Do you feel like you were born in the wrong body? Probably not, but we all know that there are people who do. What if the truth was that each one of us is trapped in our bodies? And that these bodies are not really right for any of us? What if I told you it has nothing to do with sex/gender, but everything to do with being human?
God doesn't make mistakes, but we do. In fact, we sin. And from the moment that the very first human beings turned away from our Creator, our bodies began to unnaturally decay. He had designed us as immortals, but that required staying in harmony with Him, which meant relying completely on him, trusting him, and obeying him. Once we turned to our own selves instead, our nature changed - spiritually and physically. Our fallen wills birthed death, and our bodies became enslaved to mortality.
What does that have to do with gender confusion? After the fall, though we were born with a sinful nature into flawed bodies, we were also born with a longing for our original sinless state and a yearning for our Creator. But those desires are not fully processed in our minds. The longing is unexpressed within us, and it can easily be misinterpreted. Our natural tendency is to apply it to our earthly existence, especially if we don't believe in a personal God who created each of us.
For some, faulty biology becomes the explanation for their feelings of unfulfillment. The grass becomes greener on the other side of the gender divide. Psychological factors and societal stereotypes cause some people to have negative associations with their own sex and to identify with the opposite sex. Add to that the powerful spiritual component of the longings I defined above, and you have a recipe for gender dysphoria.
Instead of realizing that no amount of biological alterations (all of which only add up to counterfeiting the opposite sex) will satisfy what are really the longings of the soul, these desperate, confused individuals believe that transforming their outward selves will bring peace to their inner selves. The argument can be made that this is also true of those who have eating disorders, obsess over hair/make-up/fashion, are exercise fanatics, get cosmetic surgery, or practice extreme sports. By making the body the focus of one's identity, that person grossly misplaces the longing meant to cause them to seek their true self in the One who made them and can save them from the identity crisis.
We will never be fulfilled this side of Heaven, but we can begin to become who we were made to be, even despite these faulty bodies, and even faultier minds. This can only happen if we stop listening to our inner voice of the almighty self and start seeking the still, small voice of our Creator, who made us in His image. Surrendering to our Creator begins with acknowledging our need for a savior. We find this One whom our hearts desire in a book - a very old book that is brimming with life and hope and the promise of eternity with new bodies...
"For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee." ~1 Corinthians 5:1-5
"So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." 1 Corinithians 15:42-44
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." ~Philippians 1:1-3
"Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." ~1 John 3:2
I love words. I love the Word. I love Jesus and the Bible. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) We time-bound creatures like to mark beginnings, just as our Creator has done for us. One of the ways we do that is by choosing (getting?) a word for the new year. Some of mine have been rest, behold, breathe, praise, love. At first, I tend to be focused on the theme word, but as time passes, it fades. I noticed this increasing over years, so I gave up having a word.
In December, I began warming up to the idea of a word for 2021. With the roller coaster of the last nine months, it made sense that I wanted something that would be stabilizing over whatever the coming year holds. I often pray in the shower (I like them long and hot because it's my morning coffee - I drink decaf and tea, and not every day), so I started asking God for my word. Since I love words, my praying became playing. I almost didn't want to get a word, because I enjoyed the process so much (this is also very me - liking the research more than the finding). This helped keep me from choosing a word prematurely.
As 2020 came to a close, my shower prayers seemed to be leading me to a word - it was "release." I arrived there after rejecting more spiritual selections, because they were too vague and not the kind I could apply in the heat of the moment, which is when I need a word the most. I strongly considered "Jesus" because that is one of the few spiritual words which has power in every situation. I cannot think that name without it turning into a prayer, nor is it difficult to think of it. And yet, I sensed that was not my word for 2021. I thought it should be "release" because a recent, recurring message has been letting go. It's especially apropos as my children all become adults, with one officially that. I also felt drawn to it because I tend to want things a certain way and an enduring struggling is letting things go - not being a picky perfectionist control freak (just ask my husband).
Pondering "release" set me reviewing the myriad of "re" words that I find spiritually significant (see if you can find them in the rest of this post). That led me to "retreat" which has special significance to me because the women's reflective retreats I usually attend twice a year were cancelled, and I really missed them. I realized that I needed to be intentional to take time away (even just on a walk) to get solitude and silence, especially in creation. I also thought that "retreat" could be good for letting go, in that I could just withdraw instead of insisting on my own way. So then I was torn between "release" and "retreat," as well as attracted to "refresh" and "renew." I considered having a prefix instead of a word. I was already losing my focus, and I was only one day into the new year.
