Attitude Check

I am out of the habit of writing often. I mean, I have written a few blog posts here and there. But really, given the amount of free time I’ve had this summer, I should definitely have produced more than I actually have. Which is very little. I am the type of person who would normally be super discouraged by that thought and allow it to make me feel completely defeated and useless.

But that’s completely unhelpful. Starting is the hardest part. Time to get over it.

At the suggestion of a great friend, I watched two Ted talks given by a woman named Brene Brown. They’ve grown popular, so I would not be surprised if you’ve heard them or heard of them. One was on the topic of vulnerability, the other on shame. She has done a great deal of research into those topics, and she presented the information in a way that was incredibly easy to understand, but which also raised a lot of personal questions in my mind.

She discusses the correlation between shame and vulnerability. The more shame you feel, the more painful vulnerability will become. (Shame is distinguished from guilt. Guilt = I made a mistake. Shame = I am a mistake. Her explanation, not mine, but super helpful.)

Brene describes those who see vulnerability as necessary and who have great courage as whole-hearted people. Courage being the ability to share your story whole-heartedly. Full circle, yeah? I think there are layers and layers to the vulnerability thing. I think we often have pseudo-vulnerability, where we’re fully aware of what we’re holding back from people while simultaneously pretending to be really vulnerable and open with them. But it takes courage to admit weaknesses and insecurities, even though those seem like things you should hide. Suppressing anything, I’ve realized, will inevitably drive you crazy.

Vulnerable people are authentic people. Authenticity is another one of those popular ideas that everyone wants to become, but that very few people actually achieve because it’s not possibly to “achieve” authenticity. The more you try, the more you’re just manipulating the situation. These are concepts that require you to just…let go. Yesterday I read a portion of Jesus Lives on the topic of attitude. (Jesus Lives is that devotional book where one page is written as if Jesus is talking to you, and the other page lists a few relevant Bible verses that inform whatever the topic of that day’s devotional be.) This quote stuck in my head:

“Those hurtful thoughts also affect your relationship with Me, and they may have a depressive effect on you. The remedy lies in turning to Me and seeking My forgiveness. Then, ask My Spirit to control your mind and help you think My thoughts. This is the way of Life and Peace.

We need to let go of whatever is holding us back from being authentic and vulnerable, whether it’s something about our attitude or something in our past or just overwhelming fear. I have found that letting that go – more specifically, asking God to take it from me – is the only way I can proceed. Thoughts are dangerous intangible notions that seem harmless but actually do a great deal of damage when they’re not focused on something good. I need God to liberate me from my own mind by taking control of it and guiding my thoughts into a good place of peace and kindness.

Kindness is another thing I’ve thought a lot about lately. There’s this video by zefrank, a really cool YouTube-er that I am getting into, called “Kindness Dammit.” I’ll link it, because it’s worth your time. He describes kindness as being like shards of light that shine out of each person, and hit other people and help them to shine even brighter. Everything is easier when people are kind to each other and kind about each other. No matter who we’re talking to – no matter what you think of them or how much you have in common – we should be kind to them. And by being kind about each other, I mean controlling what we think about them – making our thoughts about people as kind as our actions toward them.

Why is kindness something that people excuse themselves from? Why would we allow ourselves to be unkind to anyone? If you operate from a place of kindness, people are more likely to listen to what you have to say. The kinder I am in a given day, the happier I am. Even if I’m not in a great mood, being kind to those around me improves my attitude. My aunt gave me this button that describes a good chunk of my philosophy on what I should do with my life. It says, “One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.” Lewis Carroll said that. Alice in Wonderland guy. He was cool.

Kind people are the most attractive souls. Those unconditionally kind people just know what’s up, and nothing can shake their joy. No matter how rude or angsty you are toward them, they will continue to love you. That’s the way to live. It takes courage to be that authentic. But whole-hearted living I think not only involves telling people your whole story honestly and living your whole story honestly, but also living it kindly. Having the courage to be joyful and shine that joy on even the people who don’t want to see it and the people toward which you find it hard to be kind. The harder it is, the more reason to do it. That is relevant to many areas of my life. The hardest things are the things most worth doing, as the saying goes.

