24 March 2012

And it's still not about me

Learning that 'sometimes it's not about me' has only continued. The other day while I was sorting through old mail, I found the following quote from culture is not optional's "daily asterisk" that reinforces my sense that me should not be the focus: "Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself." David Brooks "It's Not about You." in The New York Times

Furthermore, I heard an illustration this past Sunday during the sermon on Jesus' feeding the five thousand that reinforced the sense I had that it wasn't about what I can do but about what God can do. When the pastor during pre-marriage classes asked a young woman about a Bible passage which appealed to her, she hesitated to mention this passage on the feeding of the five thousand, as it seemed to have nothing to do with marriage. When she spoke in amazement of the abundance in the passage, the pastor gently asked her if she was worried about whether she would come up too short in her marriage. And we who had heard the story knew the answer. With our own five pieces of bread and two fish, there is no way that we wouldn't come up short. But with Jesus, what would never be enough on our own strength, would actually be abundance - twelve baskets left over.

21 March 2012

The first year of marriage: does it have to be hard?

We were talking with a group of people about being married, and the first year together being the hardest for many couples. And it made me wonder if the first year has to be hard.

I know for many people that the first year is a challenge. Adjusting to living together can be hard, especially working through what unspoken expectations you have of everything - from how the chores get divided, to where the shoes get left, to the state of the bathroom, to how much time you spend together (and doing what).

And is it surprising that it'd be hard? Ideally being married means that you open yourself to the other person - become not only physically naked, but also emotionally and spiritually naked. It's hard to trust that the other person will still love you after seeing all your blemishes - and sometimes, despite how in love you might be, there can still be a lot to learn in terms of knowing how to love the other completely.

But does that make the first year of marriage hard by definition? I want to say no.

Part of my no is my realization that I've faced a lot harder times in the past than our first year of marriage. How about teaching 35 hours a week for 3 months? Or crying myself to sleep through much of high school? Or moving to another country not knowing the language and having no one within thousands of kilometres who knew you before you moved there? Compared to those moments in the past, being married has been nothing short of great.

And the second realization was the simple wonder I have that two broken people can come together and learn what it means to love and be loved. You get the chance (actually forced!) to see some of the hidden parts of who you are: the nasty parts because they hurt your partner (or you), and the unspoken expectations when you realize that what you thought was normal was not somebody else's normal. And confronted with this sudden self-awareness, you have the chance to let God work in and through the other person to heal some of the brokenness. Despite the fact that the healing process can sometimes be painful and scary, being healed is an amazing gift.

18 March 2012

Sometimes it's just not about me

Every so often a thought pops into my head - a compilation of things I'd been thinking, conversations I've had, books I've been reading, spiritual lessons I've learned, Bible texts I've read - and I realize, "hmmm, this is a word of God for me." It's a bit like me talking to myself combined with the sense that this is what God, as He has been revealed in the Bible and in his relationship with his people, would want me to hear on the basis of what I'm experiencing at a certain moment.

What have I been hearing lately? "Sometimes it just ain't about you."

Sometimes I don't want to do something or I find something hard or I don't feel like it or whatever. In my family, we'd tell each other to "suck it up," which are often good words to hear - but it's a different thought than hearing that sometimes it's not about me. Sometimes, it doesn't matter how I feel - God deserves to be praised even if I'm not in the mood. Sometimes it doesn't matter if I don't want to - I still have commitments and people to help. And I do deep down want to honour others. And what if I don't feel like I can? So what? It isn't about me - it's not about what I can do, or what I want to, or how I feel - it's about God who can do all things, including in and through me. If I spend too much energy focusing on me and how I feel about it, am I not potentially standing in the way of God?

17 March 2012

A sunday afternoon walk

Last Sunday, Matthijs and I took advantage of the wonderful sunny day to go for a walk down Haarlemerstraat and then back again through the area north of that (close to the IJ river). I remembered to take my camera along, and this is what we saw:

one way of anchoring your bike down so as to make sure it doesn't get stolen!

We weren't the only ones checking out the street!

Beautiful architecture along the way

Lachen = laughter;  Marcus 4:14 is Mark 4:14 - but the text (let many prosper?) doesn't have anything to do with the text of Mark 4, which is the parable of the sower....

in the neighbourhoods closer to the IJ - the bridge looks old, but it is actually from around 1980

Noah's ark

Noah surrounded by St Peter and St John

The other side of the church shown earlier - in the background of the meisjes school

A houseboat neighbourhood

There will hopefully be many more sunny days for walks and pictures...

03 March 2012

Spiritual disciplines during lent

During Lent, we do weekly small groups (Bible studies) as a community - and this year, the tochtgenoten are leading the studies. We've decided to focus on spiritual disciplines using Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline (Het feest van de navolging) as a resource. It's given me the push to re-read his book and focus again on spiritual disciplines. I appreciate it as much as I did the other times I read it - and am glad to have the incentive to wonder more about how I can make more room in my life for spiritual disciplines.

One of the things that has struck me the most is how helpful the spiritual disciplines are for putting things back in perspective. In the midst of all the fluctuation in my life in the last while, I've often felt like my life has been horribly out of balance. Being given a means to re-order my life has been great - it helps also that there's a constant reminder that these are disciplines and not rules! The disciplines provide ways to open myself more up to God's grace - and help me realize that it's not through my own strength, willpower and/or desire that I can live out the Christian life the way I believe God would want me to. No matter how hard I try, I'll always fail when I try to do it on my own. It's only through God's grace that I can live the way God wants me to.

Having spent more than enough time lately being disappointed in my failure to be more concerned about the lives of those around me and spending too little time doing the academic work that I do actually love, this very real reminder of the inevitably of my failure - and the presence of grace in the midst of that - has been a breath of fresh air. It pushes me to want to try to exercise more of the disciplines, in the hope that I might open myself more open to God's grace and be more able to fully delight in life and the world around me.