October 2016

Exchange Criticism For Compassion

“Are we there yet?”

Last week as we drove across wide open Wyoming, the routine comment from the backseat made me laugh. My husband and I had been discussing the upcoming election and her question certainly applied: Is it November 8th yet?

The election of 2016 feels a lot like a never-ending road trip. The narratives offered by various news outlets (or my Facebook feed) are depressing. If I’m not careful, I could easily slip into believing their storylines and forgetting the true Author of the Story.

More and more, as I wrestle to apply the truth of my faith to the life that I live, I’m learning to pause and ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?” Choosing to define what I believe prevents my emotions from ruling my actions. How I feel isn’t right or wrong, but what I do with those emotions becomes prescriptive. Indulgence extends emotions. That doesn’t seem like a bad thing if I’m happy, but it can be debilitating when I’m sad or angry. As I strive to live what I believe, I’m learning to take my emotions and weigh them against what I know to be true.

Truth trumps emotions every time.

The election isn’t over yet, but I’ve been looking for the lovely, the beautiful, and the admirable. Thinking on “such things” reminds me what is true. One truth that guides me frequently is that gratitude changes my attitude. I believe giving thanks shifts my perspective from criticism to compassion. I’d like to offer you three things I’m grateful for in the midst of a difficult election year.

gratitude

1. I’m thankful for the imperfect people willing to put their lives, and their families’ lives, in the spotlight as they seek public office. I personally know dozens of good men and women who I would love to see on a ballot, but for their own reasons they have not stepped into the public eye. For many, the biggest hurdle is to open their family to the critical scrutiny that accompanies pursuit of public office. Would I be willing to open myself and those I love to the political crossfire? Perhaps before I condemn those who dare to serve, I should thank them for their sacrifice. I know there are God-fearing, Jesus-loving people on both sides of the proverbial aisle in Washington, D.C. They are dedicated to serving our country just as surely as our men and women in uniform are committed to defending it. Each of these public servants – elected, appointed, or members of their staff – deserve my thanks and need my prayers. Perhaps before I criticize the minutia of their lives, I should consider my own. Do my words match my actions? Am I living what I say I believe?

2. I’m thankful for an election that has caused more Americans to truly think about who and what they support with their votes. This election has erased the ease of color coded voting. Friends who have never engaged me on topics of government and politics want to talk about what they think, and how they should vote. The political circus of this election has far reaching consequences, and my great hope is that it spurs more Americans to participate.

Less than 30% of eligible voters voted in the primaries. Turnout during midterm elections rarely reaches 40% of eligible voters. Since the 1960’s, only one Presidential election has garnered more than 60% participation by eligible voters. Let me underscore those stats with a visual example. Grab 9 of your friends who are old enough to vote. Now four of you sit down. You represent the 40% who choose to stay home from the voting booth in November.

Folks, this is sadder than the choices on the top of the ballot this year. If you are considering opting out, may I quietly encourage you to vote? I vote because I believe democracy is better with ALL OUR VOICES – not just the loudest. The absence of your voice is a silence no one else can fill.

3.  I am thankful for the wide range of opinions and perspectives that have been shared during this election. (Yes, I see your shock. Stick with me for a moment.) Step back from the noise: mute the TV or radio, turn off your computer, and put your phone down. Close your eyes and imagine stepping outside of the arena and simply observe. Millions of Americans are using their God-given talents and voices to participate in a nation-wide discussion about the direction of our country. That is a gift. There are places on this earth where citizens cannot participate in such a dialogue without fear of violence, retribution, or detention. Perhaps before I condemn the process, I should thank God for the privilege of participating. Perhaps before I disdain those with whom I disagree, I should consider the gift their perspective offers.

Yes, I’m sad to see the state of American politics. I’m disappointed by the lack of meaningful dialogue. But I’m most discouraged by the perpetual polarity that pretends to empower. Too often we think making a choice, or protecting our choices, advances what we believe. The problem with polarity is that it constantly divides – and in every equation with division, the result is always less than where we began.

As we enter the final days of this election, my prayer is that exchange criticism for compassion. May we seek truth that builds bridges and heals division. May we ask ourselves, individually and collectively, “what do we believe? Are we living it? Or are we believing what we live?” By addressing the disconnect between what we believe and what we’re living, we can restore hope and bring healing to our country.

