You Matter to God

Does God really care about all of the details of your life? After all, our world’s population is increasing at 80 million per year! The headlines scream about refugees, wars, terrorism, hunger, and that we’re running out of clean water. With so many big things for God to take care of, how can he possibly care about my MRI or your granddaughter’s college tuition? Well, he can.

God is up for it.

  • collage for DNA copyWhen you think for a moment about our world, it’s quickly apparent that the world’s Creator has no trouble with details. In fact, He obviously has a passion for details! (Stay with me for a moment!) Our world’s vast and impossibly complicated ecosystems function in scientific and biological precision to support life in millions of ways. For example, the earth is exactly the ideal distance from the sun to support life. Think of all of the details that have to be just right for life to exist, whether it’s gravity, sunlight, the salinity in the oceans or composition of the soil, it all works perfectly together. Supporting this whirling planet overflowing with vibrant life forms is the mathematics of God. When we tap into the tiniest part of it, we find things like this. (There are endless examples.)Plants almost seem to perform mathematical calculations, allowing them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn when photosynthesis can begin again.
  • Ram's hornsRam’s horns grow in a precise spiral and geometrical alignment to the animal’s head so that, even though they can weigh thirty pounds (more than all of the animals bones weigh together), the animal is never unbalanced.
  • fibonacci1The centers of sunflowers and daisies grow in opposing spirals. They are not only beautiful to look at, but mathematically perfect, allowing the maximum number of seeds to grow in the least possible amount of space. Some sunflowers have 55 different spirals going left and 21 going right.
  • DNA is the genetic code that makes every living thing either an animal or plant. The arrangement of DNA in that meticulous double helix determines whether a plant will be a geranium or soybean and whether an animal will be a fish or an amoeba. I’ve added an endnote with a layman’s explanation of this[1], but let’s just say that God creates and arranges these unbelievably complex cells so that we, every person, animal and plant, is unique. 7.4 billion people—and counting—and none of us will ever be like another, each of us has unique fingerprints, tongue prints, toe prints, and capillary patterns in our retinas, among hundreds of other unique features.
  • starsGod has named every star. “He determines the number of the stars: he gives to all of them their names.” Psalm 147:4 (Science’s best guess of how many stars are in the “observable” universe: 10 trillion galaxies times 100 billion stars in each galaxy…and no one knows how large the universe is…)
  • God catalogs every single creature. “I know every bird on the mountains,and all the animals of the field are mine.” Psalm 50:11 (8.7 million species and counting. Again…an estimate)
  • hair“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Luke 12:7 (NLT) (The most recent estimate I could find is that each of us has about 37.2 trillion cells in our body)

 

Not only can God do it, He loves to do it…

God is crazy about us

God misses nothing and has planned every detail of our present and future. He takes supreme delight in doing this and has been doing it since before the dawn of time.

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. [Italics mine] (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son (Ephesians 4:1 The Message). 

That lavish gift-giving culminated in our glorious and incomparable Christ.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16 NLT).

God’s fabulous purpose in all of this was to remake Eden, i.e. heaven, where humankind would dwell with him in a perfect world at last. Jesus explained this to his disciples in John 14:1-3:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am (NLT).

So what does this mean to you?

  • You are not alone and you never will be alone.
  • You never need to wonder whether your tiniest thoughts, desires, or hurts—seemingly unimportant to anyone else—are too insignificant for God. If He even keeps track of the hairs on your head don’t you think that he wants to know everything about you?
  • God longs for your most intimate friendship. He looks forward to every word you tell him. In other words, when you spend time with him, you make his day. So few people, even Christians, care about God as a friend. Millions of Christians seldom think of him except on Sunday. Millions more only think of him when they are in crisis. Even so, He welcomes every thought of him and daily sends his Spirit and His angels to and fro throughout the world to bless, encourage, and open the hearts of children, men, and women because He doesn’t want anyone to perish apart from Him.
  • God’s intense longing for intimacy with us is fueled by his keen knowledge of the unspeakably agonizing and lonely eternity for those who refuse his love. If everyone were going to be saved, God never would have bothered sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins.
  • Your friendship and relationship with God is capable of endless enrichment, but only if you consciously cultivate it. Your peace in life is in direct correlation to the amount of time you spend with God.

Don’t wait another moment. Start the conversation. You don’t even have to tell him your name. He already knows everything about you.

