Monday, December 23, 2013

Wired for Reward

It didn't take much convincing.

"I'll give you a dollar when you're done," she told me, and I was off and running toward the driveway.

Growing up, my mom offered a dollar to any child willing to vacuum and wash her car.  The thought of that crisp dollar bill lingered in my mind as I picked up the car trash, dragged out the vacuum, scrubbed the hubcaps until they shone.

We all have our versions of "dollar bill" rewards.  We were wired that way.    

We toil long hours, we sweat profusely, we do the things we despise the most so that in the end, we get the reward we long for.  Sometimes it's money -- sometimes a promotion -- sometimes a degree -- sometimes a slimmer figure.

For many of us, we subtly chase the reward of validation.  We long to be told that we're doing a good job.  We long for others to see our tireless labors.  We want others to notice our effort, affirm our work ethic, applaud our successes, and commiserate in our sadness.  There's nothing wrong with reward.  It's a Biblical principle that God invented and delights in.

But as a mom, much of my labor happens behind closed doors.  Perhaps yours does too.  No one sees it.  No one notices.  No one comments on the hours spend playing with, training, praying for, and providing for my children's needs.

And so, the reward that I long for -- I chase after.

It's reward that I look for when I tell people just how many times that day I cleaned up vomit or announce how few hours of sleep I got the previous night.
It's reward that I chase when my husband returns and I recount every hard detail of every difficult moment.
It's reward that I want when I mentally compare my accomplishments with those of other moms.

And typically, I get the reward that I want.  People fawn over my efforts and sympathize with labors and shower me with phrases like, "you poor thing," and "how do you do it all," and "what an amazing mother you are!"

But am I settling for a reward too small?  Jesus seemed to think so.

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others
Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
(Matthew 6:1-2)

Do you realize that there's reward in Heaven for you?  And do you realize that when we chase after reward here on earth, even in subtle ways, that validation is the only reward we receive?  We actually forfeit the reward in heaven -- the very thing our hearts long for. 

Don't settle the praise of men.  Don't live for the "good jobs!" or the "I'm so impressed!" of others.   As you faithfully serve your family and no one notices, don't chase after the fleeting reward of validation.  Something greater awaits you in heaven.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Community: God's Response to Isolation (Part 2)

If isolation is a dark enemy, then godly community is your closest friend. 
  • If isolation slowly destroys the soul, then godly community provides the nurturing balm.
  • And if isolation stems rooted in pride and resentment, then godly community requires humility and gratitude.
Biblical community is the obvious choice.  But in the moment of sadness, loneliness, discouragement, and envy of others, Biblical community may be the hardest choice.  And how do we get there when we feel so alienated from others?

The God who created us for the community, also gives us the first step to pursuing it.    He declares --

 There is a COMMONALITY among all believers.

The word "commonality" may cause your hairs to stand on end.  

They know nothing of what I've been through.
They're at a totally different stage of life.
We couldn't be anymore different.

But the Bible speaks different words:

 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Isolation is a very real emotion.  But according to God's Word, it's not actually a Biblical option.  Circumstances may be unique.  Situations may vary.  But the longings of the heart, the temptations of the flesh, the struggle and sadness of suffering; they are common to all.

That mom sitting next to you who hasn't lived through a miscarriage or a child's disability. 

I bet she's struggled with crushed dreams.  Crushed dreams are common to man. 

That woman in your church with the spacious house, new car, and who seems to have it all together.

She's likely tempted towards jealousy of other moms.  Jealousy is common to man. 

That woman on FaceBook who always posts the "happy moments" in her home and latest Pinterest projects.

She longs to feel affirmed and appreciated by others.   Those longings are common to man.

And the feeling of isolation that creeps in and whispers that no one else can understand?  No one can relate?  No one has walked this road before and everyone else has it better?
That's common to man, too. 

Because in our isolation, we focus far too much on our circumstances, and how no one else's can quite match up.  But in a pursuit of community -- we look past our unique circumstances to the common desires and the common struggles of the heart that emerge.

There is both joy and heartache to parenthood, and every parent experiences both --  regardless of what they post on social media.

There is blessing and struggle in every marriage, regardless of how it looks from the outside.

There is pain and there is sweetness to every stage of life. 

There are unmet longings for every person, in every home, in every neighborhood, in every nation.  

You have all things in common.  You may not see it, but it's true.  And believing it is the first step to Biblical community and navigating through your very personal, very painful, circumstances.

So where do we begin when the feelings of isolation begin to suffocate us?  Know that you don't have to stay there.  Be with others.  Believe the best about others.  Stop the comparisons with others.  Look past your circumstances to the longings and temptations of the heart.

You are not alone.