So I released "release," and was surprised to get a new "re" word that I knew was the one: "receive." Rather than letting go, I need to receive what comes. It's not about relinquishing and surrendering as much as it is about allowing and accepting. This made sense to me because of my Myers-Briggs knowledge. Being an INFJ, I have a judging preference as opposed to a perceiving preference, which means that I prefer to control what happens rather than receive it. I like to plan, order, and settle things rather than let come what may. I am more rigid than flexible (physically, too). While I am open to change and even initiate it (thanks to my intuiting preference), stability and routine characterize me more.
So I received "receive." I am hesitant to say it's already working, what with only a couple days of it, but it has made a difference so far. Instead of moving my husband's cap from the coat rack hook to the shelf above it, I said to myself, "receive it in that space," and I left it there. I felt a tinge of unexpected peace. I am looking forward to learning to receive what I would normally reverse or reject. A few times I refused "receiving," so it will definitely be a process, but I believe growth will come.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” ~John 1:12
My husband is known to come into the kitchen and say, "Keep stirring," but he actually means "you don't need to stir that so much." He calls me a "stirrer," which I guess sounds somewhat better than what he called me on our third date. We were having Chinese food (for the second time) and he suddenly said, "You're an eater." I was taken aback and indignant, but as I got to know him, I realized it was a compliment, because it turned out that we were both foodies...which brings me back to stirring. I developed that habit as a child when I started helping my mom cook dinner. Since there was not a lot to do, she had me stir things, which I enjoyed, so I rarely put down the spoon or spatula - stirring sauces, turning bacon, flipping grilled cheese...multiple times.
My husband's nickname for me fits me in many ways - literally and figuratively. For the first decade or more of our marriage, I frequently rearranged rooms and furniture, which was not always a lot of fun for him (when he was home for me to enlist his help), but he graciously assisted in lifting and sliding and moving furnishings into their new positions...which immediately afterwards (or some months later) would sometimes end up back upstairs or downstairs, in the same place it had been before. It was great when we finally bought furniture sliders to go underneath heavy items. Eventually I settled down and rearranging became less frequent, but it still happens from time to time.
Why all the domestic stirring? Part of it had to do with three growing children with toys, books, and their creations, as well as their need for spaces conducive to learning, creativity, and play, all in relatively close quarters (1600 sq. foot condo) with no garage or yard (just a porch and patio). Being the visionary type, I would get new ideas for how to use things to be more functional or aesthetically pleasing. My perfectionistic tendencies drove me to look for the best placement, and I would determine that from a variety of angles. But theory often didn't match reality, so trial and error led to all the switching around. Changing circumstances were also a factor - deciding to homeschool, my mom moving in with us for a few months, kids not sharing rooms anymore, wanting all screens in one space, and the shifts in all of the above as time went on. Getting rid of and acquiring stuff also sparked stirring.
On a deeper, more personal level, altering our environment made it feel fresh - newness without making major life changes. Yet it was also a form of procrastination. Instead of dealing with the details - piles of papers in file boxes accumulated over many years of not keeping up with the fast moving conveyor belt of family/homeschooling life. I would continually say that I could only do that once my surroundings were in perfect order, which never happened because I procrastinated on the day-to-day as well. I also put off my creativity by thinking that once I got our entire house in order, it would be conducive to all the catching up (sorting, purging, putting everything in its place), then I could finally create (write, do art, weed and print digital photos, make memory books, etc.).
I say all this in the past tense, but truthfully, it continues to this day, though I feel like I'm so close to turning a corner now that I've just graduated our oldest and will be wrapping up our homeschool chapter in four years. Summer is slipping away, as it always does, despite a much clearer calendar due to all the social distancing restrictions in my state, but I've got about six weeks before we start our new school year, so I'm feeling hopeful that all my stirring will be productive rather than procrastination techniques, such as sorting candy into different categories (this happened more when the kids were younger - now they are in charge of their own candy categorization) and testing all the colored markers and organizing them by kind (just last week). Because I hate handling details, it is a stress response to immerse myself in meaningless minutiae to escape tackling more important drudgery.
