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Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Pressure”…a bad word?

“I just feel so much.….pressure.  Pressure to be something great, to make all the right choices, to be perfect, and I can’t do it….I’m just me, I can’t live up to all that everyone wants me to be!”

The words fell out of her nineteen year old mouth as she shared her heart with me.  My heart, it sunk as I listened to what could have been a recording of my very own thoughts during different periods of my life.  And the “everyone” that she was referring to….I knew she meant me…which is all the worse. 

“Pressure” ran through my head as she spoke.  I recalled my college days, working so hard to “be” everything that I perceived every important person in my life expected me to be.  I intensely felt that pressure.  It motivated me, it scheduled my life, and it pushed me to my limit, then I stopped.  I stopped doing the things that I thought were “expected” of me even though it broke my heart as I imagined how I was deeply disappointing those that I most loved and respected.  I wanted them to be proud of me.

I thought that fulfilling all their dreams as a first-born child, first grandchild, oldest sister, best friend would make me feel worthy of love.  I thought that if I worked hard enough and showed them all that I was ok, regardless of my mistake that had brought tragedy and pain into all of our lives, then I could somehow prove to them that my life was worth their sacrifice.  But I couldn’t do it anymore.  Despite my worst fear, that I would never be fully loved for just me, I stepped back from the list of demands that I had created and the “pressure” that they had ensued.

All of these memories, thoughts and feelings whirled through my head as my baby sister released the “pressure” that has been building up in her.  My gut reaction was “I don’t want to be that pressure in her life.” My automatic thought was pressure=controlling. 

I heard myself say, “there’s no pressure, we just want you to be safe, to be you, we love you – before you ever make a ‘good or bad,’ ‘right or wrong,’ decision; before you ever do anything, you are loved, just as you are.” And that’s true.

I know I responded that way because I don’t want to be that adult.  You know, the controlling, manipulative, living life vicariously through the next generation, adult.  I never want her to see anything but love and safety when she thinks of me – yes, sometimes I do live in that make-believe world.

Then, I had to back peddle. 

Pressure is absolutely necessary in life.  Without the pressure of a string on one side and a sturdy stick on the other, a vine would never grown upwards – the fruit would rot on the ground.  The slightest pressure on a bit in a horse’s mouth gives the 1,500 pound animal a boundary, the pressure of a little leg on the horse’s side tells it to move forward.  The pressure of fingers against clay makes useful vessels.  Pressure causes coal to be turned into a diamond.  Pressure encourages growth, moves us forward, causes us to reach higher.  It comes in the forms of competition, pain, necessity, passion, inner drive and outer push. 

Obviously, there are types of pressure that are destructive, that crumble and break.  There is that self-seeking, controlling, abusive, and manipulative pressure that makes one cringe. That makes me want to run far away from the word and carry no identification with it.

I had to face reality though.  I do “pressure” my sister.  I remind her of the promises she has made. I remind her of the standard that she has invited into her life and that it entails.  I see her goals and I cheer her on to reach higher.  I encourage her to make wise choices, hard choices. I tell her that she is made for greatness and beam with pride as she proves me right every day.  “Pressure” looks a lot like love.

Do you know what?  When I stopped living according to the perceived expectations of my loved ones, nobody stopped loving me.  I’m sure I did (and still do) disappoint many, but they didn’t turn on me, they didn’t disown me, they let me be me. Those that I respected the most and that I was most worried about disappointing – they love me unconditionally and now I am certain of it. 

As I’ve pondered this word “pressure,” I recognize that today I choose a life with a measure of pressure.  Deadlines, goals, dreams, challenges, they are all a form of “pressure”– they help me to be the most that I can be, to have a fruitful life, to grow in love. So maybe “pressure” isn’t a bad word after all.

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Imagine…

As I have been recognizing the amount of time that I spend thinking about what I don’t have, I’ve noticed something else that gets in my way of fully engaging in today…my imagination.

Let me clarify, there are two sides to imagination, there is the gift of imagination that spurs creativity, inspiration, discernment, wisdom, revelation, insight, compassion and dreams. This imagination causes me to reach higher, set goals, put myself in the shoes of others, it cause me to build up, it’s outcome is joy.

But there is also a side to imagination that works destruction in my life, it tears me down and wrecks my faith.  It’s this imagination that I’ve been thinking about lately.

I’ve had to remind myself my imagination is fiction – it is not my reality.  Yet, I often base my real feelings of who God is, and His faithfulness, His goodness, His love on my imagination and subsequent expectation.

This imagination can be about who I am as well.  I decide if I’m good or bad, doing well or failing, I build myself up or beat myself down based on what I imagine being a good person or a good Christian looks like.  I imagine myself to be less than what God declares me to be, or I imagine myself to be deserving of more or different than what He has deemed best for me.  Then, I base the measure of my faith, my trust and my confidence in how and when I imagine God should be fulfilling His promises.I come to trust that imagination and give it value, it becomes a counterfeit to the Holy Spirit, which is Truth, purely and wholly.

Lately, I’ve been reminded of dreams that I’ve had for my life.  My seventeen-year-old dream for my future was college, career, marriage, family. My dreams at 22, 23 and every year after that – imagining that each was the best year for me to fall in love and get married, that each year held promise of wealth and “ministry” or fame, I imagined countless ways to “bless” others, to show my value, to see my value, to believe my value.  I imagined conversations that never happened, I imagined conversations that did happen and all the ways they could have gone better.  I imagined countless scenarios based on my fears of how one’s action may impact their own life and the lives of those that love them.  I imagined things in people’s hearts and imagined that I knew what was best for their life.

My imagination has caused me to worry, to fret, to fear, to judge, to criticize, to slander, to accuse, to hope falsely, to speak out of time, to doubt in God’s care of me, to beg and plead for solutions that would be a flash in the pan – short-lived and of no consequence.  My imagination has gotten in the way of my growth, of my faith, of my hope.  It has caused my eyes to see dimly and has blocked my ears from hearing that which would be true and pure and right – that which I could firmly plant my feet on.  It has caused me to live so much of my life in a fictitious future instead of a full, and beautiful, glory-filled today.  My imagination has caused me to lean upon my own understanding – plotting routes through an alternate world when before me has always been a humble, narrow path that leads to a small gate, opening to a world so far beyond what I could ever, really, imagine.  Why is it that we so often trust our reasoning, fictional, self-based logic so much more than God’s constant, unchanging, rock solid, proven Word?

In it all I see those stories, those futures, those pictures that have filled my head, fed my fears, and consumed my time….none of them have come to pass.  What has really come to pass in my life has been drastically different.  It has truly been far outside of what my mind could have ever thought to dream up.  It has far exceeded my highest hope.  I have been given what I couldn’t have even known to pray for.  Despite my imagination, I’ve known with the deepest part of me, that God’s ways are higher than my ways, I know nothing and He knows everything.  What I see and feel is untrustworthy and He is steadfast.  In that, He gives me the ability to push aside my imagination and to see the truth, to love it, to pursue it, and to hold on to it regardless of what storms surround me.  In His love, He always gives me a passageway to freedom, and those paths have never looked like my imagination.

I’m learning to let go of tomorrow.  God has good plans for me, He knows what my dreams are, He knows what brings me joy, He knows what I need to overcome, He knows what He planted in me before I was ever born, He knows what I need, what I hope for, and how He is going to bring it about.  My imagination is only getting in the way, giving me unnecessary pain, causing me to feel entitled, trying to ebb away at my faith and diminish my trust.  It is keeping me from seeing today what He has for me, it is keeping me from hearing the still small voice that says, “This is the way; walk in it.”