Ragamuffins have an Inner Poverty of Spirit

thank_you1Continued from here.

This week, I’m discussing the concept of the sinner with the tilted halo from Brennan Manning’s excellent book, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out:

The saved sinner with the tilted halo has been converted from mistrust to trust, has arrived at an inner poverty of spirit, and lives as best he or she can in rigorous honesty with self, others, and God.”

Jesus said that the “poor in spirit” are blessed because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them (Matt. 5:3). What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means that we know we are mere beggars in the throne room of grace. We aren’t invited into the Kingdom because we earned it – our invitations are sealed with Christ’s blood and extended solely through grace.

Manning points out (and I have observed this dynamic myself) that the richer someone is, the more susceptible he becomes to ingratitude whereas the poor often express overwhelming gratitude even toward the smallest of gifts. For example, a rich person may pitch a fit at a five-star restaurant when the food is not exactly as he wants it while a poor person may gush with gratitude over receiving one simple meal. The difference is a matter of expectations: the rich believe they deserve to have their expectations met while the poor have no expectations of grace. Thus, the poor in spirit are the ones who most appreciate even the smallest of gifts.

I used to have a haughty spirit. I believed that “my way” was the only way, and anyone who was different from me was inferior. I had a judgmental spirit and often spoke harshly against others – typically behind their backs. Today, I have much more compassion toward those who are not like me. I don’t have to relate to someone’s specific form of brokenness to understand the pain of brokenness … and let’s face it – we are ALL broken.

Gratitude was the vehicle God used to transform me from behaving like a spoiled child in my plenty to experiencing gratitude even when there’s little to be grateful for, such as when my son spent five nights in the hospital after major back surgery. I don’t have to be comfortable to feel grateful. The poor in spirit are grateful and compassionate because they know they are richly blessed in ways they don’t deserve.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying at someone’s feet and saying, “Thank you!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Staying Out of the Hell Well

no_thanksContinued from here.

Now that I have experienced life outside of a hell well, I refuse to go back in. However, I remain vulnerable to falling into a pit and the temptation to start digging again. Thus, I remain vigilant about engaging in spiritual disciples that protect me from falling into pits and turning them into hell wells. When I do fall in, these spiritual disciplines help me climb back out much faster. You can read about these specific spiritual disciplines in more detail here.

I spend the first hour of my day with God – no exceptions. I don’t care if I am traveling around the world or sick as a dog: I still start my day with God. Being sick is my Achilles’ heel and when I am most tempted to sleep through my quiet time with God. However, I do it, anyhow – not because I want to but because I am committed. It’s simply not optional. There are days when I am very sick that I might spend the entire hour sobbing about how miserable I feel, but I’m still spending that time with God. This is when I am most vulnerable to falling into a pit, so my commitment to spend my first hour with God ensures that He joins me in the pit. Spending focused time with God is my best insurance against turning a fall into a pit into another hell-well-digging experience.

Another important discipline is expressing gratitude, especially when I am feeling ungrateful. Each complaint digs another shovelful of dirt. The antidote is expressing gratitude, which invites shovelfuls of dirt back in. Even when I am sick and feeling sorry for myself, I am always grateful for the bathroom, so that’s where I start. I thank God for indoor plumbing, running water, hot showers, toilet paper, and anything else I can think of. I also thank God that I do not have to walk outdoors in my illness to use an outhouse. While I know this is still focused on myself (on my own comfort), it’s a bridge to recognizing how blessed I am, even when I do not feel blessed.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her hand and saying, “No thanks.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Change Your Attitude

rainbowContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I talked about how I have been complaining about an area of my life that I am tired of dealing with. I have made the decision to stop complaining, even though the circumstances have gotten worse rather than better. But watching my mouth is not enough – I also need to change my attitude.

I previously shared that I am inspired by Vicktor Frankl, who managed to keep a positive attitude in a concentration camp. The situation I am frustrated with is nowhere near the level of intensity of what Frankl dealt with. If he could keep a positive attitude there, then God can certainly equip me for a positive attitude here.

