The Downward Spiral of Not Asking

downward spiral

The Spiral

Over and over in scripture, God pronounced judgment on the Israelites because of their apathy and neglect.  He used prophets to get His messages to the people.

One day He sent word to the Israelites through Zephaniah, warning them of coming destruction. The reason? Their worship of Baal. Idols, idolatrous priests, worshipers of astrology, Moloch (child sacrifice, which happens every year at Halloween), pagan names and beliefs, all were a part of their Satanic worship.

In their judgment, God listed their lack of three responses toward Jehovah that were their downfall.  He spelled them out clearly, and they couldn’t argue that they didn’t know what He meant. Their lack of doing these three things became their undoing.

They  DID NOT

  1. Follow
  2. Seek 
  3. Inquire (ask)

Upward Spiral

It’s easy to point fingers at those “stiff-necked Israelites”, but we’re not any different. Following God involves staying on the path that He has outlined for us. It means we don’t get side-tracked by things that nudge us off that path. It means we go where He leads us. If we are honest, we know if we are on the path, are walking alongside the path, or have completely gone another direction.

Not wanting God’s judgment also requires seeking God. When we’ve lost something, we retrace our steps to find the item that is lost. We go back to where we had it last. We hunt, and search; we ask others if they have seen our missing item. If we want to be healthy and join the Y, we have to continue “seeking” the benefits of the Y by going there. It’s not enough to sign up and make the payment. It’s not enough to just show up once in a while. We have to keep showing up. We have to keep seeking, or we will get off track. 

Wilderness Spiral

Following and seeking are also a part of asking. We know that the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. We like to joke and say the reason they wandered so long was because Moses wouldn’t stop and ask for directions! It’s true that men most often are less inclined to ask for directions or for help. They think they can figure it out themselves. Yet, the truth is that all of us fail to ask; we could get the answers if only we were willing to seek and to ask. Sometimes we don’t ask because we don’t want to know. Other times,  we don’t ask because we already  know, but use the excuse that we don’t know what to do. After all, if we don’t ask, then we aren’t responsible, right? Wrong.

Zephaniah told the people that their failure to ask or inquire of God was part of their downfall.

Ask, Seek, Follow

We think we are so far removed from Baal worship.  However, if we look at what the people believed who worshiped Baal, we’re not so far behind. Baal worshipers believed that their god was self-sufficient. Their god didn’t need any help from anybody; he was in control of fertility and of rain. They attributed fertility of women as well as cropland to Baal. 

At times, we fail to recognize that we are not self-sufficient, that we are not in charge of our fertility or lack of it, that anything that takes us from God is an idol and must not be worshiped.

At other times, we allow things or activities that take us away from God. We focus on  things that pull our attention away from Him and onto ourselves. The pleasures we choose to seek take us further from God instead of closer to Him.

Perhaps the best guarantee we can have to stay on the path God has chosen for us is to keep on seeking and asking for His direction. When we do that, we can know that we are truly following Him.

 

 

 

 

Love Means (Never) Having to Say You’re Sorry  

Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

First published in Discover Southside in 2009, this article is also listed in “The Attic” of this Blog. Our kids are grown and mostly gone now, but I still remember those days. Maybe reading about my failures will encourage you to watch out for these mistakes.


 

sorryCaught Red Handed

Just the other day my teenager and I had words about emptying the dishwasher. He never wants to empty it, so when he complained that the dishes weren’t clean, I didn’t pay attention to him. I gave him a choice of emptying the dishwasher or going to his room. He chose the latter. Only when his sister opened the door of the dishwasher and noticed that the soap was still in the dispenser did I realize that, this time, his reasoning was not an excuse to get out of work. We had failed to start the dishwasher. I hit the start button on the dishwasher and called my son to come out of his room so I could apologize. Yes, well, moms do make mistakes sometimes. A lot of times. My kids think I never apologize often enough or profusely enough.

Once during their preschool-age days, I disciplined the wrong child because another sibling lied to me. I believed the sibling, because the one I thought was guilty was more prone to acts of unkindness and lying. This time, he was telling the truth, but I didn’t believe him. A few years later when the guilty party came forth to confess, I ended up apologizing to the innocent party. I have to admit that there was a part of me that didn’t feel too badly about it. Sure, I was sorry he had gotten the unfair punishment, and I would undo my rash judgment if I could. Yet I also knew that, even though he had been disciplined unfairly that time, there had been plenty of other times when he got off scott free. I figured this mistake had balanced things out! Yet I was still wrong. I asked and received forgiveness.

