Following Jesus can be hard. Temptations abound in a world that glorifies temporary pleasure over long-term happiness and quick intimacy over intentional relationships. It’s easy to fall prey to superficial, surface-level friendship on social media and to the black hole of beauty, trendy fads, and “aesthetic” that permeates our Instagram pages. It’s hard to remember to love your neighbor when your neighbor is someone who you feel alienated, victimized, or persecuted by and it’s especially hard to imagine loving our worldwide neighbors when we shut them out and make them feel neglected and orphaned. Remembering to focus on your inner adornments is forgotten when we aspire to look like Kylie Jenner and celebrities who battle the same insecurities that we do. Being a follower of Jesus Christ in a society of trendy, oftentimes hypocritical Christianity is especially challenging. People mistrust Christians because they’ve been hurt by us, whether because of some outspoken, radically conservative voices or because they see an absence of love and acceptance like they thought Jesus gave. Overcoming the mistrust that pollutes our society is our responsibility as Christians, to be vessels of Truth, acceptance, and compassion. But following Jesus can be hard, and the difficulty starts within ourselves.
I read in Colossians 2:12 this morning: “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” The words that caught my attention were “buried” and “faith”. Our societal burdens and insecurities can be easily buried with Christ through baptism, a literal washing away of all those things that bring us down. I imagine going under water in an act of commitment and proclamation to God and leaving behind my desire to be perceived a certain way online, by the ones I love, and to total strangers. Leaving behind any addictions or weakness. Burying the things that stretch and test you — in the worst of ways. That is what baptism in Jesus Christ offers. There is a second aspect to this relationship with Christ that is the hard part, the daily struggle that we face that I described above.
And that is faith. When we come up out of those waters of forgiveness, a lifelong journey of faith ensues. And no, it isn’t easy. It requires waking up daily to thank God for whatever will happen that day — when you are peeved at work, stressed by finances, neglected by friends, hurt by significant others — God wants thanksgiving for even those moments. It can be easy to think, why didn’t the God of the universe make it easy to be a follower of Christ? Why am I constantly being inflicted with temptations and tragedy that feel far from God? Is it even possible to be close to my savior in a society that separated from Him? Why is this so hard? I ask these questions like any Christian does, and the only comforting conclusion I can come to is one of love.
It’s simple: no one wants to be in love with someone who didn’t have to choose to love them back. Love requires sacrifice and compromise, commitment and compassion. Christ showed us the most radical act of love possible and simply asks for a fraction of that given back to Him. It may be hard, but it is worth it.
A lot of things change in life. In the past year, a lot of things have changed in mine. The natural rhythm of life carries us through tides of highs and tides of lows, but through it all one thing always remains. One thing, the one thing that I could reach out for when my heart felt broken and my actions disappointing, will always remain. The steadfast love, peace, and grace of Jesus Christ will always be there, freely available to us. God doesn’t move away from us but is always near, waiting patiently to welcome us back into His embrace of mercy, peace, comfort, and belonging. When I’m far from God, when my heart is troubled and my mind conflicted, it is never because God has forgotten about me or drifted away from me; the truth is quite the opposite. As a human, I am inherently chained by the tendencies of temptation, disappointment, and worldly comfort. As a child of God, I am freed by the abundant love and forgiveness, truth and goodness that showers me in the presence of my savior. When I am far, I am ashamed and discouraged, but God doesn’t say to shame or self-criticize ourselves whenever we are falling away, back into old, undesirable rhythms of life. He says,
12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.” – Jeremiah 29:12-14
There is no holding line, wait-list, consideration period, or redemption process that God requires us to go through before we are welcomed back into His loving, accepting arms. The tone is this message is immediate, urgent, imminent. Call on me, and I will listen. Seek Me, and find Me. He knows the posture of our hearts before we even “let him in” on it, and He knows our desires and heartaches. Like anything, returning to God requires work on our part as any relationship does. It requires sacrifice and dedication, communication and honesty. What it doesn’t demand or even allow is trying to earn God’s love. We can’t earn it; we don’t deserve it and nothing we do can make us more deserving of His infinite grace and acceptance. It was given to us, the greatest gift of all time. God doesn’t want our empty actions or articulated words, He wants our hearts. Our purified, humbled, earnest and bold hearts. We are more than the lows we experience or the highs we admire; through all of those moments, God welcomes us unconditionally and immediately. That is love.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”
