Praying vs. Worrying

August 31, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

The other day someone said to me, “I’m so worried about…”  I don’t even remember what they finished the sentence or who said it to me.  I just remember thinking later, “Huh.  I wonder when the last time I really worried about something was.”  That was kind of odd because I used to worry all the time.  If hubby wasn’t home on time, hit worry button.  If I had a class to teach coming up, better start worrying early.  If one of my kids was stressed, definite worry!

However, the closer I’ve become particularly to the Holy Spirit, the less I’ve relied on worrying to get me through a day.  It started when we became friends, and I began to lay everything in His hands and rejoice with Him when things “just worked.”  My blog partner, Dennis, recently laughed because he got an invite from a church to talk about his books.  The pastor said, “And they can ask questions like, how you come up with what you write….”  Dennis emailed me and said something to the effect of, “I’m not sure how I’m going to explain the whole Staci Stallings’ put your fingers on the keys and listen to what the Holy Spirit tells you to write method.”  I had to laugh.  He’s got a point.

But that’s in a lot of ways how I’ve begun to live life, not freaking out about every little (or very large, overwhelming detail), but simply giving it all to the Holy Spirit and letting Him tell me what to do when and how.

This morning I went up to my kids’ school to work on the raffle–4,000 tickets, 180+ families, every ticket has to be accounted for and coded so you know who sold what ticket, how many tickets each family sold, etc.  An overwhelming project to be sure.  I was at school for about 3 hours getting everything lined out so tickets can go home today, and we know who has which tickets, and that everyone has tickets, figuring out class lists, etc.  Strangely, I never freaked even once.  It was step-by-step-by-step.

The school secretary said I was a speed-demon.  What she doesn’t know is that I wasn’t the one doing it at all.  The Holy Spirit was, and let me tell you, He’s GOOD!

Interestingly, as I thought about this worrying thing, I realized that instead of worrying, I pray.  When it’s big enough to worry, it’s big enough to pray, and as you pray, the next step becomes clear.  I can’t explain that exactly.  I just know it works.  (And if it’s not big enough to pray about, it’s not big enough to worry about!)

In fact, St. Paul laid out the relationship very clearly.  “Worry about nothing.  Pray about everything, and in all things, give thanks.”

So if you have something that you’re worried about, pray about it.  If you’re still worried, pray again, and again, and even again.  Some big worries take days, weeks, or even months of prayer.  That’s okay.  It keeps you close to God when you have to keep talking to Him.  And no, He won’t get bored with you or annoyed with you.  He WANTS you to come to Him.  Think about it this way…

If you have a son, and in school his grades start slipping.  He’s worried about it but says nothing to you.  The grades keep slipping.  Now, he’s really worried, but he doesn’t want to worry you, so he keeps it to himself and begins not to sleep very well at night over it.  Now, he’s compounding the problem.  His grades keep dropping.  He begins to be belligerent and aloof to you, and you are struggling to figure out why.  Finally, the truth comes out, and though you are disappointed, what you are mostly is just wishing he had come and told you what was going on in the first place… and let you help!

Now, with God, He knows what’s going on in your life, but He will not step in and help unless and until you ask Him to.  That’s what prayer is and what prayer does.  For me, prayer has become more of a running conversation with God.  “This went really well, God!  Yea and thanks!”  “Oh, this is an issue, please help, Holy Spirit.”  That kind of thing.

I know for me, living like this has freed up so much time and brain space that I can actually LIVE rather than simply drown in worry.  In fact, I just got a call on something that’s been on the back burner for a year.  At the time I wanted to do it, but it didn’t work out right away.  Now I could have worried about it, fretted about it, forced it, pushed it, and made myself miserable.  Instead, I put it in God’s hands and continued on with life.  Much like the cloud by day and the fire by night that led the Israelites in the desert, I go when God says, “Go” and stop when He says, “Stop.”

Does go always make sense at the time?  No.  Does stop always make sense at the time?  No.  But I’ve found the more I go when God says go and stop when He says stop, looking back I see the exquisite timing of those moves, and it teaches me that He does know best.  The more I see that, the easier it is not to worry about anything and pray about everything, but most of all just to rejoice that my God loves me and knows what is the very best next step for me.

I highly recommend it!


Embracing Weakness

August 27, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

My grandmother’s favorite hymn starts, “I am weak but Thou art strong…”

I am weak.

