Tammy Melchien

taking next steps

Author: Tammy

Why Do You Pray?

I don’t remember much from movies. I can’t quote lines from Monty Python or sing the lyrics from Grease. I often don’t remember if I’ve seen a movie based on its title alone. On more than one occasion I’ve been half way through a film before I realize I’ve seen it before, which usually isn’t a problem since I most likely can’t remember the ending.

But for some reason, this dialogue from the film “Shadowlands” has always stuck with me.

“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time-waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God-it changes me.” -C.S. Lewis

If you’re not familiar, this 1993 production is a biography chronicling the life of author C.S. Lewis. Lewis, in many people’s opinion, was one of the greatest theological and philosophical minds of the 20th century. You can get lost exploring the layers in The Screwtape Letters or The Chronicles of Narnia for hours on end.

I’ve heard people challenge this quote. They offer up Biblical evidence of how our prayers do, in fact, influence God. They remind us that Jesus taught us to ask God to give us our daily bread (Luke 11:3) and told stories encouraging us to persist in asking like a stubborn neighbor who won’t leave the front porch until someone coughs up a cup of sugar (Luke 11:5-10).

I’m not going to argue with any of that. I suspect Lewis wouldn’t. But I think getting stuck on the phrase “it doesn’t change God” is to miss the entire point of what Lewis is saying.

Of course, I have no idea in what context he penned or spoke these words, but I love the way Anthony Hopkins interpreted them on the big screen. If I remember right (which, as I established earlier is a sketchy proposition), Hopkins’ character has just received a big award or promotion at the school at which he teaches. When his colleague congratulates him on how God has “answered his prayers,” Lewis seems to take offense at this suggestion. Why doesn’t he want to correlate his good fortune with God answering his prayers?

Because then when things don’t go his way, he’d have to blame God for unanswered prayers.

What I see in this quote is a man who didn’t want to treat God as a prayer vending machine. I see a man who understood prayer as a relational conversation with the one he was dependent on as his Lord, Savior, and friend. He felt the need to be in constant connection with God, waking and sleeping. This communication was vital to his very existence, like water or air or ice cream.

And as he stands back and contemplates the reason that he prays, he realizes that when he communes with God, he is the one who is changed.

Why do you pray?

If we only come to God looking for answers, then maybe that’s why we don’t feel the need flowing out of us all the time-waking and sleeping.

Lewis found something so much greater to experience in prayer. May we discover it too.

Writing

I wonder if this is what it feels like to be paralyzed. Alright, maybe that is a bit dramatic, but I feel like I’ve been staring at a blank sheet of paper for over 20 years. I was in college when I first had an inkling that I was supposed to write. “I think there is a book in me,” is how I first described it. I never imagined as that idealistic, over-confident 20-year-old that more than two decades later the same nagging feeling would haunt me with nothing to show for it. Sure I blogged for a while back a few years when blogging was a novelty, but like many people, I gave up my Google Reader and my motivation when our collective attention span shrunk to 140 characters. I didn’t care to read much of the blogging fodder out there anymore and figured if I wasn’t into them, then they wouldn’t be into me either.

It’s the concept that has paralyzed me. I’ve always felt like I needed the “killer idea” for a book. What is it I’m supposed to say? What could I add to the conversation that hasn’t already been said? What would catch the eyes of publishers and make me a star?

It’s no wonder I haven’t written anything.

Still, I think I’m supposed to write.

Though I’m not sure anyone who knows me would actually use this word to describe me (it’s not how I usually think of myself), I think there is a bit of an artist in me. My medium is words and sentences and an over-arching idea that leads to a reflective thought. When I finish what I consider to be a well-written piece, I can sit back and stare at it for a good, long time the way one might study a painting or a sculpture. I feel like a creative when I write. It stirs something within me that makes me feel alive and satisfied even though I know I’m not particularly good at it yet.

A while ago I read Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, and a few chapters in I realized I’ve had it wrong all this time. I thought the goal was a book that would get published that would impact dozens or hundreds or thousands of people. It’s my perspective that has paralyzed me. I’ve been aiming for the wrong goal.

