Reality Reflection: Hope and Freedom

Today I’m thinking about the sometimes elusive feeling, being, and experience of hope. You may not even really recognize that it’s not in your life, but when it reappears suddenly you realize how long you’ve gone without feeling it. In that moment you might feel a little shame or discomfort, but the feeling I really want you to focus on is the joy that comes along with experiencing hope again.

There’s something almost magical about the spark, light and warmth that hope brings with it. You feel alive again, or like you’re waking up after a very long time asleep. Hope is a reminder that maybe things aren’t that bad, and even if they are, there’s something worth working towards. Hope is the encouragement to keep going even in the face of difficult odds and obstacles.

Freedom is directly connected with hope; it’s believing in something better, choosing a standard of living that’s respectful of your value and the value of others, and taking action to support those beliefs and values. Freedoms happen because people had hope in something and worked to make it a reality.

But as we all know, sometimes those freedoms and realities are a long time coming. Sometimes we don’t see the instant results that we’re hoping for (and expecting in this fast-food, fast-technology world), which discourages us. When we see things going downhill rather than upward like we want we can lose our tentative hold on hope.

If it’s been a while since you experienced hope in your life I want to encourage you to stick it out. The hope you’re waiting for may be just around the corner. Sometimes that may mean that you have to do something to find hope again or ask for help, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, hope and freedom may be waiting for you to do exactly that.

If you’re blessed to have hope in your life right now I invite you to share how hope is encouraging you below in the comments.  What do you have hope for or in today?

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Simple Freedoms

I can’t believe that we’re this close to the end of another month! As we focus on the topic of freedom for just a few more days I got to thinking about one of the trends that’s really been sweeping the world: simplifying. Countless people are discarding clothes, books, kitchen items, papers, furniture, decorations and other items that they don’t use, don’t like or don’t need, and some even go so far as to downsize their home too. I think most of us have at least a few items that we can get rid of, whether it’s that shirt that doesn’t really fit anymore or those gardening tools that you haven’t used in several years. It’s easier and often cheaper to replace things today so don’t let the fear of not having it or not being able to get it be the reason you hold onto it anymore.

But let’s get back to the topic here: freedom. When you’ve got less you do have more freedom. You can do more with your resources, including finances and time, and you feel more open because your life isn’t full of clutter or “some days”. Sometimes the biggest freedom we’re desiring is just the feeling of freedom, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day.

The good news here is that freedom doesn’t have to be complicated or take lots of money or time to be invested before you’re experiencing freedom. Sometimes all it takes is saying “no,” letting go just a little, or actively choosing to do one thing differently than you have in the past. What positive impact could simplifying your life have on you?

Standing Up for What You Believe

A big part of the Bible are the people who stood up for what they believed. As we look at our topic of freedom this month, that’s one of the biggest keys to having freedom: standing up for what you want and going after it. We’ve got people of all ages who stood up for a family member, their people, or God; some lived because of it and some died because of it. But because of their bravery and willingness to be honest about who they were, what mattered to them and what they believed was right, we’ve got some amazing stories and people we can look up to as we navigate our own life journeys.

We could look at many examples but the one that came to mind today was the story of Solomon and the two women who both claimed to be the mother to a child. The story goes that both women had sons but one of them died during the night and the women were both claiming that the living child was theirs. Solomon, using the wisdom that God gave him, said that he would cut the child in half because both women refused to back down, so they would each get half. He knew of course, as the story tells us, that the real mother would say that the child should live and be given to the other lady so that her son would not die. Solomon quickly hands the child over to the real mother and everyone was amazed.

Of course, there are tons of ways that story could have gone, but we know that Solomon had God’s wisdom and true parents want their children to live and thrive even if it can’t be with them, but it still took bravery on both Solomon and the true mother’s part to even go down that path.

We don’t usually end up in a situation nearly as serious as Solomon and these mothers did, but we still have choices to make each day about whether we stand up for what we believe or if we let ourselves and others down. We all have moments of weakness and doubt, but when we remember that God has a plan for our lives that will ultimately end up being good for us, we can be strong and make the choices that we need to. How will you stand up today?

Reality Reflection: What Adventure Did You Choose?

Each week, each day, we make thousands of choices in our lives.  Our life is like one of those “choose your own adventure” books in which the choice you make determines what happens next.  One thing may not ruin the ending, or bring us closer to success, but each choice we make does have an impact on our lives.  If you make a really wrong choice you’ll end up on countless evening news stations as the talk of the day (or those crazy afternoon shows if you really mess up).  But if you make a really good choice you’ll find doors opening for you and relationship possibilities you never thought could happen.

As a child I must have read the one or two of those books that I tried from cover to cover several times trying different endings.  It was pretty frustrating because I do like a story to have a happy ending (I gave the series up pretty quickly), but it was a good reminder that unfortunately, unlike the books, we can’t go back and make a different decision if we don’t like how it ended up.

With every choice, action, or lack thereof making an impact on your future you would think more of us would do the right thing more often.  It can get frustrating that we don’t see the progress, but one day we’ll realize exactly how far we’ve come and how many pages we’ve turned and we’ll either be thrilled or mad. Every decision we make has an impact on our lives.  We can choose to have a positive impact on our lives and the lives of others, we can choose to do as little damage as possible on the world or we can choose to just do whatever and let the cards fall as they may.  I don’t know about you but I’d rather have a say in my future, and the future of the world.