Yet a year or two later, he confronted me again about my error those years before. It was one of those knock-down-drag-out-bring-everything-out-of-the-closet conversations. I told him I’d apologized for having disciplined him unfairly, but he declared I really hadn’t. So I apologized again, just to be sure. Again, I told him I was sorry for not believing him and disciplining him unfairly, and I asked him if he could forgive me. He said yes. Would you believe that a few years later, I was again accused of never having apologized?! This time, I brought a witness with me to verify that I was indeed confessing an error in judgment and punishment. Third time’s a charm, they say.

That Conscience

It’s not easy to say “I’m sorry.”

Nor is it pleasant living with the burden of a guilty conscience.

Contrary to the popular slogan of the 70’s, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” love requires action when one has been wrong. I should think a better slogan would be, “Love is willing to say ‘I’m sorry’.”

It is true that when we love someone, we should be willing to forgive no matter what, even if we are not asked to extend forgiveness. Yet it also true that when we love someone, we will be willing to admit our error when we have been in the wrong.

I have learned that making excuses is not asking forgiveness. I think about that when I remember what happened the day my mother buried her last sibling quite a few years back. It was a cold, wintry day, and she stayed inside the church while most everyone else went out to the graveyard for the committal service. Another older gentleman chose to stay inside rather than brave the cold as well. He was in his nineties. I saw them conversing together, and assumed they were reconnecting after not seeing each other for some time.

I never dreamed that their conversation was actually an apology and an extension of forgiveness.

The details of what had happened many years before are not important now. The fact that he felt he had wronged her is important, not so much because of the wrong, but because he made it right. That day, he chose to ask forgiveness for his response to her in a certain situation over half a century before.

Their relationship had not been one of tension in years past; he, his wife, and children had a good relationship with our family. None of us would ever have guessed that there had been discord between them years before. It seemed that time had been good, and a lot of water had gone under the bridge. I am certain he had forgotten about the offense, or he would have attempted to make it right earlier. Yet as he entered his nineties, he looked back on his life and experienced regret over this incident. He wanted to make it right.

My mother came home that day and told me about that conversation.She did not express horror that it took him so long to make an apology. Mama never said it should have happened a long time ago. She didn’t ask what took him so long to come forward. Yet the fact that she, too, recognized the hurt that had been inflicted on her years before told me that the wrong had been real and not imagined.

I think about that at times when it’s hard for me to say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.” I am grateful for the example of this older gentleman who chose, even late in life, to mend a wrong. He didn’t use the excuse that it had happened too long ago and that he should just let bygones be bygones.

“I prayed,” he told my mother, “that I would have an opportunity to talk to you about this and make it right.”

He trusted God to provide an opportunity for him to express his regret. The opportunity came that day, sitting on the front pew of the church while nearly everyone else was outside. He didn’t care what she’d think of him; he only wanted to live his last years with a conscience that was clear.

My mother shared tearfully how the look of relief on his face let her know that he knew he had been forgiven. He wouldn’t have had to apologize to experience her forgiveness, for she had given it long ago. Yet the lesson I learned from that encounter will stay with me as long as I live.

How to Admit We are Wrong

I have learned that a clear conscience is worth the effort it takes to admit a wrong. In our home, we’ve tried—and sometimes failed—to model a pattern for making restitution. When our kids were younger, we expected them to apologize when they had harmed a sibling by saying “I am sorry for ______,” specifically stating the infraction. As they got older, we tried to help them add another important part: “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”

I have learned that there are several ways to absolve myself of responsibility, and none of them really asks forgiveness. It’s easy to make a half-apology or sound like we’re apologizing when we’re actually refusing to accept responsibility.

When I say, “I’m sorry I hurt you, BUT . . . ,” I am really saying “I know I hurt you, but I have a good reason to have done it.”

  • BUT I didn’t mean it.
  • BUT you’re too sensitive.
  • BUT I was tired.
  • BUT you don’t know what it is like to be me.
  • BUT I was so frustrated.
  • BUT if you would only . . .

