A friend recently asked, “How do I connect with God when I feel distant from Him?”
My answer popped out, “You talk to Him.”
This isn’t a complete answer, and it might seem too simplistic, or maybe feel awkward to talk to someone you don’t sense is there, but this is where we start—talking to Jesus. It’s never about Jesus leaving us, because He simply doesn’t do that. Jesus told the disciples as He ascended into heaven, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”—Matthew 28:20
Always. To the very end.
So, it has nothing to do with where Jesus is. He’s with us. Always. To the end. It’s about how we’re hearing Him. Sometimes when we can’t hear His voice, it’s because we’re not even talking to Him, not inviting Him into our conversations. Sometimes, it’s because we’re not expecting Jesus to answer. And sometimes it’s because there’s so much garbage and pain between us and Him, His voice is muffled under all the things we’re muddling through.
What do I mean?
Let’s say you’re spending Thanksgiving with your family, and two of your family members aren’t exactly getting along. You’re worried about how to be nice to both, without upsetting either. You can already sense the tension, and you:
If you took any of these approaches, you might hear Jesus, but you might not. You barely asked and didn’t listen. If you had this same type of conversation with your best friend, you probably wouldn’t have heard much from them either. Jesus wants to hear from you. He loves you. He made you. He also loves and created those family members who are a hot mess. It doesn’t matter if you have even more issues than they do, or if you haven’t prayed recently or ever. Jesus is right there, with you, always, to the end. He wants to help, but we need to let Him. If we don’t turn over our issues and concerns to Jesus, we’re going to struggle to hear Him.
What if instead, you talked to Jesus like He was your best friend, because He wants to be, and just poured it all out, and let Him know all your feelings and worries, and how you long for the right words, and how you wish your family would be nice to each other. Even if you don’t sense Him, Jesus is there. Nodding and understanding. You might find yourself taking a deep breath, because Jesus offers peace. You might feel an idea of something you could initiate bubble up in your head—don’t friendly family football games seem to unite everybody? Hmmm. Or you might get a tangible response—a strong feeling of comfort, an uncanny ability to bite your tongue when they’re arguing, just the right words to ease the tension at just the right time. This is what hearing Jesus sometimes sounds like.
What worries, hopes, and fears are you clinging to? What concerns are spinning through your mind so fast, you can’t see or hear Jesus in the melee? An upcoming interview? A relationship? A health issue? One by one take your concerns to Jesus. Talk to Him about them. Go back to Him tomorrow. And the next day. Grab your Bible and read it before, during, or after you talk to Jesus. It is the Living Word of God. He will use those words to speak to you. Sit in silence and ask Him for peace, answers, energy, insights, healing, ideas, or patience.
Life can be complicated, so how do you get through all the muck and back to Jesus? Hand Him your problems, one by one. He wants to hear them.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:38-39
Jesus is there while you’re stuffing your turkey and stuffing your mouth with creamy, spicy pumpkin pie. Pass the Cool Whip please. He’s there when you’re trying to be patient with the cantankerous family member or attempting to herd the kids into the van or standing in line on Black Friday. He’s there in the big stuff and the little stuff and all the in-betweens.
There might be a lot of junk clogging your ears. There might be so many worries on your list that it’ll take you a while to empty them out of your pockets at Jesus’ feet. But as you do, you’ll start to hear Him again, feel Him again. You’ll realize you weren’t ever separated from Him. He was always there.
What do you do when you can’t feel Jesus? Go to Him. Over and over. He promises to be with you to the end of the earth, so act like you believe that truth, like you know He’s there even when you can’t “see” Him.
Let go of all the stuff that’s in the way. Jesus is always there, always has been, and always will be. That is something to be incredibly thankful for.