The truth is, the chances of getting published are slim. The odds of publishing a popular book are only slightly better than winning the lottery. Waiting for the “perfect idea” would in all probability leave me staring at a blank sheet two more decades from now. So I’m changing my perspective. I’m moving the target.

I’m going to write for the pure pleasure of writing. I’m going to write because it helps me take steps in my own spiritual journey. I’m going to write because I want to be a writer. Sure, I hope these words can be used for a purpose outside of myself, but I will simply type them as an offering to God and ask him to bless them in any way he sees fit. Well, that and a little Facebook marketing.

So with this new blog I’m starting a new journey as a writer even if it is an adventure I traverse by myself. At least I won’t be paralyzed anymore.

Proximity

We talked about forgiveness in church this week. We do that quite often. Probably because it’s hard, it’s relevant, and it’s desperately needed. Talks on forgiveness always seem to strike a chord with people. I guess at any given time most of us need to forgive or be forgiven or possibly both.

I wasn’t teaching this week so I tried to just enter into the message as a hearer. I started thinking about the people I’ve needed to forgive in the past year or so. None of these people meant to hurt me. In fact, every one of them I’d consider a friend. Still, in the messiness of relationships there are wounds and inadvertent elbows and disappointing choices that hit us when we’re least expecting. I’ve been hurt. And I’m confident I did my fair share of hurting too.

I know that sometimes forgiveness doesn’t mean that you need to trust someone again or that you even need to continue in the relationship. Sometimes it is necessary to walk away. If there is abuse, walk away. Thankfully, none of the wounds I’ve experienced have called for that. In every case, I’ve wanted the relationship to continue. Still, the choice to not hold someone’s wrong against them isn’t easy.

I’ve learned something about myself this past year when it comes to forgiveness. It’s the critical thing I’ve realized I need in order to have any hope of moving past the wound to a place of restoration.

It’s proximity.

If I want to forgive someone, I have to choose to put myself in proximity to that person.

You see, when I’m away from the person, it’s too easy to just focus on the wound. Righteous indignation flairs up. Hurt transforms itself into anger. I become a master of the unspoken cleverly worded argument.

But in proximity everything becomes a little more human. I discover my own brokenness in another person’s eyes. I am reminded that beneath misguided actions there is almost always a heart that is good. I recognize the traces of the person I love.

I now know that when I’m struggling to get over it and let someone off the hook, the best thing I can do is choose proximity.

Maybe it could help you too?

It might be the last thing you want to do. It might be the most important thing you could do.

Is there someone you need to meet for coffee?

A Chance to Die

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  When we are honest, I think sometimes we’ll find that our response to the Gospel is so much more about our desire for a better life than a commitment to give our lives in service to God for the sake of others.  Don’t get me wrong, I think our lives do and should benefit from following Jesus; but is that really the heart of what it means to be his disciple?

I once heard Craig Groeschel, Pastor of Lifechurch.tv, describe 3 lines of commitment.

  • Line 1: I believe in the Gospel enough to benefit from it.
  • Line 2: I believe in the Gospel enough to contribute comfortably to it.
  • Line 3: I believe in the Gospel enough to give my life to it.

I wonder, which line have you crossed?  Which have I?  And is anything less than the 3rd line really following Jesus?

Jesus called the crowds to him and said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

In his bestselling book Crazy LoveFrancis Chan writes: “When I was in high school, I seriously considered joining the Marines; this was when they first came out with commercials for “the few, the proud, the Marines.”  What turned me off was that in those advertisements, everyone was always running.  Always.  And I hate running.  But you know what? I didn’t bother to ask if they would modify the rules for me so I could run less, and maybe also do fewer push-ups.  That would’ve been pointless and stupid, and I knew it.  Everyone knows that if you sign up for the Marines, you have to do whatever they tell you.  They own you.  Somehow this realization does not cross over to our thinking about the Christian life.  Jesus didn’t say that if you wanted to follow Him you could do it in a lukewarm manner.  He said, ‘Take up your cross and follow me.'”