___________________________________________________________father hugging child

[1]  Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is a molecule that contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live, and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell, and are passed down from parents to their children.

 

DNA STRUCTURE: DNA is made up of molecules called nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base. The four types of nitrogen bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). The order of these bases is what determines DNA’s instructions, or genetic code. Similar to the way the order of letters in the alphabet can be used to form a word, the order of nitrogen bases in a DNA sequence forms genes, which in the language of the cell, tells cells how to make proteins. Another type of nucleic acid, ribonucleic acid, or RNA, translates genetic information from DNA into proteins.

The entire human genome contains about 3 billion bases and about 20,000 genes. http://www.livescience.com/37247-dna.html

 

Why you must do what gives you joy

Three years ago Mike Meadows, 47, had a game-changing heart attack that resulted in open-heart surgery and six by-passes. May 2, 2016, on his fiftieth birthday, Mike wrote the following on his Facebook page. (You can read more about the details of his cardiac wakeup call at the end of the blog.)

Mike Meadows' cubicle on his 50th birthday cropped
Mike at work on his 50th birthday.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone for the warm birthday wishes for big 5-0. Not to get too philosophical on you, but I promised myself something almost three years ago after heart surgery and this birthday was just cause to renew that promise.

” With the realization that I have more years behind me than in front of me, that promise was to spend more time doing those things I love without having a detailed plan in place. Not that there’s anything wrong with goals, mind you. But far too often in the past I’ve said, “One of these days I want to….” or “I wish I could do this but…” and then find some excuse for not doing it. I always wanted to see down the road and see where things were going before stepping out just doing it.

“That all changed with that promise. That’s why I’m on the Humane Society board. That’s why I continue with photography—canines, weddings (This year will be my busiest year.), families, seniors, and so forth. And that’s why I finally started playing the piano for college music students again. I’ve been trying to get on the roster of accompanists for the last couple of years, and I finally got on board for the fall semester of 2015 and continued this past spring semester and hope to return again in the fall. It’s certainly been a breath of fresh air and a stress reliever for sure.

“So it was very fitting that on my birthday, I had the opportunity to play for a young lady’s cello recital on my birthday. It’s been a real privilege to work with some really talented young people and awesome instructors these past couple of semesters. I am very glad to be playing again at this level and in this capacity.

“I have a quote on my computer at work that says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” And that’s pretty much the way I’m approaching life right now. Life’s too short to put off the things that bring us joy while we keep ourselves busy with “life.” Where will it lead? Who knows? But you’ll never know until you start.”

 What gives you joy?

Mike has discovered a wonderfully freeing truth, and I applaud him for recognizing it and doing something about it. That moment of recognition he experienced, and the resultant promise he made himself, reminds me of a marvelous poem I read years ago.

 sunny-windowI lost my soul today

For the sake of cleaning and computers and junk.

It was a wonder-day of beauty.

Rapturous leaves afire in the sun entreated me;

Butterflies beckoned, birds entreated with song;

The great sky, wide and blue as the ocean,

Implored me to drift on the miracle tide

Of gladness and renewing.

But I turned away.

There were chairs to be dusted, floors to be vacuumed…

Floors, mind you! Common carpet and dirt

That must absorb my being.

And the ecstatic world without

Pleaded with me in vain.

A book lay open on the table.

In it were hidden jewel-truths

More wonderful than gems in the depths of the earth.

”Gather us! Take us! Be comforted and inspired!”…

But there were keys to strike on a computer,

Documents to be typed and files to be sorted;

Papers, mind you, which must absorb my soul!

A Master Musician there was—

I might have heard Him had I paused to think it

This golden afternoon, the music of angels….

But there was junk in the garage that must be cleared away—

Junk, mind you! Stacking newspapers, sorting recycling, and categorizing things for my garage sale

That must smother my soul.

And the Great Musician played, unheeded.

Had I moved a few steps, I might have listened;

Had I gone a few paces from the cluttered path….

But I lost my soul today,

For cleaning, computers, and junk.

There will be many days when I may organize and type and clean.

I traded Beauty for an hour of cleaning

I sold my birthright to meet one more deadline.

O Beauty, stand once more upon my threshold!

O Day of Wonder, beckon me again!

That I, the penitent, may open wide my dwelling

And plead with Loveliness as she has pled with me.

