When Your Life Needs a Review

In our family my husband is the great story teller, be it a true story or something he made up for the kids. He is the one who can retell an event without missing an important detail, who can hold the punch line in perfect tension, and who will take you along from start to finish without losing you in flashbacks or fast-forwards. 

I am the one who tells a story as if a novel were cut into a million pieces and I had randomly chosen a few, shuffled them into any order, and retold the fragments with long pauses and stares. Oral history is just not my forte. 

Part of the problem may be my impatience. I get bogged down with details and transitions and segues, wanting to get right to the point when I’m recounting something aloud. I tend to tell the highs and lows and leave out too many important connecting points, and anyone listening is left as fragmented as my story. I think I’m just realizing this about myself — this trouble with transitions. 

As a listener, I’ve been known to roll my hands in the air and bob my head in an attempt to move the story to its conclusion. I am not proud of this habit, and especially not proud of the fact that I really only do this hand-rolling-get-on-with-it motion to my husband. It's so rude and I am a terrible person and I really should just sit on my hands, listen, and learn. I should be polite enough to pay attention to all the details that are important, even if they’re not important to me.

In the same way, I tend to skim details as I’m reading. It’s not as rude because the author can’t see me, but let’s talk about scripture for a minute — about how I roll through lists and repetition and why does Moses have to say the same thing again and again and didn’t he already tell about all the ways they failed in the desert? I’m about to enter the Promised Land with Israel again, but first we have to stop and recount the mistakes, the reasons why so many of them didn’t make it, the reason Moses himself won’t make it. Deuteronomy is basically one big Review of the Desert Wanderings, before the test of Jericho that begins the book of Joshua.

What this all boils down to is my distaste for review. I want things to roll forward, make progress and move the needle. Yet at the same time I seem to be constantly doing some kind of internal-review that leaves me prone to regret and second guessing. I am this particular kind of contradiction: we will do whatever the Lord says to you, Moses; but don’t take too long or we’ll be dancing before the golden calf. 

IMG_7876.jpg

The students I tutor once a week are currently (hopefully) reviewing the material of our last semester in preparation for their final assessments.

Our accountant just finished reviewing our taxes with us.

My youngest son is reviewing all his map drawings of the year to get ready for his final, big drawing of the whole earth. 

All these reviews are fine and good and I welcome them, but in my own life I’m noticing that a true review is harder to make. It’s as though the days behind are circulating a great gray fog, pushing the days ahead to be more frantic, more prepared, to stay ahead of the misty accumulation. I don’t know what to do with all the pieces of my life when I look back with the intent to review and not just reminisce. 

A review is hard because it will take time and work and a detachment from myself. 

I’ve often wished that someone — that God — would just tell me in plain language what the heck I need to fix or stop or add or continue doing. I know; it’s all there in the Scriptures. But you know what I mean, right? I may be missing something obvious, some habit or way of thinking or doing that is hindering my walk.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” according to Socrates. That may be extreme in this context, but certainly my lack of review makes everyday living a little haphazard. I want to put the skids on fast-forward living and on the kind of backward-looking that only remembers but doesn’t truly re-view. Looking back should make me a better listener, one who doesn’t roll her hands and simply push the story forward. Review should produce thankfulness, recognition, awareness, attention to detail, and lessons for the days to come. 

Like the Israelites, downloading a review of all God had done in the midst of their failures and attempts at godliness, a good review can prepare us to be the people we want to be.  I would hope that a review might also reveal that the people we have been being, the ones coming out of the fog, are similar to the ones we want to be; that these many years of alternating between wandering and following have built some sort of forward-motion in us; in me. 

The first step will be to set aside the time. Second: prayerfully consider the last month or so of your life. What brought peace? What took it? Where have you over-reacted to situations, and what events led up to that? What projects or goals have been on your list for too long, and what tools do you need to actually accomplish them?  The Accidental Creative gives great guidelines for making weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews, and Ephesians 4 is a good reminder and plan for change. 

May your margins be wide enough for this sort of review, friends. And if you are feeling a little defeated, may you remember that the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 and rejoices to bring the wanderer back. We can begin, again, in that joy.

When were you last changed?

Fifteen or twenty years ago when we were just a baby church, we used to hear stories all the time about drastic conversions and life altering decisions. People used to stand and share their testimony of how they were changed, how Christ had wrecked their lives in the best way and even in the smallest ways, and we would all rejoice together. We still hear those testimonies once in awhile and maybe I'm too nostalgic about bygones, or maybe I choose to be rosy about the past and ignorant of the present; but in examining my own life I have to ask when was I last changed?

Add to your faith virtue...

The gospel changes things, changes people. But after awhile we might just consider the Good News to be old news and forget the whole working out of our salvation and our continual need for growth.

By default, I know I'm always going back to the old man (Col. 3:9). I'm forever finding that old coat with the holes, the one that I know won't keep me warm or shield me from the elements. I'm looking for ways to put it on again because it's familiar and easy and it fits so darn well.

I default to temporary comfort and ease because change is hard.

To virtue knowledge...

