Sometimes, for the sake of ourselves and others, we need to be willing to set boundaries.
I’ve overworked myself before and have felt the physical and mental toll it can take. God gave us the Sabbath for a reason, setting aside a specific day of the week to rest from our labors and to trust in God as the ultimate provider. And we see this modeled in Scripture. Jesus took time away from the crowds and from the disciples to pray (Luke 5:16), and he encouraged his disciples to seek rest after a season of service (Mark 6:31). Jethro, Moses’s father in law, provided a plan to keep Moses from burning himself out in service to the people, arguing for a delegation of responsibility in order to better care for both Moses and the people of Israel (Exodus 18). Boundaries on our time, our energy, and our service can be incredibly beneficial as we seek to love the Lord and others well.
But sometimes, for the sake of ourselves and others, we need to be willing to make exceptions to boundaries.
While boundaries work in general to create margin in our lives for rest and intentional focus, specific situations may call for a temporary exception to the rule. Jesus, after healing a man on the Sabbath, asks those who would accuse him of wrongdoing, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” (Luke 14:5), highlighting a decision surely none of his listeners would question. Elsewhere, after leading his disciples away to rest, Jesus had compassion on the crowds that followed him and taught them (Mark 6:33-34). In some situations, love warrants action in spite of the boundaries we’ve set.
I’m not sure there’s a clear explanation of how to tell when to enforce a boundary and when to make an exception. I’m not sure life and love are that cut and dry. Sometimes, you get a phone call on a Tuesday night that you feel you need to take, even if it alters your plans and stands as an exception to your boundaries. Other times, you reach out to friends to help you bear your burdens so you can rest. I believe the Lord will direct us as we seek to serve him, and I pray we would be faithful to follow him in either circumstance. He is our strength, both to provide what is needed as we rest and to provide what is needed as we serve.
I’m not sure what the Lord is doing in this season. Ignorance of the Lord’s ways isn’t abnormal; his ways and thoughts are higher than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). We know that God will accomplish his purposes and will do what is right even if we don’t know specifically how that will look. This truth holds great comfort for finite souls.
Lately, however, I’ve been feeling more confused than comforted, more fearful than full of faith. Dry times, extended periods of struggle, and uncertainty combine to produce a season that will ultimately result, I pray, in deeper faith. In the moment, however, I mostly feel doubt and worry. And as anxiety grows, so too grows the pressure to move, to do something to settle my soul, to search for peace and rest. I feel tension and timidity at once within me, afraid to stand still and afraid to move.
In this season of confusion, however, I’m trying to respond with wisdom instead of reacting out of fear. To do this, I’m trying to practice three habits more intentionally.
1. Fall back on Proverbs 3:5-6. These words are familiar, but the familiarity doesn’t diminish the force of the message.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Confusion and fear reveal the limits of my understanding, testing the strength of my commitment. Do I trust the LORD with all my heart? If so, then I can rest in the truth that my ignorance of the way ahead doesn’t negate his trustworthiness. Do I acknowledge him in all my ways? If so, then I can trust him with this situation, this season, this emotion. Do I believe he will make straight my paths? If so, then I can follow him in faith even if he hasn’t yet revealed the next step.
2. Wait for the LORD. One of my favorite verses comes from Psalm 27.
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
The call here is simple yet profound. To wait for the LORD is to embrace ignorance and inability, to exercise humility, and to trust in God’s sovereignty. The LORD, whose ways, thoughts, and timing are high above ours, remains ever faithful. From the days of Abraham through the time of the Christ and beyond, God has never failed his people, never left a son or a daughter unattended, never lost even one of his own. As stressful seasons tempt me to impatience, I remember David’s words and call my soul to wait for and to rest in the One who has not failed and shall not fail to accomplish his purposes and to keep his promises.
3. Focus on what I know. In a recent Bible study, I was reminded of the importance of priorities. As our group considered how priorities should look in our lives, Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount came to mind.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Jesus’s words here highlight two areas of primary focus: kingdom and character. We worry about many things, but, as Jesus reminds us, the Father knows our needs. We can trust him to provide for us, and his provision frees us to prioritize his kingdom and righteousness. While I may be confused on many fronts, ignorant of God’s ways and thoughts and timing in this season, I know two things well: I’m called to seek his kingdom and his righteousness, and I’m called to trust him with the rest. So I can serve my church, pursue my studies, and do today’s work for his glory. And I can study the Bible, spend time in prayer, and practice spiritual disciplines.
