I woke up this morning, looked at my planner and breathed a deep sigh of relief..nothing scheduled! I immediately processed through what my peaceful “me-time” would look like: a good workout at the gym, a little house cleaning, editing some pictures from my latest photo shoot, getting a jump on my bible study for the week, maybe, dare I say…a nap??? But the first order of business? Going out to check on my semi-neglected pool. Ahhhh, my swimming pool. My place of rest and enjoyment. I am a Pisces. A water lover. No, not a water liker, a water LOVER! My pool is my baby and I work hard to keep it crystal clear all season long. If it gets warm enough today, I thought, I might even get in! Well, those were my plans anyway. Then came a reality check.
As fall approaches, I tend to get a little lax on my pool cleaning. Back to school is hectic, my photography business is in full swing, and I just don’t have the same level of time and inclination to clean the pool as I do over the summer. So, over the past few weeks, I found myself stepping out onto our deck to check out and assess what I could see of the pool from a safe, easy-denial distance, and smile at the clean top layer of water that I could see. After all, I gave it a thorough cleaning not too long ago, added all of the right chemicals and treatments, cleaned the filter, washed the sides, scrubbed the ladder and even gave it an extra dose of chlorine to last for a while. All so I could sit back and rest for a few weeks without having to interrupt my life with pool maintenance. This morning, I knew I had to face the unknown…what condition is the pool REALLY in when I get up close and look deep to the bottom?
My face was squinted, nose crinkled and mouth twisted to one side, not really wanting to look as I approached, hesitant and embarrased at what I would probably find upon close inspection. Aaaand yes. Ugh. Under that delightful, welcoming top layer of clear water, visible from the safety of my deck, was the hidden layer of green sludge, debris and,well, let’s just call it what it is…neglect, just hanging out there at the bottom. Yep, my day was about to change.
As I retrieved my supplies and poked in my extra-long handled net to scrape the bottom of the pool, 3 or 4 weeks of murk and mire began to swirl and surface in total agitation and disruption. This level of filth was not going to be undone with my regular routine cleaning. This was going to be an all-day event.
As I was silently praying through my selfish regret at this relax-day antithesis that is my dirty pool, God graciously opened my eyes to the truth about how I tend to approach life. I know the importance of biblical study, prayer, fellowship, imparting truth to our children, keeping Christ central in our marriage and parenting, filtering what we watch, say, think and do through the gracious calling on our lives to honor and glorify God. But what I am realizing this morning, is that I can have a tendency to jump into these things, exercise these truths, teach our children, invest in our marriage and so on…all so that I can take a relax-day…or week or two or three! Often when I heap these “chemicals, treatments and practices” of truth into my swimming pool of family and life, I want to sit back and watch as the fruits of my labor grant me peace, relaxation and ease of life for a bit…sometimes, the expectation is for a very long bit. I want a protected period of time when I don’t have to worry, labor, invest, seek and battle for marriage, kids, family and self. I want that pool to be clean for more than a day!
Hmmmm…Matthew 6 is quickly coming to mind. Righteousness is not something to practice and be seen, it’s a humble work of the spirit through the blood of Christ and giving rather receiving is the mark of transformation. Ongoing, humble, private prayer before a sovereign God who knows my every need before I even utter a word, asking for His truth daily and for Him to be glorified is how He calls me into His presence. Moths and vermin will only eat up and destroy anything earthly I attempt to store up for my own satisfaction…even my self-wrought treasure of solace of mind and body. Treasuring Him alone brings life. Treasuring all else is futile for where my treasure is, so can be found my heart. I don’t want my heart found in the earthly realm, tied to the things of this world. I am to give over all worry and fear born of my infantile faith so that trust in Him alone will flourish. And finally, to wrap this all in a nice bow and bind these truths together with the practical how in the world do I do these things…comes the mandate to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33. What things? All things He alone deems necessary, good, worthy and right in my life. That will never be defined as a forced day of peace and relaxation on my terms alone. That won’t even necessarily be defined as kids who walk a straight and narrow path at all times. That will definitely not be defined as a life without struggle. That will however, forever mean God-ordained, God-given days of peace, joy, labor, relaxation, struggle, battle, rest, work, loss, gain, obstacles, straight paths, laughter, tears, pain, relief…all according to His good and perfect plan for me.
