Saturday, October 10, 2015

Eighteen: To my Beloved Atheist:

Note: While it is written to an atheist, I challenge Christians--myself included--to read this letter as if it were written to them.  Because we are just as prone to the attitudes I am addressing here. 

It is not written to a specific person, but rather to a compilation of many people whom I love and who have deeply held beliefs that are different from mine.  I use the term atheist, but it could just as easily have been a person who passionately holds any belief system that is different from mine, be it religious, educational, political, or nutritional.  We have become such a culture of critics and--to use a technical term--side-takers. This is my attempt to offer a better way.

To My Beloved Atheist:

I read the following phrase yesterday:

"There's plenty of space here for differences and disagreements, but I will not save room at the table for aggression or harassment, I won't respond to condescension."--Jamie Wright

I almost shouted, "YES!"

Yet here I go, about to respond to condescension, albeit unintended.  I respond not to win an argument, because I don't believe I can. I am not intellectual enough nor self-assured enough to match wits with you, and we both are too deeply passionate about our beliefs.

My kids' logic book would classify it as a stupid argument: one that cannot be won because neither party can be swayed.  First of all, the key point of difference in our beliefs is one that cannot be empirically proven.  I can show you scientific reasons for why I believe there is a Creator, and you can give me scientific reasons why you believe there isn't.  However, I cannot PROVE to you there's a God, and you can't PROVE to me there isn't.  So why fight about it?

I don't want to.

I would, however, like to invite you to take a peek at my perspective.  Whether it is right or wrong is not the point of this conversation.  It is just my perspective, and I'm not sure you've ever considered it.

When you proclaim your beliefs, it is often from a stance that feels very confrontational, with the implied suggestion--if not declaration--that anyone who disagrees is an idiot. Or delusional.

I know you love me and would never tell me to my face that I am a simpleton.  Yet you ridicule my beliefs to rooms full of people with me standing there; you shout your disdain across the Internet, knowing I'm out there somewhere, living a life based on what you mock.

You don't mean to say that I am stupid.  Just people who think like me.

It doesn't offend (okay, maybe it does); mainly it hurts.

I know, Christians can be just as gifted at condescension as atheists, as can passionate Republicans, Democrats, vegans, gun owners, or gun-control advocates... you get the picture. Maybe we all have surrounded ourselves so completely with like-minded people that we forget that not everyone is like-minded, and so we scorn some imaginary "others" whom we never consider wounding because they are a caricature, not a person.

I don't know.

I do know we all need to be nicer, and put a real face to that other, that fool, we are ridiculing. So next time you feel the urge to speak or write something belittling Christians, I would like you to picture my face, and write as if you are saying it about me

Because you are.

While I don't want to argue whose beliefs are RIGHT, I do think it's helpful to listen more than we speak.  Even more, we need to listen to understand, not to simply to respond.  I would be happy to share with you why I believe what I do, if you are ever curious and think you could listen and be open to the possibility that a person can be rational, sane, and even intelligent, and yet arrive at a different conclusion than you did.  I would also love to hear what reasons you have for why you believe as you do, and with such passion. You're very clear about what you believe, but I don't feel like I know what led you to your set of convictions.

If we could let go of the need to convince one another long enough to hear each other, it might be a beautiful conversation.

The other point I'd like to offer some perspective on is one of motives.

You are often rather evangelistic in your proclamation of your beliefs. Whether you intend it or not, when you forcefully pronounce the superiority of your faith in no god, I feel very much as if you are trying to convert me, to get me to renounce my faith and turn to yours.  Any why not? Christians are pretty enthusiastic about converting others to their faith.  It's only fair.

Except here's the question I have always had: Why is it so important that I don't believe?  If you convince me, how is that better for me?

If I understand correctly, you believe we are products of chance, life is what it is and nothing guides or influences it other than the actors in the play.  We are on our own.  Let's even assume you are right about this.  How does it benefit my life, how is it better for me to believe it?  I can cling to my very satisfying delusion and when my life is over be none the wiser.  Delusion or not, if there is no God, and this is all there is, then I'll be too dead to be disappointed if I'm wrong.

On the other hand, if I concede that you are right and reject my faith to believe as you do--I will have turned away from my hope, my purpose, my meaning, and my joy.  Sure, I have might been wrong about it all, but what difference will it make in the grand scheme of things?  If what you believe is true, why do you feel the need to convert me--particularly if my "delusion" encourages me to love others, live humbly, give generously and fight injustice?  It doesn't feel like your motives are loving if you would take that away and offer nothingness in return.

Now humor me and try to imagine I am right.  Remember we're not debating if I'm right or not, we're going for understanding of my motives. Suspend your disbelief for a moment and pretend that what I believe is actually the truth...