I don’t enjoy confusion. I desire more understanding than I presently possess. But I can have faith in God no matter my circumstances, and I can practice these habits even in the face of fear and anxiety. The Lord is good, the Lord is faithful, and the Lord loves me, even when I can’t see or feel him. Because of these truths, no matter the season, I can rest and hope in him.
I wait for you, often impatiently. Passionate and shortsighted is my soul, Resistant to the truth of your control. My faith wars with my fears consistently. I pray for grace to give up while I grip More tightly to what you require of me, Thinking of faith as eyes widen to see Any way out. A trembling heart and lip Often appear instead of steadfastness, Longing for Egypt in the Promised Land, Reaching for idols as you hold my hand. Spirit, sustain me. Help me see past this. Teach me to rest in your ability And wait in rev’rence and humility.
Life is weird these days. Between a pandemic, multiple hurricanes, school, work, and the south Louisiana heat and humidity, there’s a lot going on. There’s always another responsibility, another danger, another factor to consider as I go throughout the day.
When life is busy, I tend to look for things to cut out. Some decisions are easy. Netflix and Xbox both take a backseat to homework or Bible study. Other decisions are more difficult, however. When is it wise to skip a workout? When should I stay up a bit later or wake up a bit earlier to get my work done? When is it best to take a break from the blog?
While I typically take some time off each year from posting new content to the blog, I try to maintain consistency in my schedule here whenever possible. Even if I don’t get the time I’d like to write and edit, to reread and refine a piece, I try to post consistently, and I wanted to share some of the reasons why today.
I write as an act of self-discipline. Writing helps me think. The act of writing words on paper or of typing words into a word document provides the opportunity to organize my thoughts. Writing serves to clarify ideas and to reveal truth. And while I receive these benefits when I write in my journal, I find that writing for the blog is different. Here, I’m trying to take an idea and trace it out to application, drawing lines from theory to practice. Knowing others will read these words adds a level of accountability I don’t always have in my journal. While I may be more vulnerable there, I feel more responsible here. I see consistency as part of that responsibility, as an aspect of that accountability to the reader.
I write as an act of self-expression. Much of what I write stems from the lessons I’m learning, from the emotions I’m feeling, from the joys and sorrows I’m experiencing. I’ve often thought that you can probably tell what I’m going through by looking closely at what I’m writing in a given season. I try to be vulnerable in my writing, sharing my fears and my hurts through poetry and prose. I don’t give you everything. My journals and notebooks contain more specific reflections and poems. You likely won’t see those. But I want to share, at least in some measure, the work I do, partly because I want you to see me and know me. But I also want to share because I’ve seen God use the things I write to serve others, and I want to be faithful to that form of ministry, which leads me to my third reason for writing.
I write in the hope that you’ll benefit from these words. While I want you to see me and know me, I don’t write simply because I want sympathy (though sometimes I do desire that). Rather, I write in the hope that you’ll see yourself in the words, that perhaps I can articulate on your behalf something hitherto unspoken or unexpressed. The writers who have moved me the most are those who gave voice to my soul when I felt lost and alone. I seem to remember Andrew Peterson getting at this idea in his book Adorning the Dark, and I’ve found the point rings true. As I’ve found myself in his writings and in the writings of others, I’ve been greatly helped, encouraged and challenged to press on through difficulties and to wait and hope in the goodness of God. I pray that my writings might be so used in your life and in the lives of others who happen across my words.
I don’t claim brilliance. I don’t seek fame. I know my faults. But I desire faithfulness and pursue it, often falteringly. And so I write. I write in the hope that I’ll understand a bit better after the writing. I write in the hope that you’ll see and know me a bit better after the reading. I write in the hope that you’ll see yourself in the words and will be moved to know and love God a bit better in the process. And I pray the Lord is pleased in it all.