At the same time, there is a natural part of me that likes analyzing and compartmentalizing. I generally prefer to do that with abstractions - philosophy, psychology, theology - but doing it tangibly can relax my brain and invigorate my senses - at least at first. By the time I finish, I can barely see straight and need a nap. All the stirring is eventually exhausting and unfulfilling. The tedium and the futility go against my genuine self that seeks meaning and transcendence. I end up with a guilty hangover for procrastinating purposeful priorities and passions of the imagination or intellect.
In addition to all that stirring, I'm a pot stirrer. Violations of morality fire me up. I have a habit of entering the fray to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness or to aid another who is in that place and under attack. I've been this way adolescence, growing up in a culture that opposes my worldview and rejects absolute truth. As a Christian in one of the most liberal areas of the USA (Marin County, San Francisco Bay Area), I've always gone against the flow - I even had the t-shirt in high school. "Just keep swimming [upstream]" was a theme of my youth before leaving the rapids of the river to settle in the pond of domesticity fed by the waterfall that is family life. Instead of fighting the current, I have been swimming in circles, thus stirring the waters.
However, I have never completely stayed away from the river - social media has made it far too easy to go back and forth between my actual life and engaging "the world." That has intensified with the extreme polarization of the country in our current crisis state. The last few months on social media have created a near constant state of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire - it's gone beyond pot stirring and into virtual ideological warfare on several fronts. I won't go into the details of all that now, but I'm sensing I need to stir the pot a lot less and go back to stirring what's in my house and my soul.
That brings me to soul stirrings - I honestly did not know where I was going with this when I started writing it. Writing stirs my soul like nothing else. Moving my thoughts from my mind on to the page (I write in a notebook before I transcribe to my blog) stirs up what's below the surface, so I can look at it, and see it all together, rather than fragments floating in the murky depths of my consciousness. My soul is stirred to grow - to leave off stirring that just goes in circles in exchange for stilling the waters to practice reflection. Stir and then stop. Don't just keep moving stuff around to strive for perfection that actually is paralyzing. Don't wait for the waters to stir. Dive into creating and attack the piles instead of stirring the room or the paperclips. More importantly, keep breathing throughout, and break for deep breaths. Tune into my soul stirrings - commune with my Creator and listen to that still, small voice; be attentive to the voices of those around me, and pour into my loved ones from the living waters that is the Holy Spirit dwelling in me.
"I believe, Lord; help my unbelief."
Have you really faced it? No one wants to. But what if that was the one thing necessary to overcome it? What if sitting with your deepest fear would reveal the path of escape?
Now, in this time when we have so much time - a gift never before handed to civilization, right alongside a curse - we have a supernatural ability to reflect, to go deeper into probing the meaning of life than ever before. We could do this in the comfort of our own homes. But that is likely to be the biggest obstacle. Our world may have shrunk to 2000 square feet (or less), but there is still a lot going on - either in our own heads or households - likely both.
Still, what's consuming most of us is worry, which is merely the first layer of the thing whose root we now have a unique opportunity to uncover. That thing is this: THE FEAR OF NOT EXISTING. There, I've said it. You can argue that it's not your deepest fear, but that only means you haven't dwelled on it. That is what I'm saying we need to do. We have to think about death and what it means. Usually the closest we come is imagining losing a loved one or the reality of that actually happening. The first stage of grief is denial.
I want to put forward the case that we spend our whole lives in denial of the most frightening thing that society collectively believes (without stating) will happen to everyone: CEASING TO EXIST AFTER DEATH. People claim to believe otherwise, but it's a shallow faith in a fictional afterlife or reincarnation that has no bearing on their earthly lives.
Then there are those of us with a more fixed belief system in heaven and hell, with a doctrine of salvation. We say we are secure in our faith, yet have we actually faced the fear? We cannot know with absolute certainty that we will continue to exist for eternity. Where were we before we were conceived? We don't remember not ever existing. Just sit with that for a moment.
It's possible our consciousness was wiped, but it seems more likely that we don't know because we did not yet exist. We Christians believe we existed in the mind of God. There's another thing to ponder for a minute. Our minds are finite; He - if he exists - is infinite. This is humbling and awe inspiring. This is a thought we should be having, and it should cause us to pursue such a being, upon the likelihood that He exists.
Because if we don't, that brings us back to our deepest fear, of NOT EXISTING. Play out that scenario when you're in the shower where no one can hear you wailing as a result of that excruciating thought process. What or Who makes us want to live so badly, with every fiber of our being, from a core - daresay a soul - that writhes in agony at the contemplation of being snuffed out?