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My hair stylist was my friend before she started doing my hair. This makes getting my roots touched up a multi-tasking miracle of self-care and great conversation. There’s the added bonus that sometimes another friend will be getting her hair done at the same time, which turns the whole event into an impromptu coffee date. This past week was one of those days. The three of us chatted about books, kids, and fall schedules. It was good for my soul. We discussed the struggle our kids were having finding balance right now—trying to complete homework, be organized, get ready for practice, pack lunch, have time with friends etc. It’s a lot to juggle.
My friend, Cecilia, suggested, “They need to learn what doing their best means. Today’s best is different than tomorrow’s best or last year’s best or next week’s best.” Ummm….were we talking about our kids or ourselves?
Because folks, fall is fabulous. But around here, it’s insane! I love watching my kids play sports they’re passionate about. I love seeing them learn about hard work, teamwork, dedication, the thrill of victory and even the agony of defeat. I love watching them make new friends, work to get along with people whose personalities don’t mesh with theirs, and cultivate deeper relationships with folks they already know. I love being outside.
However, we are NEVER home. Which means dinner looks like a lot of mac and cheese and Chipotle. That’s all I’ve got in me. Right now, this is my best in this department. And our house—looks like the Tasmanian Devil had a field trip here. It’s no one’s fault. Everyone is coming and going at breathtaking speeds. Cleats get flung. Clean clothes struggle to make it to drawers. Wrappers and empty cereal boxes get left behind in the flurry.
How about you? Are you tired? Sick? Overwhelmed? Or maybe today you find yourself rested, energized, and raring to go? We all have different bests on any given day.
My current best here is messy. And that’s okay. Because in this season, for the Smiths of Oxford, Ohio, this is what our best looks like. Just like everyone else in the world we can’t do everything well. So we’re bonding as a family, cheering each other on, getting exercise and fresh air. But please don’t peek inside our doors until soccer season is over. By then I hope to have adorable autumn decorations, homemade pizza crust, get caught up on coffee dates with friends and read at least one of the books on my nightstand. No promises, but that’s the goal.
My friends’ advice was some of the most brilliant I’d heard in awhile. In fact, it sounds a lot like grace. Jesus offers us full and perfect grace. But do we offer it to ourselves? What are you freaking out about today because you can’t get it done, or can’t get it right, or can’t get it fixed, or can’t even get it started?
What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ~Matthew 6: 31-33 MSG
These are Jesus’ words to a hillside of folks who wondered how they were supposed to live. Jesus gives no advice on time management, the top 10 workouts, which eight foods will change how you feel forever, or how to maximize the new update for your phone. Jesus doesn’t expect for us to do it all. Instead, He asks us to relax, stop fussing, and focus on what God gives us.
On rare days, our full swing days, our bests look like they should have their own TV show. But mostly our best looks like a ball cap, another cup of coffee please, and leftovers for dinner. And in those times, God positively blows me away. By His grace and His grace alone, my just getting by actually ends up to be an incredibly full and rich life. I’m amazed when God gives me an hour while the kids do homework to finish up some edits, a walk with my husband around the park as one of our kids warms up with their teammates, and even a dear friend as a stylist plus another having her hair done at the same time as me, so I can visit and get a little perspective.
God wants us to do our best, to live fully for Him. But in all the places we lack, He will meet our every day needs. So, today, do your best for today, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. And tomorrow do your best for Thursday, September 28, 2017. I promise they’ll look different. Don’t give up, but also don’t beat yourself up. Just put in your best effort and trust God, because He loves you and wants what’s best for you. Then soak in the abundance of God’s beautiful provision.
I need a knee brace when I run, windshield wipers so I can see while driving in the rain, my Map App to get me anywhere outside of my neighborhood, and a hot pad to pull something out of the oven. There are things I need help with in life, things I can’t do on my own.
Only, I like to do things by myself. I don’t like to ask for help. Ever. I like to make my to-do list and get it done without bothering, pestering or imposing on anyone else, thank you very much! I’m a writer, for crying out loud. I thrive on holing up with my computer and making up stories. By myself. The problem is, just like I can’t run without my knee brace, I can’t do life without asking for help.