One concept I have been pondering to help me choose a better attitude is that I am a servant of God. A servant doesn’t get to tell the master what he wants to do. The master tells the servant what to do, and the servant does it, whether he likes it or not. So, I’m trying to keep the attitude that if God wants me metaphorically cleaning latrines, then that’s what the Master has called me to do. It’s a job that needs to be done, the Master has chosen me as His servant to do it, and so I need to do it with a positive attitude. Whether or not I like the assignment is not relevant. I cannot call God my LORD and refuse to submit to His authority.

As I have previously shared, submitting to authority is not my strength. In my flesh, I don’t want to do it at all, and if I do, the authority better be trustworthy. This particular situation involves my struggles with earthly authority that I do not trust. However, I do trust God, and He’s my Master. Thus, until He tells me the latrines are clean enough to stop, I need to keep doing the assignment He has given me, not because I like the earthly authority but because I trust my LORD.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of a head shot of Grace looking at a rainbow over her head. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Stop Complaining

many_thanksContinued from here.

I’m not proud of it, but in my flesh, I’m a big-time complainer. Years ago, if my lips were moving, I was grumbling about something. Gratitude was a foreign concept to me.

Thankfully, I have come a long way since then, in large part thanks to Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, from which I learned to focus intentionally on counting my blessings. No matter what’s going on in my life, I have many things to be grateful for.

When I’m in a bad place emotionally, I start by thanking God for the elements of the bathroom – having the luxury of hot water for a shower, being able to use a toilet rather than an outhouse, having toilet paper rather than leaves (or whatever they used in Biblical times) … you get the point. When we’re suffering, it can be easy to let our pain overshadow our blessings, so focusing on something simple like the bathroom is a good way for me to begin the process of shifting my perspective back to one of gratitude.

Despite my progress, there’s one area of my life that has been bothering me for a while. It’s gotten gradually worse and worse to the point that I have been ready to remove it from my life since the end of last year, but God still has me in the situation. I have learned from past experience that until God gives me the green light to leave, I need to stay … but I don’t want to stay, and that’s invited my Flesh to start grumbling again.

It’s disturbing how easily we can fall back into old patterns like complaining. I just make one simple negative comment … no big deal. That makes it easier to make the second negative comment … and then the third … and so on. Before I know it, I can’t seem to be able to talk about this area of my life without grumbling.

So, I’m now holding myself accountable for what comes out of my mouth. The Bible says that I should only be saying things that are beneficial to others and builds them up. Complaining doesn’t do that, so it’s time to stop. God help me because this is very difficult for me in my flesh, but nothing is impossible with God.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of a greeting card with Grace smiling and the words, “Many thanks.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Whatever We Focus our Thoughts on Magnifies

whats_goodContinued from here.

One reason thanksgiving is so powerful is that it focuses our thoughts on our blessings, and whatever we focus our thoughts on is magnified while whatever we turn our thoughts away from shrinks. See this blog entry for a more in-depth discussion of the how changing your perspective can change how you view God versus your problems.

I’ll use my eczema flare up as an example. During the day, it’s easier for me to focus on something other than the itching. I’ll treat the rashes with ointments and then go about my day, choosing to focus my thoughts on something positive rather than my physical discomfort. I have much to be grateful for in my life, and as I focus on those things, the blessings magnify while the physical discomfort shrinks.

However, this is harder for me to do at night, when the ointments wear off and I’m awakened at 3:00 a.m. with intense itching. I’ll rub more ointment on the rashes and then try to go back to sleep. However, in my dark bedroom with no other distractions, I find it much harder to turn my focus away from my physical discomfort. This magnifies the problem and greatly tempts me to “unchoose” joy.

Last night, the itching was so bad at 3:00 a.m., even after applying the ointment, that I begged God to help me do this right. I told Him that we both know that I am incapable to maintaining a good attitude while experiencing so much physical discomfort. If He doesn’t equip me to do it, then I’ll fail.

After saying this prayer, I recited the Book of 1 Thessalonians (which I have memorized) and then moved on to the Book of James (which I have also memorized) and then fell back to sleep halfway through. (Side note – This is one example of how memorizing large passages can benefit you.) Focusing on God’s Word took my focus off my physical discomfort and onto Him, who is excellent and praiseworthy. In other words, I magnified God and “shrank” my problem by refusing to dwell on it. Is this easy to do? No, but it is that simple and quite effective.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing by a staircase that says, “What’s good?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Thanksgiving When Life is Very Hard

hospital1Continued from here.