Jesus comes to us and offers us 'a chance to die.' -Amy Carmichael Click To Tweet

In the words of one of my heroes of the faith, Amy Carmichael, Jesus comes to us and offers us “a chance to die.”  A chance to die to our selfishness and limited perspective.  A chance to walk away from pursuing lesser things and a life of worrying about the unimportant.  A chance to no longer be dominated by our insecurities and hesitations.  A chance to take our eyes off ourselves and turn our attention to people and a world that needs our contribution.  A chance to carry crosses, cry tears, and sometimes work to the point of exhaustion.  A chance to let go of our life…and in the process find it.

And my guess is when we do find it, we will discover it is the life we have always wanted.

Healing Words

We are the walking wounded, aren’t we?

I don’t care who you are, we all carry wounds. Some of us carry deep wounds from unthinkable cruelty. Life has been unfair, and we have suffered greatly. Others of us have managed to traverse life without a headline story, yet we carry wounds all the same.

We’re all in need of a little healing, wouldn’t you say?

I love stories of healing in the Bible. To see Jesus reach out and heal a leper, touch the eyes of a blind man so he can see, or let power flow from his robe to heal a woman of her bleeding tells us something about how things go when God gets his way in the world.

When Jesus is around, people are healed.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Christ-follower when it comes to the practice of healing. I do believe that miraculous healing can occur through the empowered touch of Jesus’ followers today. In fact, I believe I witnessed the physical healing of a lame woman a couple years ago during a trip to Ecuador. But let’s face it, not many of us are going to get the privilege of imitating Jesus in this way. I’ve touched sick people before and all that’s seemed to come from it was my own throat getting sore.

But I believe there is a way that every one of us can be about the business of healing. Jesus healed this way too. He healed a Centurion’s servant this way (Matthew 8:5-13). He healed a royal official’s son this way (John 4:46-53). Jesus healed through spoken words.

Words can bring healing, can’t they? A timely affirmation. A gentle reassurance. An acknowledgement of a wrong. An offer of help.

What are some of the words that have brought healing to my own life? Here are some that come to mind:

“You know that’s not true, right?”

Have you ever felt confident and insecure at the same time? I feel that way sometimes in my job. Sometimes I finish writing a message or delivering a talk or leading a team meeting and I have that rush of satisfaction that comes from a job well done. But then there are times when I wonder if I’m full of crap. Usually it’s the times when I feel unacknowledged, undervalued, or overlooked and my mind starts to run wild with thoughts that maybe I’m wearing the emperor’s new clothes and don’t even know it. I was confessing some of these thoughts to a friend the other day. Thoughts that maybe I just wasn’t very good at what I do and that I wasn’t really bringing the value I thought I was bringing. Her response: “You know that’s not true, right?” Actually, sometimes I don’t know it’s not true until someone speaks those words into my life. Healing words.

“Your heart is good.”

Another friend of mine has repeatedly spoken a phrase into my life that I’m not sure is actually always true but seems to do something to me every time. Usually she says it after I’ve just finished ranting and raving about something that is under my skin. As my venting is winding down, I find myself in that place where rage turns to regret and I start to feel horrible for thinking the things I think and feeling the things I feel and worse yet, for giving words to them in a conversation. It’s usually in this most undeserved place that she will throw out these words of grace: “Your heart is good.” It’s a pretty humbling thing when you are at your ugliest and someone says they see good. Healing words.

“I love you.”

Of course some of the most healing words are the most familiar words: “I love you.” Sure, they can be said without thought or in a habitual manner, but when spoken with even the smallest amount of sincerity, I think they bring a little piece of healing to our wounded hearts with every utterance. I never tire of hearing them. Healing words.

Let me ask you today…To whom do you need to speak some healing words? Look around you. Who is wounded? Who is hurting? Who needs a little healing in their life? Here’s a hint…it’s everybody. What if we chose to be people who carried the presence of Jesus into the world by speaking healing words everywhere we go?