When I apologize with a “but”, I am excusing the pain I caused you. Therefore it really isn’t my fault.

I also have learned, especially if I am afraid I will say the wrong thing, to plan my words so that when the opportunity comes, I am able to say what needs to be said. There’s an old story about the prodigal son, told by Jesus Himself, which models this. After the younger son had wasted his inheritance, he came to his senses and realized how ridiculous he had acted. He also recognized that he had grieved his father. So, standing there among the corn husks as he was feeding slop to the pigs, he made a decision to go back home.

That Prodigal Son

Yet he knew he didn’t deserve going back as a son; after all, he’d claimed his inheritance and left home! How long it took him to get to that point is a question for which we have no answer. But we do know that he made a decision to go home and ask for his father’s forgiveness.

“I’m going back home. I’m going to say to my father, ‘I have sinned and am not even worthy to be called your son. Please allow me to just be one of your hired servants.’” [My paraphrase]

The son started the long journey home; when he was within sight of his father’s land, his father ran to meet him. The prodigal son didn’t make excuses or put the blame on his dad: “If you had been a better father, if you hadn’t made me work so hard, if you hadn’t . . . ”

No. He simply spoke the truth and said what he had planned to say. “I have sinned and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants.”

Asking and Extending Forgiveness

I have learned that asking forgiveness acknowledges the pain and recognizes that a wrong has been done. Extending forgiveness frees me more than it does the other party. If my mother had harbored a grudge, it would have affected not only her attitude toward this gentleman, but her offspring, as well. We, her children, would probably have held that same attitude toward this man, which would have affected his children as well as our entire church.

I have learned that if it’s small enough to bother me, then it’s big enough to be dealt with. I figure there’s a reason we were given a conscience.

I’ve lost a lot of battles over the years when I delayed or refused to say “I’m sorry.” The next time there’s a dishwasher to empty, I intend to listen better so I won’t need to apologize later. I might lose some battles, but I intend to win the war.

 

Does Knowledge Have a Fragrance?

fragranceRecognizing a Fragrance

The doctor for whom I worked had me stymied.

“You know,” he said. “She’s the patient who always wears turquoise and Este de Lauder.”

“Huh?” I asked. “How do you remember that?”

“I just remember fragrances,” the doctor told me.

“Do you know how many patients we have coming in here who wear Este de Lauder?” I asked.

“Yes, but she always wears turquoise and always wears a skirt – never pants.”

He had seen the patient in town and told her he’d phone in a prescription for her, but he couldn’t remember her name.  Our doctor loved his patients but tried to disguise himself when he went to town so he wouldn’t get stopped in Walmart or Food Lion for a request like this. His patients didn’t understand that he simply could not remember everybody’s name, so he relied on us to help  him. Asking a patient for her name would have been an insult because, of course, he should remember her! While he didn’t remember her name, he did recognize the fragrance that (he said) she always wore.

My job, he thought, was to figure out who the patient was by that fragrance and then call in the prescription for him. Between the other nurses and our secretary, we figured it out and the prescription was called in that same day.

fragrance

The Fragrance of Knowledge

There are so many fragrances in the world – and  any of us would recognize many of them. Some of these fragrances bring us pleasure or anticipation. Others turn our stomachs and make us wary. That’s because we have a history with the different fragrances.

When the apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, he talked about fragrance. What fragrance is knowledge? Scripture says that we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are saved and those who are not. To one, we are the aroma of life; to others, we are the aroma of death. This is because our fragrance means different things to different people – and it all depends on their hearts.

It is through us, His people, that the fragrance of His knowledge is in every place.  It is through us, His people, that others learn to know about Him. It is through us that others obtain knowledge – for we are the the only Gospel they read.

fragrance

Let’s not blow it.

fragrance

 

Adorning* with Good Works

good works

Doing Good – a Service

My nursing supervisor came up the hallway of our unit carrying a bag of dirty laundry. Opening the laundry chute with the key, she heaved the stuffed bag from the floor and aimed for the opening. From the nurses’ station, I heard it swoosh six floors down to ground level.

