Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Giving Up & Embracing: Lenten Spiritual Disciplines

I wrote this post on Sunday. Then I almost decided not to post it at all, partly because I felt a little shy about sharing something this honest about my shortcomings. It also may seem a little wacky. But then I thought, what better time of year than Lent to post something this wackily honest? So here it is...


I had what I think is a God-given spiritual insight today. It sounds simple, but it’s something I think I need to grasp and hold onto tightly with both hands. It’s simply this: the enemy can’t defeat us on ground we haven’t ceded.

I was having a deep spiritual struggle this afternoon. I had been fighting a deep sense of failure for much of the afternoon – failure as a mom, a wife, a friend, a provider, a nurturer, a writer. You name it, if it was part of my vocation, I felt like I was totally failing in it. Mostly especially I was feeling, very deeply, failures in the first three categories – all the relational ones.

Then I had a fight with my ten year old about her messy room. I reacted impatiently and angrily to small things, mostly because I was letting everything she did and said play into that terrible pit of failure I was living out of. Of course she didn’t want to clean her room – not because she was a normal ten year old, but because I had failed as a parent to instill in her a sense of discipline. That’s the kind of beating I was letting myself take inwardly. (And while I’m not saying there’s not a lot of truth to the fact that I need to teach and model a whole better than I’m doing, I don’t think God wants me to feel browbeaten and defeated about the challenge.)

The hits just kept coming. My husband and daughter left to spend some time together, and I found myself cleaning the messy house and feeling ferociously a failure at every turn. Even housekeeping. Even this. Even that.

It was at my lowest ebb that I finally realized I was getting beat up. So I started to fight back. I don’t often shake my fist at the enemy the way Luther did, but today, I needed to. So I did. I started telling the enemy, in the name of Jesus, that he could take a hike. I told him that he could not tell me I wasn’t good enough, because I don’t need to be good enough, I only need to hold onto God’s grace and righteousness. I told him that he couldn’t slam me for the amount of spiritual growth there might or might not be in my daughter’s life, because I’m not ultimately responsible for that growth – I am a seed planter and waterer, and only God can make things grow. I told him he couldn’t slam me for not being beautiful, because God has made me beautiful. I told him he couldn’t get me to give into anxiety, because I was casting my cares on God. I told him he couldn’t trip me up by making me ungrateful about my life, because I was choosing to be grateful.

All that time, I was cleaning and organizing. We’ve had a broken dryer for a long time, but even before dealing with laundromats, we were dealing with a dryer that ran too hot, and it kept shrinking our sheets. We haven’t been able to afford really good sheets in a long time, and there’s something about not wanting to spend money on good ones that you know are going to shrink or scorch anyway. But having sheets that don’t fit well and slip off the mattress really bugs my husband. It bugs me too, but it’s a real nuisance for him. He finally gave in the other day and bought a new fitted sheet on sale. It’s not the best quality, but it’s a new sheet, and I was wrestling to put it on and realizing that we really need a new top sheet too. I ended up putting on a top sheet from a pile of sheets we got from my mother-in-law, only they’re not quite big enough.

All the time I’m dealing with making the bed, the enemy – that terrible sneak – starts pushing and prodding at me to get mad about the sheets. He’s trying to trip me up on something so small that I don’t even notice. I’m starting to grumble and growl about the sheets and how tired I am of having sheets that aren’t soft and don’t fit or sheets that have scorch marks. Seriously. Sheets. And then – are you ready for this? – he brings to mind some sheets I slept on a couple of years ago, when visiting my older sister. They were gorgeous sheets. Seriously. Soft and satiny and fresh smelling and just lovely in every way, and I remember slipping under them and feeling just amazed that sheets could ever feel that way. And the stupid enemy – you know what he’s doing? He’s trying to get me to fall into envy OVER SHEETS.

I know this is weird, but I’m explaining it in such detail because of what it led me to. As I’m falling under the onrushing bus of envy, it suddenly hits me – I DON’T HAVE TO. I took this ground back from the enemy a long time ago. When we made the decision to stay here, to embrace a life of ministry and mission and homeschooling, we embraced simplicity. That was the discipline of engagement. We also, at the same time, renounced certain material things and the dreams of other material things, like having a house. That’s the discipline of letting go. I told the enemy – you know what, you can’t get me here either. Because I let go of my need for nice sheets a long time ago. Because I can be grateful for the few nights I had sleeping with nice ones at my sister’s. Because there are people in this world who have no sheets, or blankets, or beds. Sorry, buster, but there’s no playing field here. You lose again.

And it’s true. Of course, the fact that he could still make headway shows that I’ve still got some sheet envy in me. (Go ahead. Laugh. It’s good for the soul.) But it also shows what a pathetic attack strategy he really has. And most of all, it showed me anew the importance of those disciplines of relinquishment and engagement. We may think those are small moves we make, the little things we willingly (or not so willingly) give up, but they matter. They matter to our soul’s health. And when we willingly put ourselves in the love of the Father, who truly knows our needs, and daily give up and daily embrace what he asks, he will use those little relinquishments and embraces to make us stronger and more stable when attacks – paltry or big – come, as they surely will. When we find ourselves in a place of anger or sadness or despair or self-pity, that’s when the enemy sometimes tries to trip us up on the small stuff, the old stuff. But you know what? He can’t if we won’t play.

The enemy cannot defeat us on ground we haven’t ceded.

And if we find ourselves ceding it again? In the name of Jesus, who hallowed that ground, we can step boldly forward and take it back.



Edna said...

Amen! I think I needed to read this today :-). Thank you for your honesty. We all have "sheet envy" of some sort or another, and most of it is pretty ridiculous when you get right down to it. The point that is sticking with me is that you had already made the decision about simplicity and needed to remember it. It just came to me that it's similar in my life--I've made the decision to trust God with bringing me a husband (if it's His will and by whatever means He sees fit) and if He says "no" (which He recently did). . .well, I did already decide He was in charge--or, more accurately, that I was going to submit to His plan and not mine. So. . . there it is. Thanks!

Erin said...


For me, my biggest downfall is anxiety, and fear can become paralyzing or make me act erratic. It's hard, when I'm in that state of mind, to battle it back. There definitely are times when I've felt under attack. I'm so sorry you've had to deal with so much, but hang in there, and thanks for helping me hang in there too. :) God's got his eye on us all!

Beth said...

Edna, isn't that a wonderful thing to remember? If we've already made the big choices, then when the little battles and temptations come, we are ready. And the converse seems true in so many ways as well. Making the seemingly "little" decisions each day builds us up and helps us when we face a major crossroads.

I'm glad my honest rambles were edifying. :)

Beth said...

Oh, Erin, I hear you. When we're in an anxious state, it really is hard to do battle. I think those are the times when we sometimes have to let other people battle for us -- hence the need to let others know when we need prayer!

I wasn't anxious so much the other day so much as just plain down -- and frustrated. I started battling back out of desperation, and was very grateful that the Lord not only helped me through, but helped me to some realizations that will help me again on down the road!

Very thankful we can help each other "hang in." I know there's a lot going on for you and your family right now -- and I am continuing to hold you all in my prayers!