There might be just a few less people walking wounded.

The Image of God

“It is always true to some extent that we make our images of God. It is even truer that our image of God makes us. Eventually we become like the God we image.”

Came across this Brennan Manning quote this week.

Eventually we become like the God we image. -Brennan Manning Click To Tweet

Wow.

Have I imaged a God who is demanding and become demanding?

Have I imaged a God who is critical and become critical?

Have I imaged a God who is angry and become angry?

Have I imaged a God who is impatient and become impatient?

Have I imaged a God who is unloving and become unloving?

Think, for a moment, of how you would answer each of those questions. Not in how you relate to others (although I suppose that could be an indicator, too), but in how you relate towards yourself.

Let’s face it, many of us aren’t very kind to ourselves.

We are demanding, holding unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

We are critical, beating ourselves up for our imperfections.

We are angry, chastising ourselves for our screw ups.

We are impatient, disappointed in ourselves for our lack of progress.

We are unloving, treating ourselves harshly.

If you find yourself in any of the above statements, acting unfavorably toward yourself, maybe it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate your image of God.

Manning went on to say:

“One of the most beautiful fruits of knowing the God of Jesus is a compassionate attitude towards ourselves. . . . This is why Scripture attaches such importance to knowing God. Healing our image of God heals our image of ourselves.”

Healing our image of God heals our image of ourselves. -Brennan Manning Click To Tweet

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) Jesus came to heal our image of God. When he walked among us, he revealed what God is really like. In Jesus we find a God who is patient, a God who is kind. He is a God who is not self-seeking, a God who is not easily angered, a God who keeps no record of wrongs. He is a God who protects, a God who always hopes, a God who always perseveres in his pursuit of us. In essence, we find the image of love.

Come to know this image of God, and you might just come to love yourself.

Unconventional Wisdom

Things don’t have to be the way you think they need to be.

I’m going to go there. While I’m certainly empathetic, I think it is time for some tough love.

You don’t have to be married to be happy.

I’m not trying to sound uncaring. I’m not trying to disregard the ache that you have to find a place of intimate belonging. I’m just trying to warn you not to miss out on the wonderful, adventurous life of possibility that lies before you because you are stuck thinking things have to be the way you think they need to be.

I’ve talked to so many women who struggle with their singleness. I’m guessing there are single guys who do too. Let me say that I get it. I’ve been single my entire life and certainly have had my seasons of overwhelming longing and sadness. It’s no wonder we feel that way. After all, we’re hardwired for relationships. But I think it is more than that. I think every message in our culture magnifies those feelings.

Conventional wisdom says finding “true love” is the most important thing.

Conventional wisdom says to go to dinner or movie alone is weird.

Conventional wisdom says if you don’t have someone than you are somehow “less than.”

There’s only one problem with conventional wisdom. It’s not always true.

When Jesus walked on the scene 2000 years ago, he turned heads and ruffled feathers because he didn’t buy into conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom says, “If life isn’t working out for you, there’s something wrong with you.” But Jesus says, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. ” (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

Conventional wisdom says, “You can’t be really happy unless you get everything you want.” But Jesus says, “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:4, The Message)

Conventional wisdom says, “Contentment will come when go after and get everything you’re dreaming of.” Jesus says, “You are blessed when you’re content with just who you are–no more, no less.” (Matthew 5:5, The Message)

Oh, and by the way, Jesus was single.

Things don’t have to be the way you think they need to be.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that the desire that you have to be with someone should be squelched or ignored. I share that longing to love and be loved. To have somewhere I belong. To have someone I’m supposed to text or call when I’m traveling.

But do you think it is possible to hold that longing open and honest while at the same time grabbing life by the horns and living it to the fullest?

I think it is.

At least I’m pretty sure it is. Why do I think that? Because I am single. And I feel happy.

If I try to step outside of my life and analyze what has helped me, two things come to mind. Two things I would offer to you.

First, ask yourself, “What do I love to do?” And then do it.