There are grand stories of monumental change and overnight deliverance; of the hardest of times that brought the clearest of revelations; of tragedies that turned lives right around and illnesses or addictions that were taken in one fell swoop. There are hard-knock stories that finally broke open to the call of Christ, and then there are "easy conversions" and those who slipped in the back door of the church and agreed with obvious truth.

Outside one day, inside the next.

Mine is one of the latter stories, but I don't forget the sinner that I am. Though my story might be boring, I know my life was redeemed from a pit of the status quo and easy come, easy go. I once was lost.

To knowledge self-control...

But now I'm found. The trouble is I am always finding myself, and God might need to shake me out of the old man and shake the old man out of me once in awhile to remind me that finding myself is not sufficient unless I'm hidden in Christ. There is a difference between self-control and taking control, myself.

To self-control perseverance...

The gospel is constantly calling me to change and it's a message I need to hear again and again. Paul told the Corinthians, "I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you...", i.e., I've already told you this, but I'm going to say it again because you need to hear it again. We see it in the change of seasons, the green shoots that push through earth's tomb in spring and shrink back to death in fall, and we hear the gospel again and again in our stories. Even the non-believing world is borrowing the gospel for its own plot.

It's a perpetual story woven into creation itself, a repeating cycle, and because the proof of the gospel is Jesus' resurrection from the dead, we can tell it with hope, again and again.

For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. {2 Peter 1:12 NKJV}

Peter tells us to keep multiplying our grace and peace by knowing God more. Without over-examining our lives and running the risk of self-focus, by adding to faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (2 Peter 1:5-7),  we are coming to know God exponentially.

One day we will awake in His likeness and be satisfied. We will see Him in righteousness. But for now we have the gospel on repeat and though the changes may seem small—unworthy of Sunday morning sharing—for the most part we are not who we used to be. Our lives are gospel-stories we can share and the slow change is just as glorious as the overnight miracles.

Live Closely with Yourself

Our home is far from the swarms of humanity you'd find in a big city, far from anything "big" at all except the sky and the forest and the Pacific. We nestle in to mountain valley, coming up from all sides. We drive a few miles from the state highway and dead-end in a cow pasture. Our world is not ugly nor unappreciated, unless you count the pollen or measure the rain or fear the wild, but we don't live all our time in this country-bubble, country bumpkins unwise to the greater world. We don't deny the presence of opposition and we are not ignorant to many of the evils our culture thrives on.

But we come home to the end of the road and birds sing for us each morning, evening comes on back porches, and if you know me, you know I love home.

I want this retreat.

remember

Honestly, I want this hermitage and I would never leave were it not for my leaving-children and my sending-faith, both of which I do battle with daily. I don't want to go and I don't want them to go and why can't all the lost and broken just come find us here, peaceful and hospitable? What good a mountain valley would do the world.

I want this retreat, because the world is terrible and large and largely dangerous and "they" are tearing it up, shredding it like junk mail. "They" are making a mockery of good Words and "good people" and everything requires these quotes because nothing is true for everyone, "they" say.

Air quotes. Implied assumptions. Cynical skepticism.

Maybe we live in the city of destruction with a constantly vexed soul, and we are too comfortable in our hermitages and monasteries. Maybe we live too much in the peace and not enough in the perseverance—the grit required to be in this world but not of it—and our souls would do well to to find out what need we have to be well.

*****

It's possible that I need the reality of the world to reveal the reality of my sinful self; everything's easy when everything's easy, and I forget who I am.

Like the time we lived as a family of six in a camp trailer for 7 months while our house was being built: we thought we were patient, kind, reasonable people, but we learned otherwise. We learned that our sin is easier to manage in the comfort of a 4 bedroom home and much harder to hide in a 30 foot trailer.

Living closely with yourself is not the same as living alone or in a spacious, easy place. It's a trip to the other side of town, a visit to the place you avoid, an open-life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation and a constant reviewing of your own sin.

Living closely with yourself means you see the evil in your own heart and have compassion for the strugglers and stragglers trying to overcome without Jesus, living in small souls and tight places.

*****

remember

I venture out of the bubble on a weekly basis and the shock is always shocking, the reality always a reminder: we are aliens. We are strangers, and we assimilate or die daily in a culture that will vex our soul while it woos our nature.

The only thing that can keep a vexed soul going is the chance that light might shine in the darkness, beauty might spring up, truth might woo stronger than the lies we've been sold. We might even become more convinced, ourselves.

All our efforts in Jesus' name might just open our own hearts to live more closely with ourselves and see our own need.

*****

(for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)-- 2 Peter 2:8

I have problems with the Old-Testament-Lot being deemed righteous here in the New Testament. I have issues with a man who offers his virgins daughters to the carnal cravings of depraved men and I want to assume that he got what he deserved, because he chose the best land for himself. It was like the garden of the LORD (Genesis 13:10), but it was a corrupted land.

The lost and broken did come to his door.

But Peter says he was a righteous man, his soul was tormented day to day. And I know there must be a whole backstory to his life that I've missed in the few paragraphs the Bible gives him—just like I miss most of the story of each person I meet.

Everyone is an eternity behind and before, and stories take time to unfold. When we slow down to hear the stories, we remember our own.

"Remembering is your protection against returning," my pastor says. Live closely enough with yourself that you remember: such were some of you. 

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

{Titus 2:11-14 NKJV}