Random chance offers no explanation for the yearning of our consciousness to continue forever. "Survival of the fittest" only attempts to answer "how?," not "why?," not "for what purpose?" Modernism / naturalism / materialism cannot address our deepest fear, which points to our longing, and to the question that we are born with, "What is the meaning of life?" Science is confined to the experiential world of the five senses, which is why it defines all non-plant life as animals, including humans, despite our ability to reason rather than operate only out of instinct.
Postmodernism, with its relativism, is just as inadequate to explain why we have those questions, let alone give us solid answers since it rejects absolute truth, as well as the reality of our senses, claiming that we are whomever we "feel" like - a man (biologically) can be a woman, a human in the womb is not a person unless it's wanted by the mother, and anyone who claims an objective standard of morality that transcends/supercedes human emotion is called a bigot. That rules out a prescribed "one size fits all" way to live that will assure us of a continued existence after death.
Atheists and others scorn Christians for believing in hell, while they themselves (consciously or unconsciously) believe in annihilation. Which sounds worse - a painful existence or none at all? If you had a choice between not living, living in torment, or living joyfully forever, which would you choose? If there was even the slightest chance of you having that choice, would you pursue the path that led to eternal life in heaven?
Why do we have an imagination? Science cannot answer that. Religion cannot answer that. But if we use our imagination to explore our deepest fear, it can lead us to God, and I put forth the case that that is why we have an imagination. It's also why we have a longing to live forever and why we ask what the meaning of life is. Our questions, our fears, our longings, and our imagination were coded into us by our Creator, so that we would seek Him.
If you are not a believer, use this time - this extraordinary gift of a pandemic that has drastically slowed down life - to pursue your continued existence, not just on this earth, but for all eternity. Read the Bible - start with the Gospel of John. Read apologetics to study the intellectual evidence - I recommend Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, but there are many other great books - both classics and modern works. Read stories like Pilgrim's Progress, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and The Brothers Karamazov, all written by believers in the gospel.
Fellow Christians, all of the above applies to us, too. And that brings me back to the opening Bible verse that I quoted, "I believe, Lord; help my unbelief." We will doubt, we will sob in the shower, and we will pray. We will leave our heavy burden at His feet in the darkness and rush out into the sunshine, running on the sand along the sparkling sea, trusting that the shadow of death will be swallowed up in the light of His life and love, singing, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so."
It's been a while since I was here. I miss writing and I've missed many writing opportunities from all the epiphanies that have meandered through my mind over the years. Coming here now is encouraging, but I've still got lots to catch up on (sorting, purging, organizing of paper piles) and I'm continuing to homeschool our three teens. "Sheltering at home" frees up a bit more time, but for a slow, procrastinating perfectionist, it's quickly eaten up (usually online - sigh). I'm praying for more self-discipline to carve out the minutes (hours?) to write things that matter and less frittering away of thoughts on social media. I hope my returning to real writing is one of the redemptive aspects of this terrible, horrible, no good pandemic.
One hypothesis of the MBTI is that a relatively psychologically healthy person develops each of the four conscious cognitive functions in roughly each of the first four to five decades of life, so that by age 50, all four functions can be used with ease as needed, though the the first two are still preferred.
For the INFJ, our first four functions are:
1) Introverted Intuition (Ni)
2) Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
3) Introverted Thinking (Ti)
4) Extraverted Sensing (Se)
This process of development has largely played itself out in my life.
I was very imaginative in my childhood (despite a majorly dysfunctional family) - loved art, creative writing, reading fiction, and was very much into the world of make believe (fairies, princesses, and the like). I wasn't as daydreamy as I imagine some INFJs to be - maybe partly because of all that I was exposed to at a young age (hippie parents, liberal public schools/daycare, etc.).
My teen years were a highly relational time for me so that fits with developing extraverted feeling. I hated high school, but I loved my small church youth despite its problems. College was the best - I was very involved with campus ministry. It was in that setting (Intervarsity Christian Fellowship leadership team) that I was first given a version of the MBTI - it was actually the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. I tested XNFJ, but when I read the descriptions, I knew I was INFJ.