I can’t. You can’t. None of us can do it alone. We weren’t meant to.
Case in point. Last night two of my kids had soccer practice, another had flag football practice, and the fourth had a soccer game. All of these activities were scattered in various locations around Southwest Ohio. There was also a meeting I was supposed to attend. I clearly could not do it all. Not unless I found a rogue time-turner. I did not go to the meeting (don’t worry, I let them know I couldn’t come). I relied on another parent to get my daughter to and from her practice. A teammate with a driver's license transported my son to and from his practice. My husband and I divided and conquered the rest. Whew!
I hesitated to ask for help from these parents and friends. I mapped through every possibility of how I could do it by myself, but I couldn’t. And I wasn’t supposed to. And neither are you.
Life is not a scorecard of who gave the most rides. Nor is it a debt I owe—since I called on others for assistance, I’m required to give back to others in eight days or I’ll be fined. It is love. It is how Jesus told us to love our neighbors. Sometimes we just need to accept that we are the neighbors who need the loving. It is how He told us to stir up one another in love and good works. We are to meet together and encourage each other.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another… Hebrews 10:24-25
I will offer a ride to another child, and feed a friend a meal, but not as payback, but because this is how Jesus loves us, it’s how He loves me and you, and I’m so blown away by that, that I want to pay it forward.
But I also need to accept that love when it’s me who needs it.
Needing help has so many different faces. My kids’ soccer schedules are minimal in the scheme of life. Needing help could be huge like asking for a loan so you can make your house payment or small like ordering cupcakes from the bakery, because you don’t have time to bake and frost them for the birthday celebration. If you read last week’s blog, you know I’m struggling with my kids going back to school and with my oldest being in her “fourth” year of high school (that s- word hurts too much). A dear friend not only sensed my mama heartache, but was feeling the same way since her baby bird is flying the nest. She called. We talked for over an hour, and shared our sadness and our joy. Just knowing someone else understood my heart was like balm for my soul. Accepting her love, her compassion didn’t make me feel like I was using her, or like I was weak; it made me feel better. That’s what love looks like.
Yet, we still try to do things by ourselves, don’t we? I’m fine. I’ve got it. No worries. It’s alright. I can do it. These are our mantras. But they don’t have to be. We don't have to do it alone.
What do you need help with this week, this season of your life? Do you need someone to bring the snack, work your shift, take over your leadership position, give you direction, explain a math problem, or give you a referral? Maybe you really need someone to listen, because there is so much on your mind, tugging at your heart. Maybe you could use some serious prayers, because there are things way beyond your control causing you and the ones you love suffering.
Don’t be afraid to ask. This is not an indicator of weakness or incapability. It’s just a matter of the fact that all of us have limited time and finite resources and multiple needs.
God knows we need help. He doesn’t want us to do it alone. He sensed Adam was lonely and created Eve. He knew the world was a mess, and He sent His only Son. Jesus ascended into heaven, but sent down the Holy Spirit to be with us. God loves each and every one of us, and not only is He available any place any time of day we want to talk to Him, He has also put in our life others who can help us too.
I wavered about sending out my flurry of texts asking for rides for my kids here and there. But the alternative was my kids not going to their activities. Guess what? Not one person seemed flustered or put out by my requests. My kids got where they needed to be. At the end of the night we were all back home together. That is a beautiful thing. And all I had to do was ask.
Are you ready to ask for help today? Because God is waiting to give it to you. Jesus instructs the disciples: For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:8
That’s an invitation I’d like to take Him up on. Looks like I have some asking to do? You?
One of our family traditions is summer movie nights. We have four kids. We love movies. Therefore, we watch lots of movies with our kids. But sometimes the kids don’t see eye to eye on their movie pics. The boys love adventure movies. The girls could watch all of the High School Musicals and Camp Rocks over and over again. We try to guide our kids towards healthy media choices. And some movies that are appropriate for my teenagers are less appropriate for my younger kids. This equals lots of compromise.