A recurring theme throughout my thinking about these things has been the idea of inner peace. That has also been a pervasive theme of the past year or so. (The Junior Year, which I’ve not taken the time to really process yet. Maybe when I go home in a couple weeks and am alone in my room with nothing to distract me, things will start to make me feel them.) In the midst of busyness, inner peace is necessary. We need to remind ourselves that time with Jesus is necessary to put our hearts at peace – truly at peace, despite circumstances and responsibilities. Inner peace produces a heart that can easily practice kindness and live whole-heartedly. If my heart is dusted and polished and rinsed clean, it can beat for others, rather than constantly struggling to keep itself alive.

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\ˈfā-vər\

I noticed something in my life since my last post, which helps explain it a little bit. I stand by what I said about being a little weary of having life-changing revelations all the time. However, I realized that I was not really learning much at all. With learning and growing, as in all areas of life, balance is key. The key is to remain open and malleable to God massaging your brain a little bit, without seeking out thrilling or intense experiences for spiritual highs that will inevitably be short-lived.

The problem was that I wasn’t trying to grow or learn or change. I was stagnating a little bit, and that will happen, but hopefully I’ll recognize it a little more quickly next time.

After finishing 2 Corinthians, I have been in a shifting-around-what-to-read-next stage. I finally settled on Psalms a few days ago. For a long time, I have actually sort of been avoiding Psalms. When I was younger, I used to open to Psalms almost every time I opened my Bible because it seemed to be the most accessible book, and I wanted to be able to read an impressive amount in a short amount of time. After growing up a smidge, I started to avoid Psalms because I wanted to put more thought and effort into reading the Bible. Which, as I’ve said, has made me quite unfamiliar with the book, especially considering I couldn’t have read it that carefully back in the day.

My prayer life fluctuates much more than it should, and the Psalms provide great models for praying. They’re beautiful and instructive. My hope is that they will guide me more and more into a life of constant prayer.

I started at the beginning, and am reading as much or as little each time as I can comprehend and contemplate. But the other day, I was talking with my boyfriend about Psalm 5. About its call for justice and its emphasis on the victory of the righteous and the defeat of the wicked. I read it later on my own, and wrote down verse 12:

“For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.”

A few weeks ago, I found Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition, at a garage sale. It’s from 1940. They’re now on the 11th edition. #perspective 

Oh, dear. I just hash tagged mid-blog. Whoops.

This does have a point, which is what I’m coming to. I love being able to look up words in a physical dictionary. The buzzwords from Psalm 5:12 were “righteous” and “favor.” Fifth ed. Webster’s definition of “righteous” was pretty standard: “Doing, or according with, that which is right; upright; equitable; esp., free from wrong or sin; virtuous.”

When I looked up “favor,” I found a small paragraph – a long list that proved eye-opening when applied to the relationship between God and his people. A relatively concise list of Webster’s defining characteristics of favor:

-regard or esteem
-an act or instance of kindness; a concession or privilege
-help; assistance; a token of love
-indulgence; permission; partiality
-favorable regard; support
-approving; endorsing; in accord or sympathy with
-to treat carefully; to spare
-to oblige; to show kindness to
-to afford advantages for success
-to give support to; to sustain
-to resemble in features, as a child favors his father 

God grants favor to the righteous. He holds them in esteem, shows them kindness, and gives them privileges. He helps us and shows us partiality. He supports and sustains us. He approves and spares us. He helps us toward success. We resemble Him in features because He is our Father.

There are many passages in which the Bible talks about certain people having God’s favor, or God granting favor to his people. But the word “favor” has become routine reading for me, as has the word “blessed.” It is read and spoken so often that I find myself glossing over its complete meaning and thus failing to recognize its significance.

Psalm 30:4-5…11-12
“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning…You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

There is simply no excuse for dwelling on my shortcomings and God’s hatred of my sin when the part that lasts is his favor. His regard. esteem. kindness. help. love. indulgence. partiality. support. approval. sympathy. care.

Proverbs 3:3-4
“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.”

I’m looking forward to spending some time with Psalm 37:
“The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever leading generously, and his children become a blessing.”
–verses 23-26

The picture in my head is of a child being lifted up from the floor by a father’s hand, the way dads can pull kids up from butt to feet with a one-handed half-lift. The father reaching down and the child reaching up.

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