—adapted from a poem by Angela Morgan

The first time I heard mental health connected with things that give us joy was in 1999 when I agonized about my career and read the book, What Color is Your Parachute? [1] The purpose of this book is to help you find a career you love. One of the most memorable exercises for me was to think back through your life and remember the times you were happiest. What were you doing at those times? What brought you the most fulfillment? In what activities were you most likely to lose track of time? Those are the things that give you joy.

Following the path of joy means I must stop doing those things that frustrate me and emotionally bankrupt me. I now leave committee and board work to others. I am very selective in my viewing habits, including Facebook, and am good friends with the “off” button. Violence, blatant sin, and rude disrespect drain my soul and I no longer tolerate them. The things I love that make the day worthwhile are being with my wife, observing nature, gardening and bird-watching, playing the piano, writing, and something new: coloring.

What about you?

 

Epilogue: The rest of Mike’s story

It all started on the day after Thanksgiving, 2012. Yes, Black Friday has new meaning to me. I was working at my computer one minute, and the next I found myself kneeling in the floor, clutching my chest in severe pain with all the classic symptoms of a heart attack. I sent my son across the street to my in-laws for aspirin, chewed a couple of them, and then got to the hospital. Within an hour or two I found myself looking out the window of a helicopter on my way to Indy.

After a heart catheterization to determine where the blockages were and to what extent they blocked blood flow, it was determined that I had a multitude of blockages but specialists weren’t in agreement regarding my readiness for surgery. Apparently, if you do surgery too early in the process, the grafts don’t mature. The diagnosis as I heard it: “You are now a ticking time-bomb.” Or as my family doctor succinctly pointed out when he saw the report, “Wow, your heart’s a mess!”

Upon my very anxious query, I was told by the doctors that if I were to start having heart issues again, then I would probably have similar symptoms to those I had on Black Friday. I guess the operative word here was probably. Fast forward eight months to late July. We had been experiencing a triple-digit heat index in Indiana for several days. I noticed that climbing the back stairs at work left me unusually winded and with a slight but vague tightness in my chest, but I attributed it to the smothering humidity and the heat of summer in Indiana. In the back of my mind, I wondered if my heart was acting up, but since I had no pain or other symptoms, I tried to ignore that little voice. A couple of weeks later I had finished shooting a wedding when the vague tightness in my chest returned. I thought it rather strange because it hadn’t bothered me all day, and the weather was cooler. I went home, started working on the wedding photos, and fell asleep. When I awoke around 3:00 a.m. the tightness was back and didn’t leave.

I jumped online and tried to self-diagnose and talk myself out of any misgivings I was having, but around 5:00 a.m. I told my wife that I thought I should get to the ER merely as a precaution. I figured they’d run tests and send me home. Within about twenty minutes of my arrival, they informed me they were sending me to Indy in an ambulance…my blood work showed that I was having another “cardiac event.” Upon arrival in Indianapolis, they immediately performed another heart catheterization, and it showed multiple blockages with the most serious being each of the main arteries feeding each side of my heart, which were both 95% closed. I guess if I had ignored my non-symptoms, I could have easily dropped dead without further warning.

They informed me that prompt surgical attention was a necessity and they started pulling a team together for the next morning. When they completed the surgery, I had six bypasses to call my very own. It’s certainly not something I would have wished for, but due to family history, it was something that wasn’t totally unexpected either. The thing that surprises me is that while I escaped further tragedy by a narrow margin, dodging a bullet wasn’t something that lingered too much in my mind. What I couldn’t shake was the nagging urgency that life now seemed to possess: the realization that life is really finite and there is an ending point of our time here on earth. No longer was the future just an open-ended question mark with a vague, fuzzy date of completion. If I wanted to make the most of my time here before the transition of death, then I needed to do something about it. Now.

[1]  An updated edition is available each year on Amazon.com.

Green Thumbs and Parenting

I love plants. I always have. From infancy our homes in the tropics were surrounded by glossy, split-leaf philodendrons winding up the trees in whose shade Anthurium lilies grew. My mother often had hanging baskets of orchids on the verandah where their exotic colors and shapes swayed in the warm breezes. Our neighbor’s house was hung with gigantic, lush ferns that she watered every morning. Riotous hibiscus plants bloomed outside our dentist’s windows. Whenever I catch the heavy, moist fragrance of growing things I get homesick for those idyllic days.

2014-06-16 12.29.34Perhaps my love of plants stems from wanting to recreate this green environment. In any case, everywhere we have lived I have planted, fertilized, landscaped, mowed, pruned, and potted. And nature has richly rewarded me with bright nodding flowers bordering our houses, brilliant daffodils heralding the arrival of spring, and fragrant crab apple trees along the driveways.