For a moment I want you to stop and think about that phrase.  How many times have you said it?  How many times have you admitted it?  How many times have you felt guilty for it?  I can’t answer for you, so I’ll answer for me…

I used to NEVER say this.  NEVER.  Admitting weakness or fear or that I couldn’t do something was ananthema to my being.  I mean, I almost literally thought that admitting I was weak would kill me.  No one would want to be around me.  No one would want my help.  No.  I had to be “strong” even when I was about to break, even when I WAS broken.  I had to pull myself together and do what I had to do.  After all, I wanted to be a success, and successes don’t go around admitting to weakness.  They certainly don’t announce their weakness nor boast in their weakness.

So, saying I was weak or admitting I was weak?  Nope.  Didn’t happen.  In fact, I did my level best to not even let MYSELF know I was scared or weak.  I plowed through things, forcing them to work because I couldn’t give up even a little control lest another person’s mistake expose my weakness.

And, lands, it was an exhausting way to live!

Actually, it wasn’t really too much living.  Mostly it was existing and hoping the truth was never found out by anyone.

This weekend I had an interesting conversation with a wonderful lady whom I very much admire.  As the Holy Spirit would do it, we started talking about overwhelming things.  As I shared with her that I no longer try to schedule my life–fighting for control that I do not have, she told me how much she needed to hear that because her new job had her feeling overwhelmed.  Later, the Holy Spirit brought us together again, and I told her that along with letting God schedule your day, it’s very important to learn to be gentle with yourself.  I don’t know what I expected, but tears was not it.

She thanked me, saying she was going to have to remember that.

As I thought about our conversation, I realized that one of the major things that has changed in my life was this central idea of my own weakness. Literally for years, I felt very guilty about feeling weak.  I thought there must be something wrong with me because everyone else seemed to be handling life without too much difficulty.  Why was it so hard for me?

I see this phenomenon so clearly in my books.  When you tell the story not just from one perspective, but from two, you often see things in a way you wouldn’t otherwise.  Many times I will have say a girl character who is overcompensating by trying to be perfect so no one knows she is weak, afraid, and overwhelmed.  Then I have the guy character who knows he’s weak, but won’t reach out to anyone to let them know he’s hurting.  One of the biggest conflicts in a story is how these two come together and teach each other that it’s okay to be weak, it’s okay not to know every answer, ace every test, make every basket, win every game… whatever their chosen mode of face-to-the-world-so-no-one-knows-what’s-really-going-on is.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that we’ve gotten things so out of whack as Christians.  Not sure how it happened, but wow!  Far from being a place where we can go to admit weakness and be comforted into wholeness, the church is too often a place of judgment and condemnation–the very definition of the LAST place you want to admit weakness!  And we wonder why people leave.

The cool thing about this whole admitting weakness thing is that as I’ve learned to stop fighting being weak and just admit it, the more compassionate I can be with others in their weakness and brokenness.  As I admitted I wasn’t perfect, I learned to give others the space to not be perfect either.  Interestingly, the more I really look at what God said in the Bible and many of the old hymns, THIS is the central lesson:  You are weak.  Without God, you are nothing.  But that’s okay because He loves you anyway–even in your weakness and through your weakness.  He wants nothing more than to be able to be there for you to rely upon, and you won’t do that if you’re trying to do it all yourself.

That reading about wives being submissive goes to the heart of this issue.  (It’s also I suspect why women have so much issue with this verse… we don’t like for anyone to think we are weak, and we sure don’t want any guy saying we are.)  But God says that Christ is the head of the church (and the “church” is us!).   As the head, Christ is to provide for us, to love us, to commit to us, and we are to learn to submit to His taking care of us.  That means ACCEPTING His help.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my own marriage this last year it’s how much smoother things go when I can STOP trying to control and lead everything and just relax and let my husband take care of me.  That may sound silly or non-feminist, but I’m seeing that’s what I wanted all along.  Not that I don’t have to do anything, but that I don’t have to do everything.  It’s humbling, and it’s scary because what if you “submit,” let him take care of you, and he drops the ball?  What if he doesn’t take care of you the way you wanted him to?  It’s like that old trust game where you fall and they are supposed to catch you.  Do you believe your husband will catch you?

Do you believe God will?

The more I embrace my weakness, admit it, and just keep falling at God’s feet, explaining that without Him, I’m sunk… oddly the more alive I feel.  I’m no longer tied in untangleable knots.  No longer do I stress out about even things that SHOULD stress me completely out.  I figure God’s got it handled, and all I have to do is show up and let Him do it through me.  It’s sometimes a challenge to not take the reins back because… well, I’m weak, and I stumble, and I don’t always get even this right.