What Do I Believe? Philippians 4:5-8 * James 1: 19-27 * 1 Thessalonians 5:18 * Psalm 116:17 * Colossians 2:7

Stale Sponge

Earlier this year I had this image of a sponge full of water, left in the kitchen sink, over night. It’s a familiar image, as I’ve discovered just such a sponge in my sink more than once. That sponge is cold. It’s soggy, and when you pick it up, it drips cold, sometimes greasy water. And it smells awful. It’s a stale sponge.

stale-sponge

The stale sponge might be one of my biggest pet peeves. Quite frankly, I don’t have many, and I’m grateful for a husband who rarely does those pesky things that quickly become a pet peeve. More often than not, he’s a gem. All that said, the stale sponge is a frequent find in my kitchen sink. Since it’s usually there because he’s done the dishes, emptied the dishwasher, or some other kitchen chores for me, I rarely complain about the stale sponge. I squeeze it out, rinse it thoroughly, use it to clean whatever brought me to the kitchen sink, rinse it again, squeeze it out, and then put it up to dry on the rack so it’s ready to be used again.

Recently though, the stale sponge spoke to me. (Not literally, that would be weird.) But the picture of the stale sponge was crystal clear to me, and suddenly, I knew that I’d become a stale sponge.  It’s been a jarring realization, and analogy that, if taken too far, ceases to be instructive. But stick with me for just a moment.

A stale sponge is soggy and wet because it had been useful. It’s full of water, left over water from the last time it was doing it’s job – to clean something, to wipe away the grime and grit, and return the kitchen counter or the dishes to their original state, ready to be used again. Chances are, the last time that sponge was used it was warm, soapy water in the sponge, and the combination of warm soapy water and a good sponge, along with a good scrub, equals a clean kitchen.

But the stale sponge is cold and the water is sour, and the combination is not helpful in the least. (Except maybe to do some home science experiments about growing mold.)

This is what the stale sponge said to me, “Katye, you’re stale. You’ve been useful, but you’ve got a lot of old water taking up space in you. There’s no room for fresh water, and you’re not useful like this.”

Truth.

What’s more, I recognized that what comes out of stale sponge is sour water, and that water isn’t the water I want to use to clean my kitchen. When I’m stale, what comes out of me is sour: my words, my attitude, my worldview…When all these are sour they are not only not useful but they are destructive – to me and those around me. Left unchecked, that stale sponge grows mold, and since I’m highly allergic to mold that means it becomes toxic.

I don’t enjoy being stale.

I’m certainly not interested in becoming toxic.

Revelation 2 offers a gentle rebuke and simple instruction to believers who are stale:

“I know your hard work and patient endurance…But I hold this against you – you have forsaken your first love…Do the things you once did.”

Reading those words gave me pause.  The stale sponge is a picture of what my life becomes when I’m believing what I live.

Believing what I live subtly breeds discontent in my life. When I’m believing what I live, I’m susceptible to the quiet lie that there’s more to do, more to have, or more to be. What is good can quickly become not good enough, and the pursuit of perfection creates restlessness and feeds my bullying inner critic.  Believing what I live places the burden of proof on the life around me, rather than the truths that inform my faith.  Believing what I live leaves me weary, discouraged, and looking for real hope.

When I’m believing what I live, I’m the stale sponge.  My life is defined by my emotions and my circumstances rather than what I believe.

Choosing to live what I believe redefines the landscape of my life.

More and more, when I find myself sour, I’m pausing to ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?”  Defining what I believe, reminding myself what I believe, squeezes out the stale water and replaces it with living water.  Renewing my mind with what is true fills me with what is good, lovely, admirable, and noble.  When I’m full of what is praiseworthy, there’s little room left for that inner critic.  Living what I believe quiets the bully and empowers me to become who God designed me to be, to be used for His purposes in my home and in my community.  (Just like rinsing out the stale sponge makes it ready to use.)

What Do I Believe? * John 7:37-38 * Romans 12:2 * Philippians 4:8 * 

Photo Credit: Emmie Walch, It’s ME, Eloise! Photography