People have told me I have a green thumb. They mean it as a compliment and it makes me happy to think I may have some special ability to help plants flourish. But, if truth be told, I don’t really have any unique gift. What I do have is a love of plants that motivates me to learn what they need to flourish and work hard to provide it. We have lived in many climates and I am always rewarded with a beautiful yard because I study up on climates, rainfall, hardiness zones, and the individual needs of various plants and flowers. Then I try to meet those requirements.

I remember reading in a gardening magazine that the difference between a nice yard and a beautiful yard is whether or not the gardener will get up off the couch and water the clematis when it’s dry. And perhaps people who shrug as they smile, saying they have a “brown thumb” are describing someone who has other priorities than not overwatering or underwatering a plant and making sure it is getting the proper amount of light.

Parenting is a lot like gardening

Sometimes we look at families who love each other, support each other, and in which everyone flourishes and we think “they must have a special gift.” We see well-disciplined children and young adults who readily pitch in around the house and wonder how it happens. It’s not rocket science. Good parents work hard to understand their children. They study psychology and understand how important it is for Mom and Dad to always present a united front. They read the Bible and have incorporated the dignity and worth of the marriage relationship into the home. They are committed to discipline even when they’re tired and it’s late. They set good examples for their children in their devotional lives. They plan family times together. They attend their kids’ events and programs. In other words, like a gardener studies plants, good parents learn what makes children flourish and then work consistently to ensure that their family’s needs will be met.2014-03-25 06.42.38

My wife, Karon, has helped me learn this lesson. The girls were in high school and middle school and Jon was in elementary school when my job required a lot of travel. I was gone almost more than I was home, sometimes for three or more weeks at a time. One time after a weekend trip, I drove home from the airport, walked into the house, and saw Karon and the kids playing Monopoly on the floor. The dishes were still on the counter and my obsessive-compulsive nature surfaced. I said something like, “When are you going to do these dishes?” Karon never moved from the floor and sweetly said as she locked her gaze onto me. “Somebody has to raise these children.” It hit me like a bombshell. The lesson was doubly powerful because I deeply loved my children and was working hard to provide for them. Yet I was failing the family because of my absence. I was out of touch with what they were doing and with whom. Worse, distance was growing between us all. Not too long after that we had a family council. It was unanimous. I should return to pastoral ministry so that I would be home with the family.

Several years later I was again consumed. This time it wasn’t traveling, but a building program. They girls were older and pretty much on their own. This left Jon with lots of time alone after school and I was in meetings almost every night. We were blindsided when a good friend of ours from church confided that Jon was planning to run away and stay at their house. We cleared our calendar, took him out to dinner, and tried to understand what was going on. The upshot of his thinking was that he was not needed in our house. We both had our careers and were too busy for him. I get choked up just reading about this, and I am deeply grateful that Jon was open with us and gave us a second chance. It can happen so innocently. But it’s a lot like gardening: if somebody doesn’t get up off the couch and water the clematis, don’t be surprised when it’s dead the next time you look for it.

Assault

Never before have our families been under such assault by a hyper-busy culture further intensified by electronic communication on every side. If they are to survive, parents will have to break the cycle and value their children. Now, don’t get me wrong. Many parents who deeply love their children are practically slaving to provide for them. But are they giving them what they really need? They do not need entertainment, gaming, or the latest cell phone. They need family time around the table when everyone sits down and electronics are banned until the next morning. Parents are often the worst offenders, always available to the office but never available to their kids. Children and teenagers need consistent discipline and loving role models. They will survive without designer jeans, but they will not survive your absence. They are very forgiving when they know you love them. Sometimes that love must be tough.

A-family-pray-before-bedtimeOne exemplary family I know did not allow their kids—even in high school—to own a cell phone. There are many reasons for kids to have phones, but here’s the point: the good influence of their family was being destroyed by the constant effluence of disrespect and godlessness pouring into their minds, and so they removed the source of the garbage. Another powerful habit that was nonnegotiable was church attendance. They always sat together every service; Mom, Dad, and the kids. One might expect those children would be rebellious and eager to get away from home as soon as possible. Just the opposite. They are wonderful young adults.