This semester was expected to be the worst, the hardest, the most demanding and grueling semester I would have in college – I was so nervous. Since my freshman year I have been dreading the fall semester of my junior year. It was set up to be the semester where I would take the most upper level science classes at once and still try to maintain my sanity and all the other crazy things that college students do. Maybe I went into this semester with a bad attitude, or at least a pessimistic attitude – one that expected the worst. I am so delighted, blessed, and truly thankful to say that this was indeed not the worst semester of my life; in fact, it may have been one of the best but for many different reasons. Academically, I studied smarter (AKA less, shorter, more focused) and enjoyed my classes more because everything I loved about biology and chemistry came together finally! I also spent more time doing things that made me a happier person (yoga, hanging out with my friends, taking time off, going to the lab). I think God strategically placed people and events in my life to buffer the ride that was expected to be pretty uncomfortable for a while. I think God knew I needed a support system, people to lift me up and cheer me on and remind me why this is worth it, and He gave me that. He gave me that in my roommates who have often seen me studying with frustration and then later baking dozens of cookies to decompress; He gave me that in my cherished best friends who remind me to stop, go out for dinner, enjoy a glass of wine, and do something fun and relaxing; He gave me that in my mentor/boss and coworkers at Vanderbilt who showed so much grace and support by allowing me time to study, focus, and take off when I needed it; He gave me that in my (now) boyfriend who endlessly encouraged me through countless physics problems, biochem exams, late nights and early mornings, and who never forgot to make me laugh in the middle of the chaos; and He gave it to me in my family who never failed to call, check in, and send me prayers when I needed them most. So, yeah, God knows what you need. I say that not because I saw what was happening while it was going on in my life – no, there were definitely times when I wanted to give up and felt completely unmotivated – instead because He was always there, working in me and around me and through me and through others to me. Sometimes what you expect to be a big, bad terrible storm turns into a beautiful, refreshing spring shower – it brings you flowers, sunshine, and a breath of new life. I sit and reflect on a semester that was a whirlwind, a serendipitous whirlwind of unexpected friendships and newly minted forever memories. I blinked, and it was suddenly over, my expectations were wrong and this time I was happy about it! But my, how I have been shown that the God I love, cherish, and serve, will always know what you need. Not only that, but He will abundantly bless you with what – or who – you need.
When I sit down to read René Descartes, it is more like sitting down and getting lost in conversation with an old friend than sitting alone while reading philosophy. I love Descartes. I am utterly captivated by his approach, explanations, and rebuttals. I want to share some of my adoration into this philosophy and specifically Descartes’ way of approaching God. I have personally found this short, concise book to be very influential in the way I methodically approach understanding and especially difficult spiritual questions.
Before I begin on Descartes’ methods, I should explain his background briefly. Pre-enlightenment, scientists were artists and philosophers and all of these creative roles were generally classified under the umbrella term, “thinkers”. Today, these disciplines are so extremely divided that scientists have abandoned art, artists know nothing of science, and philosophers the most removed from both. Although I think this dramatically harms our current society (the separation of explicitly intertwined ways of thought), there indeed was a time where these things were married and remained congruent in society. René Descartes was one of those men who was innately curious and this crept into everything he did in life. He was a scientist, a mathematician, and a philosopher. He was a Frenchman and wrote many of his philosophical musings during the 17th century. His perpetual skepticism is what attracts me so magnetically and is one of the chief reasons I regard him so highly. He doesn’t accept what anyone before him has argued and he even calls into doubt everything he has argued. His methods are logically sound, scientific, yet elegant and beautiful. He is clear, comprehensible, and takes your mind places and into thoughts you’ve never been before. He makes you think in novel ways, about new problems, with a unique perspective. He isn’t afraid of refutation or objection, in fact, he welcomes it and applauds countering opinions. He seeks the Truth, not status or some kind of intellectual superiority (like others I like much less such as Socrates). He brings together science, faith, and reason and shows that they are not separate from each other (not largely challenged during Descartes’ present day, but within a century would become a ludicrous argument in the eyes of modern scientists). He shows that we don’t have to compartmentalize our “selves” and can indeed prove that every particle of our being is in fact connected. He shows that at our most reduced selves, we remain thinkers. We possess the ability to dwell on things, contemplate them, and make decisions of logic and reason. René Descartes’ philosophy is one I hold very close to my heart.
