Cowboy

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The light fades on the prairie as he settles in. Just a dull orange glow remains on the horizon, countered somewhat by the orange glow of the campfire flames.

Close by there’s a rustle as something scurries through the brush – probably a rabbit or some small rodent.

In the distance somewhere a coyote bellows.

There’s comfort in the solitude.  No one to answer to. No one to keep up with and no one keeping up with him. He’s self-sufficient.

Community is overrated. This much he understands. Letting someone get close means responsibility, accountability, and lots of other troublesome “ility’s”.

Sure there are responsibilities out on the plain, but if he fouls something up it’s only him that has to suffer for it. No one else hurts. No one is disappointed. No one looks down on him or judges him. He can be his own person out here.

But what he doesn’t allow himself to see is that he was built for fellowship. There is this innate part of him that just doesn’t function as designed out in the wilderness. That part of him needs others to lean on. It needs the sense of accomplishment that comes from being present for others. If he messes up, there are no apparent persons to be impacted, sure. But the truth is, repercussions of his choices emanate out into the world even if he doesn’t see it. In fact, his mere absence is impacting lives.

These are the things he can’t afford to realize.

And so he just presses on. He settles in next to the fire. He thinks over his choices of the day, and wishes he had made different ones. In fact, most times he wishes he could make different ones, because the same regrettable poor decisions seem to pop up again and again to the point that he feels incapable of doing anything differently.

‘Oh well, put a lid on it and cowboy up,’ he tells himself. No time for sentimentalities.

It’s time to get some shut-eye. In the morning he’ll wake up, kick some dirt on the embers from the fire, saddle up, and move on. Whatever happens, whatever poor choices resurface, hopefully he’ll at least do some good along the way.

 

Though this might fit the loner hero in a lot of old westerns you’ve seen, that’s not really what I have in mind as I describe the scene. I’m describing everyday people – each of us – enmeshed in our private struggles.

We have this tendency to be cowboys (or cowgirls). Particularly when it comes to those private, shameful things we don’t want to admit out loud.

We long for solitude. That open plain where we can be alone seems so inviting. Sometimes even the ones who seem the most comfortable around people still spend a lot of time out on the prairie when it comes to some aspects of their lives.

But none of us were meant to be lone drifters in any part of our lives. We were created for fellowship, relationship.

When God said “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), He wasn’t just talking about a sexual partner. He wasn’t even talking exclusively about a marriage relationship. Yes, the immediate plan was to create a female companion for intimate relationship (including physical, spiritual, emotional and psychological intimacy). But we mustn’t overlook the fact that one result of that relationship was procreation, which led to multi-faceted community and a vast breadth and depth of relationship types.

It is in these relationships that we find support, accountability, encouragement, a sense of value and achievement, among other things. And though some of these things may at times seem more trouble than they’re worth, they are in the long run indispensable ingredients for personal growth.

Truth: there are people all around you who will support you. Even for your most embarrassing struggles – those private things that you are sure no one could possibly understand – God has intentionally placed people in your life who will understand, and even if they don’t understand they will still love you. Ask Him to show them to you. He will.

So come in out of the wilderness. This will take courage. Sometimes you’ll get hurt. Sometimes you’ll hurt others. But it’s better than spending your time alone; trying to convince yourself this is for the best while trudging through hopeless solitude and letting the plans God has for you stagnate.

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Three Things to Consider While You Wait

Household 791Did you ever wonder about the years between the time the prodigal son took off with his inheritance and the time he returned?

We have a pretty good idea of what happened in the son’s life during that time, but virtually no insight into the father’s.

First, I wonder how hard it was for him to let go in the first place. How it must have torn his heart to hear his son say “I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I’ll just take my money and move on.” What emotions did he grapple with? Confusion? Anger? Feeling like a failure? Desperation? Guilt? Resignation? All of the above?

And what went through his head while the boy was away? We don’t know how long it was, but we know it was probably years. Partying away a small fortune, living through a famine, hitting rock bottom, and entering the workforce in the most demeaning job imaginable – all of that doesn’t happen overnight.

So what about dad during this time?

Did he yearn to go out searching for him? Did he think about sending a search party or hiring a private eye? If the story were pulled into the modern age, would he try to turn on the GPS on the boy’s phone, or Google his name to see if he turned up in the news? Would he have constantly fight the urge to text or email him?

It had to be grueling, just living with the silence, not hearing any news. Thinking about the old times, choking back emotions when memories arose. Maybe wishing he had done some things differently – spent more time with him, worked less, had more patience. Maybe he made some serious mistakes that he wished he could take back, or at least have a chance to explain. Maybe he looked back on the good times and felt a twinge of hurt and anger that his son would dismiss all that good and fly from the nest.