Don’t feel guilty

As I write this I am keenly aware that many parents—and many of them are raising their children by themselves– are fighting to keep their heads above water. The pressures of society are staggering. Peer pressure in the teen world can be suffocatingly powerful. If you are one of these parents, my heart goes out to you. Please don’t feel guilty about anything that I have said. Pour out your heart before God and He will help you. Even a few moments each day in His Word and in prayer will keep you steady and provide emotional energy. Bring your kids before him constantly. Ask Him to send his angels to guard them. Pray for your kids. Pray with them. Do the right thing. Seek support if you need it. Be consistent.

At the end of the day

There are times our kids make poor choices and we can’t do a thing about it. We can love them, pray for them, and do our best, but they will leave us, embrace sin, or make a mess of their lives. Just as the best gardener loses plants, flowers, and even trees, the best parent may lose children. I can’t think of anything more painful than this. For such parents I say, do not play the “If only” game. Do not keep asking, “Where did I go wrong?” Think about this. Even Jesus was singularly unsuccessful with some people. Judas was his trusted confidante but turned against him. Many Pharisees never understood Jesus and until his death they were convinced His miracles were empowered by the devil. And, like the Father, we keep praying, waiting, and hoping that someday the prodigals will come home.

Saying the Wrong Thing at the Wrong Time

Has it happened to you? A well-meaning friend or even a stranger has offered advice that you did not ask for and ended up totally baffling you or leaving you feeling worse than before. “Aren’t you married yet?” someone said to our wonderful single friend who had endured horrible relationships and yet was a positive and insightful woman. I still remember a family friend looking me up and down when I was about ten. “David, you’re too fat!” she exclaimed.

Off the top of my head, there are a few categories of comments we make:

  1. Nitpicking (“Pastor, you pronounced Mephibosheth incorrectly. I knew you’d want to know.”)
  2. Uncalled for advice (To someone with cancer: “Well, you know the statistics. One in three will get it.”)
  3. Judgments (“She looks like she’s pregnant”), and
  4. I don’t know what to say but I have to say something. (To the pastor: “I enjoyed your little talk.”)

No one group of people is better at this than others. We’ve all put out foot into our mouths. Some people seem to live that way. As we approach another presidential election, be prepared for wild and sweeping statements by just about everyone, whether it’s the latest Hillary bashing, Hillary bashing someone else, the right wingers assigning all liberals to hell, or the liberals calling the right wingers idiots. Hey, it’s our national pastime and its Bibles are in the tabloid racks at supermarkets and the airwaves. Twitter is a helpful vehicle if you want to get the word out quickly. We all know that the truth can be gauged by the number of hits on a web posting, the number of views on YouTube, or the latest polls from the media.

saying the wrong thing-idea copy

If you want to live your life far from the madding crowd, step back from all the hype and blather, take a deep breath, and think before you speak, post, or write. Perhaps we should hit fewer “Like” buttons on Facebook and consider the true needs of the people with whom we rub shoulders day after day. Isn’t sharing posts we have not researched in 2015 like gossiping at the backyard fence in 1940? Our yearning to be the first one to communicate it trumps whether or not it’s true. Or wise. Or kind.

Think before You Speak

I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home. Our denomination leaned toward Wesley rather than Calvin (free will vs. predestination), and we emphasized unity, sanctification, and divine healing. If you don’t know what this means, hang on for a minute. Let me illustrate briefly how even the best-intentioned of people can say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

We loved the doctrine of divine healing and share stories of those who were miraculously restored to health. One of our main leaders displayed on his office wall the crutches and canes of people who no longer needed them. Without discounting any of these marvelous testimonies, let me observe that many slipped into the seat of judgment when talking to or about people who were not healed. Our theology was a little thin at this point. While praising faith we forgot grace, and sometimes assumed—and said so—that people were not healed because they had unforgiven sin in their lives. We criticized their faith as insufficient or flawed. We said they didn’t pray with the right words or passion.

We had to face it as time wore on. Not every Christian was healed. When a prominent and respected national leader’s twins died instead of recovering in spite of prodigious efforts around the world to move the hand of God, we began to relax our theology of healing and consider that God might not fit into the box we had built for him.

What the family—the one whose twins died—needed was not judgment but compassion. They didn’t benefit from the endless speculation about their failures of faith. In fact, I imagine it wounded them deeply. What they did need was arms around their shoulders and an outpouring of love and support.