Meditations on First Philosophy in Which the Existence of God and the Distinction between the Soul and the Body Are Demonstrated
Okay, Descartes wasn’t afraid of lengthy titles either. Often shortened to Descartes’ Meditations, these series of thoughts walk through his own methodology for understanding the existence of God. He doesn’t yell at you, throw anything at you, he never even speaks of sin, but he holds God at the foundation of his understanding (inadvertently expressed through the way in which he speaks of God at the beginning of the Meditations). Descartes’ thought journey is certainly spiritual, but it is not solely spiritual. It is intellectual. By nature, he approaches problems with a logical magnifying glass. He pokes and prods at the question from different angles, essentially using a complete reductionist approach (what a scientist). He begins by calling into doubt every single idea he has ever stored away in his thought bank. Not individually, but as a whole. Everything he knows and believes is erased and everything he once held as true becomes questionable, doubtful, uncertain. In doing this, however, he removes any prejudices. He becomes objective. His mind isn’t muddled by the opinions he has developed over the years. He takes a completely cynical and skeptical approach on a topic that is usually regarded as blind, with no basis for logic. He takes this route, walks you through a series of investigations of reason (dreams, physics, mind and body separation) and arrives at a beautifully comprehensible and sharp picture of what he was working through the entire time. His conclusions aren’t complete, and he even expresses his lack of empathy for those that only dwell on his conclusions and not on his methods of getting there. Descartes is not cowardly. He does not fear refutation. He shows that everything we know, everything we can know, and our most central reason for being is governed by God. Not because of lapse in reason, but because of reason. I won’t work through all of his argument, although I would love to, but I will leave some fragments of his work and an additional resource where you can contemplate your own conclusions from this book. Whatever you believe or don’t believe, much can be learned from his calculated, succinct Meditations and the mental joy ride he takes you on as you work through them.
On dreams being equally as devious as reality:
“How often does my evening slumber persuade me of such ordinary things as these: that I am here, clothed in my dressing gown, seated next to the fireplace – when in fact I am undressed in bed!”
On mathematics being the only reality not subject to perception:
“Thus it is not improper to conclude from this that physics, astronomy, medicine, and all other disciplines that are dependent upon the considerations of composite things are doubtful, and that, on the other hand, arithmetic, geometry, and other such disciplines, which treat nothing but the simplest and most general things and which are indifferent as to whether these things do or do not in fact exist, contain something certain and indubitable. For whether I am awake or asleep, 2 plus 3 make 5, and a square does not have more than 4 sides. It does not seem possible that such obvious truths should be subject to suspicion of being false.”
On what cannot be called into doubt:
“I am therefore precisely nothing but a thinking thing; that is, a mind, or intellect, or understanding, or reason – words of whose meaning I was previously ignorant. Yet I am a true thing and am truly existing; but what kind of thing? I have said it already: a thinking thing.”
“If the objective reality of any of my ideas is found to be so great that I am certain that the same reality was not in me, either formally or eminently, and that therefore I myself cannot be the cause of the idea, then it necessarily follows that I am not alone in the world, but that something else, which is the cause of this idea, also exists.”
When I was a little girl, it is clear in my memory a time that I mentioned to my mom that I wanted to pray for something very specific. I don’t exactly remember what I was going to ask for in prayer, but I do remember her adding some comments to my inquiry that have stayed with me through the remainder of my life and truly made an impact on the way I approach my prayers. I remember her telling me that when I pray for something, I need to remember to ultimately pray for God will’s to take precedence. This has really molded and transformed my prayers throughout the years, indicating to me which prayers I truly wanted God’s guidance and counsel on, and the prayers I sent up that were viewed as “wish-granters”. I have heard this “If it is God’s will” echoed throughout the prayers lifted up my grandparents and family members all of my life. Praying for God’s will to happen before mine removes my emotional attachments to the situation and really puts my request in God’s hands.
When I find myself saying a prayer, maybe something like “God, I pray I get this [fill in the blank]” and then I add “God, I pray I get this [fill in the blank], if it will be Your will.” There is a fleeting moment of truth that follows that expresses how my personal feelings are towards giving God full control of the situation. Often, I realize that I am inclined towards God’s will supporting my own will (naturally), but I need to realize that sometimes it isn’t going to. And I need to truly, genuinely be happy with the outcome of either situation. So if I make a request to God, and find myself anxious or nervous that He might see the outcome different than I do, I know my emotional attachments to that request are deeper than my trust in God. This happens to me OFTEN, and I am definitely not claiming to be perfect (and I never will be). But I will admit that I no longer have the inability to accept an outcome different than my own. Maybe He doesn’t want me to have something now because there is something better waiting on the horizon. Maybe He wants to teach me something or show me someone and that doesn’t coincide with what I have requested. I have learned to take control of my attachment to worldly materialism and pride and subordinate them to the will of a God that has my best interest at the core of His purpose.