Overlapping with college and into my young adulthood, I definitely developed introverted thinking - my analytical skills showed themselves when I questioned my faith and turned to books like Mere Christianity to discover a logical foundation for it. It's also when I was in grad school for journalism at Berkeley where I did my masters thesis on pro-life progressives. And to get into that school, I had to take the GRE - my highest test score ever was in the analytical section (650/800). I also spent a lot of my 20s studying the MBTI, though I didn't become a certified practitioner until my mid-30s - that's a funny story that I will save for another rainy day - it's raining here :)
Speaking of my 30s, it was my season of raising children, so that totally forced me to develop my extraverted sensing since everything was so hands-on!
And now that my kids are all in the double digits (as of a few months ago), that same inferior function is still being developed but in a different way - more in terms of appreciation of the natural world God created. I can't get enough of being in creation, savoring beauty, learning how to be present, enjoying the simple pleasures...and on and on. I love being in my 40s! (I'm 44)
My first two functions are still the ones I use the most, but I am better with the second two, and I hopeful that I will experience more growth with them by the time I am about 50.
When I was an adolescent, I obsessively read and reread Color Me Beautiful. It's a book about fashion that groups people into four color palettes for clothing and make-up based on skin tones. I was attracted to the creative categorization and the way it helped me enhance my appearance (especially as a young, self conscious teen).
In college, when I learned about the Myers-Briggs system of personality typing, it was like Color Me Beautiful, but on the inside rather than the outside, and so much the better!
I still have an affinity for the imagery of the seasons, as well as patterns of time, like the liturgical calendar. The repetitive cycles are paradoxically stabilizing and a catalyst for new growth. I like their interconnectedness and interdependency, as well as their unique characteristics.
The same is true of personality types - while there are sixteen, all of them have the same eight functions. The order that we prefer to use our functions is what creates our unique type. Our personalities and our earth were designed by the same Creator - the artist who paints the seasons is the author who writes our DNA, including our temperaments.
So to take a page out of Color Me Beautiful and another out of Please Understand Me (David Keirsey's four temperament analysis based on the MBTI), here is my light hearted riff on the four seasons...
Summer - SP (sensing perceiving types - ESFP, ESTP, ISFP, ISTP)
Outdoorsy, free spirited, and easygoing , SPs are either actively interacting with nature or relaxing in God's creation. Their generally sunny dispositions and warm hearts beckon all the other types to come play, to experience, to engage all their senses, to be in the moment, savoring the present.
When they aren't dancing through meadows, they are crafting with their hands - building, sculpting, manipulating raw materials, creating canvases, arranging details. They are either moving or moving something. Unless they are resting. They are so flexible, they seem to effortlessly glide between work and play and rest that it's sometimes hard to tell which is which.
Long summer days suit SPs as it gives them more daylight to pursue their outdoor interests like camping and backpacking. The simplicity and freedom of the being out of doors is a balm to their souls, and they often proclaim that this where they worship best. Surrounded by God's beauty and released from the constraints of routine, rules and abstractions.
Autumn - SJ (sensing judging types - ESFJ, ESTJ, ISFJ, ISTJ)
The seemingly endless SP summer and its carefree, fun loving ways are jarred into reality by a firm voice over a megaphone: "Back to school!" declares the SJs, the autumn winds blowing through them and out their whistles, as they hand out schedules, announce the rules, and implement structure.
It's true, the party atmosphere is gone, but there is a welcome sense of calm and order as routine sets in, along with mild, steady temperatures. Even with the more serious mood, there is still an air of festivity, but at the proper time and place. SJs are fabulous planners and lovers of tradition, so we can count of lots of organized entertaining. With their eye for detail and beauty, the decor, food, and music will be just right. They will pour us hot cider, carve pumpkins, knit sweaters, and keep everyone fashionably (and practically) dressed. They are the masters of both form and function.
When the storms hit, SJs are the first in the line of duty - dependable, steadfast, and always there, ready to do what's needed and to mobilize others to. They enforce stability and harmony, insisting on loyalty and responsibility.
Winter - NT (ENTP, INTP, ENTJ, INTJ)
That crisp SJ autumn seems infinitely stable and unshakeable...but its conventional rule is overthrown by Jack Frost, who is, of course the NT. While the other types go into hibernation with the icy blast, the masterminds come alive - creating, strategizing, inventing, analyzing, coding, decoding, and whatever else their tireless minds set themselves to do.