When God speaks, sometimes He whispers, sometimes He shouts. This was a shouting loud and clear moment as I was churning up nasty sludge in what I had hoped was my still clean pool. Last week was a tough week in our household. One of our kiddos is seeing the effects of struggling with and going against some things that we have taught on, prayed over, and lived out by example, over and over. Our feeble minds began to treat truth as a lesson rather than a way of life. We teach it, you get it, you pass the test and can move on to the next subject. What a misuse of our calling as Christian parents. And yes, we found ourselves from time to time, standing on the safety of our “deck” looking out at the top layers of our kiddos and hoping the crystal clear water we saw on the surface was the same as what was lurking below. We didn’t want to have to reach clear to the bottom every single day and see what we stirred up. We wanted those days…just a short time really, of rest from the battle of shielding them not only from the world but from the very sin in their own lives, a break from waking them up and helping to clothe them in armor, a time of mindless escape in the evenings instead of helping them detox from their day and refocus their minds to the love of their Lord and savior through prayer and devotion time. After all, shouldn’t all of that heaping on of truth we just did a few weeks ago last us a little while? All I needed to do to answer that questions was to look at scripture…and my own failures in light of it.
1Thess. 5:16 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Eph. 6:10-20 (excerpt) Finally, be strong in the Lord..Put on the whole armor of God…For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day…Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit…To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
1 Peter 4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,
Romans 8:36-37 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
2 Chronicles 20:15 He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.
It is so very clear. Life on earth is a battle. Just as those sneaky little bands of algae are just waiting for my back to turn so they can infiltrate and make a home of my swimming pool, so has a war has been waged for my mind, my heart and my soul. Deceit wants to take up residence there, it wants to catch me off guard and find me neglecting my spiritual health and that of my kids. No amount of “I thought we covered that” will defend against the foothold of deceit. If my focus, my treasure, that which I seek after, is my own comfort and freedom from the battle, both for myself and for our kids, I have already lost. Not eternally speaking, I know, that battle is won and my life is secure, but I have lost the foothold. Given it over to a waiting world. If even a part of my focus and purpose for investing in and infusing truth into my home, my marriage and my kids is so that I can make it a few miles without having to refill the tank, or a few weeks without having to “clean the pool”, I have misunderstood my calling as wife and mother and have distorted the definition of freedom and rest in Christ. What I am called to is so much greater than filling up with premium unleaded and hoping for great gas mileage. Earthly comfort, a light heart and an uncrowded mind cannot be my goal. What I am called to is the life of a warrior, a conquerer, backed with the strength, ammunition and armor of God himself. I am called to seek Him and equip my children day in and day out to do the same. I am called to fight daily for my marriage lest we be like prey to a hungry world. I am called to battle for a mind that is filled with truth, eyes that are focused on Christ, thoughts that are not my own but born of His word. And just when that starts to sound way to exhausting, overwhelming and burdensome, comes this beautiful, mysterious reality of life in Christ: that as we are being transformed into His likeness through these difficult, refining circumstances of life and as our focus is Glorifying Him and furthering His kingdom, that He will see us through every battle and make swift our feet, clear our minds and easy our burden. This battle is indeed the Lord’s and though we are called to be more than conquerers, to not just know truth but to LIVE truth, to jump into the deep end of the lives of our kids and infuse their minds daily with truth through prayer, petition, teaching and leading, to fight for purity and protection in our marriage, to arm ourselves daily, to live not by mere food but the very word of God, we can and will find that long elusive comfort, joy, peace, rest and freedom…NOT in circumstances for that will not be where our heart is found, but in the very arms of Christ himself whose burden is light.
“”Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”… – Matthew 11:28-30
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” -John 14:27
“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31
So there you have it. This day that I intended to be one of peace and rest, turned out to be one of peace and rest. But not on my terms nor in my way. The peace did not come from taking my mind off of the battle, it came from turning my eyes directly to the commander in chief…the very face of Christ. My rest didn’t come in the form of mindless tv or computer games, or even constructive and healthy time at the gym and house cleaning. It came in the form of the relentless pursuit of my heavenly father to churn up the murk at the bottom of the pool that He would show himself to be the one and only to offer me “clean hands and a pure heart”, and to take this burden from my shoulders that I might soar on wings like eagles. So as I process through all that He has graciously reminded me of today, I will joyfully labor through the literal cleaning of my pool, whose clarity and function I had neglected over the past several weeks, basking in the strength given to me by my Heavenly Father, singing praises for His faithfulness, delighting in His perfect timing as I hand over to Him in humble reliance, the current situation of my struggling kiddo, knowing that He will in this, as in all things, “work it for good” (Romans 8:28) and that His plan to prosper and not to fail us (Jeremiah 29:11) will come to fruition in His time and according to His purpose. And with bible laid open on the dining room table, we will enter into this battle sun-up to sun-down as we indeed seek first His Kingdom.
It was in JOY that He gave His life to me and it is with JOY that I give it back to Him.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” -Hebrews 12:2
And with daily prayer and petition, I will ask that just as I hope to not keep at arms length with my pool, even for a time, hoping its end of year over-treatment will buy me a period of rest, I too will never ever keep at arms length with my family, looking for false peace and comfort in denying the potential buildup of mirky water beneath the surface that is sin, real and present sin. Aaaahhhh sweet freedom, peace and joy. All by Grace alone.