Let me clarify that not all of my prayers are seemingly selfish requests to God. But some of them are, and I think it is important to share with you all how much adding, “..if it is Your will” at the end of my prayers has transformed my self-awareness of my feelings towards what I am asking. I really think it has made me less attached to the outcome of things because I know that my requests were not asked in selfish desire but in an attempt to give God control over something in my life I find important enough to lift up in prayer.
Ultimately, God’s design for situations will always prevail. His will holds importance in our lives, where ours holds none. So my prayer tonight, is that all of you will find the truth in your requests and will pray with sincerity and a heart that seeks the Lord, if it will be in God’s will.
A trend I stumbled upon on wordpress was this #oneword2016. After reading through a few articles I got the impression that this is a one word “mantra” dedicated to 2016. I started contemplating some of the words that I would like to implement into 2016. Some of the words that came to mind were words like real, strength, imagine. All of these words were fitting for my life, but for some reason I felt inclined to think of word that didn’t “fit” my life. A word that wasn’t something that didn’t just come to the top of my mind. A word I had to search for.
Then I thought of Open. I would like to be more open in 2016.
Open to having coffee with a stranger.
Open to reading books I don’t think I will enjoy.
Open to having meaningful conversations at odd times in the day.
Open to change.
Open to suggestions.
Open to commitment.
Open to challenging myself mentally.
Open to challenging myself physically.
Open to creating novel ideas and writing about them generously.
I would like to be more open. I dedicate 2016 to the year I step outside of my comfort zone, explore new ideas, learn more about the world, make silly choices, and be a more open person.
I encourage you to find your #oneword2016. Analyze where you could use some remodeling in your life. We all need to rearrange our perspectives sometimes.
Comment your #oneword2016 so I can be a part of your journey to liberation, success, and happiness!
A tree falls in the woods, and nobody hears it. Did it really fall and make a sound?
The action may have occurred. In fact, the tree most likely fell. But can we prove that it did?
No. Someone could have chopped the tree down. Someone could have uprooted the tree purposefully. But here we are, immersed in this deciduous forest, and we are all trying to semantically determine the source of the fallen tree. We are all surrounded around the tree, painstakingly and vehemently trying to validate our theories. The tree was knocked down by violent winds. The tree was aged and had fallen due to its worn age. Of course, the qualities of the tree are meaningless. In fact, we have such a lack of care for the tree that we intentionally set it on fire. We, individually, pick at its bark – bark that cannot be replaced – until it is near bare. We see the tree as a great source of profit to our intellectual accounts and spend our time hacking away at its sides, as a miner blindly hacks away at a cave. Except this cave is so magnanimously mysterious. But now there are other theories; the tree was spontaneously uprooted by a theoretically powerful but infinitely improbable force. We all so conscientiously try to put an identification tag on the cause of the fall. We are surrounded around the tree, with blinders on to everything but our own theories. Some theories are substantiated in scientific arguments. While others are rooted in supernatural phenomena. Individually, there are flaws in both. But we would never allow ourselves to hear the views of the other side. We only listen to ourselves. We care only about our own flawed reasoning.
But what if there was a branch that fell off the tree on the way down? Attached to the branch are the punctilious and explicit explanations for the cause of the miraculous fall of the tree. The branch, we know, is most definitely a part of the whole original tree. There are no earthly questions of the authenticity of the branch being a part of the tree. In fact, the branch is the only other existing remnant of the tree. The only other terrestrial evidence that the tree actually exists in a place other than our minds. When the branch is discovered, some people wholeheartedly believe its instructions are pure and divine. The cause of the tree is disclosed in the ink of the pristine instructions.
This is where we are. We are destroying the tree. We are disrespecting the entirety of the causality behind the falling of the tree. We are here not to question whether or not the tree is on the ground; that is not denied. We collectively believe that. But we are out here to determine why it fell. What caused it to fall. Is there significance in the falling of the tree? Are there other trees that will fall in these same ways?
Where are you in this amass of theories, facts, and distorted beliefs? The one hacking away at the tree, disrespecting its origin of death? Are you blind to the branch that is an unquestionable part of the whole? Are your theories based on what the obviously puzzled person in front of you told you? Have you even thought about why the tree fell at all, or are you outside the forest, only believing what those who are running wildly out to tell you? (This is an unsafe place to be)
But the truth is a tree fell in the woods. Someone heard it. We all believe it. Why did it fall?