For roughly a year, I’ve been going to counseling through the counseling center at my school. I entered nervously, uncertain of what to expect but certain that I needed help. I noticed myself becoming more isolated and distant than I could remember being. Social circles were shifting around me, stresses and emotions were stacking up inside me, and I found myself feeling disconnected and lonely and stuck. I knew there was a problem, but I couldn’t seem to fix it. I was surviving, but I wasn’t doing well.
Counseling, in many ways, was exactly the thing I needed. There, I could voice the things that weighed upon me and receive help in processing through it. I could share my fears, my anxieties, and my shame and receive encouragement and perspective. My counselor helped to put names to the things that bothered me, thereby helping me both to identify and to understand the more difficult aspects of my life. Though I’m not sure I could list all the ways God used counseling in my life, a few reflections stand out.
I accept my emotions and am a bit more open about them now. Historically, I’ve not been very good at acknowledging my feelings. I’ll try to approach situations academically if possible, operating as if emotions shouldn’t have a say in my response. But I’m learning such an approach isn’t feasible. God created us with emotions, and life in his world requires that we come to terms with that truth. Sure, learning to accept emotions and feel them isn’t always easy. Facing difficult emotions and dealing with them can be painful. But there’s a freedom that comes with such growth, a fresh perspective on life and how God means us to live it. I’m still learning, but I’m slowly growing to allow emotions their rightful place in my life.
I still struggle with my emotions. Therapy didn’t make life’s difficulties go away. While my counselor did a fantastic job of listening and guiding me toward a healthier mental and emotional state, she didn’t fix my problems. Instead, she reminded me that people never outgrow the growing process. We’ll always be working on something, improving in some area, finding ourselves still lacking in some respect. Growth, both spiritual and mental, is an ongoing process. But while I’m not “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4), I think I’m further along than I was when I started counseling. I’ve achieved some goals, seen measurable success, and have found that the difficulties that often overwhelm me aren’t quite so unique or crushing as they may feel in the moment.
I love the Lord more than I once did. Because I’ve been unsure of my emotional intelligence for so long, I’ve tended to lean into more comfortable ways of loving God. I would think of Jesus’s instruction to love the Lord with the heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), and I would see in that a justification for pressing into academics. If I’m not good at feelings, let me prioritize thoughts. But as I reflect on my time in counseling, I’m starting to see that Jesus’s statement isn’t a list of options. Instead, his is a call to love God wholly, bringing every aspect of the self to him in surrender. Counseling has helped me to do this better. As I’ve faced my fears and my anxieties, I’ve seen areas where my faith is weak, where what I affirm mentally isn’t reflected in how I follow Jesus practically. And as I’ve sought to bring my heart into submission to the Lord, the work has entailed a submission of my body as well as I’ve seen how my physical health influences my mental health. I’ve begun to pursue growth on all fronts, learning to love the Lord not just with my mind but with my heart, strength, and soul as well.
The work isn’t complete. I still wrestle with fear and insecurity, with anxiety and doubt, with disappointment and discouragement. I still feel overwhelmed and stuck sometimes. I’m not sure we ever escape such things this side of glory. But counseling gave me perspective and resources to respond to my emotions, and to all situations, with more faith than fear, more courage than cowardliness, and more hope than hopelessness. I thank God for counseling, and I highly recommend it. Whether you feel crushed by the weight of life or you simply want to better understand yourself and your place in this world, counseling can serve you well. I pray you take the step, and I pray God uses it mightily in your life.
How do you respond (w)hen t(h)e w(i)nd (s)hakes your tem(p)orary dwelling? when the thund(e)r b(r)eaks your sense of calm?
(w)hen t(h)e l(i)ghtning (s)trikes your storehouses? when all around you is (p)urifying floodwat(e)r and fi(r)e life-giving, all-consuming?
What do you do when the Father answers your prayers with a storm and a whisper?
Do you run away? Where else would you go?
There is a response when the w(i)nd sh(a)kes your te(m)porary dwelling. when the thunder (b)reaks your sens(e) of calm.
when the lightning (s)trikes your storehouses. when all around you is purifying floodwa(t)er and f(i)re, (l)ife-giving, a(l)l-consuming.
This poem would not be what it is today without the contributions of Andrew Wilson. He helped with both the structure and the content, improving the rough draft immeasurably and guiding the poem to its final form. I’m incredibly grateful for his feedback.