And compromise can be great. This summer, together, we’ve watched the entire Back to the Future series, and most of the Indiana Jones movies. I even convinced our clan to watch The Little Prince with me, because j’adore Le Petit Prince!
But summer movie nights? Well, this is a coveted night when one child picks the movie they most want to see. The other kids all agree to honor the chosen child on their special night by finding something else to entertain themselves, knowing they will all get their turn. These nights are special, because my husband and I get to curl up on the couch and spend quality time with one of our priceless children. It gives that child a chance to choose, to be in charge, to see the movie they’ve been dying to see. Plus, my husband and I get four of these cozy evenings sprinkled with popcorn. #parentperks
After plowing through the entire Percy Jackson book series this year (twice), Maguire selected The Sea of Monsters, which was super fun, a little scary, plus gave a hilarious nod to Jesus when Mr. D. (a.k.a. Dionysus) while turning wine into water said, “The Christians have a guy who can do this trick backwards. Now that’s a God!” Our God is pretty cool, isn’t He? Not to mention this film is packed full of reminders of how no matter how bad things seem, in the end good does overcome evil. Time and time again. Guaranteed, folks.
Mallory chose Soul Surfer. Somehow I’d never gotten around to watching this true story of a rising teen surfing star who loses her arm in a shark attack. An entire box of Kleenex later, I am now an all-in Bethany Hamilton fan. This woman’s faith through an incredibly dark personal storm blows me away. She doesn’t let losing a limb stop her from competing in a sport where everyone else has two arms. Think you’re up against some obstacles today? Give this flick a view. Here’s how Bethany equates her life to surfing, “When you get caught in the impact zone, you need to get right back up, because you never know what's over the next wave... and if you have faith, anything is possible, anything at all.”
Max picked Concussion. And I was wary. Because I’d heard it was gruesome. I’m also not a huge fan of sports movies. And honestly, I freak out over the number of concussions soccer players get, and I have three kids who love to head ball. But Concussion is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time. I recommend all of you watch it. This weekend if possible. This is the true story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, a genius Nigerian doctor (brilliantly portrayed by Will Smith), who discovers a brain disease, CTE, which affects people with repeated head injuries. Early in the film, Bennett challenges a friend “to be the best version of themselves.” See why I like this guy? Later, Omalu is challenged to adhere to his own advice. He uncovers CTE as not just a disease, but also the potentially fatal disease that has now struck at least 90 NFL players. Needless to say, taking on the NFL is like taking on Big Tobacco. Omalu is called nasty names, loses his job, and is threatened to be deported and killed all in order to “hush up” his discoveries that America’s beloved sport of football is dangerous. But Omalu won’t be silenced. He stands true to the best version of himself without faltering. Bennett’s faith is too strong to cave. The truth that the trauma of repeated blows to the head incurred by playing football is life-threatening is hard to swallow, painful, and dangerous. But again and again Dr. Omalu shares his findings, fights to have them publicized, and implores an NFL official to “tell the truth.” The real Dr. Omalu shares in an interview with Frontline about Jesus’s story of the Good Shepherd going after that one sheep. He says his work is like that, if he can save one athlete—that one sheep, it will all be worth it. I cannot stop thinking about this man and the role model he is for us to stand up for what we believe in.
We haven’t gotten to Maddie’s movie night yet, but we will. And I can’t wait to view her choice, learn from it, pop some corn, and spend some special time with her.
Our summer movie nights give our kids a small glimpse of how special they are to us. But God also uses these films to remind me how special we all are to Him, how He will fight for us, and stand by us, how He will never forsake us, and that no matter what, He will conquer evil.
How about you? What was your favorite movie this summer? Why or how did it impact you?
Laura L. Smith