A Call for Kindness and the Benefit of the Doubt

The other day one of my tennis friends returned from an extended vacation. She had not seen us in a while and wanted to catch up on everyone. When I mentioned the name of another player I knew she didn’t care for, she…let’s say she found it challenging to be positive. (I knew for a fact she had refused to play on the same court with that person.) I mentioned how well the uncared for tennis player had done in her absence, pointing out a few of her good qualities. My recently returned friend looked at me with amazement. “You’re incredibly kind!” she said. Am I? I know that I want to be

What do you say to someone you know has been diagnosed with what could be a terminal illness? Here’s where we need to stop and think before we rush in and say the wrong thing. What not to say:

  • “I’m sure you will be better soon.” This attempt to be positive is inaccurate and unhelpful.
  • “You need to try these essential oils (or organic products, bee pollen, etc.)” Thousands of popular remedies may have marginal benefit if any. Those with terminal illnesses get far too many of these simplistic solutions. Leave prescribing to the doctors.
  • “Have you prayed for healing?” If you are very close friends who share the same faith you might possibly ask this. Too often, however, it strikes the wrong, judgmental chord instead of bringing hope.

Kindness and gentleness, two of the nine characteristics of a genuine Christian (found in Galatians 5:22-23) will guide you. Ask yourself what you would want to have someone say to you.

What to say when you don’t know what to say.

comforting hug-cropped
Being held is one of the best therapies for those enduring loss. If you don’t know the person well, ask permission as some people are not “huggers.”

When your friend is bereaved or experiencing huge loss, sometimes the most eloquent thing to say is nothing. But do not ignore them. Cry with them. Hug them. Send cards or notes. Touch them on the shoulder in passing. Pray for them and assure them of your prayers. Stay in touch. A simple “thinking about you” text from your phone can bring the ray of sunshine they need that day. Be there. Instead of asking how you can help, pick up the mail, run errands, mow the lawn, or take a casserole. People will often forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

And as for the news, political candidates, wars, and the economy? Watch and observe. Make your own judgments but don’t be quick to assume you have the answers. Name-calling is the practice of those with small minds. Keep your disdain for people private. Don’t sit in judgment. Offer the kindness of the benefit of the doubt. The greatest man who ever lived said it this way, “Be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Are You Good Enough?

.Seattle, 1958. Sunset Junior High School. Ninth grade gym class. Fresh from the West Indies and with a heavy British accent, I dragged myself to the locker room one more time for the usual embarrassment. I was 5’ 4’’ tall and weighed almost 170 pounds. My thick glasses helped me see but nothing had helped me understand American sports. My sister was sent away to school when I was seven, leaving me the only child of busy missionary parents who were always at their desks or their work. I played the piano, ate (some afternoons I consumed an entire can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk), and read. It was not only American sports that confused me. It was all sports. I had witnessed perhaps one basketball game, no football games, and not even a cricket match, which would have been more likely in Trinidad.

We suited up and filed into the gym. Our ruddy-faced PE teacher hauled in a large bag of balls and shouted, “Basketball this week, fellas!” All but one of the boys were excited and were soon shouting, joking, and shooting baskets. I, the foreigner, stood against the wall trying to make myself invisible. We lined up. Two of my classmates were named captains and chose their teams—I was always last—and the game began. Of course, everyone had his turn and my inevitable moment arrived. I had watched carefully to try to learn what to do. Suddenly someone threw me the ball. By this time I had figured out that I should get the ball and shoot a basket, and so I shoved the ball under my arm and ran to the end of the court. The coach’s whistle shrilled and everybody stared. “Schlitz!” (He never got my name right.) “Don’t you know you are supposed to dribble the ball?!“ Dribble? My face crimsoned to uproarious, hooting laughter.

A Childhood Experience Grows into Dysfunction.

By my senior year things were much better. I was losing the accent and understood most idioms of American life. But the feeling of not being good enough was still lodged in my mind. Years later and in my forties with a beautiful wife and three great kids, the feeling roared back. It had nothing to do with sports now. It was my Christian faith that was the bugaboo. By this time I had a graduate degree from seminary and had been both a pastor and associate pastor in several congregations. I was supposed to have the answers, to understand theology, how prayer works, and just what to say to the parents of the dying child in the emergency room. But I didn’t have all of the answers. Some days I wondered if I had any answers.