The rain reflects the NT's serious, and at times brooding/moody temperament, while thunderstorms convey intensity with lightning flashes of brilliance. This type is a powerful force to be reckoned with. An enigma, NTs can take charge of a crowd or retreat in seclusion - quietly holed up in the library or curled up with a cat on the couch watching a sci-fi flick.
Seemingly cold and aloof at times (or often), once you get to know NTs, they can warm up a room with quirky humor and dramatic flair. Yes, the NTs shine in winter, blazing like a crackling fire with their wit, imagination, and aptitude.
Spring - NF (ENFP, ENFJ, INFJ, INFP)
When the snow melts and buds appear on the trees, hints of new life emerging, you will find the NFs, with their dreams of a bright future. These idealists are visionaries whose minds are fertile gardens of ideas. They plant seeds wherever they go and uproot weeds, always imagination the fruitful harvest to come.
When the spring showers fall, NFs see it as a means of growth. They hold up the umbrellas over other people, offering encouragement and support to those who are struggling. In strong winds, they fly kites, always finding beauty and opportunity. NFs are romantic intellectuals, frequently found picnicking beside a peaceful stream, feasting on savory delights and deep discussions rich in figurative language.
When the weather takes a turn, they are quick to save the world - through writing or art or counseling or teaching. They have the souls of butterflies, so sensitive - easily hurt and very aware of other people's pain. NFs feel intensely, giving both passionately and melancholically. Stargazers, they see patterns everywhere - inklings, epiphanies, symbolism. They love to play dot-to-dot with God.
After fifteen years of marriage, you become aware of your rhythms as a couple. For us, and I suspect this is true of most, our energy levels are pretty depleted by the time the sun goes down. Once the kids are tucked away, we are tuckered out, so we have couch time (chocolate and/or wine may be involved), working our way through some TV series on Netflix (right now it's Doctor Who). Then it's up to bed where we usually read (him for about ten minutes until he's nodded off, me for an hour or more).
In the morning, I slowly wake up, get ready (still waking up), duck into the prayer closet for a few minutes (aiming for thirty), and then it's time to start school as my husband heads out for work.
So we aren't together for most of the day, and by the time we can finally be alone, we're too exhausted to...wait, there's still the weekend. This is where things get interesting...
Say it's a Sunday and you've just come home from church. You could have family time, maybe play a board game or watch an old movie together...the kids perhaps balk and groan at those ideas, but once we're all settled in, we know we'll have fun...we hope. But there is another option.
Enter Afternoon Delight. A brilliant strategy that pleases everyone, especially your husband (well, at least in my case). Let the kids pick out a movie to stream, make a batch of popcorn for them, and then put together a picnic for you and your spouse, perhaps like the picture above (we ate pastries at church and a hearty breakfast before that, so I kept it light). Enjoy your conversation, delicacies, and the quality time with just the two of you.
By now you've probably figured out that Afternoon Delight is a double entendre. It's a twofer, the best of both worlds, and it lives up to its name. I don't think I even need to tell you what happens after the last of the cheese and crackers are gone. I'm pretty sure you've figured that part out. You head upstairs, lock your bedroom door, and engage in part two of Afternoon Delight. If you've only got time for one part, part two is the most crucial, since privacy for intimacy is the key advantage to this plan.
If your kids are old enough to not need you for the duration of the film, you could even add a few extra courses - spiritual (praying, reading Scripture or a book together) and/or sensual (massage, shower, etc.). Just be sure to keep the main dish, which is "knowing" each other (in the Biblical sense of the term).
I recommend Afternoon Delight once a week. Once you've sampled it, you'll probably want to keep it in your menu rotation. And unlike Turkish Delight (as Narnia fans may recall), you can't overindulge. In fact, the more the better...
For the past couple years, I have had a word to focus on pertaining to my spiritual life (which is really all of life). 2014 was "breathe." 2015 was "praise." 2016 is "pray."
I was kind of scared by that when I finally acknowledged (after hemming and hawing about) that was indeed my word for the new year. That might surprise you, because I often refer to the subject, and I even created a prayer closet.
The truth is that I love to read about prayer, to study it, to create spaces for it, but actually praying is another thing. In all of life, I tend to theorize, envision, research, analyze, much more than Do Actual Things (unless you count moving piles of books and papers around).
It's who I am (insert infomercial for The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) - I'm a very part-time consultant). But it's not all that I am. It's like being right handed - I prefer to use that hand, but it's not like my left hand just hangs at my side. The Christian life - spiritual formation, as we reflective types are fond of calling it - is about becoming ambidextrous.