But that’s okay.  I have learned to boast of my weakness because when I do, I know God will show up in His strength, and that road less taken has made all the difference.


Why So Mean Spirited?

August 26, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

It never ceases to amaze me how cruel, vile and just plain hateful people can be sometimes. And many of these people call themselves Christians. I suggest respectfully that these people take a good, long look inside themselves to see what is really driving them. It isn’t Christ.

God is love, and if we don’t see that love in everything we do, it simply isn’t from God. That only leaves one other option.

Ted Kennedy died late last night. Officially, many gracious and respectful comments have already been issued by those who must do those things. Most all praise the Senator for his service to this country…officially. However, if you read unofficial comments from the Internet and elsewhere, you will see the kind of cruel, hateful statements I mentioned above.

I will not dignify any of them by repeating any of  them here.

I am not here to eulogize Senator Kennedy. Others will handle that. I also do not intend to tell you that you should have voted for him, liked him or even respected him. He certainly made his share of mistakes, which were magnified by the constant surveillance of a media focused on his last name as much as anything.

However, as James said in chapter 3, verse 2, “We all stumble in many ways.” Certainly Ted Kennedy validated that verse. And while we may not have voted for him, agreed with him or even liked him, we as Christians have a duty to love him, just as we have a similar duty to love all people.

Later in chapter 3, James wrote this: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praising and cursing. My brothers, that should not be.”

Amen!

Senator Kennedy was, in fact, made in God’s likeness. He may not always have reflected that likeness in the best possible way. Who has? All I know is that the writer of 1 John wrote in chapter 4 that anyone who says he loves God while hating his brother is “a liar.”

To some degree those who disregard those verses reflect what is wrong in our world, our nation and our churches today. To put it bluntly, we are mean spirited and hateful toward those with whom we disagree. We vilify where we could disagree. Everything is personalized, and it doesn’t matter whether we are conservative or liberal. A person is not evil just because we happen to disagree with them. They merely have a different opinion.

There is evil in this world, but it doesn’t come from God or His people. Evil comes from denying God and His love for all of us. Self righteous, sanctimonious evil is still evil. Similarly, affirmation of God and His love for us results in good. Imperfect, even mistaken good is still good. We as Christians would do well to remember that.


Feed My Sheep

August 25, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

Poor Peter.

Sometimes he was just so much like the rest of us. Clueless. There he was in day to day contact with the Son of God incarnate and he still didn’t get it. That must have frustrated Jesus so much and made him wonder. If somebody like Peter didn’t get what He came for, how were other people going to ever understand?

Near the end of the book of John, after His death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples and ate breakfast with them after they had been fishing all night. He asked Peter a series of questions that all sound alike but are all answered differently in a way.

“Simon (Peter) son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

Jesus pointed at the nets full of fish when he asked that. What Jesus appeared to be asking was whether Peter loved Jesus more than the nets full of fish. Peter fished for a living; the nets full of fish had to excite him, and Jesus knew that. So, when Jesus asked do you love me more than these nets full of fish, He was really asking Peter where his priorities were. The question could just as easily been, “Am I the most important thing in your life?”

Peter answered quickly, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

“Feed my lambs,” Jesus said.

Peter didn’t move, so Jesus asked him twice more “…do you truly love me?” Twice more Peter responded affirmatively that he loved Jesus, and twice more Jesus asked Peter to take care of and feed His sheep. And still Peter sat there.

Before His death and resurrection, Jesus told Peter and the other disciples that His new command was for them to love one another. He told them that others would see that love and know that they were His disciples. Simply love one another, no more, no less. Or, as He told Peter, “feed my sheep….” Take care of them. As Staci has said, love them as a verb.

Peter got frustrated when Jesus kept asking him if he loved Him, but think how frustrated Jesus must have been with Peter. Jesus could have screamed, “Are you listening at all, Peter? If you love me, get up and do something about it. Love those whom I love, starting right here in your midst.” But Jesus didn’t scream; He showed Peter what he needed to do by patiently loving him even though Peter didn’t seem to get it.

In addition, He built His church on Peter, that somebody who didn’t get it. Matthew 16:18. Talk about the power of the Holy Spirit! Peter failed Jesus as many times as he pleased Him in the Biblical accounts, but when it was all said and done, Jesus chose him to take care of the flock and to be the cornerstone of the church.

Shouldn’t that give us all hope? Like Peter, so many times we fail, so many times we just don’t seem to get it and so many times we don’t show the love for His sheep. Let alone take care of them or feed them. And yet, He chose us. Now, like Peter, we need to get up and do something about it.