If you are in a season requiring endurance, you might think my problems that I shared in my last blog entry are no big deal when compared to yours. First, I caution against ever comparing your problems with someone else. No matter what you are dealing with right now, it’s hard, and whether or not my problems are greater or less than yours won’t change the size of your own issues. Whenever we are in the midst of a problem, it’s overwhelming – that’s what makes it a problem! So, resist the temptation to compare your issues with anyone else’s.

Choosing thanksgiving is possible (albeit more challenging), even when you are dealing with very difficult life circumstances. As I shared in this blog entry, I was able to find much to be thankful for while my then-15-year-old son was recovering from major back surgery. I lived in the hospital with him for five days and then took care of him (along with my husband) after he came home from the hospital while also juggling a full-time time. I have been through many difficult life challenges, including being abused as a child, my father’s sudden death when I was 16 years old, and infertility, but that season of caring for my son through the back surgery was the hardest experience I have ever been through in my life.

Because I knew this experience was going to be hard, I asked many people to hold my family and me in their prayers. I also made the choice to express gratitude as often as I could throughout the experience. I said thank you numerous times a day – to the nurses, visitors, to friends who emailed me their support, and anyone else I could think of. I intentionally looked for reasons to be grateful: My son survived the surgery and was expected to make a full recovery (he did). Numerous friends and family showed their support through visits, cards, emails, texts, and gifts. I was able to take FMLA leave while my son was hospitalized so I didn’t have worry about losing my job for taking leave. We had health insurance to pay for most of the $100,000+ surgery and hospitalization.

Yes, it was true that I had many legitimate reasons to be upset. It was also true that I had many reasons to be grateful. It was my choice where to focus my thoughts, and I chose to focus them on gratitude, which led to joy. As I said previously, that season of my life was stormy, but it was never dark because God’s joy transcended the challenge, giving me strength.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Photograph of garden area at the hospital where Grace’s son had major back surgery. Courtesy Grace Daniels.]

Thanksgiving Leads to Joy

dog_beggingContinued from here.

I confess that thinking about topics that are excellent and praiseworthy is not my strength. I am a complainer and worrier by nature, so my default setting is not only to focus on what I don’t like but to actually obsess over it. I am never going to think about excellent and praiseworthy topics by accident. It must be a conscious choice to do right now because now is the only time I have.

The key to reaping a harvest of joy is planting the seeds of thanksgiving. Right now, in the moment – no matter what is going on in my life – I can choose to be thankful.

Because I am a natural complainer and worrier, my default  setting is not thanksgiving. My natural state is ingratitude. I’ll have 99 obvious things to be thankful for, but I’ll obsess over the one thing that isn’t going my way. Ingratitude plants seeds of misery, bitterness, and despair. If you are feeling hopeless in your life, you are likely not spending your time focusing on gratitude.

No matter how badly your life is blowing up right now, you have something to be grateful for. Right now as I type this blog entry, I’m tired because I haven’t slept well in a week thanks to an eczema flare up affecting large parts of my skin, making me itch. My employer has initiated rounds of layoffs, and rumor has it that my position might be eliminated in a few weeks. My new dog is still learning his manners, and I have had to clean up more dog urine than I expected to have to deal with. If I allow myself (choose) to fixate on these problems, I’ll plant seeds of ingratitude that will reap a harvest of misery.

While all of those facts are true, it is equally true that I have much to be grateful for. God has healed my marriage, and recently my husband and I joyfully celebrated 25 years of marriage. I sense God calling me in a new career direction that I am excited about. My dog has made progress in learning not to jump on people and to respect house boundaries. I no longer have an eating disorder, am no longer 30 lbs. overweight, and have not felt the need to self-injure in years.

In this moment, I get to choose which to focus on – my problems or my blessings. My choice will determine how I feel. If I choose to focus on my blessings, then I will experience joy, even as I work through my problems.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace teaching her dog to beg. Courtesy Bitmoji.]