Comment

How to Lose Every Time

golf.jpg

Golf is fun, and even though I am the worst golfer I know, I still love to hit the links with my buddy Mitch. If he laughs at me, I can just goose him with the golf club and keep moving forward with my standard, unlimited number of mulligans. Several years ago when I was out on the course with Mitch on a particularly beautiful day in South Texas, I didn’t really care if I spent most of the game as I usually did, slicing and hooking my way to the hole in I-don’t-care-how-many strokes.

First hole - at the tee box. Suddenly…horror of horrors! My goofy grin turns into furrowed-brow seriousness. We aren’t alone. Two other parties had made their way out of the club house and are standing in line now, waiting for us to tee off. Watching us. For some reason it totally throws me off. They are staring with their beady and judgmental little eyes. They are just hovering there, like evil vultures, in their expensive golf clothes with brand names I don’t even recognize and perfect shiny white shoes. I am, on the other hand, in my worn out Old Navy and tennis shoes with the soles falling off. My soles would literally make a flopping noise like flip-flops every time I took a step.

I try to pretend that I don't feel completely out of place. Like a confident gentleman I make my way over and shake their hands and say good morning. Wait…stupid! Is that even what you’re supposed to do? Maybe you aren't supposed to talk at the tee box?! What if they are wondering what the heck is wrong with this overly friendly, obviously intimidated kid with the shoes? 

Mitch tees off - a beautiful shot straight down the fairway.

My turn. Why are my palms sweating? I feel myself trying to act confident and I'm wondering why the heck I’m suddenly so intimidated. Ten guys watching. I can’t even think straight. Maybe I’ll do a little practice swing…isn’t that what you do? I wonder if they’re judging my grip. My floppy clown shoes. 

SWING! Whiff.  

“Ha ha…just a practice…ha ha.” 

SWING! Whiff. 

Mitch chuckles. The awkward hanging in the air is so thick you can slice it. 

SWING! I dig my club into the ground and create a divot half way to China.

SWING! I slam the club down on top of the ball…which bounces about 3 feet past the tee. 

Tee is broken. Sweat is breaking. Cuss words are swimming through my mind.

Now the guys are visibly uncomfortable. Annoyed. I’m completely sure that I can hear their thoughts: “Why is this guy even out here where he doesn’t belong?” “This floppy-shoed Old Navy kid is going to take forever and ruin our game.” “No wonder this dude barely made the B Team in 7th grade.” “That guy has chicken legs and will probably never get a girlfriend.” I looked over at Mitch who was attempting to put on a reassuring, pitiful smile.

Ok. I got this. 

New tee. Ball in place. Deep breath. 

SWING! Whiff…and…the club goes flying out of my hands and into the field next to us.

Laughter erupts. I laugh too, as if I’m laughing at someone other than myself. I decide to play from where Mitch’s ball landed.

Fear has this amazing ability to reach it’s tentacles through every part of our brains to short out circuits and push buttons like a three year old running amok at Best Buy.

For example, every healthy adult has a natural ability to tread water, but throw some people out of the boat and that natural ability is completely shut down by fear. Though they are in no immediate danger, people will either freeze or flail and thrash about irrationally when overcome with fear.

I have felt that thrashing, panicked feeling more than once since the tee off from hell. When Rachel and I left a comfortable position to start a church, there was a long season where I was deeply afraid of failing. Hundreds of friends and family members were watching. Fear told me that I wasn’t good enough, our music wasn’t cool enough, our location wasn’t hip enough, and no one would come. That fear kept me up at night. It made me physically sick. It tore up my mind and body with higher levels of stress then I had ever experienced before. It also made me a really bad pastor, leader, husband, and dad.

When fear finds a home, it always invites striving to move in with it. Striving is intense activity fueled by fear. Striving is flailing. It is swinging the club so hard you dig half way to China or, even worse, you throw the club half way to China. 

When striving sets in, you can’t win. That’s partly why it is so dangerous. We strive because we are afraid of failing, yet when you strive in fear, you will always fail. It can be crazy-making! You can do everything right, follow the recipe perfectly, but a cake made in striving will always taste bitter. That’s because striving creates a tangible cloud around a person. You can almost smell it. 

Strivers make people feel uncomfortable and awkward. You look in the striving salesman’s eyes, and you can see something there that tells you he needs this sale more than you need the car. You have coffee with a friend who can’t stop talking about the next weird diet or travel pursuit (since the last eight ideas didn’t work out), and you get the sense that their life is completely out of control. Everything strivers say and do is pushed through the filter of fear, and eventually even close friends will abandon the crazy-train.

