A Hard Morning, A Hard Heart

Hard Heart

I had a hard start to my day. My son, Zachariah, who is almost always happy and silly, was bursting into tears at every turn this morning. Was it because he was tired after waking up earlier than usual? Hungry? Sick? Unhappy that I wouldn’t let him stand on the dog? Frustrated that I wanted him to drink from his own cup instead of backwashing into mine?

It’s unclear.

What is clear is that he was facing some emotion or need that he could only express in tears. He doesn’t have enough words to tell me what he’s feeling and what he needs from me, so, he cried. He’s come so far in his short life, it’s easy for me to forget that it was a little less than 17 months ago that he was a newborn in the NICU, unable to breathe or eat without assistance. At that time, and for many months thereafter, his only means of expressing his needs was to cry. Now, as a toddler, he can play, walk, and feed himself. He even knows a few words which help him to communicate a little. However, he is forced to fall back on crying when he needs something but can't tell me what it is.

I wish that I could say that I consistently responded to his tears with loving compassion. Instead, my frustration grew as the morning went on. I was beginning to respond with harsh impatience. Finally, we sat down to lunch and I began to wonder why Zachariah had been so sad this morning. I had a simple, yet profound realization: Zachariah was not crying to annoy me; he was crying because he needed my help. He was having a hard day and wasn’t enjoying it any more than I was. He needed me to help him work through it. He was asking me for a good thing and I was responding with irritation.

That realization broke my heart.

Now, I’ve never intended for this site to be a “mommy blog.” I’m not telling you this story to give you a parenting insight. I know that all the tips and tricks in the world for being a “better mom” can never get to the root of this type of parenting problem. Behavior modification is not what I need. I need heart transformation. When I have a resentful attitude toward my son as he struggles, it’s because sin is present and has hardened my heart toward him. It’s the same in any situation where I react with annoyance or exasperation toward others. Sin is overflowing from my heart.

"For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." Luke 6:43-45

When my words and actions spill over with frustration, it’s because I’ve allowed the diseased tree of anger to take root in my heart. I need to repent and ask God to dig it out and replace it with the tree of life that is rooted in Jesus. Then, my life will produce the good fruit of the righteousness granted to me through Christ. The Holy Spirit will work in my heart so that my words and actions will overflow with joy in the Lord instead of bitter selfishness.

As a child of God, I know that I can approach my Father with the assurance that he will hear and answer my prayer for sacntification. His heart toward his beloved children is never hard the way mine was toward my son this morning. When we come to him, asking for good things, he delights to hear us and give us what we ask (Luke 11:9-13). And when, like toddlers, our words fail us and we are unable to express what we need in prayer, the Holy Spirit within us conveys it for us. God is a good, soft-hearted father who hears us with joy, knows what we need, and delights to provide for us.
 

Are You Tolerating Your Life, or Loving It?

Are You Loving Your Life?

// Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book I'm reviewing. If you click on the link and decide to buy, I'll receive a small commission from Amazon for sharing it with you. I bought this book myself, and wasn't paid by anyone to give a review. I would only recommend things to you that I actually love in real life! //

Be honest: would you say you love your life as it is now, or do you just slog through each day, waiting for it to get better?

I’d say I’m more of a slogger. I struggle to be content with my life as it actually is. I tend to tolerate the present as I wait for that next thing that I just know will make me happier than I am now. That’s why I was ready to buy Alexandra Kuykendall’s book Loving My Actual Life pretty much as soon as I saw the title.

If that wasn’t enough of a hook, these couple thoughts from the book’s introduction reeled me in for good:

“We know with certainty that we must be made for more than merely tolerating our circumstances; we want to know how to thrive within them.”

I’m so tired of tolerating! I’m ready to thrive!

“We all have our ideal and then also all have our reality. They rarely match up. This is a book about savoring the reality.”

My ideal and my reality so do not match right now! I’m ready to savor!