Of course, this is all speculation. We don’t know what went on at the home-front while the prodigal was ruining his life. But some of us can draw from personal experience, and feel like we have a pretty good idea.

Which leads to my point (yes, I have one).

Maybe there’s another lesson in this parable besides the return of the prodigal. We must not lose sight of that key lesson – that just like the prodigal, we can always return home, find unconditional acceptance, and be embraced by our Heavenly Father.

But maybe for some of us there’s also the lesson of what to do if we find ourselves in the shoes of the heartbroken father.

Some of you may be there right now.  If so, here are three thoughts about the wait that may help.

First: Life goes on. We can’t allow the pain of that damaged relationship to damage the rest of the relationships in our lives. Others still need us, and we have responsibilities to them. The hurt is real, and we can’t ignore it. But to dwell on it at the expense of other, intact relationships is wrong. Take the pain to God. Find counsel if necessary (there’s no shame in getting counseling – don’t get caught by that lie). But keep loving those that are still in your life. As far as we know, the father still attended to his farm and the rest of his family in his youngest son’s absence.

Second: God is in control. No matter how bleak things seem, God never relinquishes control, and He never drops the ball. Whatever is happening, He is there. He’s not surprised, He’s not outmaneuvered, He’s not stumped. We don’t know how long the wait was, but we know this: the father was still waiting and watching expectantly right up until his son appeared on the horizon.

Third: Do what you can, and let God do what He will. You can’t control this. Relinquish the urge to try. If an opportunity comes to let them know you’re still thinking of them, take it. But trust that the love you showed them while you were together will stay with them, and that God will remind them that they can always come home. The father didn’t pursue the prodigal, but somehow the son still knew that he could return, and would find some sort of welcome (even if it was just a job as a farmhand).

And one other thing…

Keep your running shoes on so you can dash out to meet them when they return!

Trust Me

Level of transparency – this is something that I have debated internally many times.

It’s a valid debate. Lack of transparency inhibits being there for those that need to hear that they are not alone in their struggles. Too much transparency becomes counterproductive as we expose loved ones to unnecessary hurt, and risk inadvertently encouraging others to stay in their brokenness (“Well at least I’ve never done anything as bad as him”).

Recently, as I prepared for a church presentation which called for openness about my personal struggles, I trudged through this internal argument once again. And as it transpired, I slowly came to realize that the issue was a matter of trust.

“Can I trust people with my revelations?”

“Can I trust that they will not react harshly?”

“Can I trust that they will continue to love me and support me?”

“Can I trust that they will not jump to conclusions?”

I concluded that no matter what arguments I made regarding why I should or shouldn’t be transparent, and to what extent, underlying it all was this issue of trust. I just wasn’t sure I could fully trust everyone in my listening audience.

Then I heard it.  So subtle that I almost missed it, yet so profound that I was certain it could only be the voice of God.

I’m not asking you to trust them. I’m asking you to trust Me.”

You see, God isn’t looking for us to obey because we trust that it will sit well with other people.

He’s not asking us to do what He has called us to do because we can trust that others will support us and not judge us.

He’s asking us to serve Him because we can trust HIM to carry us through whatever comes.

Look at scripture.

In Acts 9, God calls a man named Ananias to go heal Saul of Tarsus, and Ananias essentially says “Lord, that is the craziest idea I’ve ever heard! Don’t you know that guy’s killing Christians?!” But God says “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (v 15, ESV).

God was telling Ananias “Don’t trust Paul, trust Me.”

In Exodus 4, Moses is arguing with God saying “They [the people of Israel] will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you'” (v 1). God then proceeds to instruct him regarding a series of miracles (turning Moses’ staff into a snake, making Moses’ hand turn leprous, turning water into blood), and God says “When they see these things, they’ll believe I sent you.”

God was telling Moses “Don’t trust the Isrealites, trust Me.”

There are other examples throughout scripture and history. We don’t have time for all of them here. But believe this – God is trustworthy, and He is asking you to put your trust in Him…and not anyone else.

“So we can confidently say,’The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:6)

Three Keys to “Being There”

People - General 194All our differences aside, there is one great equalizer among us – we all make some pretty lousy decisions once in a while. The nature and gravity of those decisions vary, of course, but the act of making poor choices is pretty much universal.

And subsequently there are times when we have to face up to our choices and the consequences.

That this is a universal phenomenon means we see it from both sides as we travel through life.  There are times when I must face my choices and consequences, and times when someone else in my life is facing their choices and consequences.

Particularly for those of us who have been there, we often find ourselves driven to be present for the next person.  It’s something I refer to as ‘paying grace forward,’ and I think it’s a natural response/drive (Jesus Himself talked about this principle in Luke 7 while He was hanging out at Simon the Pharisee’s house).