The thing about striving - the truth that will set the striver free - is that we aren’t actually in danger of drowning at all. The guys watching me tee off weren’t making fun of me under their breath. They didn’t care about my shoes. Striving is based on fear, and fear is based on a lie.

When I try to draw hope or security out of a job, a business, a person, a bank account, an opportunity, my looks, or anything else that can be shaken or lost, I am living a lie. If the thing in which I’ve placed my trust even appears to be weak or failing, fear kicks into high gear and I become a striver. Fear tells me: “You’re going to have to force this thing to work or you’ll be a huge failure.” Fear might say, “You have to grit your teeth and make it happen, because if you don’t, the whole world is going to crumble.”

Here’s the truth: That relationship, that job, that money, that project or game or hobby or business…they’ve never been carrying the weight of your world. HE has. You’ve never been drowning because He’s never stopped holding your head above the water.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need. Psalm 23:1

Fear wants you to believe that God doesn’t love you enough to sustain you. He isn’t strong enough to hold you. He isn’t paying close enough attention to catch you if you fall or heal you if you get hurt. Fear tells you that you carry the weight of your own world. 

You don’t, and you never have.

If you’ve been flailing and striving and throwing golf clubs in desperation, you can stop.

And take a deep breath.

And another one.

And remember…I’m not my shepherd. I’m not my provider. I’m not my healer. I’m not my sustainer.

I am deeply loved by God, who knows me and will hold me no matter what.

No. Matter. What.

Perfect love casts out fear. God’s perfect love for you is an unshakable foundation. Discovering the depths of His love through worship, prayer, generosity, and meditation in the Scriptures is a path to peace, and the answer to your striving heart.

Comment

1 Comment

In the River

zomba.jpg

Two weeks ago, I was standing in a garden on top of the Zomba Plateau in Malawi, Africa. I took the picture you see above. At nearly 7,000 feet, the plateau towers over everything around it. Looking to the southeast, I could see Mulanje Mountain nestled in tea plantations which the British left behind decades ago. In the distance to the southwest I could also see Mount Soche and Ndirande Mountain, which are landmarks around Blantyre, the city Rachel and I call our second home on planet earth. 

The view was more than incredible. From my mountain-top perspective, I saw an endless panorama: Smoke gently rising from villages, old cars chugging along old roads, and vast open spaces I imagined to be filled with monkeys, birds, and bushbuck by day, and haunted by hyenas and leopards by night. Mouth and eyes gaping, I was only temporarily distracted by the baboon who was greedily eyeing my breakfast.

At some point I noticed that my breath had shallowed, and my palms felt like they were about to break out in a sweat. I was aware of my heartbeat. I wasn't aware of anything else around me. I was in awe.

Awe is a powerful concept. To me, awe is not a fleeting emotion, but more like an immersive state of mind - where I find myself completely overcome by the thing holding my attention. Being in awe is feeling swept away by a rain-swollen river. It is being taken up by something immeasurably bigger and more powerful and more beautiful than myself and delighting in every facet of it. Awe is the paradox of perfect peace and stillness in the midst of breaker-tripping power. I've found myself lost in that river while holding my newborn children, while exploring jungles in Asia and mountains in Colorado, while contemplating Rachel's love for me, and while attempting to fathom the vastness of the universe.

We experience awe at so many things He has made. Yet no awe compares to that which floods when we experience God Himself. Overcome by His presence. Swept up in His love. Devastated by His Holiness. In the midst of the thundering river of God Himself, I am little more than the smallest ant, and nothing less than His beloved child.

As followers of Jesus, we often neglect this place from which the purest worship flows. We forget that, because of Christ, we have a standing invitation into the Most Holy Place, into the Tent of Meeting, onto the Mountain of God. God longs to meet us in that place where our breath grows shallow and shaky, our palms sweat in anticipation, and our hearts pound in our chests. The river roars and we aren't there to hear it. The mountains tremble and we aren't around to feel it. The rocks cry out, in complete awe of their creator, and we don't join them there.

This writing is a simple invitation to you, Follower of Jesus, to find time this week to worship until you're lost, to pray until you're swept away, and to free-fall into the presence of the one who is immeasurably bigger and more powerful and more beautiful than you - and to delight in every facet of Him.