The Idea Behind The Book

Loving My Actual Life: My Experiment in Relishing What's Right in Front of Me is Kuykendall’s reflection on nine months of intentional experimentation in nine different areas of her life: quiet, mornings, dates, health, adventure, home organization, creativity, meals, and passions. Each month, the author chose a few new habits or goals to implement to help her focus on that area of her life.

The Experiment

For example: in the “quiet” month, one of her goals was to have thirty minutes of intentional alone time every day. During the month where she focused on “dates”, she decided to give her face-to-face interactions with people her undivided attention, instead of allowing herself to be distracted.

Loving My Actual Life

Over the course of each month, she reflected on how she was doing with all of her goals, and what God was teaching her about Himself through it all.

Although Kuykendall’s monthly experiments involved setting goals and forming new habits, her book definitely doesn’t read like a behavior modification checklist. This is not, “Transform Yourself into the Perfect Christian Woman in Nine Short Months!”  

Instead, just as the title suggests, it’s inspiration and motivation for you to discover what is already great in the life you have right now. Goals and habits are just tools Kuykendall uses to hone her focus on the topic at hand so that she can see God working in her life at that moment. Her perspective is transformed because her experiment is essentially living intentionally with gratitude: nine areas, one month at a time. Each month, her area of focus reminds her of essential Biblical truths that bring her joy.

For example, in the “health” month, her resolution to care for her body through exercise and better sleep remind her of the miracle of Christ’s bodily incarnation:

We’re in Lent season right now, preparing to remember Christ’s body being broken. On Easter morning we will celebrate the resurrection, the overcoming of death that happens three days later. But first the body is broken. It’s what we commemorate when we take communion, representing the flesh and the blood on the cross. It is that broken body that changed the course of history, on which our entire faith hinges.
Jesus's body, a holding spot for God himself.

At the end of that month, Kuykendall’s desire for healthy living was not selfish or vain as it is for many of us. Instead, she was filled with a desire to care for her boy in order to serve and obey: to participate in “God’s good” daily.

The Results

In the end, the author’s nine-month experiment was a mixture of successes and failures. Some of the habits she tried out worked for her, and some of them were complete non-starters. I loved her Gospel-infused reflection at the end of the book on her “failures” in the experiments:

“When i failed at an experiment, did God love me any less? No. His character, his essence, do not change. I can’t move his position toward me. So in a sense those failures not only taught me about my own wiring, they reminded me of what I already knew of his, that his grace covers every area of my life. I, in fact, do not need to perform for him.” Love that!

My Take

After reading the book, I don’t think I really need to dive into nine months of major experimentation myself. It’s not because I’m too awesome or anything, but because of the excellence of Kuykendall’s writing. It was very personable and relatable, with solid Biblical encouragement. She artfully introduced me to her family and friends so I could walk into her life and live her experiments with her. She is inspiring me to make a few small, practical changes in my life like she did, but mostly they’re changes that will remind me of what her book already taught me:

  • To make time for stillness

  • To be fully present with the people I love

  • To use my body to serve God

  • To allow God to do the unexpected in my life, even when it’s inconvenient

  • To embrace the role God has uniquely designed for me in his story right now, today

If you, like me, struggle with contentment, this is definitely a book you won’t regret picking up!


Respond

How do you fight the urge to simply tolerate your life? 

3 Ways Repentance Can Lead You to Joy

Repentance Leads to Joy

There’s a lot of baggage surrounding the idea of repentance.

I don’t know about you, but the first thing that enters my mind when I hear the word “repent” is people standing on street corners carrying signs and shouting into megaphones: “Repent, sinners!”

Probably not the most effective way to spread the Gospel.

I think these sorts of tactics are part of why many people have a negative association with the idea of repentance. It seems too harsh and unloving to tell anyone, believer or unbeliever, that they must repent of their sin.

What an impoverished misconception! Repentance is essential to the Gospel: the most beautiful and loving message of all.

But, that message doesn’t make sense or seem loving without acknowledging sin. Why would anyone need Christ to save them from their sins if they don’t actually believe they’re sinners? If they think they’re already a “pretty good” person without Him? If they’ve already been saved, and think that means they can just do as they please?