If you were to turn the page and find that tomorrow morning your story ended, how would you feel?  Choose to make this a week that gets you even a little closer to your goals.

“Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.” Lyndon B. Johnson

Your Freedom, My Freedom, Our Freedoms?

One of the biggest challenges we have when it comes to freedom is that what freedom looks like to me may not be what freedom looks like for you. That’s not a challenge in the sense of it being bad that we each like different things and want different things in our lives (that can be a very good thing), the challenge comes in when my freedoms take away or block your freedoms, or I try to take away your freedoms for no reason. The US Constitution talks about the freedom of speech for example. It wouldn’t be much of a freedom if it said that only politicians were allowed to speak freely and not their constituents or reporters.

But at the same time there does have to be a line drawn somewhere because, in an extreme example, we can’t have people who love killing others to be free to do that, because then their victims aren’t free to live their lives. So how do we find that right ground, or can we? Most would say we haven’t found that middle ground yet because there are still parts of the world that are under extreme laws and restrictions and face death on a regular basis. And there’s only so much we can do to change their minds about the value of people having freedoms, especially the freedom to be different. We also can’t force everyone to behave and not kill, steal, hurt or do evil, we can only encourage everyone to be respectful of everyone else.

I don’t have to like your freedoms, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t respect you and give you the ability to state your opinions or do your own thing. I don’t have to like that you have certain spiritual beliefs, I don’t have to like that you enjoy hunting, and I don’t have to enjoy that you love going skiing, but that doesn’t mean that I have any right to be violent or nasty towards you for liking those things, because I want you to be nice towards me when I like things that you don’t like. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have conversations about and try to persuade each other to change those choices, because we certainly can. But it does mean being willing to step outside of our comfort zone to allow others to be free to be who they are, so that we can be who we are.

This week I encourage you to think about the impact that your actions have on others. Are you giving people the freedoms to be themselves or are you trying to fit them into your preferred preferences?

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  Nelson Mandela

Do You Hear God?

Today I’ve been thinking about one of the earlier references to Samuel that we know of in the Bible. It’s when he’s bedded down for the night at the temple and he hears a voice (you can read the whole story in 1 Samuel 3). The voice calls to him, he thinks it’s the priest but it’s not. The third time this happens the priest realizes God is calling Samuel and tells him to say “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Of course what goes on to happen is God calls to Samuel again, tells him some important information and then continues to talk with Samuel for the rest of his life and ministry. I encourage you to explore the story for yourself, but I want to highlight a few things that stand out to me today.

First, God’s persistence. I find it interesting that God didn’t give up on the first or second try, He really wanted to speak with Samuel, and He was willing to be patient enough to make it happen. In some ways I think God was patient because of Samuel’s young age, but in other ways I think He would be equally patient for us if we showed active willingness to listen.

Second, the message. The message, given to this young boy (some research estimates he was about 12 at the time), wasn’t all roses and sunshine. I think what amazes me most is that God knew the plan He had for Samuel, knew he could handle a message like this and didn’t sugar coat it just because he was young. I know I’m more inclined to protect the young and not share the horrors and reality of the world with them, but at the same time I know it’s important that they don’t grow up with rose colored glasses and have a jarring reality check when they become adults.

Finally, Samuel was honest about the message. As we’ve discussed it wasn’t a fantastic message, but when he was asked about it by the priest, he was honest about it, even though there was some not great news for the priest in it. I don’t like delivering bad news as an adult, so I can’t imagine how difficult it was to deliver that news as a pre-teen. But again, God knew what He was doing and Samuel passed along the message.

As you go about your life this week I encourage you to be persistent and honest, work on trusting others, communicating with others and listening both for God and to what others have to say.

Reality Reflection: A Little Screw Up

Today I’m thinking about those screw ups that we sometimes do. A friend of mine got pulled over by the police recently for not taking sufficient time at the stop sign, and it got me thinking. Just because my friend got pulled over it doesn’t mean they’re a terrible person. The same could be said about people who cheat on their partner, those who steal, those who get into accidents, those who swear or those who are messy. No one is perfect, but sometimes we make a really big deal about the things they do that aren’t so great, regardless of how big of a deal it really was.

Of course, there are bad people out there, some people belong in jail or punished or with limited privileges. Some people can learn from their mistakes and make changes and live better going forward, while others never do. I hurt for the people who fit into that ‘bad’ category and wish they could see the light of living life a different way.

Do I think that we all could do a better job with our lives, of course. We’ve all got room for improvement. But sometimes I think we poke at and pick out those flaws because we’re scared or we want to look better than them, or because we feel we don’t measure up, or we didn’t get forgiveness when we needed it or we like to make others feel bad. While I hope you’re not the type of person who enjoys making others feel bad, those types of bullies are out there and we do deal with them on a regular basis. If you’re busy poking at someone else’s issues I encourage you to take a look at your own life, reflect on your motivations about why you do that and consider changing how you interact with others.

If you have been screwing up a lot lately or find that people point out how flaws and issues, maybe it is time for you to take a look at what you’re doing or how you’re interacting with people. I love personal growth and think that we’ve all got room to grow and improve, and sometimes we need to hear it from others how we can improve (of course there’s a nice way and a not-so-nice way to do it). So first and foremost don’t be discouraged, you’ve still got time and opportunity to improve, each day is a new opportunity to shine.