...So while I do pray daily and throughout the day (sometimes in just two word sentences), I spend much more time (even in my prayer closet) reading (the Bible as well as books on Christian living / spiritual formation) and thinking than I do in conversation with God.
There are many ways to pray, and I even believe that what I do (immersing myself in learning about it) is a form of prayer, but I want to mute the volume in my brain, so to speak, to listen for that still, small voice, which is another way God talks to those who call on Him, in addition to through his Word, the Bible. I also want to intercede more for others, as well as pray through more of my own stuff, and offer praise/thanksgiving.
There are lots of prayer "formulas" - I'm familiar with most of them - and I may start trying out some of them, because they can be useful tools for staying focused...but most of all, I want to make room for God to draw me closer to him through more dialogue. That's the goal of the Christian life (and life in general) - to be intimate with our Creator.
When I finally realized my new word was "pray," it was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. My previous words - breathe and praise - are both forms of prayer. Wait...you say...breathing is praying? Well, yes, in a couple ways.
First of all, if I stop and take a deep breath, or even just a normal one, I am waiting. I am quiet as I concentrate on breathing...not in a new age-y way, just in a this is how humans relax kind of way. Secondly, there are actually breath prayers, i.e. talking to God while you inhale and/or exhale. I haven't explored that too much (and yes, it can get all mystical, but it can also be more physiological), but, and this leads into my word for the past year, I love the worship song that says "breathing in your grace, breathing out your praise." Breathe in: Lord, I need your grace. Breathe out: Lord, praise you for being with me. And so on…
Another way it fit is that recently, I have had the recurring word, "path." It came up a lot in my reading of Psalms and Proverbs. I especially like "ponder the path of wisdom." The path is often referred to as leading a righteous life, following God's design for human flourishing. One of my favorite books is Pilgrim's Progress, which I am going to be rereading this year.
I'll come back to the word path, but the other word is another analogy, which is house. I have always been captivated by the little booklet My Heart Christ's Home, and I'm actually going to be using a study guide with that in our church's women's Sunday School starting up in a few weeks.
I had an epiphany when the word "pray" came to me, because I realized that it encompassed both metaphors - the path is practicing the presence of God (praying constantly as the Bible tells us to do, so being mindful of Jesus while we are doing life) and the house is quiet time, the portion of the day we set aside to be alone with the Lord - reading his Word, meditating on it, and praying. I think the path can tend to come a little more naturally to extraverts, whereas introverts attract to the house. But we both need both.
I agree with not comparing ourselves to other people's virtual facades, but really our online selves are just an extension of how we present ourselves in person, which is also not the whole picture of our lives. In fact, I know many people better through Facebook than in person, where all I can get out of them is small talk, if that - many times, we're like ships passing in the night.
And for introverts, this medium helps us to express the deeper thoughts that are harder to articulate on the spot with everyone looking at us and waiting for an immediate answer. But I am talking about writing, not about posting pictures and blurbs that really are akin to the same "in real life" interactions of fixing up our appearances and engaging in superficial conversations.
The best of both worlds is cultivating those deeper one-to-one friendships and small groups, and that same sort of authenticity (sorry for that word, but it fits) carrying over into our expressions online.
Granted, not everyone likes to write, so they cannot be blamed for only posting quips and pictures, nor should they be accused of only showing themselves in a good light. Not everyone wants to be vulnerable in this place, but that doesn't mean they are being fake or that that they don't reveal their struggles to those they trust.
So really, it's our problem if other people's posts make us feel envious, left out, etc. I have felt this way at times, but it's always because I haven't been spending time with that person, so I feel disconnected from them. That's when I reach out. If it's ignored, then I stop looking at their posts as often, so that I'm not reminded of the rejection. Eventually, if there is no mutuality, I may even unfriend them, because what's the point of only being connected to someone online if they are not interested in actual friendship with me?
Well, it's possible that they still read what I post sometimes and are encouraged, helped, or somehow touched...so then I have to put aside thoughts about myself and trust God that He wants me to keep that connection, even if it feels totally one-sided. That's also my calling as a writer - to minister to others without looking for my own gain. Someone may benefit from what I share without necessarily wanting anything else - I can either feel used, ignored, or not worry about it, and trust that God is working all things for good for those who love him.