What I believe is that we were created to be in relationship with a holy and loving God. Consequently, it follows that by not believing, you are rejecting him and missing out good things.  Ultimate things, actually, and I want good for you.  Furthermore, I believe that this life is not all there is, and that if you reject God during this lifetime, there are pretty serious and eternal consequences--the very least of which is spending forever with no way to feel love, joy, or satisfaction--and acutely, eternally aware of the loss.

So think about this: even if that is impossible to believe, can you at least appreciate why it would be important to me to let you know about what I believe?  Can you see that even if it makes you uncomfortable, or embarrassed or annoyed,  the motive behind the sharing of my faith is a loving one?  If I love you, and if I really believe what I say I do, then I'd have to be some kind of a jerk not to at least try to make you aware.

In fact, I should probably apologize for not trying harder.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Seventeen: Setting Things Straight About Sex

"Your naked body deserves the honor of being shared only with someone who is covenanted to never stop loving your naked soul."—Ann Voskamp

I read these words, which ring so beautiful and true, and for some reason I was reminded of a conversation I had with a young woman this summer.  She told me, "the problem with all of the purity events I went to is they push the message on us that the most important thing about a girl is her virginity."  There was a twinge of anger in her tone that broke my heart.

I was at some of those events, and I know that was not the intended message.   Still, the fact that even one girl came away feeling like that is jarring to me.  Regardless of intent, if that message is the one a young woman internalized, we failed her.  Even worse, we failed the gospel and the message of grace.

So, for every young person who has felt like that, let me set the record straight.

You are so much more than the status of your virginity.  In fact, the whole idea of "purity" is misleading.  Apart from Jesus, none of us is pure--not even the most virginal--but in Him anyone can be--even the most promiscuous.  Your value has absolutely nothing to do with your sexual status, but rather your status as the creation of a loving God who thought you were worth dying for.   One of the things that always tore me apart when this discussion came up in Sunday School or at youth events was the way issue of virginity was used as a measuring stick in hurtful, competitive ways--at least among the girls.  Those who were still waiting felt proud, and those who hadn't waited assumed the others were virgins only because they were undesirable.  

Hear this: no matter whether you have never looked at the opposite sex or have been around the block and back, you are precious and worth fighting for. You were created for a big, powerful, sacrificial love and you. are. worth. it.  

The only reason your virginity matters to God is that He wants the best for you.

I'll be honest. I hope my kids marry virgins (and marry AS virgins), but not because that would make them better people or more deserving of love.  I want it because I think it is the safest, easiest way to enjoy the gift of sex--as designed and free of baggage. However, do you know what I want more?  I want them to marry someone who treasures them the way Jesus does, because he or she understands His love.  I want them to marry someone who loves their soul and not just their shell.  

Also, I hope you get that sex isn't dirty, and it's not shameful.  God actually created sex, and He wants you to enjoy it.  The reason we old folks want you to wait is that we've learned--some of us the hard way--that when you try to enjoy God's gifts outside of the context for which He created them, you lose out on the full joy He wanted you to have.  That's why I love the quote above--it's such a great picture of what He intended and why it's so wonderful HIS way.  The human body is so much more complex than just hormones, urges and interlocking parts.  

Even secular science is finding that the best scenario for physical intimacy is within the context of a committed, monogamous relationship. Good sex releases chemicals that bond you emotionally to another person.  The only way to have sex without creating that bond is to have bad sex, and who wants that?   It's also no surprise to find out  that psychological research is finding that those who follow the hook-up culture's message of sex without relationship or commitment often suffer psychologically.  Whether your mind accepts it or not, your body and your subconscious know that sex is more than just physical.  

I guess that's the message I hope you get. You are loved whether you wait or not.  You are valuable whether you wait or not.  But when I urge you to wait, it's because I know something.  Someone needs to counter the message that the culture is sending.  

We were made for something different and so much better.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sixteen: For My Girls

The other day as she was making a rare appearance at home, my almost 20-year-old was cleaning her room and chatting about her friends.  (THANK YOU, Jesus, for these friends!)  Being college-age, they are beginning to pair up, and my girl finds the whole process fascinating.  I think I've got a Dolly Levi in the making here.  She loves to mentally put people together into well-matched couples.

When she paused, I asked, "Do you know anyone musical?  I've always pictured you with someone musical, I'm not sure why."  She agreed that she saw her self with a musical man, too, but that more important than musicality was a love of Jesus and the outdoors--and a sense of humor.

As she elaborated, I realized that she was very accurately describing a young man I've had picked out for her since she was twelve.  I had the pleasure of teaching him for a few years, and temperament-wise he just struck me as a perfect fit for my super-smart, somewhat scattered, very artsy middle child.  I have sung his praises for years now and she always rolls her eyes. 

Naturally,  when she described her ideal man, I couldn't resist pointing out that she had just given me an exact description of young Mr. Right.  

She's not there yet--she's got this ridiculous notion that she wants someone she's actually had a conversation with in the past two years.  (Can we please bring back arranged marriages?)