Kids Understand Love

August 24, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m quite sure this is going to be no big revelation to you, but for what it’s worth… Kids Understand Love.

It’s true.  I’ve been watching them and thinking about that simple but profound truth this last week.  I’m not sure when, where or why the revelation came to me, but it’s been tracing through my heart for a week now, so I thought I would share it before it gets replaced by some new, profound truth that I just have to share.

Here’s the thing, I work with kids a lot.  Besides having three kids of my own, I teach Sunday School, work VBS with teenagers, substitute teach, and work at both schools my kids go to.  In addition to that, I have about 30 nieces and nephews of various ages, not to mention cousins I couldn’t even count.  In fact, it’s safe to say that over half of my time is devoted to something having to do with kids.

One night when I went to church, I had encounters with at least five kids that I had taught or worked with over the last four years.  Each one came up and gave me a hug or otherwise got my attention. “Hi, Miss Staci.”  A couple I have pet names for, most I feel a deep abiding connection with.  Interestingly I had never really thought about why until a few weeks ago.  I thought about these kids–kids that pick me out of a crowd to say hello to or come up and hug.  One waves at me every weekend when I go to Communion.  One slips into my arms for a hug after every Mass we happen to attend together.  A couple last year at VBS couldn’t wait to do the plays with me because they had been in my fourth grade class and enjoyed it so much.

As I thought about it, I started to wonder why these kids are little magnets to me–or me to them.  It can’t be just because I stood in front of their classroom for 20 weeks, nor can it be because I made them sing or memorize the Commandments or various prayers.  But there had to be a reason because there are too many now in the category of picking me out.

Then I thought back to one of the little girls, who is the one that comes up to give me a silent, quiet hug when I see her.  One day, two years ago, she came up after Sunday School.  Now this child doesn’t speak very clearly, but she is beautiful and very, very sweet.  She’s one of those that in a large, noisy classroom can too easily slip through the cracks unnoticed. “Miss Staci, did you know my dog died last week?”  I had just lost my brother, so I understood her broken heart.  She had stayed after class just to tell me about her broken heart.  Now I could have been so focused on getting the classroom cleaned up or getting onto the next thing, I could well have said, “Ah, that’s too bad…” and brushed her off. Some would have.  Some might not have even been available or approachable enough for her to get up the courage to come up to to begin with.

I remember that moment so well because I just sat down in one of the desks and hugged her to me.  “I”m so sorry.  I bet you loved him a lot, huh?”  The little head nodded.  “Yeah, it’s hard when someone you love dies.”  More nodding.  I hugged her again.  “Well, I’ll be praying for you.  Okay?”  That was the encounter that I think solidified our connection, but that wasn’t where it started.  See, to the extent I can, I make it a point to establish a point of connection with each kid BEFORE we need to have it.  With this little girl, who was very shy, I would call her silly names and make it a point to notice her at church and say hi.  She comes from a large family, and as one of the middle kids, I think she sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.  By making her special and making it a point to notice her, the connection was established and was therefore in place when she needed it.

That’s what love is.  It’s not global.  It’s personal. One-on-one.  Do you know me?  Do you SEE me?  Am I important to you?  Why am I important to you?

When you answer these questions for someone by saying, “Yes, I see you, and you are important to me.  Here’s why…”  a love connection is established.

Now here’s a profound thought.  When God thinks about you, how does He answer those questions?  Think about that.  Really think about it because how you believe He answers those questions will determine how you choose to live life… if you think you’re on your own or not.  If you think there is Someone who will listen and care when your dog dies or your job gets axed or your best friend turns on you, or a thousand other bumps and bruises you get along the way.

Kids understand love.

I think that’s why God is so very, very good at loving His kids.


What Kind of Person are You?

August 20, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

My niece and nephews arrived this morning bright and early.  I’m watching the four of them (plus my three) for most of the day.  They are truly great kids and get along swimmingly with my kids, so it will be good.  One thing I thought was interesting was when they came in.  They range from 13 to 7 and their personalities are as different as night and day.  But as I greeted each one, they gave me a big hug as they always do.  I thought about that later, how each kid’s hug was just them.  The youngest always follows his with a kiss.  The niece always holds on the longest, the middle son always the tightest, the oldest (a boy) briefly but always with a smile.

As I thought about this later, it occured to me how many adults miss the truly important things in life.  Seeing how these wonderful kids truly connect with me, I wondered (with no evidence one way or the other) if they connect with everyone like that.  I know their teachers like them.  I know their grandparents do too.  However, I know there are countless kids out there who are not like these kids… instead of bringing joy, they offend everyone they get around.  They are rude and obnoxious.  Why?