If shame could color one’s face, mine would have been crimson. My supervisor professed no faith in God. Her lifestyle and her language told me enough about her nonexistent relationship to God. That day, however, she exhibited more “doing good” than I.

I had just walked past that double-laundry holder in the hallway. After all, it was not my job.  There were other things I needed to be doing, and charting was one of them. In just a few minutes, the aides and orderlies would be able to walk out the door while the nurses remained, signing off on patients’ charts. I had every right to withhold my services for something more important, which included the legality of signing off on my work for the day before I left for home. My supervisor was going to stay later than I, but she didn’t give that as an excuse to leave the laundry bags standing in the hall.

God’s Instructions on Service

God has many instructions for how women are to live and to serve. Selfishness is not a part of His will for us, but we often seem to forget that as we try to look out for our ‘rights’.

Many Anabaptist women have heard teaching on modesty and the wearing of jewelry. Perhaps what we’re lacking is teaching about the “ornaments of good works.”

In I Timothy 2, Paul writes with instructions for women:

I would have the women dress becomingly, with modesty and self-control, not with plaited hair or gold or pearls or costly clothes, but—as befits women making a claim to godliness—with the ornament of good works. 

Nowhere in scripture are we instructed to be sloppy or uncaring about our appearance. However, we are to focus more on the internal than the external. In this epistle, women are instructed to be dressed modestly and appropriately for the occasion. Modesty means not too much, and not too little. Either one is worldly and will draw attention to oneself, which should not be our goal. When our external appearance occupies our mind and focus, instead of virtues of the heart, we fail.

good works

The Heart of the Matter

How we dress and how we act reflects our heart. Colossians 1:10 tells us that we are to be fruitful in every good work and to increase in the knowledge of God. Work is action. It is not planning or intending to do something; it is doing.

During Jesus’ last days, a woman came to him and used her expensive perfume to anoint His feet. When people complained, Jesus hushed them. He said, “She has done what she could.”

This woman had a story of sin but Jesus redeemed her, and she wanted to show her love for Him. She didn’t have much to offer, but she did what she could. Her action was a foreshadowing of His death and burial as the perfume filled the entire house.

Was it wasted? No.

Did she do this to show off to others? No.

She wanted to show her love for Jesus; she wanted to show how He had changed her life, so she gave sacrificially and expensively. We should, too.

When we choose to serve others (doing good works), we should be doing it to show Jesus how much He means to us. If I had taken that laundry bag and dragged it up the hall with an attitude of “I’m doing this for You, Jesus, because You have taken my dirty rags and made me whiter than snow”, it would have been the same as what Mary did. That reflection of my heart would have been more powerful than any clothing, cosmetics, or jewelry I could have worn. Forty years later, I don’t remember how my supervisor was dressed or adorned that day, but I cannot forget the reflection of her heart.

Consider examples of women in Scripture. Lydia, known for selling purple, is also known for hosting Paul and his fellow teachers. These men didn’t have a base from which to work, so Lydia did what she could: she provided hospitality. The Shunamite woman talked her husband into building a room on top of their house for Elisha.  In that room, they provided a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp.  Another example is the Proverbs 31 woman (the one to whose standard we can never achieve) stretches out her hands to the poor and needy. Dorcas, whose death caused so much consternation among the people in her community, was full of good works and acts of charity. 

A Legacy of Good Works

When we die, what will people miss most about us? Our title, job, and income? Or, will they miss the good works we do today? In our “works”, we need to look at the person’s actual needs or desires and not at what we want to do or what we would want done if we were in that situation.

Ministering or doing good involves not only meeting physical needs, but emotional and spiritual needs as well. Kind words, encouragement, and getting-in-the-trenches love to needy folks are ways we can do good. Scripture tells us that Jesus “went about doing good.” 

What are the good things Jesus did? Think about where and how He did good: healing, feeding, quieting storms, touching, and blessing children. Jesus reached out to those who were ostracized. He touched the unclean and ate with sinners on their turf. In addition to taking care of physical problems, He restored broken hearts.

Jesus calls us to be like Him. As women, He calls us specifically to be adorned and attired by ornaments of good works.good works

Jesus touched lives. Do we?

good works

 

This article was first published in the Homespun edition of Daughters of Promise Magazine. For more information about this magazine, or to get an online or a print subscription, visit here