Today I was messaging with Katie and our Grace and told them about our exchange regarding Mr. Right.  He is at the same university they're at, and apparently I'm not the only one who thinks he's a catch.  Grace said, "Well, she'd better move fast..."

I'm guessing he's quite the hot commodity up at UF.  Smart girls.

As great as this kid is, I have to say, no, she doesn't need to move fast.  

I do want my kids to have an idea about the deep qualities that they think are critical in a mate, because cute only lasts so long.

However, even more importantly I want them to realize that THEY are the catch, and they don't need to compete for love.

The REAL Mr. Right for each of my girls, will see the treasure that is uniquely her, and he will want to move fast to win her.  

The whole exchange has left me feeling grateful for the gift I have in my husband. I never felt like I had to win him, had to compete with anyone else.  And it's not because others weren't trying.  He's quite a looker.  At the time we started dating there were several ladies who were not happy with me for taking him off the market. (They'd obviously never seen the dog hat.)  They were trying to compete, but I never felt like I had to.  I never felt threatened--not because I was so confident in myself, but because he was so happy with just me. He certainly had plenty of options...many who were more beautiful, talented, and successful than me. But for whatever reason, in me he saw his match and he quit looking.  I may not be the perfect female, but I was perfect for him, and he let me know it.   I remember when my mom asked me what was so special about this guy and I answered, "He's the first person I've dated who likes me for the same reasons I like myself."

So, my girls, all of my girls--whether you are in your twenties or in your fifties--I wish for you this kind of love.  Wait for it.  You don't have to be the perfect woman, you just have to wait for the gem of a man who thinks you are perfect for him.  I pray that you can feel the safety and rest that comes from the trustworthy, unconditional acceptance of a man who is smart enough to see the treasure that is you.  

In the meantime, I know Someone who thinks you to die for, and if you don't know Him, I'd love to introduce you.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

15: It Hurts so Good

I have a good friend who loves to tell other people that I am her role model for being a "tough mom."

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

I am loving.  It's just that my love is not always displayed in normal mom-ish ways.  My love is expressed through inside jokes, read alouds, ice-cream, and regular gifts of new running shoes--whether said child runs or not.  (I told you; it's a problem.)

So, my toughness is partly a matter of perception.

I also think that a little bit of toughness is actually an expression of love--because if we try to protect our kids from every hurt or heart-ache, we rob them of opportunities to develop the resilience and compassion that come from hardship.

In the years I have taught English and Sunday School for youth, I cannot tell you how many times a mom has come to me in agony because her child is feeling left out by others.  Often either mom wants to intervene, or wants me to intervene in the situation.

When I respond, they usually look at me like I am from another planet because my first response is always this: "I think every person needs to know what it is to be left-out.  This is a gift."

I really do get it.  I don't have these super-popular kids who never experienced feeling left out.  I know the ache a mom feels when she sees her beloved child wounded and rejected by peers; it's gut wrenching.  I also think there are definitely times when intervention is needed because what is going on is malicious bullying that shouldn't be tolerated.

However, the fact that the student in these situations had a mother wanting to step in and fix things was proof that these kids where not lacking love and support. Moreover, most often the hurt feelings were not a matter of malicious intent, but simple adolescent preference and insensitivity.  Nine times out of ten, the wounded child is one that I know has close friends and a rich social's just in one situation that peers are rejecting.

I have actually been grateful when my kids have felt this type of rejection, because I want them to know what it feels like.  I want that wound to give them sensitive hearts, eyes that can see hurt in others, and arms that reach out to embrace the lonely.  I want them to know from experience how to care for a hurting soul.   I want them to want to fight for the underdog because they have been one once.

I wonder how helpful it is if as moms we rush in to avenge every wound.  We may feel better in the short term, but what does it do to our give them the idea that they have the right to be liked by everyone, invited to every party, protected from every slight?  I'm thinking such assistance will not be a great catalyst for humility and compassion.

Instead, what about helping a wounded child remember that they are valued by an infinite God even if not by other teenagers? What about re-directing their thoughts to the friends and family members who do love and support them.  What if we simply enter their pain with them and help them grow from it?    I think a better use of mamma-bear instinct is not to crush the opposition, but to use the hurt as a teaching moment and offer a more complete perspective on the situation.

As we walk with them through the pain, we have a chance to speak truth, turn their eyes from themselves to others, and help ensure that the hurt makes them softer and not hardened. What a great opportunity to teach that while we can't always control circumstances or the actions of other people, we can control our reactions.  One thing I asked my kids in times of disappointment in friends was, "are you gonna let it make you better, or bitter? Because that choice is yours."

Does that sound tough?  Maybe, but in my experience, if, in addition to what may seem like tough words, there is a lavish amount of affection, ice-cream, and running shoes, kids will come away feeling loved in all the right ways.


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