quite where I had ambitiously unrealistically planned on being, I have read five books.
I highly recommend all of them for different reasons. I feel like I learned a lot from each one. And maybe it was good that I didn’t read more books because now I find myself somewhat paralyzed by all the knowledge, well actually all the things I was convicted of and all the things I wanted to implement or change. My mind is swimming in a sea of molasses and to-do-better lists. I have already started to try to implement a lot of what I read in “Don’t make me Count to Three!” It is a very practical, applicational parenting book, specifically for parents of pre-school age kids. I read through it in one day and had a lot of “aha!” moments. While I don’t completely agree with her style, a lot of what she says resonates with me. It makes sense. And it is completely chock full of scripture. I have tried to use a lot of her practical discipline and instruction advice with my kids already.
Really my trouble has come more from the overall conclusions I have come to about myself as a result of reading the other books, especially “Grace Based Parenting” and “What Women Fear”.
I remember reading Rick Warren’s “A Purpose Driven Life” while I was in high school. In the book he names a few things that can drive your life (I am assuredly butchering this). At the time I couldn’t come to any real conclusions about what option of all the ones discussed fit best with me. Clearly, I did not know myself real well at that point. Two of the options, the only options I can remember, are fear and guilt. (Maybe me remembering these two options over the past decade should have clued me in…). As I read this summer and as I used my insomnia as a chance to mull over what I read, God brought what I had read all those years ago to the forefront of my mind. Oh, how clear it is to me now what I allow to control my life. I am a person who is often controlled by fear and a person riddled by guilt. If you know me well at all you could have probably solved this conundrum for me long ago, especially when it came to fear because that is abundantly clear. I think the guilt is a little more of a private struggle.
I have come to realize that so many of the decisions I make, from how to spend my time to what I allow my brain to ruminate on, to the attitude I have as I go about my day, to the way I view others is tainted by my fear and my guilt. So often I am held captive by my own fear and anxiety. I knew this to be true of me before reading Angela Smith’s wondrous book, “What Women Fear”, but now I am even more aware of all the areas in my life that fear is an unwelcome presence. She tackles different types of fears in each chapter of the book. At the beginning of some chapters I started reading thinking to myself “oh, this one doesn’t apply to me. I don’t fear______”. Well, let me tell you by the end of each chapter, actually usually by page two of each chapter, my thinking was more along the lines of “oooh crap! This one applies to me too!?” I guess I didn’t always classify certain feelings as fear and certain feelings or thought processes I was unaware of all together. (Needless to say, I think every women should read this book. Especially if you are a big ball of fear and anxiety like me…or even a little ball.)
Reading this book left me feeling at moments overwhelmed by the amount of fear I live with. Which instantly sends me into a spiral of guilt. I realized reading her tender words, most of which were God’s own tender words from scripture, that I have such a skewed image of who God really is. There is the obvious-if I really had a grasp of who God is I would fear so much less. And yes, this is true. I have known this to be true. In fact, in my guilt over my fear I have beat myself over the head with this one many a time. From another perspective I saw that my own skewed view of God actually contributes greatly to the guilt I feel about my fear. Then in my guilt I pull away from God instead of running to Him which leads me back to where? You guessed it. More Fear. I think the component I have been missing in all my endeavors to “fear not” is that of guilt. Now, I am not saying that guilt is a bad thing. I am saying that a life lived in guilt, a person constantly wallowing in guilt and rarely using that guilt as a catalyst to push them into the love, forgiveness and freedom of Christ is wrong. Maybe I better way of phrasing it is shame. My skewed view of God and thus my skewed view of how God views me leaves me stuck in fear and guilt. I am actually the person who reading in scripture when Jesus tells us “Do not fear for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10a) reads this as a harsh rebuke rather than a comforting command and promise. Hence the guilt.
One of the main things Angela Smith wants to convey (and did a marvelous job of!) in her book is that while fear is not good, it is a realistic part of our lives. We cannot really expect to live entirely without it. We can however use it to point us to God. She speaks words full of truth and grace throughout her book. She does not mince words about who God is or how our fear is not founded in truth. But as she shares example after example from scripture about how even the “best” of God’s followers were captive to fear, and example after example of how God met them in that fear and used them for great things, I felt God chiding at my heart, pointing me to Grace.
Angela Smith uses the example of a father watching his daughter star in a play. She explains that despite when the daughter messes up her lines, or stumbles over a piece of scenery, God is the Father who is in the front row with a big smile on His face, cheering her on. I guess I always envisioned God in the back with a note pad jotting down all the mistakes so that in the after-show critique He could say “Overall okay. But I noticed here, here and here that you embarrassed us pretty badly.” I certainly do not picture God applauding me. Maybe after a while He might say something along the lines of “Well, I guess this is the best Emily can do. She will never be as good as my other daughter playing the lead but if I lower my expectations a little more, then I guess she can be classified as mediocre. I mean it is Emily we are talking about after all." It never crossed my mind that God would be looking instead for the areas that I shined. It certainly never crossed my mind that I, in my mess up of a day to day life, could make God smile…or applaud.
The more I thought about what I have read in “Grace Based Parenting” the more I felt this was confirmed. This book is all about mirroring God as the perfect parent as you raise your children. Tim Kimmel discusses how the primary way that God parents us is through grace. When I see myself sitting and watching my kids “put on a show” I watch them with eyes of love and excitement. I marvel at how adorable, funny, special and beautiful they are. I would never sit and critique their every move. Despite addressing their bad attitudes or bad behavior, when I look at them I see my babies. And I am overcome with unconditional love. What a powerful thought for me to think that God would choose to see me the same way.
I know God takes sin very seriously. I know that often our picture of God is too small and so is our picture of our sin. I am not talking about being okay with not improving in certain sin areas. I am not talking about overlooking or excusing what a wretch I can be. I am just saying that God has whispered to me as I have read this summer. And one thing He has been telling me is that despite all the yuck I am wrapped in and even the yuck at the core of me (and all the yuck in the middle) He loves me. He thinks I am pretty great. I still don’t know why, but apparently He does.
He wants me to come to Him when I am running on the fear and guilt gerbil wheel. My fear does not make me useless. It does not make me worthless. It makes me human. It makes me a work in progress. And so I choose to face my fear rather than run from it. I choose to not let it send me to the closet of guilt. I will preach the Gospel to myself daily- the good news that acknowledges my guilt and fear and turns it into victory and freedom. I choose to have my fear and guilt make me run to arms of my Father who will quiet all my fears and erase all my guilt.
“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:20-21
“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17