I will worship at your Temple with deepest awe. Psalms 5:7

 

 
 

LR-02737.jpg

Jeremy Williamson is the founding and lead pastor of Pathways Church in Fort Collins, Colorado.

1 Comment

2 Comments

Lost to the Blur

I didn’t journal much this past year. The 365 days of life - 8,760 hours of being, doing, and dreaming only filled about fifteen pages in the really cool leather journal I bought expectantly last January from Barnes and Noble. 

I confess that when I bought the journal, I thought I’d fill it up by year’s end. It’s not that there weren’t enough wonderful or terrible things to say - I just didn’t take time to say them. The truth is, I may have smelled some flowers in 2014, but today, on December 30th, I don’t remember what they smelled like. 

My memories of the year are a long blur of my kids' smiling and crying faces, geysers and bison, water projects in Haiti, laughing and crying about church planting, and laughing and crying about eating way too much spicy food in Thailand. In the blur I can focus on the hopefulness in my wife Rachel's eyes about new doors God opened for us this year. I remember the joy in her eyes snowboarding alongside her while she skied the annoying, meandering greens of Steamboat with all the ski-school kids (even though she skis like a pro).

The reason for the blur is something I need to confess: I am guilty of way too much doing and not enough being this past year. For example, on a cloudless summer day, I could have my physical eyes on Aisha begging me to see how she could do a flip on the trampoline, but inside, my guts would be churning about my next staff meeting. I could smile and high-five a shirtless, muscle flexing, Hulk-impersonating Gabriel, but inside I’m groaning about what I haven’t accomplished yet. I could sit and listen to someone tell me, through tears, about how God is completely revolutionizing their life through Pathways, and my mind could wander for a moment to all the things wrong with Pathways.  At times I was so busy climbing the mountain of 2014 that I forgot to enjoy the trail. Some days I was so worried about where I wasn’t that I forgot to fully be where I was. And my heart breaks, because all too soon, Aisha won’t be in the backyard doing flips on the trampoline, and Gabriel won’t be a smiley and scrappy little boy growling like the Hulk. 

Perhaps you share my sorrow here. Perhaps we should make this a group confession! What did you lose to the blur? What, or whom, did you fail to appreciate, love, serve, or engage deeply with because you were living at 110% effort and warp speed? It’s like our eyes were so constantly fixed on every tomorrow that every today slipped away without a memory.

It wasn’t always this way. We’ve learned to be busy. We’ve learned to lose life by trying too hard to gain it. A long time ago, our hearts began beating while we floated around carelessly, content to do nothing but listen to Mom’s sweet voice and feel the steady rhythm of her heart. No doing there. Only being. And in that being, we were completely loved. Our lives were immeasurably valuable. While we were covered in more affection than our tiny minds could comprehend, there were no mountains to climb, no tasks to accomplish, and no one to impress. You and I spent nearly 10 months bobbing around in the most intimate, tender, and loving environment imaginable - and we did nothing to earn the great affection that was toward us. God was also with each of us while we were being knit together marvelously in our mothers' wombs. He fell insatiably in love with us there, without our doing anything, because our primary calling as beings is to…well...to be. Our existence in Him is what pleases God most, not our doings for Him. Our existence with our friends and family is what pleases them most, not our doings for them. I am embarrassed by how often I forget this.

Moses and Joshua fulfilled their highest calling when they just sat with God in the Tent of Meeting there in the desert. Mary was doing just fine sitting at Jesus’ feet. There was no need to be frantically slaving away with Martha, who was displeasing the Master by trying so hard to please him. It is by lounging in the tent of meeting, by silently abiding, through simple, raw being with Him that our hearts are filled with what they long for most, and a smile is formed across His face. Likewise, in the stressless joy and silly laughter of being fully present with family and friends, we become fully present with our lives as they were intended to be; away from performance - separate from achievement or a need for perfection.

So - I’m learning that doing flips with Aisha on the trampoline and flexing my muscles with Gabriel and Levi is what takes me to the place where I really belong - where I’m most alive. Shedding tears with other humans, slowly and patiently wading into their stories, feels almost as sacred as entering the tent of meeting - and it is there that my soul has a sense that nothing else really matters.

I invite you to BE with me in 2015. I invite you not to worry so much about the doing — that will flow naturally out of the being. And may the sights, smells, storms, sunshine, and smiles of 2015 fill the pages of our journals as we engage fully with Him, and with those who matter more than any deed done.

Jeremy Williamson is the founder and Lead Pastor of Pathways Church in Fort Collins, Colorado.

2 Comments