Maybe because no one has ever shown them how much easier life is when you are a certain kind of person–a kind person, a loving person, a gentle person.  I read a small book on student leadership not long ago.  In it, high school teens were talking about principles and values and how to know right from wrong.  They said that their teachers, etc. having no moral guidelines like the Ten Commandments to point to, simply said, “Do what you think is right.”

Sorry.  That won’t work.

Young children learn from their very earliest hours that throwing a temper tantrum will get them what they want.  They will get fed.  They will get changed.  Someone will come to their rescue.  And for the first few months that works.  However, as they get older, children must be taught other, better, ways of getting what they want or they quickly grow into those rude obnoxious kids that no one wants to be around.

Some “kids” stay there their whole lives.  They look out only for themselves, never think about anyone else, throw fits of anger to get what they want, and are generally rude and obnoxious.  The truth is, like when you’re two, that isn’t the best way to live.

Thinking about those hugs, I realized that one reason they hug me is because I hug them.  I always make it a point to do that, to connect if for one moment with each one of them.  I read a story about an elderly lady who passed on.  After the funeral, her grandchildren were talking about her and her life.  One of them spoke up and said, “I always felt kind of bad because I was her favorite.”  To which all of the others protested.  “No you weren’t.  I was.  She used to lay in bed with cookies and read to me…”  “No, I was her favorite.  We always cooked together.  I loved doing that…”  etc.

This was a very wise woman.  She was the kind of person I want to be.  She knew how to be the kind of person that made others important and by doing so found the key to loving and being loved.  She wasn’t so focused on “I” that she forgot about “everyone else.”  I wish there were more like her on the planet.  But maybe if you look in your heart, decide to be that kind of person, and then make the effort to do so, maybe there will be a few more.  I really do believe those kinds of people could change the world.

I know they made a difference in my life.


Are We Asking the Wrong Question?

August 19, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

The problem I have with both sides of the health care reform debate currently raging is that neither side gets it. Whichever side you support, ultimately the bottom line is economics. How are we going to pay for medical care. I think that is the wrong focus and therefore the wrong question.

If somebody needs medical treatment, they ought to get it; it’s as simple as that. Of course I feel the same way about hunger. With the abundance we have in the world, nobody should ever die from malnutrition or starvation. Nobody.

When Jesus fed the multitudes, did he ask the disciples to make sure everybody deserved to eat, that they had done enough work to earn their meal? No. He fed everybody and anybody that showed up simply because they were hungry.

When Jesus healed the lame, the sick and the blind, did he ask to see what kind of medical insurance plan they had first? Did he ask whether their chances of survival were high enough to justify the use of his healing touch? No. If they needed to be healed, he healed them. The is no Biblical record that he received any kind of payment, and in a lot of cases his patients even forgot to thank him.

Some of you will say, But Jesus is God; His resources are limitless. Ours are not. It’s just not the same.

Perhaps our resources on earth are not as extensive as God’s are, but you will never convince me that our resources are inadequate when sports figures or actors or corporate CEOs make millions and millions of dollars each year while others go hungry. Furthermore, you will not convince me that a country’s governmental system makes all that much difference in the long run.

There were no democracies as we now know them when Jesus lived, and capitalism was not the preferred economic system, if it existed at all. On the other hand, you didn’t ever hear Jesus ask either the government or economic system to solve the problems of the day. They couldn’t then and they can’t now. He told Jewish leaders to give Caesar what he demanded and to give God what belonged to Him.

The solution lies in our hearts; nowhere else.

Some ask the question, How will we ever get our best and brightest people to become doctors if they can’t make more money than most people do? First, I’m not certain that the so-called best and brightest make the best doctors. Perhaps a better standard would be the most caring and loving. Medical care has become big business, and big business operates to make the most profit it can generate for its shareholders.

And I don’t mean to pick only on the medical profession. To some degree or another almost everything comes back to maximizing profits in today’s world, including a lot of our churches. That means everything comes down to efficiency, productivity and solid business planning. Again, I have to question the emphasis there. Where does the commandment to love one another fit into that?

Jesus said the world will know we are Christians by our love, not the size of our bank accounts or our profit and loss statement at the end of the year. To the extent that we focus on anything other than His love, we fail. We should feed others, heal others and help others because it is the right thing to do, whether it makes us money or not. Only by doing that do we show His love.


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