So how do we encourage someone going through a rough patch?

Really being there for someone is more than just showing up, isn’t it?

Well, actually, it does kind of boil down to simply that.  Kind of.

Often we think we need to have some profound advice or witty contribution. When we don’t have something wondrous to say, we feel like we’re a huge let-down. The truth is: just being there is comfort enough.

But of course, there are moments when having something to say is important also. It’s about balance.

Based on my own experiences on both sides of this coin, I think there are three things to keep in mind. I’ve seen (and felt the effects of) positive and negative applications of these principles. And I think all three of them are key to helping us find what to say and what not to say.

Don’t judge.  I know that one sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes it’s hard to resist that knee-jerk reaction of saying “What in the world were you thinking?!?” Or to make sure they understand all the consequences of their actions.

But in reality, if they’re grappling with this, they’ve probably already thought about that ad nausea. The last thing they need is someone reinforcing their negative self-talk. What they need is understanding, encouragement, and help developing a plan to get through this and make things right.

Save your judgment and indignation for the ones who are actively and blatantly bringing hurt to others. Don’t kick the wounded.

Don’t assume you know. If you’ve never been there, don’t assume you know what they’re going through. You don’t. Maybe you’ve been in something remotely similar. Maybe your Aunt Sally has been there. Maybe you’ve been associated with numerous people who have been there. It doesn’t matter. None of that makes you qualified to say “I know exactly what you’re going through.”

Even if you have personally been there, don’t assume you know what’s going on inside them. You may have first-hand experience of their pain, but you are not them. One thing I’ve learned from my own journey, and from helping others through theirs, is: we all process differently. A mentor of mine once told me that, and I’ve found it to be consistently true.

That doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to say “I can relate.” Just don’t think you have them all figured out.

Don’t try to solve it. Listen intently, pray fervently, be the shoulder to lean on, help them talk through it, even throw in a few suggestions on what they can do.

But know that coming up with a complete solution is not your purpose.

It can be tough, being there in the right way.  There are judgment calls involved, and you will miss a few. But if you keep love and grace at the forefront you’ll be a good friend and the right kind of supporter.

And they’ll appreciate it.

Commitment

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“Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” – Psalm 31:5 (NKJV)

Have I completely committed my spirit to Him? Am I really ‘all in’ in this Christian relationship?

Romans 12:1 tells me to submit myself as a living sacrifice to Him, which is a powerful illustration of this commitment. A sacrifice didn’t just get up and walk back to the livestock pen – it was totally, irrevocably, entirely committed.

So, as a living sacrifice, am I totally, irrevocably, and entirely committed? Or am I committed during certain time-boxed segments of my life and handling things on my own the rest of the time? Or daily committed, but only with certain parts of my life?

Do I trust Him with my security, my protection, my abilities, my well-being?

Do I trust Him to help me do my job? To fulfill expectations and plan the work? To make the right connections and develop the right partnerships?

Do I trust Him to help me relate to my family and friends? To treat them as the valuable persons that they are in my life? To make sure they know they are appreciated and treasured?

Do I trust Him to enable me in the ministry that He called me to? To understand His truths, and find the words to convey them to others? To keep me confident and focused in the face of apparent disinterest or flaming arrows of criticism?

Do I trust Him with my reputation? To protect from misinterpretation or misapplication of my words? To shield me from lies, rumors, and mishandling of the truth?

Do I trust Him to keep me pure? To help me make good decisions, even when the temptations seem larger than life and the battle seems most dire?

Do I trust Him to help me properly interact with others, with discernment and caution where necessary, with compassion and encouragement always? To give place to others in a way that is not self-demeaning? To show a full measure of His love and grace, while not compromising His truth?

Do I trust Him with my family? To reconcile and heal where needed? To shield them from hurtful attitudes and harmful words, directed at them sometimes merely for choosing to love and support me?

Do I trust Him enough to say that even if it leads to hardship, embarrassment, loss, pain, broken relationships, or death, I’m in?

I wish I could say that the answer to all these questions is a resounding ‘Yes!’ but of course it’s not. I still want to worry over and try to manage many of these areas myself, rather than trust Him to handle it all.

When the psalmist says “You have redeemed me” I agree without a doubt.

When he refers to God as the “Lord God of truth” I respond with a heartfelt ‘Amen’.

But tying that back to the first half of the verse and wholly committing my spirit into the hands of the Lord God of truth who has redeemed me…that’s where the connection gets fuzzy.

In my head, I can tie it together. In my heart, it’s a little more challenging.

What about you? How are you doing with all this? What do you need to let go and commit to Him?

Whatever it is, He can handle it. But don’t take my word for it…take His:

“The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” – Psalm 18:30 (NKJV)