Do you love eating at unique restaurants? Then make a reservation for one and do it.

Do you love going to the movies? Then take extra money for popcorn and do it.

Do you love traveling? Then book a hotel room and do it.

Muster up some courage and choose to defy the cultural expectation that says it’s weird to do certain things alone and just do it. Sure, the first time or two or twelve it will be hard because it is unconventional, but I think you can get over that. Don’t miss out on experiences because you don’t have someone to share them with. Learn to enjoy the things you love even if you have to do them alone for now.

For me? I love sports. Personally, I think I’d be a sports-loving guy’s dream. It would be fine with me if we spent our entire entertainment budget and TV watching time on sports. However, not many of my girlfriends like sports. I decided a couple years ago that I wasn’t going to let that stop me so I became a season ticket holder for three Chicago-area teams. Now, I’m also not rich so it’s not the Bears, Bulls, and Cubs. It’s the Chicago Sky, the Chicago Red Stars, and the DePaul Women’s Basketball team. And you know what? I’m loving it! Not only do I enjoy the games, but I’m enjoying the friendships I’m building with fellow season ticket holders. Sports make me happy.

And the second thing? Let the Author of unconventional wisdom become your place of belonging. If I reflect back on my life, I think it was during the loneliest times, the hardest times, the times when I struggled with my singleness the most that Jesus became dearest to me. I wish I could say that it was because I put him first and pursued him above all the other distractions, but it wasn’t. It was because I had no where else to go. Through long days of isolation and aloneness, he was the only one to talk to. And so we talked. Through journaling. Through music. Through walks in nature. And somehow in that shared time, I fell in love with him and found out that he already loved me. One of the coolest things is that he’s so secure that he doesn’t even mind when I talk about wanting someone else too. He’s unconventional.

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. (James 4:8 NLT) Click To Tweet

Things don’t have to be the way you think they need to be. Start defying conventional wisdom and you might just find things can be pretty great the way they are.

Fender Benders

Had a dream that woke me up. It seems I was leaving some unknown friend’s house in some unknown neighborhood and heading home. As I drove away it wasn’t long until I was completely and utterly lost. As I turned down random streets and followed curved roads pretty soon I lost all sense of direction and found myself in a neighborhood that became increasingly shady. In my haste to find my way back to the familiar I began to drive faster and faster tailing the row of cars in front of me. I felt unsafe. But in my panic I didn’t care.

And then what I was almost expecting happened. The cars in front of me were coming to a sudden stop and I couldn’t adjust. I careened right into the back of the car ahead and set off a chain reaction of rear-enders involving 4 or 5 vehicles. As our cars came to a stop, I felt that sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s that “I knew I was being reckless…I knew I wasn’t being wise…I knew I wasn’t at my best…and now I’m going to have to pay for it in a very costly way” feeling. Taking a moment to collect myself, I put my head down on the steering wheel and prepared to face the consequences.

But when I looked up, I was shocked to find that all the cars in front of me were driving away. They were damaged, but whether the drivers didn’t care or whether they were unwilling to get out of their cars in this unsafe neighborhood, they all drove away. I even noticed a police car across the street who pulled out and followed suit. Stunned, I began to inch my car down the road. My amazement turned to relief. How in the world did I get out of that one?

As I woke up I wondered, “Was this a dream about living in the city? Why was I lost in an unknown neighborhood? What is the significance of me causing a mass accident?”

But then it hit me just now. This was simply a dream about grace.

Maybe you are like me. You have extremely high expectations of yourself. You are your own worst critic. You expect yourself to be great at your job every day, give your best at all times, handle every situation maturely, and make every relational decision Jesus would make. There’s just one problem.  You don’t. Not even close. And some minor or major fender-bender comes along often to remind you of your inadequacies.

Slumped on your steering wheel you look up and suddenly remember there is accident forgiveness. You feel the relief. You have just been given permission to be human. Click To Tweet

I don’t know why we are so hard on ourselves at times. I would love to learn how to let my fender benders lead me more naturally to grace.

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