True repentance begins with brokenness:

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Psalm 51:3-4

To repent, you must be grieved by your sin to the point that you accept the blame for your choices and are willing to make any change necessary to be rid of it. Any pleasure that your sin formerly brought you is replaced with repulsion.

Repentance is not at all easy or pleasant, at least not to begin with, but it leads to deep and lasting joy. It will lead you to joy because of God’s abundant mercy, because you have the security of your forgiveness, and because you have freedom from enslavement to sin.

Joy in Mercy

Repentance gives us joy because of God’s mercy. To understand the depths of that mercy, we must first understand our sin, and its consequences in our lives.

Sin is rebellion against God. Anything less than perfect obedience to God is a sin: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

(I don’t know about you, but I’m really starting to sweat here...)

God’s Word clearly articulates that our rebellion against God has a divisive and deadly impact.

Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2), because God’s perfect holiness cannot be contaminated, or it wouldn’t be perfectly holy anymore.  It’s also deadly. Paul’s letter to believers in Rome doesn’t mince words on this point. He says, "the wages of sin is death” (Romans 8:23, emphasis mine). When we disobey God, that sin must be paid for, and the price is death. Without Christ, that means that we not only physically die, but spiritually die by being separated from God for eternity. Yikes.

Amazingly, instead of allowing us to suffer the proper consequences for our rebellion, God interceded to absorb our punishment Himself:  “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:23).

In his justice and mercy, God sent his Son to absorb His righteous wrath for us so that we could exchange condemnation for holiness: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

His mercy to us is incomparable. A repentant believer can be filled with joy knowing the lengths to which God has gone to save them from sin.

Joy in the Security of Your Forgiveness

Repentance also gives us joy because we have confidence that God will forgive us: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf gives us confidence to approach God for forgiveness. Because of the cross, we can be sure that we will receive mercy and grace from God when we approach him with humble repentance. He will not turn us away.

For me, this is the hardest part of repentance: believing that God completely forgives me the instant I repent. His forgiveness does not hinge on my ability to make amends for my sin.

Here on Earth, a genuine, humble confession will more often be met with anger or hard-heartedness than with immediate forgiveness and restoration of relationship. We’re simply not used to people forgiving us right away without them becoming angry. Even in a deep relationship, we expect that trust and love will require time to heal.

Not so with God.

God will not reject us when we humbly repent. His forgiveness is perfect and complete the moment we confess. The sacrifice of Jesus has already paid the price, and there is nothing more we could or would need to do to restore our relationship with Him. We are already loved and forgiven:  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Joy in Freedom

When we have repented and been forgiven we are not only set free from guilt, but also from slavery to our sin.

Before Christ, we were enslaved to sin because our selfish desires held us captive. Once justified before God through Christ, we are set free from our slavery to sin and take on Christ’s righteousness as our own (Romans 6:17-18, 2 Corinthians 5:21). We receive the Holy Spirit, who enables us to obey God joyfully, just as Christ does.

Although God delights in our obedience (1 Samuel 15:22), we must remember that it does not elevate us in His eyes: we are always His children.. Obedience is what we owed God anyway, so we will not be more our less his children based on our righteous deeds. Our standing before God is secure, once and forever.

For the believer, obedience is freedom. It is an act of worship and love (John 14:!5). It is the path of life, giving us fullness of joy in God’s presence, and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

Psalm 16:11

Repentance is difficult but life-giving. It is an essential part of our initial justification before God and of our life-long sanctification. Growing in Christlikeness is an ongoing process; perfection in this life cannot be attained, so consistent repentance is crucial. As we become more like Him, we will continually come before God with our sins and find joy in God’s mercy, forgiveness, and freedom.



Respond

When you feel broken in your sin, how does repentance return you to joy? What scriptures remind you of the joy you have in God's mercy, steadfast forgiveness, and freedom when you repent?