My flawed theology led me to label some vocations as more valuable than others. To my way of thinking, missionaries were number one and pastors were number two. Others were three or lower. I’m sure my parents made mistakes but they never shared them with me. Ours was a proud denomination certain of ourselves and our right doctrine. Everything was right or wrong. No minister or pastor that I knew ever slipped up. In fact, Every Christian was supposed to be perfect and live above sin, period. We were a well-intentioned but graceless group who defined ourselves by the things we didn’t do. We didn’t drink. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t dance. We didn’t play cards. We didn’t swear. We didn’t go to movies. You get the picture. When Christians we knew did these things, they were labeled a failure.

And now I didn’t have the answers. I struggled at times with temptation. For the first time I recognized my deep-seated anger against my parents for sending me away to school and against the denomination that sent them to the mission field. I was trapped. I was angry and Christians don’t get angry. I doubted my beliefs and Christians should have strong faith. I could no longer do the job and had never been taught it was okay to fail. I felt that I was not good enough. Especially was I not good enough to be a pastor, and way below my falsely created pedestal of missionary perfection. And so I left pastoral ministry.

When we’re not good enough.

So what happens in this environment? People pretend. We hide. We hide our true selves and display what everyone thinks we should be. People do this everywhere. We pretend we’re someone else (posting flattering photos on Facebook or dating web sites). We adopt an attitude of superiority to hide our feeling of inferiority (swaggering around in front of our friends to impress them). This is usually an unconscious response to not feeling good enough. In today’s mean-spirited society, we are particularly susceptible to bullying. We’ve all read the tragic accounts of teenagers who have killed themselves because of being labeled as losers. Our culture praises beautiful bodies and the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Who can compete? The Business world demands being super productive and twelve-hour days. It’s no wonder so many of us feel inadequate, marginalized, and useless. “I’m not good enough” becomes a lifelong personality disorder that torpedoes relationships and fractures marriages and families. It leads to depression—and even suicide.

What now?

  1. Examine your negative self-image. Where does it come from? Peers and parents are two powerful forces and either or both can make you feel wonderful or horrible. Who is telling you that you are not good enough? Is it you or someone else? If it’s you, why do you feel inadequate? What event, experience, or relationship is fueling your pain?
  2. Ask a trusted friend about your perceptions. How do they understand the triggers that launch your self-doubt? What good things do they see in you? What do they believe about you?
  3. Are you transparent? Are you real or do you put up a front that you imagine others want you to be? No one can live a lie. It’s okay to be who you really are. Jettison friends who require you to pretend.
  4. Failure is temporary. Life is a learning process and you are very resilient. Thousands of people we think of as big successes failed countless times in the pursuit of their vision. It’s okay to fail. How you respond to failure is a key to succeeding in life.
  5. Failure is not a sin. Everyone fails at some point. It’s the nature of life. Only God is perfect but He is also gracious, understanding, and loving.
  6. Comparison is corrosive. Comparing yourself to others breeds dissatisfaction, jealousy, envy, and depression. In truth, we often don’t even know the people to whom we compare ourselves!
  7. God has made you a marvelous and creative person. You are created in His image. He loves you as you are. He gave up Heaven to walk this earth in human form to teach us that He understands. He died for your sins and, if you accept him, He will live in you now and give you Heaven forever.

Epilogue

By God’s grace, my story did not end with my departure from pastoral ministry. In the months and years that followed, God revealed Himself to me with remarkable and uplifting encouragement. He immediately gave me three scriptures verses which extinguished my burning sense of ministerial failure.

  • The first was from Mark 1:11, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” I foolishly reacted with some statement about this verse being for Jesus. God said, “It is my Word and today it is about you.”
  • The second was from Haggai 2:23: “I will make you like a signet ring on my finger, says theLord, for I have chosen you.”
  • The third was from Luke 22:31-32 “Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.But I have pleaded in prayer for you, [David] that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

I have learned that God was neither surprised nor disappointed by my struggle. It made no difference to Him that I felt that I had failed. He didn’t mind that I was angry at the church or wanted nothing to do with further ministry. Nothing I was feeling disqualified me in His eyes from His original call upon my life to be his boy.

The grace that I was never taught but experienced from gracious people like my adopted parents, L. T.  and Helen Flynt, my parents-in-law, John and Florence Neal and, of course, my wife and children, has become a permanent and healing part of my life. They from the beginning have loved me as I am and their love is unconditional and forever. Thank you!

God graciously used me in other ministry positions, including two wonderful pastorates and now in retirement. He continues to heal me from my need to be perfect and reminds me not to compare myself with others.

I pray that you, too, will find His grace and peace.